The 10 Best Small Towns in the U.S. for Snowbirds Escaping the Winter
It's time to flock to warmer places.
Snowbird season is the time of year when northerners flock to warmer climates down south to spend weeks or even months temporarily residing in a sunny locale. But this annual migration isn't just about finding a place warm enough to swim all year round, there are other factors to consider. The overall cost of living, access to airports and major highways, along with what healthcare options are available in your new city are just some of the preparatory assessments you might think about before making your escape.
Perhaps you crave a beachfront bungalow or want a desirable vacation rental for hiking inland parks. When wintering with the family, it may be more important to stay within reach of exciting attractions. Whatever your interests, you'll find sunshine inspiration right here. Read on to discover the 10 best small towns in the U.S. for snowbirds.
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The Best Small Towns in the U.S. for Snowbirds
1. Silver City, New Mexico
Snowbirding Central, a blog and resource for those who winter away, credits Silver City's low cost of living and 300 days of annual sunshine for its popularity among snowbirders.
Thanks in part to that sunny environment, Snowbirding Central says newcomers can expect to "enjoy arts and entertainment, festivals, historical sites, and plenty of outdoor recreation in and around" the town of just over 10,000 people.
From its downtown district packed with boom town history to its proximity to Gila National Forest, Silver City has a little something for everyone. Annual events include a writing festival, county fair, wild west rodeo, and a blues fest, though this tiny town celebrates art year-round with an abundance of galleries and street art including more than 50 murals.
2. Desert Hot Springs, California
Canadian resource site Snowbird Advisor claims California's Desert Hot Springs is a "very affordable place for snowbirds to spend the winter." As one of the communities near Palm Springs, this quieter town provides quick access to popular attractions while retaining a more modest population of just over 32,000.
Home to hot and cold mineral springs, Desert Hot Springs is largely known as a spa and wellness destination. Additional natural attractions include the San Bernadino Mountains, Mission Creek Preserve, and a lush wetland area within the Wildlands Conservancy. This makes the area a prime destination for hiking, cycling, and exploring eco-diversity.
Those in search of tee time will find an overwhelming variety of golf courses within the region, while the culinary set can enjoy dozens of independent eateries within the city limits.
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3. Orange Beach, Alabama
Orange Beach is known for its laidback shoreline on Alabama's Gulf Coast. Visitors from around the country flock to the sugar sand beaches on Orange Beach and neighboring town Gulf Shores for spring vacations, yet the area also boasts some incredibly relaxing neighborhoods for snowbirds.
Short- and long-term vacation rentals abound, while a variety of upscale RV parks offer a variety of winter home options. Those seeking a permanent abode here will find cost of living falls within the national average, though savings are found in lower gas and grocery prices.
With a population just over 8,300, Orange Beach has a small-town beach vibe with big city amenities. The area is home to backcountry trails, watersports, live music venues, family attractions, and an abundance of eateries highlighting regional seafood.
4. Bonita Springs, Florida
Neighborhood data and relocation service site Niche claims Bonita Springs is "one of the best places to live in Florida." Set along the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida, it has a year-round population of around 58,000 with immediate access to every service imaginable from health care to banking and shopping.
The town is mostly known for its nature and wildlife, parks and recreation, and boardwalk along the beach. Thanks to a warm climate year-round, Bonita Springs attracts visitors aplenty, so peak tourist season can make it seem like a boom town. Even so, the Florida Guidebook blog claims "Bonita Springs is usually quieter than many of Florida's other beach towns, even in the height of snowbird season."
On its own, Bonita Springs has immediate access to outdoor recreation, nightlife, shops and services, yet its proximity to Naples, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral broaden what the area has to offer. With nearby Southwest Florida International Airport offering domestic and international flights, as well as immediate interstate access, Bonita Springs is also a desirable snowbird destination for those who want to explore from their winter homes.
5. South Padre Island, Texas
The beachfront resort town of South Padre Island sits along the southern coast of Texas. In contrast to Galveston's party beach vibe, South Padre Island is known for its laidback living, with incredible access to nature hikes, birding, and water sports.
Short- and long-term vacation rentals make snowbirding in South Padre Island easy and may be a better option than buying since the area's housing costs are higher than the national average. Many snowbirds arrive to this Texas beach town by RV, opting to winter at one of the low-cost or free camping sites.
Thanks to comfortable weather year-round, winter activities in South Padre Island range from fishing and golfing to cycling and sandcastle building. Snowbird resource Winter Sun Expert suggests winter in South Padre Island is "an ideal season for snowbirds who are looking for warm weather, a peaceful atmosphere, and good recreational opportunities."
6. Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
With a population of just over 2,000 people, it's no wonder Sullivan's Island is such a dreamy South Carolina destination for those seeking a serene winter hideaway. As one of the best beach getaways in America, this sleepy town can feel bustling overnight once high-season vacationers come to town, but for most of the year its residents have a gorgeous beach playground all to themselves.
For those keen on socializing, Sullivan's Island has a close-knit community thanks to its footprint of just two and a half miles of shoreline. It's hard not to know your neighbors, though this town is laidback and welcoming. There's a lively restaurant district frequented by visitors and locals alike, while activities here include crabbing, birding, surfing, and gallery hopping.
Vacation homes are available for those who want to test the waters, so to speak, to see if this small-town has long-term snowbird potential. Contemporary design is available but vintage reigns here, which is no wonder since Sullivan's Island is just minutes from Charleston, one of the country's best cities for antiquing.
7. Gulfport, Mississippi
Though Gulfport is the second-largest city in Mississippi, this big little town has a modest population of just over 72,000 people. Its geographic footprint sprawls from the Gulf of Mexico coastline inland toward a national forest and state wildlife area. Golfing, nature trails, and water sports are all easily within reach.
Thanks to a wide assortment of recreational areas, coupled with a moderate climate and affordability, Gulfport has become particularly desirable for retirees and snowbirds. New Home Source, a resource for those on the move, also note Mississippi's friendly tax laws. "Mississippi exempts all forms of retirement income from taxation," from Social Security to 401Ks and pension income.
Compared to other coastline cities along the Gulf, Gulfport's cost of living is on the lower side, at 2.6 percent less than nearby Biloxi. Plus, with Interstate 10 and Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport within city limits, Gulfport offers easy access for snowbirds on the go throughout winter.
8. Tybee Island, Georgia
Tybee Island has just over 3,000 permanent residents and is 17 miles from cultural hotspot Savannah, making it a desirable locale for snowbirds. The barrier island is popular for its history, outdoor recreation, and boutique shops and dining, in addition to nearly 3 miles of sandy beaches. Its rustic, natural environment appeals to those in search of quiet, with stunning sunrises and sunsets along the coast.
One of Tybee Island's drawbacks is that residents live on a 100-year flood plain. One of the snowbird secrets writer Lana K Scherer shares on her Midlife Snowbird blog is to think like a local. She says this includes becoming familiar with your winter home's geography, weather patterns, and urgent care centers. Such details may seem trivial, she writes, "until there's a serious weather problem or other emergency."
The city of Tybee Island advises residents to plan for storm surges, as "risks associated with living on a barrier island mean we may be subject to evacuation orders when a hurricane approaches." For snowbirds, stormy weather calms down from November through spring, and choosing a residence with a lifted foundation helps keep stray water at bay. With adequate planning, Tybee Island continues to be a dreamy locale for snowbirds, as demonstrated by the seasonal population spike.
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9. Laughlin, Nevada
Susanne Pacher, creator of the Travel & Transitions website, says Nevada "has not only been popular with tourists but also with Northerners who are seeking an escape from the cold." The town of Laughlin, bordering alongside Arizona's Bullhead City, averages mid to high 60s in January and February. Thanks in part to moderate winters, Pacher says many "baby boomers have chosen Nevada as a place to retire."
Across the Colorado River, Bullhead City has seen a boom, but just under 9,000 people reside in the quiet town of Laughlin. It's known as an excellent locale for raising a family just as much as it is for settling down in retirement years. Perhaps that's in part due to the low cost of living, with Laughlin's housing averaging 28 percent lower than the national average.
Between Laughlin and neighboring Bullhead City, residents have all the amenities of a larger urban area balanced by excellent outdoor recreation. Parks and a riverwalk provide great options for evening strolls while golfing, kayaking, and boating are all easily within reach.
10. Gilbert, Arizona
Gilbert has long been a snowbird favorite thanks to its favorable cost of living, abundance of shops and services, and proximity to gorgeous state and national parks. Even with its continual growth, Gilbert retains its small town charm. Those interested in hiking or birdwatching will find this suburb, just 30-minutes outside of Phoenix, to be a promising escape from winter weather.
Snowbirds come in a range of ages, interests, and abilities, so considering your new winter home's local vibe is important. Do you seek an outdoorsy atmosphere or prefer engaging in hosted activities within a social community? In his book AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle and Pursuing Your Dreams, writer and snowbirder Bart Astor says one major decision to make "involves choosing a level of activity and a lifestyle that best suits you."
Gilbert is known for being highly accessible with dozens of active lifestyle retirement communities, making it a popular destination for snowbirds. Reliable public transit and being only 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport also make the town appealing for those who want to continuing traveling from their new winter home base.