8 Balmy Beach Locales
Retiree says: ‘I need the smell of the ocean’.
Bill and Debby Keese can’t wait to get to the beach for their daily uplift. After Bill’s retirement in July, they will relocate across Texas from Austin to Galveston, heading 215 miles southeast – not stopping until they see the Gulf Coast. “When I drive across the bridge from the mainland to Galveston, I get a sense of relief and freedom that I haven’t experienced anywhere else,” Bill says.
Peter and Cathy Murphy, who moved from Cape Cod, MA, to Charleston, SC, also enjoy living near the shore. “It’s in my DNA to be close to the water,” Peter says. “I need the smell of the ocean and to walk along the beach.”
Many people, like the Keeses and Murphys, find the ocean comforting. The feelings of calm and happiness that float in with the salty sea breezes have a scientific basis. The theory that looking at blue spaces or bodies of water promotes relaxation was tested in a 2016 Michigan State University analysis. The study discovered that gazing upon the ocean may confer mental health benefits. “Increased views of blue space (or water) is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” says Amber Pearson, a professor at the university.
For that good-for-you seaside retirement, consider the following beach locales, where coastal possibilities vary from historic small-town seaports to midsize cities near the ocean to major sun-and-surf destinations.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
The city’s combination of beach, water, views and friendliness pulled Nikki Moon back here from New Orleans in 2012, even though Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed the Bay Town Inn she purchased in 2003. The city, 15 miles west of Gulfport, is mostly rebuilt. Nikki reopened the bed-and-breakfast in 2013.
“I fell in love with Bay St. Louis,” says Nikki, 65. “I had never lived in a small town before. I love the small town feel. I like being able to walk to great restaurants and walk down the street and feel safe. There’s no traffic and people are welcoming and friendly.”
Sixty miles northeast of New Orleans, the Bay St. Louis area fronts 62 miles of beaches on the Mississippi Sound. “Our water is very shallow because it’s a bay. It’s not really a swimming beach,” Nikki says. “I enjoy the water views, the breezes and being able to put my feet in the sand.”
Strollers, cyclists and joggers take to the 3-mile Bay-Waveland Beach Trail, and fishing enthusiasts go out on charters to catch trout, redfish and flounder. Gamblers try their luck at the city’s Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast, one of 12 casinos along the state’s shore.
The 1929 Historic Bay St. Louis Depot, a designated Mississippi landmark in the heart of the city, has been restore to its Spanish colonial-style facade. The 1905 City Hall also has been renovated and now houses the Cypress Cafe. Playground equipment and shade trees make the adjacent Carol Vegas Park a welcoming area.
“People come here to visit once or twice and then want to stay,” Nikki says. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Population: 12,030 in Bay St. Louis and 46,791 in Hancock County
January: High 61° / Low 39°
July: High 92° / Low 72°
Cost of living: Below average
Housing cost: The median sales price of homes in Hancock County was $141,000 in the first quarter, according to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Multiple Listing Service Inc.
Information: Hancock Chamber of Commerce, HancockChamber.org or (228) 467-9048. Mississippi’s West Coast Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau, MSWestCoast.org or (228) 463-9222.
Bradenton on Florida’s western coast is less well-known than Tampa, 45 miles north, and Sarasota, 13 miles south, but its lively downtown is within 10 miles of barrier islands graced with beautiful beaches. The tree-lined Old Main Street draws townies to its restaurants and shops. Music and local chefs enliven a farmers market, which is open on Saturdays from October through May.
The city’s jewel, the Riverwalk, hugs the Manatee River. Sand volleyball courts, picnic areas, a skate park (take the grandkids) and amphitheater are along the 1.5 mile path.
The town’s fishing pier is popular with anglers. ArtCenter Manatee, whose gallery exhibits regional and national artists, has classes in drawing, digital photography, and more. In Village of the Arts, artists live and work in cottages, showcasing ceramics, folk art, jewelry, watercolors and other crafts.
