Ready to trade those snow shovels and windshield scrapers for year-round sunshine, beach towels, and seaside margaritas? Your parka for flip-flops? Over 100,000 tired-of-winter retirees spread their wings and make the move to Florida each year, anxious to embrace its laidback, Jimmy Buffett-style lifestyle.
For several months, my wife and I scoured the Sunshine State searching for the ideal place to retire. We’ve traveled down the Atlantic Coast, up the Gulf Coast, and crisscrossed in between. After visiting dozens of towns and cities, we’ve crowned the beautiful Gulf Coast city of Fort Myers the winner.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: The area’s in tatters after being hit by Hurricane Ian’s wrath. That’s true — it’s still in recovery mode. But the teamwork and resilience we’ve witnessed during subsequent recovery efforts have only endeared us more to the community. Residents here care passionately for one another, their neighborly and unselfish compassion displayed virtuously on their sleeves. Furthermore, despite these optics, Fort Myers historically ranks slightly below the state average for hurricane activity.
Here are 12 reasons why we believe Fort Myers is the best spot to retire in Florida:
It’s Florida, so of course the weather is nice. But the “City of Palms” scores higher than many other areas in the state due to its relatively moderate summer temperatures (rarely topping the mid-90s), mild winters (mid-60s to 70s), and almost 300 days of annual sunshine. Sure, it can get muggy during the summer rainy season (expect frequent torrential afternoon thunderstorms), but many consider it a fair trade for months of snow, ice, and those dirty slush piles.
2. It’s Affordable
I know that term is relative, but Fort Myers provides more bang for your buck than anywhere else in southern Florida. The cost of living here is 4 percent less than the national average and 6 percent less than the state average. Despite being a coastal town, real estate’s also a bargain at 8 percent below the national average. The savings translate particularly well, of course, if you’re selling out-of-state property to buy here. Florida is among a handful of states that don’t impose state income taxes. Americans receiving Social Security, or income from pensions or retirement plans like an IRA or 401(k), need only pay federal taxes — a boon for those on fixed incomes. Property tax is also reasonable, and if you’re a senior residing in your own property, you’ll likely qualify for a reduced Homestead tax rate. (Do budget for proper hurricane insurance coverage, however.)
3. Beautiful Beaches For Miles
With over 7 miles of gorgeous, white sand beaches and more than two dozen public access points, it’s a sun-worshipper’s dream. Sure, there are only two bridges leading from the mainland to Fort Myers Beach on the barrier island — and they’re often clogged with traffic, but that’s because everyone loves them!
Pro Tip: The beach at Lovers Key State Park was rated one of Florida’s Top 10 by Conde Nast Traveler — although it’s currently closed during Hurricane Ian reparations. You’ll also find serene beaches with captivating sunsets at nearby Captiva Island, which has largely recovered from Ian.
4. Beyond The Beach
Burn like a lobster, but love museums, galleries, and theaters? You’ll find a thriving arts scene in the downtown River District. Lose yourself in yesteryear by spending the day strolling around historical buildings and botanical gardens at the former summer residences of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford (where Edison escaped northern winters for over 50 years). There’s also the IMAG History & Science Center — known locally as the Imaginarium — with an engaging aquarium component, as well as the Southwest Florida Museum of History. Engaging plays, many featuring Broadway stars, entertain audiences regularly at Florida Repertory Theater’s Historic Arcade Theatre (and its smaller sister stage, the ArtStage Studio Theatre). For those who enjoy a good meal — or cocktails — before or after the show, you’ll find a plethora of nearby restaurants and bistros to choose from, ranging from upscale dining to quaint sidewalk cafes.
Pro Tip: Locals are picky about their seafood, so restaurants in Fort Myers won’t last long if they’re not fresh and tasty.
5. Healthcare Access
Popular local hospitals include Lee Memorial Hospital and Gulf Coast Hospital, both part of the highly-regarded Lee Memorial Health System. Many retirees in the area report a high level of satisfaction with healthcare and medical emergency resources, encompassing specialty care in cardiology and cancer treatment. Fingers crossed you won’t need any of these, but it’s reassuring to know they’re there if you do!
