I am no expert on retirement other than I retired in Washington State. Here is how I curated my list of where to retire. I read as many articles as I could find on where to retire in Washington. I then went through the lists of cities and towns and made notes of which ones appeared on multiple lists. Articles by retirement experts use the statistics on taxes, crime, cost of living, proximity to medical facilities, etc. so I won’t cover that information. I then refined my list with my knowledge from living and traveling in the state with additional factors that I think appeal to TravelAwaits readers.
We all love to travel and when I retired, I wanted a place that had many of the things I loved from my trips. Things that were important to me included great views, a welcoming community, a good coffee shop, proximity to a major airport, and lots of places to explore within driving distance.
Things I love about Washington are the temperate year-round climate which leads to lower energy costs, no poisonous snakes in western Washington, and no state income tax. It’s called the Evergreen State for a reason: gorgeous trees, and beautiful natural scenery throughout the state. The things I don’t love as much are the high sales tax rate (almost 10 percent), higher costs for housing, gas, and groceries compared to other areas of the country, and the traffic.
I’ve learned to embrace the grey skies, but the cloudy, rainy weather in the winter in western Washington can really get to people. We had one year with over 100 days with no sunshine. In spite of this, there are positives.
Here is my list:
You won’t find this quaint town I retired to on any national lists because you must live near it to know about it, which is just the way the community likes it. Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in Washington. Each year it hosts a July 4th parade which will take you back in time as well as a fireworks display that is paid for by local donations. The tiny downtown has a few small businesses, but it is mostly residential. The neighbors are welcoming, and everyone works hard to keep Steilacoom’s small-town charm. It’s nice that it’s located between the larger cities of Tacoma and Lacey/Olympia. It is a 45-minute drive to the airport and an hour to Seattle. Views of both the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound are just stunning.
2. Gig Harbor
What’s not to love about Gig Harbor? This charming town is just across the Narrows Bridge from the larger city of Tacoma. It is the perfect blend of modern conveniences and small-town charm. Uptown has all the shopping at the chain stores you love while downtown surrounds the harbor and is a walkable destination with local restaurants and shops. The retiree population is very active volunteering within the community and there are plenty of fun, local events to keep you busy year round. Its central location makes it an easy drive to Tacoma’s theater and museum districts or you can take a ferry from Bremerton into Seattle if you want some time in the big city.
Located in eastern Washington, Wenatchee made the Forbes list of the “Best Places to Retire in 2019.” I like it due to its location on the Columbia River. It is very scenic and not far from the Cascade Mountains and the more touristy towns of Leavenworth and Chelan. You will eat well in this sunny city, the “Apple Capital of the World,” with lots of fruit orchards, vineyards, and farms nearby.
Located on the border between Idaho and Washington is Spokane, the second-largest city in the state. You get the best of both worlds with a vibrant downtown and plenty of outdoor activities. The performing arts are popular, especially at the lovely Fox Theater, a restored Art Deco treasure. Spokane is considered one of the most affordable cities in the northwest. It is also a college town with Gonzaga and Whitworth and several satellite state university campuses. There are 75 parks in the city with the crown jewel the Riverfront Park overlooking Spokane Falls. Foodies and wine lovers will love the downtown wine trail with multiple tasting rooms. The annual Crave Festival is one of the largest food festivals in the Northwest and celebrates the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest.
5. Port Townsend
Driving through Port Townsend is a step back in time because of the beautiful Victorian architecture and original downtown buildings. Located on the Olympic Peninsula overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, this small-town packs in quite a bit of activity for its small population. You won’t find all the amenities of a larger city but there are so many things to compensate for this. The Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center is in the heart of Fort Worden State Park and is home to 16 nonprofits and creative businesses. Public programming includes wellness, outdoor recreation, education, and arts and culture.
6. Bainbridge Island
Lovely Bainbridge Island can be reached by a short ferry ride from Seattle or a drive through the Kitsap Peninsula, which gives you more transportation options than just relying on a ferry or boat. Safewise.com ranks it as one of the safest cities in Washington. For a smaller city, healthcare is excellent on the island. Many of the larger medical networks have specialists that visit the island on certain days of the week. There are several helicopter landing areas so you can reach Seattle which has some of the best medical care in the world in the event of an emergency. The lively town of Winslow offers great restaurants, shops, and art galleries. On the island, you’ll find many public parks and beaches as well as the amazing Bloedel Reserve with its historic mansion and gardens. History buffs can learn about the Japanese Internment during World War II. Bainbridge Island was the first place Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and many in the local community kept in touch and watched out for their vacant property.
The city of Vancouver is located on the banks of the Columbia River with Portland, Oregon, right across the border. The city has made many lists of top places to retire in Washington and it is easy to see why. One of the negatives about retiring in Washington is the high sales tax rates, but by living near Oregon you just cross a bridge to tax-free shopping. Vancouver is the gateway to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge with stunning scenery for outdoor adventures. The recently revitalized riverfront connects to downtown Vancouver via the 5-mile Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail. Vancouver offers Fifty and Better programs through its parks and recreation department. There are a variety of fun options and a great way to meet people if you are new to the area.
Yakima was named by Where to Retire as one of the top eight destinations to retire for food and wine. The Yakima Valley has more than 120 wineries and it is known as the new “Napa.” Although wine is gaining in popularity, the area is known for its hops. More than 75 percent of hops grown in the United States comes from Yakima and this creates a great craft beer culture as well. Foodies will love the fresh produce from this farm community with the area known for its asparagus and apples. Yakima is also known as the Palm Springs of Washington due to its sunny weather. In addition to a vast outdoor area perfect for hiking and views of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, the Yakima River provides many opportunities for fishing and water sports. There are also many festivals throughout the harvest seasons celebrating the agricultural bounty of the area.
9. Long Beach
Long Beach comprises six darling small towns: Ilwaco, Long Beach, Nahcotta, Ocean Park, Oysterville, and Seaview. With 28 miles of continuous sand beach, the Long Beach peninsula claims the longest beach in the United States. This beach community has cute shops, galleries, and restaurants but none of the infrastructure of larger cities. With Seattle just 165 miles away and Portland just 115 miles away, you have two major cities within a day’s trip. Astoria, Oregon, is just across the Columbia River, as well. The year-round mild climate makes this an ideal retirement destination. The beautiful beach is perfect for long strolls or storm watching in the winter months. There are many state parks in the area as well as the Discovery Trail which follows the coastline into Cape Disappointment State Park and down into the town of Ilwaco.
The area has a rich history, especially that of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The World Kite Museum and the Kite Festival in August bring in people from all over the world. The windy beach makes kite flying a breeze. The seafood is fresh and bountiful from both the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River. Even though this is a big tourist destination, the peninsula is so big it never feels crowded. It is a very peaceful and quiet community to live in.
Pro Tip: When looking for a retirement destination take the time to articulate what is important to you. There are lots of lists of places to retire and each based on different qualities the author deems important. Come up with your own list and then visit the destination. Stay a few days and plan a visit during the extreme season. In Florida, that would be the summer and in Colorado, it would be the winter. Do you still like the area at this time of year?
Washington has plenty to offer all seasons of the year.
Other Washington attractions to explore: