A growing body of research has pointed out the large wealth gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. The top 1 percent of Americans will be able to retire without worrying about outliving their savings and how to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. They can simply pick a town with the best housing, health care, and amenities.
[In Pictures: 10 Best Places for the Wealthiest Retirees.]
To find retirement spots that might appeal to the wealthiest among us, U.S. News used our Best Places to Retire search tool, powered by data from Onboard Informatics. We looked for places with the highest median housing prices, annual expenses, and cost-of-living. These are retirement spots that most Americans will simply be priced out of.
The 2010 median home sale prices in these cities range from $435,000 in Brentwood, Tenn., to more than $2.3 million in Hillsborough, Calif. The town of Hillsborough maintains exclusivity by requiring a minimum lot size of half an acre and a 2,500 square-foot minimum house size for all residents. Paradise Valley, Ariz., a small town of 15,000 with a median home sale price of $1.3 million, is known for its lavish resorts, golf courses, and fine dining.
Almost all of these affluent towns are suburbs of major cities. Kailua, Hawaii, is 12 miles northeast of Honolulu and Bethesda, Md., is just outside of Washington, D.C. Mercer Island, Wash., a 6.2-square-mile island in Lake Washington that is the wealthiest area of Washington State, is connected to both shores and nearby Seattle by Interstate 90.
"There are all kinds of outdoor activities here, and I can drive into the city in 30 or 35 minutes," says Deming Payne, 72, a plastic surgeon who retried four years ago, about Hinsdale, Ill. "There are three or four country clubs within a stone's throw."
Many retirement dreams would not be complete without finding a way to permanently avoid winter. For a median of just over half a million dollars, you could buy a home in Palm Beach, Fla., where average January temperatures range from 40 to 64 degrees. However, many places with water views and lavish amenities cost more than double that amount.
Some retirees say they moved to these areas before housing prices skyrocketed and enjoy the communities so much they elected to remain there in retirement. "I decided to stay in the Washington area because it has free museums, lots of venues for art, music, entertainment, and physical activity, and I didn't want to give that up," says Elizabeth Moore, who has been a volunteer usher for 22 seasons at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, which includes a 7,000-seat amphitheater and hosts about 100 performances every summer.
For those who can afford the housing prices, many of these communities offer loads of free or low-cost things to do, including museums, parks, and well-maintained walking and hiking trails. "Housing is the most expensive thing, but I don't think one is forced into a high-end lifestyle here," says Anne Larner, 67, about Newton, Mass. "I tend to be a spendthrift person, and drive a car that's 10 years old." Newton offers many amenities. "There's plenty of freebies around here. We have some good recreation facilities and open spaces and I try to walk three to five miles a day," she says. "I have a kayak and I go to the Charles River and can spend hours kayaking. It costs me nothing to park and put it in the river and have a good time."
Check out these 10 elite places to retire.
Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Wolf Trap, Va.
Palm Beach, Fla.
Mercer Island, Wash.