Arizona vs. Florida – Which Is the Better Retirement Destination?

by Bill Ness on March 12, 2012

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The Sunshine State of Florida offers a wide variety of active adult communities to choose from in attractive locations along the coast or inland.

Florida and Arizona often top the list when it comes to retirement destinations. Both states offer warm climates, amenity-rich communities and beautiful homes. But what features set these two states apart? If both are appealing, how do you know which destination is right for you?

Both Arizona and Florida offer hot summers and mild winters, but there are distinct differences in these two climates. Arizona is a more arid, desert location. Temperatures across the state vary, particularly with changes in elevation, and the northern parts of the state even feature mountain ski resorts. The semi-tropical climate in Florida is much more humid, with particularly rainy periods. Although, those who love the water can’t beat the Florida coastline with beaches that stretch along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

When it comes to recreation, both states have plenty to offer. Retirees will find world-class golf courses in both Florida and Arizona, but the number of sunny days each year give Arizona golfers a bit of an edge. Florida’s outdoor recreations are likely to be water-based activities as the state boasts a remarkable number of rivers and lakes in addition to its miles of sandy coastline.

Urban attractions, like shopping, dining and live performances, are also available in both states. These do depend on where you live in the state and Florida’s more dense population has led to more cities spread throughout the state. Generally speaking, Arizona has a few urban centers, like Phoenix and Tucson, with large stretches of open space outside of the cities. Florida has a mix of cities, suburbs and small towns, with some nature preserves and wetlands nestled in between.

Retiring homebuyers who want to live in an age-restricted community will certainly have many options in either state. Phoenix, Arizona was home to the first modern active adult community (Sun City) and many developers have followed suit. Florida has since outpaced Arizona with around double the active adult communities. There are differences in the types of active adult communities available as well. Arizona has more extra-large communities (more than 5,000 homes), but Florida is home to the largest, The Villages, which has over 75,000 homes. Though both states have communities of all sizes, Florida probably wins out in overall community diversity.

Depending on where you live in either state, you may be able to find relatively similar home prices in both Arizona and Florida. As of December 2011, Zillow.com lists median home prices to be $120,000 in Florida and $127,100 in Arizona. Active adult communities in both states have single-family homes priced anywhere from the low-$100s to over $1 million.

Both Florida and Arizona are also considered to be tax-friendly for retirees. Arizona has no tax on Social Security benefits and there are exemptions for some retirement income, yet Florida wins with no state income tax at all. When it comes to property tax, Arizona residents have no state tax and are only responsible for local taxes. Florida does have property tax, but residents may be eligible for a homestead exemption if the property is their main residence.

When it comes to comparing Arizona and Florida, it really comes down to what you want in a retirement destination. Both states offer climates, attractions, home prices and tax laws which are appealing to retirees. The choice of an arid desert or a tropical coastal home is one of personal preference. If you truly aren’t sure which is more appealing, spend some time vacationing in both states. Plan your visits during different times of the year and gather some firsthand experiences before choosing your ideal retirement home.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Pearson March 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Interesting question Bill and one i was glad to see you “cleaned up” when you asked which one is right for you? Better is so subjective.

We lived in Minnesota our entire working career and every winter we escaped the frozen tundra with a cruise, typically leaving from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Our initial thought was Florida was our target. We would wander the streets pre-departure looking at single family homes (a little dismayed at how expensive they were) and wonder whether the next one would fulfill our retirement dream.

I have to admit, i could never get my arms around the whole condo on the water thing. We would leave the port and see a hundred low rise building stacked like chord wood and ponder how or why folks would want to do that. Sure the view was great, but then what?

One year we visited my folks in Sun City Arizona and our entire lives changed. It was love at first sight, and we never once looked back. At 51 we bought a very reasonably priced home, rented it our for four years and the day we turned 55, moved to the valley of the sun. Awesome choice.

For me, it comes down to this: You are either water people or you’re not. For me, a great soaking tub is a wonderful place to read a book. For those seeking a bit more hydro in Sun City AZ, we do have a limited number of homes on our two lakes (and of course there is the 7 rec centers complete with polls and spa’s). But if you need the salt air and ocean views, clearly Florida should be your destination.

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Ann March 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I have spent quite a bit of time in Florida and have now lived in the Phoenix area for 7 years since retiring. Yes, there are many “hard facts” to compare including climate, water, cost of housing, taxes. One thing that is rarely mentioned is the friendliness of the people. Many people in Arizona are from California and the mid-west. Many people in Florida and from New York and the Northeast. I have found the people I come across everyday in stores, restaurants, etc., as well as those I meet socially, to be much friendly and warmer in Arizona than those I have encountered in Florida. This may just be my own personal experience, but this “niceness” is enough for me to prefer Arizona. And, one more thing, when we want to leave and drive for 5 hours, we can reach Las Vegas and the Southern California beaches. San Diego is full of Zonies in the summer, and I will take San Diego over any Florida coastal city any day.

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john r August 12, 2012 at 12:25 am

You are comparing AZ to Fl and you somehow toss in San Diego because its a 5 or 6 hour drive away?
Thats like me saying that Fl is better than AZ because Atlanta is a 5 hour drive away?? I hope your reasoning to live in AZ isnt San Diego!!!!!!!!

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tony January 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

John,

I don’t like the tone of your message. You must be from New York. LOL

Wilma S Pinstein March 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Wilma

I have lived and played in Florida for over 28 years. I can only tell you from my experiences that the people that I meet are friendly and I need to be near the beautiful beach’s. The dry climate is very drying to my skin and I found that I had to keep drinking a lot of water because it was so dry.
The fabulous lifestyle in our active 55plus communites is fabulous. This is country club living without the country club fees.
Looking for live theater we have the Kravitz Center. Leaving on a cruise the ports are 25-45 minutes away. Give me the smell of the ocean and the piece of dining on the beach watching the waves is the best.

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Ann March 14, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Wilma, what 55 and over community do you live in? We’re looking.
Thanks,

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Marianna March 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Ann brought up a good point often overlooked; that is, the friendliness of the people in Arizona because of the midwest/California connection. Mind you, I’m originally from New Jersey, so you’d think I’d be prejudiced in favor of the East Coast. Not so. I’ve heard comments from lots of people, some whom I know personally, about the rudeness and snob attitude of many (but not all) NJ and NY people who move to Florida. I also lived in Michigan and love those people — they are down to earth like most other mid-westerners. I’m also a Yankee – both in baseball and at heart. Therefore, the South is alien country to me. I lived in Texas for 7 years. The people there were friendly, but a Yankee never really feels at home in the South — at least I didn’t. My Dad lived in Florida for 13 years (Ft. Myers), and then moved to Arizona at age 73, saying he wanted to get away from the hurricanes and the rednecks — his words, not mine — LOL.

I love the ocean and beach, but only for vacation. Arizona has no catastrophic weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms. Florida? Well, we all know what they can get in weather. Also, the humidity in Florida is not only oppressive, but it eats away at homes — including the mold problem.

If I ever leave Colorado, my best guess right now is I’m going to Arizona. I’m used to beautiful scenery. Florida has none of that. Arizona is gorgeous — there’s practically any terrain there you could want and the California beaches are not that far away if you need an occasional ocean fix. I also ski. I can ski in Arizona, but in Florida, skiing is just a dream unless you want to fly somewhere — which is horribly expensive by the time you add car rentals and lodging at the very expensive ski resorts. You could go to the Carolinas to ski, but it’s not the same as western skiing in the high-altitude dry air.

Well, hope this helps.

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mercedes March 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I’ll stick to gorgeous Central Texas, thank you.

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Barbara March 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I am looking at Hot Springs, Arkansas and wondering why you don’t show that state or area on your site.

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Bill Ness March 14, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Hi Barbara, great question! We will be adding Arkansas to 55Places.com this year. We are currently active in 19 states. We have started with the states that have the most active adult communities and we are working our way down the list of states as quickly as possible. Check back later this year for more information.

~Bill Ness
55Places.com

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randy February 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

Barbara,
If your looking in the Hot Springs, Ar area, you must look at Hot Springs Village. It is the largest gated community in the US. It incorporates 7 public and 1 private golf course, 8 lkeas, etc. all within the gated area. It comprises over 23,000 acres of land. They have their own police and fire departments, etc. Very friendly people from all over the US. Very in-expensive to live. I own 2 different lots and although I am not ready to retire, I vacation there on average once a year.

Randy

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Lily March 15, 2012 at 7:38 am

Any chance that a future publication will start providing the comparison tax rates, etc.? That would help greatly, as would letting us all know if military, government and civilian retirements/social security are taxed by each state, and by what criteria.

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Andrew March 15, 2012 at 8:00 am

My wife and I have lived in RI our entire lives and are now immersed in our search for a retirement location. With our timeshare exchanges, we have been able to travel to numerous places in the US primarily to play golf and explore. Our two favorite places just happen to be Florida and Arizona. We have been to AZ 6 times with another trip planned to Tucson next month. We absolutely love the wide open spaces and just about else mentioned in the comments from other travellers listed above. My wife, however, thinks that Florida would be a better retirement location for us because it would be easier for our children and grandchildren to visit. I will probably acquiesce and agree to FL but will forever have regrets. My wife retires this Dec. as we both will be 66 yrs. old. My biggest fear is making a mistake. Still confused after all these years !