The beaches on Bradenton’s nearby islands cater to those who like simple retreats as well as resorts.”Anna Maria Island delivers Old Florida, the real authentic Florida without chain stores or high-rises,” says Megan Brewster, director of public relations for Aqua Marketing and Communications, which represents Bradenton and Anna Maria Island. “Australian pine trees line the beach and there are no huge resorts or big hotels. Visitors rent condos.”
Bradenton’s Coquina Gulfside Park, a wide, flat swath of coast, has lifeguards, picnic areas and restrooms. The town of Longboat Key offers the amenities of resorts plus the picturesque sands of its namesake beach and Whitney Beach.
Population: 54,437 in Bradenton and 375,888 in Manatee County
January: High 71° / Low 52°
July: High 91° / Low 75°
Cost of living: Average
Housing cost: The average sales price of homes in Manatee was $356,417 from January through February, according to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
Information: Manatee Chamber of Commerce, ManateeChamber.com or (941) 748-3411. Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, BradentonGulfIslands.com or (941) 729-9177.
Charleston, South Carolina
A Southern belle of a city, Charleston charms with stately antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks draped with Spanish moss, good food and plenty of cultural activities. It sits about halfway between Myrtle Beach, SC, and Savannah, GA, on the Atlantic coast.
The city’s historic downtown is a sweep of cobblestone streets laced with 18th- and 19th century buildings, many serving as art galleries and restaurants. The Historic Dock Street Theatre, constructed in 1736, is the first structure in the U.S. built specifically for theater. Destroyed in a 1740 fire and later restored, the venue hosts the Charleston Stage, South Carolina’s largest professional theater company.
“What attracted us to Charleston was that it’s a city, but a small city,” says Peter Murphy, 68, a former CEO who works as a mergers and acquisitions consultant. He and his wife, Cathy, also 68, a homemaker, moved here in 2012. “It has restaurants, culture, a strong arts community, great medical facilities and good infrastructure – all without that intense feeling of a big city.”
The Charleston area is blessed with five beaches. “Off season, I go early and walk the dogs along the beach,” Peter says. “In season, we like Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach.”
The Murphys always attend the city’s annual Spoleto Festival USA, offering some 100 per performances. “Locals have dibs on getting tickets early,” Peter says.
Golfers have plenty of choices. The area harbors an abundance of courses, including the top-rated River Towne Country Club, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and the Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort.
Peter’s only caveats: In summer, the beaches get crowded, and the air is sometimes hot and sticky with humidity.
Population: 132,609 in Charleston, 396,484 in Charleston County, 210,898 in Berkeley County and 158,773 in Dorchester County
January: High 58° / Low 38°
July: High 90° / Low 73°
Cost of living: Above average
Housing cost: The median sales price of homes in Charleston was $290,000 from January through April, according to the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
Information: Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, CharlestonChamber.net or (843) 577-2510. Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, CharlestonCVB.com or (800) 774-0006.
“Galveston is a relaxed, fun-filled, historic place to retire,” says Bill Keese, 68, who looks forward to relocating here from Austin with wife Debby, 67, after his July retirement as an executive director of a national association. Debby, an architect, will move her practice to Galveston.
The couple believe that Galveston, 50 miles southeast of Houston, will bring them a long-lost contentment. “My wife and I grew up in Houston and went to the beach as kids in Galveston,” Bill says. “We can’t wait to have our three grandchildren spend the summers with us.”
The city’s 70-block historic downtown has restaurants, bars and shops. Plus, stories of Galveston’s past appeal to Bill, who served in the Texas legislature.
Prior to a major hurricane in 1900, Galveston was the fourth largest city in Texas. The strand, Galveston’s downtown district, was known as the Wall Street of the South because of its port and prosperity. Here and in the East End Historical District, gracious ante-bellum and Victorian-style homes line the streets. The Grand 1894 Opera House, a survivor of the 1900 and 1915 storms, hosts symphony concerts and other performances.
Annually, 6.4 million visit Galveston, which boasts 32 miles of beaches. Most summer visitors congregate along a 10-mile of Seawall Boulevard. In July and August, locals and frequent visitors know to stay away from the seawall area, Bill says.
