The Top Metropolitan Hot Spots For Retirement -- Plus The Places To Avoid

NYC and LA are at the bottom, and you can partially blame the snowbirds for the Sunbelt's poor showing.

The healthiest cities for retirement living are in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado and Minnesota, according to a new list that relegates all but one Sunbelt city below the top 20.

We'll explain why you can blame the snowbirds for that.

In its study, Bankers Life Center for a Secure retirement ranked Seattle (photo above) No. 1. It was followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Portland, and Hartford rounding out the top five.

Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla was the highest ranked Sunbelt city at 18, and NYC, 59, and Los Angeles, 60, were at the bottom of the list of 60 largest metropolitan areas. Other surveys, however, do look at smaller cities as possible top places to retire, even Bella Vista Arkansas.

Weather is a big personal choice when it comes to retirement destinations, but it's one of the more obvious, says Scott Goldberg, president of Bankers Life. It wasn't about choosing scenic coastal cities either. This study identifies and recognizes cities that provide the services and support that people need to live healthy, happy lives, he says.

"If people want us to rank the weather, they probably don't need this survey," he says. "We looked past that to other factors and unearthed things that may not be immediately obvious. We dug a little bit deeper with some locations you might not be thinking about. The fact that there are some cities that are a bit of surprise makes the list valuable."

This study looked at factors that most impact the 65+ category -- such as access to healthcare, the economy and affordability, wellness, social support, activities, environment, transportation and crime rate.

Goldberg says they wanted to show that many healthy places to retire can come with a reasonable cost-of-living price tag that's realistic and attainable for a great number of retirees.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is a beautiful city with lots to explore."This was meant to be a study for middle income retirees of less than $100,000 of income," Goldberg says. "If it's too expensive of a city, we knocked you down, and that was the case with some of these cities like San Diego or San Francisco or LA. It's hard to imagine those as affordable places. Seattle just snuck in there."

Cities that topped the list had above-average scores for wellness and access to healthcare and some of the highest scores for overall life satisfaction, and social and emotional support. They also boasted natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor and cultural activities, Goldberg says.

Some people may be surprised about Seattle, but they shouldn't be, he says.

"The surprising part is many people know Seattle is not inexpensive," Goldberg says. "It ranked in the bottom quartile in terms of affordability. Having said that, it was at the top of the list in just about every other metric. In terms of healthcare, social activities and wellness, outdoor physical activities, environment, and transportation. Seattle is a very well put-together city with lots of do, and despite it being on the high end of affordability, if you can swing it, what a great place to retire."

Minneapolis-St. Paul is not on the high end of affordability but scores well with social support, Goldberg says. That includes density of the current older population and their satisfaction with living in the area, the number of four-year colleges that offer adult education, and volunteer opportunities. It was No. 1 in terms of physical activities such as golf, tennis, marathons, hiking trails, and 5Ks. When the weather is good, it's a great place to be outside, he says.

Denver scored extremely high on the same categories as Minneapolis -- social support and physical activities, Goldberg says. Where Denver also scored high was the environment.

"It was at the very top of the list," he says. "When you look at the things like number of sunny days, what the heat index is, clean air levels, water measurements, and state parks in the vicinity, Denver offers a wonderful experience."

Portland (bottom photo) score high among outdoor activities and social engagement. There are opportunities to volunteer and take continuing education. It's not in the top rankings in terms of affordability but has low crime. It scored high with public transportation, environment and access to healthcare.

"It looks like a little like Seattle," Goldberg says. "It's a little on the expensive side, but if you can make it work for you, it offers a tremendous environment to retire on."

Hartford is one of those surprise cities that you wouldn't expect to make the list, but it held its own across a number of the metrics, he says. It has low crime and "decent transportation" and did best with healthcare in terms of number of physicians and hospitals. That fits with the impression people have with Hartford, he says.

Omaha, the hometown of investor Warren Buffet, was another surprise at No. 6, and it scored the highest with healthcare ratings, he says. It also scored high with affordability as well, but was down in the list for transportation.

"It has a relatively high senior population and based on other surveys, their satisfaction with their social and emotional wellbeing ranked very high," Goldberg says. "That might be a Midwest sentiment."

(Indeed, Midwestern cities like Cincinnati have won out as best places to retire in another survey.)

As for the Sunbelt ratings, after the 18th place for Tampa-St. Petersburg, Tucson was next at 22nd. Phoenix made 40th place on the list, and Las Vegas was 46.

"You have cities like Phoenix that didn't do very well on the healthcare ratings," Goldberg says. "Some of these Sunbelt places tend to cater more towards the snowbird. You got folks moving in and out, and they haven't had to build up much infrastructure for year round, and some of that is coming through in the methodology that we use."

In healthcare and wellness, the study looked at the number of physicians and hospitals per capita and how they're rated. It even looked at specialists such as cardiology and oncology. It looked at life expectancy, obesity, depression rates, mortality rates from chronic illnesses, cancer and heart disease.

"There's even a whole other category around activities like golf and tennis and outdoor races, hiking and trails, gym memberships, cultural activities, farmers markets, museums, theater, zoos and aquariums and things to do," Goldberg says.

As for the bottom of the list, besides Los Angeles and New York City, the bottom tier included Anaheim, Oakland, San Diego and Honolulu.

"If you didn't come in the top 15 percent of affordability metrics, we dropped you to the bottom of the list. Los Angeles is one of those destinations that's expensive to live in. It did not score very well on healthcare and in terms of retiree population, LA skews younger and even in terms of outdoor activities like 5K races, golf courses and things to do, LA did not score as well as bunch of other areas."

Honolulu is a beautiful place, and Goldberg says if you have your heart set on it, you probably can't ask for better weather or scenery -- but it's expensive.

Whether someone actually looks at a list and relocates, Goldberg says he thinks that's questionable.

"People tend to want to age in place and retire in the community where they already live," Goldberg says. "We know that from other research. For those who have the flexibility to consider other places, this is a nice survey to say, what are some of the best cities for a healthy and a more affordable retirement? If I have the opportunity to have that flexibility, where do the cities of my choice rank on the list"?

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