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Marianna March 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Andrew: I do not believe in making decisions based on other people’s convenience or wants, i.e., moving to where the kids can visit more easily. True, I have no children (my choice), but most of my friends do, and a lot of them have retired where they want to go, regardless of where their adult children live. I’d bet yours would all love Arizona — much more to do there than in Florida. It’s a gorgeous western state with beautiful mountains, deserts, and good proximity to many other areas of interest like California and Nevada. In Florida, you’re stuck on a humid peninsula with nowhere to go and no scenery except boring water and palm trees — and hurricanes. There is no scary weather in Arizona, except for the summer monsoons, but they will not blow your house down..

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john r August 12, 2012 at 12:35 am

Currently there is a DROUGHT in AZ… that is scary!!!!
The Colorado River is drying up… Without water I wonder what a house would be worth in AZ.. To say there is no scary weather in AZ except for a few minor monsoons is very funny….
Have you ever seen a DUST STORM? Its amazing that you can drive 6 hours to get out of Arizona but you are stuck in Florida on a peninsula? The last time I looked ,, a peninsula gives you a way out. I guess you dont like Atlanta either.

bob March 15, 2012 at 10:30 am

hi, can any one compair florida to north /south carolina for a retirement destination thanks.

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Allan March 15, 2012 at 11:34 am

Do you have a place to go to in order to compare Fla to CA since they’re both coastal states? Thanks…. Lived in KY half my life, visited Fla a few times: way roo humid. Was in AZ last Feb from Phoenix to Yuma: can be very dry and windy but has more diversity in landscape, elevation, and culture.

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Paula March 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Would love more info for Canadians. We have lots of “snowbirds”

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Dennis August 17, 2012 at 10:51 am

I am from the land of perfect weather: San Diego. Then, when I ran out of work, at age 41, I was forced to move to Chicago, then Dallas, now Florida. Here’s my take: If $ were no option, I would retire (I am 12 years out from that as I turn 50 this year) on the ocean in Del Mar. Now, back to reality: Arizona is arid and bad for allergies and people with asthma; florida beaches are better for both. The cost of living is a push. I am a mountain lover as I grew up surfing the beaches in San Diego. I would prefer the topography of Arizona, but the tropical climate as it’s green and lush in Florida (I am hinting we are all slightly drawn to what is different from our “where we are from” experiences). Bottom line for me is I am currently considering a retirement house in Ft Meyers as NOW is THE time to buy. I am thinking we’ll have the best of both worlds if we get a fifth wheel and leave FL June-August every year to go camp out in Yosemite, Tahoe, or points West.

Different strokes, folks! Good luck!

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Goldie August 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Dennis,
I am also from Southern California which has beautiful weather, but expensive and crowded. I’ve been considering “The Villages” in Florida which seems very nice – especially since it has everything within a reasonable distance; No need to take a freeway – yeah! I’m planning to check out their 4 or 7 night stay for $150 a night which allows guests access to all amenities and even includes the use of a golf cart!

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darbygirl July 24, 2013 at 8:19 am

Arkansas for retirement? Way to cold! I live in St.Louis, way to cold! Crime is running rampant! The city of St.Louis people are moving to the burbs! I live in the city! Scary, I do not even walk my dog at night anymore! Am retired and when younger lived 20 years in Florida! Now for retirement I am heading west, Phoenix I like the metropolitan city or Tucson! I did my Florida thing! Florida also is not a very dog friendly state! I had to travel 20 minutes to take my dog to the beach! I love Southern California but to rich for my blood for retirement! But anywhere is what you make it! Thanks!

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Goldie August 25, 2014 at 5:38 pm

darbygirl….Phoenix sounds like an excellent choice!

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Tom January 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

My parents retired and bought a winter residence in Arizona, while keeping their primary residence in Colorado, and loved it for 20 years. They never were bored, spending equal time in each, so did not have to deal with the cold winters, or desert summers (I did for 12 years, and it kept getting hotter for longer). They bought a beautiful mobile home in a 55 plus park on a third of an acre for under $100k, drove a gold cart in the park, and expenses after for 6 months were less than $7k annually. They had a golf course in the park, condos and homes, great security, and all types of activities. Beautiful environment. I hope to do the same, wherever my summer home ends up. I did enjoy the AZ environment, but had to relocate to Socal for work. For my retirement, I would have preferred the mountains in the summer months, then AZ, then FL for winter, in that order. However, the air pollution has become a major problem, especially in the winter in the Phoenix area, so one would want to consider less populated areas for health. Also, the drought issue in the West could be a significant problem down the road. Do your research, and good luck!

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