Are the Keeses concerned about storms? “It’s a fact of life along the coast,” Bill says. “We’re looking for an old Victorian home. If it survived the 1900 storm, the house will survive us and our grandchildren.”
Population: 50,180 in Galveston and 329,431 in Galveston County
January: High 62° / Low 50°
July: High 89° / Low 80°
Cost of living: Below average
Housing cost: The median sales price of homes in Galveston was $244,000 from November through April, according to Stanfield Properties.
Information: Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, GalvestonChamber.com or (409) 763-5326. Galveston Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Galveston.com or (888) 425-4753.
Peaceful Nipomo lies in the heart of California’s central coast wine country, 165 miles north of Los Angeles. The area blooms with orchards, strawberry fields and vinyards, and the sea is minutes away. “It’s very important for me to be near the ocean, to be where I can smell the ocean and feel the ocean breezes,” say Dawn Van Ness, 62, who lived in Newport Beach for 28 years before moving to Nipomo’s Trilogy at Monarch Dunes community in 2016.
When a friend of Dawn’s booked appointments for the two of them at Trilogy’s Spa, Dawn took the opportunity to look at houses.
I walked into the first model home and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I could live here,'” says Dawn, a homemaker. “Within a week, I picked a lot and a house to build.” She plays mahjong, attends dinners hosted by winemakers and whiskey aficionados and partakes in monthly potlucks with her neighbors. “Everybody here is looking to make friends. There’s so much to do,” Dawn says.
Not only was the Trilogy community a good fit, so was Nipomo. The 140-acre-plus Nipomo Regional Park has nature trails, baseball fields, a picnic area and dog park. In the city’s small downtown, Jocko’s has been serving steak dinners since the 1950s.
Dawn likes walking barefoot along the water’s edge on the trail at the nearby Oso Flaco Lake Natural area. Oceano and Pismo Beach are with 10 miles.
“I don’t feel lonely at all,” Dawn says. “If I want to meet people, I can sit on my patio next to a park and talk to people.”
Population: 16,714 in Nipomo and 282,887 in San Luis Obispo County
January: High 63° / Low 40°
July: High 73° / Low 54°
Cost of living: Above average
Housing cost: The median sales of homes in Nipomo $480,000 from January through April, according to the Pismo Coast Association of Realtors.
Information: Nipomo Chamber of Commerce, NipomoChamber.org or (805) 541-8000.
Port Townsend, Washington
Situated at the eastern tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and surrounded by water on three sides, Port Townsend is 45 miles and a ferry ride from Seattle, but feels worlds away. That’s partly why Gary Larson, a former communications specialist, and his wife, Donna, 68, a retired schoolteacher, relocated to Port Townsend from Seattle in 2015. “Seattle is a growing and busy area with traffic and noise,” says Gary, 67. “We wanted to be on the water and to have a slower pace of life in a smaller town.”
The seaport and the buildings downtown were constructed in the 1880s and 1890s, says Christina Pivarnik, director of marketing for the city. “Many buildings contain restaurants, cafes or art galleries.”
Key City Public Theatre stages plays, and Centrum, a nonprofit arts organization, offers creative classes in music, writing and more. Both Gary and Donna attend concerts and also volunteer at Centrum.
The town’s seascape features scenic views of the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains. Area beaches tend to be more rocky than sandy, and many find the water too cold for frolicking. Most ocean lovers come to the town for the views and for boating, sailing, kayaking and fishing.
Port Townsend pays homage to its seafaring heritage at its Wooden Boat Festival each September. More than 30,000 people enjoy the excitement of racing schooners, tall ships and vintage boats as well as live music and local cuisine.
“The summer crowds don’t bother us.” Donna says. “We get involved by volunteering so we become part of the excitement. We enjoy the events along with the tourists.”
Population: 9,335 in Port Townsend and 31,139 in Jefferson County
January: High 45° / Low 36°
July: High 72° / Low 52°
Cost of living: Above average
Housing cost: The median sales price of homes in Port Townsend was $320,000 in the first quarter, according to John L. Scott Real Estate.