6. Natural Surroundings
Stroll boardwalks through cypress wetlands and pine forests, and visit the Audubon aviary at Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, where injured eagles, hawks, and owls are rehabilitated. Or, paddle the 200-mile water trail along the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail (great for beginners). Marvel at nature along easy-to-navigate trails at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, where volunteer guides happily share their naturalist knowledge with awestruck hikers. Visitors often report seeing bobcats and otters. Nearby Cape Coral, known for its plentiful canals and manatees, is also popular with the birdwatching crowd. State parks are abundant in the area with each sporting diverse landscapes and bountiful opportunities to enjoy the spectacular beauty of Florida’s flora and fauna. So, strap up your hiking boots, grab a canteen of water, and get ready to be dazzled!
Almost 30 percent of the Fort Myers population is in the 65+ age demographic, and most appreciate the fact that Fort Myers is more relaxing with a slower pace of life than Fort Lauderdale or South Beach, for example. It’s laidback, quieter, and largely stress-free — with more of a small-town feel. People here are genuinely friendly; nothing fake or forced about it. Mature retirees embrace this attitude, understanding the value of good neighbors.
Smack dab between Tampa and Miami on I-95, it’s also a short run from Orlando. So, if you ever feel the need for a dose of big-city life, your craving can be satisfied within a 2.5-hour drive. Even the Jimmy Buffett-approved Florida Keys are just a few hours away!
9. Historic Downtown
Palm trees grace both sides of the downtown’s wide, red brick-lined boulevards, adorned with colorful sculptures and murals. Newer, upscale high-rises dotting the scenic riverfront fail in their attempt to steal attention from the character-rich century homes surrounding them. Known as the “River District,” this central commercial zone is booming with shops, eateries, theaters, and bars but nonetheless retains the enchanting charm of a bygone era. (Bowler hats are optional.)
10. International Airport And Cruise Ships
Need to visit family or friends — or host them at your new, tropical hideaway? Ache to travel to other exotic locales? No worries. Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) is just 15 miles from the city center. It’s smaller and much less congested than the airports at Orlando and Miami, so you might even enjoy flying. (Then again, it’s the same airplane food, so probably not.) If you find yourself yearning to jump aboard the Love Boat — even for a short 3- or 4-day adventure — several cruise ships depart from nearby Port Tampa Bay, less than a 2-hour drive away.
11. Nearby Islands
The best part about these islands is… you can drive to them! Shell collectors from around the world visit Sanibel Island, heralded as the “Shell Capital of the World.” Its mother lode of ocean treasures includes 250 types of shells. Snorkelers and sunbathers love it too. Escape the hustle and bustle and grab some scrumptious key lime pie over on the very walkable Captiva Island while admiring its breathtaking ocean vistas. (And don’t miss the Island Hopper Songwriter Fest each September!) Pine Island was hit hard by Ian, but this bohemian-style community is bursting with artsy resilience. It’s Florida’s longest island at 17 miles — and 2 miles wide — the same size as Manhattan!
Pro Tip: Download a fun and fully-interactive shell identifier iPhone app from Sanibel’s National Shell Museum.
12. An Active Lifestyle
Fort Myers is a mecca for sports and outdoor enthusiasts. Grab some steel line and head for the deep sea to reel in some tarpon or swordfish. Paddleboard, surf, boat, or swim the calm, clear Gulf Coast waters. Watch shorebirds lurking in lush vegetation as you kayak through the mangrove forests along the Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail (rentals available if you don’t have your own equipment). If hiking or biking is your thing, you’ll find plenty of park trails to explore as well. Those who enjoy tennis or golf will be on cloud nine year-round with 40 golf courses nearby!
Greater Fort Myers
The Fort Myers population grew by almost 40 percent between 2010 and 2020, becoming the 6th fastest-growing city in America. Obviously, we’re not alone in recognizing the value of the region’s mild winters, moderate cost of living, bounty of interesting activities, and that omni-important, “I could live here” vibe. Check it out soon, though; while prices remain attractive right now, they’ll almost certainly rise following the post-Ian revitalization that’s already well underway.