Information: Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, JeffCountyChamber.org or (888) 365-6978. Enjoy Port Townsend, EnjoyPT.com or (360) 385-2722.
Venice, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, delivers 14 miles of white-sand beaches and ample bike trails. The city is known for its numerous cultural offerings, such as an award-winning community theater, a symphony and an arts center with galleries and classes. Those who crave more creative and performing arts can take easy daytrips to Sarasota, 20 miles north, and Tampa, 75 miles north.
“Along with its arts and culture, Venice is quaint and easy to get around with a walkable downtown,” says Lynn Hobeck Bates, Visit Sarasota County’s communications manager. “It’s also bicycle- and dog-friendly.”
Cyclists, joggers and walkers follow the 10-mile Venetian Waterway Park trail that lines the Intracoastal Waterway. The path connects with the Legacy Trail at the Venice Train Depot, creating a nearly 23-mile route – no cars allowed. This achievement earned Venice a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists.
Venice’s downtown has art galleries, antiques stores, boutiques and restaurants. Centennial Park stages free concerts and the Venice Theatre hosts plays, musicals and other performances as well as adult acting and improv classes.
The city’s Brohard Paw Park is Sarasota County’s only dog-friendly beach. Venice also claims the title of Shark Tooth Capital of the world. Eons ago, when water covered Florida, sharks flourished in the region. Shark teeth from an ancient fossil bed often roll in with the tide, especially after a storm. Hobeck Bates recommends searching near the fishing pier and along Caspersen Beach.
The area’s most popular strand, Venice Municipal Beach, lures scuba divers who explore the reef that starts a quarter-mile offshore. To avoid the crowds, visitors should go to the beach early or go closer to sunset, Hobeck Bates says.
Population: 22,211 in Venice and 412,569 in Sarasota County
January: High 71° / Low 51°
July: High 91° / Low 74°
Cost of living: Above average
Housing cost: The average sales price of homes in Sarasota County was $370,759 from January through February, according to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
Information: Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, VeniceChamber.com or (941) 488-2236. Visit Sarasota County, VisitSarasota.org or (941) 955-0991.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Jessica Thomason and Steve Searcy found all their must-haves for retirement in the Wilmington area, moving here in 2016. “I wanted a college town and the ocean, too,” says Jessica, 66, a former physician. “I am a water-oriented person. I grew up water skiing. I like fly-fishing from the shore and fishing from a boat. The retirement city also needed to have an academic institution in town because you get better health care and you also have educational opportunities.”
Wilmington, 130 miles south of Raleigh, as a branch of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and also UNC-Wilmington, which operates an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “We have not yet taken classes, but we are interested in the Institute’s art courses, book clubs and museum trips,” says Steve, 69, a retired electrical engineer. Wilmington’s mile-long Riverwalk on the Cape Fear River provides walkers and joggers scenic vistas and access to the historic downtown, a 230-block swath of shops and restaurants. The World War II battleship USS North Carolina, across the river from downtown, is open for tours.
When Jessica and Steve lived in Mequon, WI, a suburb of Milwaukee, they vacationed in Wrightsville Beach, 10 miles east of Wilmington. Another delightful coastal locale in the area is Carolina Beach, 15 miles south, known for its boardwalk. Kure Beach, just 3 more miles south, has an outstanding fishing pier and seaside park. It’s close to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, where Jessica volunteers and nurtures her interest in marine biology.
Steve likes Wilmington’s moderate climate. “It’s not scorching hot like Florida and not cold like Maine or Wisconsin. It’s a good place to retire.”
Population: 115,933 in Wilmington and 223,483 in New Hanover County
January: High 56° / Low 36°
July: High 90° / Low 52°
Cost of Living: Below average
Housing cost: The median sales price of homes in New Hanover County was $222,000 from January through February, according to Cape Fear Realtors.
Information: Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, WilmingtonChamber.com or (910) 762-2+11. Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, WilmingtonAndBeaches.com or (877) 406-2356.