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Retiring to the Desert: Palm Springs Versus Las Vegas

by Susan Quilty on 11 Comments

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Palm Springs has long been known for its world-class resort, championship golf courses and beautiful climate, making it one of the most attractive places to retire.

Last fall, the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism launched a new ad campaign: Las Vegas versus Palm Springs. Designed to draw visitors to one desert oasis over another, this campaign shows us that each city has a definite personality. With their own distinctive attractions, it’s easy to find reasons why both Las Vegas and Palm Springs are popular destinations for active adult retirees. But how different are these two desert hot spots?

At first glance, it’s easy to see some big differences in the entertainment available at each of these desert cities. Las Vegas, Nevada, is known around the world for its flashy Strip of all-night casinos, star-studded live performances, bustling night life and famous restaurants. On the other hand, Palm Springs, California, is perceived as a quiet getaway with championship golf courses, relaxing resorts, full-service spas and classic cultural attractions. Yet there is more to each of these popular cities.

In either city, active adult retirees will find a beautiful desert climate. Located in the Coachella Valley and sheltered by a ring of mountains, Palm Springs enjoys hot, sunny days and cool, clear nights. Summer daytime temperatures frequently reach 100 degrees, and winter days are mild with highs in the low 70s. Las Vegas enjoys a similar desert climate, with sunny skies and seasonal temperatures only a bit cooler than in Palm Springs.

When it comes to daily living, relocating retirees will find that either city offers much more than its popular tourist attractions. In Palm Springs, active adults will love the area’s abundant open space and friendly, small-town feel. Shops range from upscale boutiques to shopping malls and department stores. Hiking and golf are both popular activities, and one of Palm Springs’ most impressive golf courses is found at the beautiful Trilogy at La Quinta active adult community.


Many retirees enjoy Las Vegas for its combination of an electric urban downtown with an option for peaceful suburban surroundings.

Over in Nevada, retirees will find a wide range of attractions just outside of the glittering Las Vegas Strip. Local museums cover many special interests, while the nearby Lake Mead Recreational Center gives residents the perfect place to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and camping. Active adults who want to expand their minds are also welcome at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where they can take classes or attend a variety of cultural performances.

Home prices in both cities can vary widely, but the current market has lowered home prices in both of these areas. Retirees looking for sprawling resort-style communities will have no trouble finding developments that fit the bill in Palm Springs. With about 5,000 homes, Sun City Palm Desert is the area’s largest active adult community. Yet mid-sized communities like Trilogy at La Quinta and Terra Lago also boast championship golf courses and an array of amenities.

In Las Vegas, relocating retirees can also find impressive resort-style developments, as well as more intimate (and more affordable) active adult communities. Two of the largest communities—complete with multiple golf courses—are Sun City Summerlin and Sun City Anthem. More affordable homes can also be found in cozy communities like Ardiente and Solera at Stallion Mountain.

While the Bureau of Tourism in Palm Springs may be keen on promoting their own city, it’s clear to see that there are many reasons why both Palm Springs and Las Vegas continue to be popular destinations for relocating active adult retirees.

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  1. Palm Springs has gone way way up in price…. housing is astronomical. The prices go up in winter for restaurants and entertainment. The crime rate has gone up right along with the cost of housing. There are meth heads on every corner in the Coachella valley.
    I know there is crime in Vegas but at least it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, and La Quinta all have plenty of crime inside their fancy communities. And they pretend they’re way better than the more known crime ridden cities of Cathedral City, Indio, and Desert Hot Springs. And those cities are right next to them.
    Go where you want…I’m just saying that at least Vegas is the devil you do know, not some pretentious facade.

    1. As a former Coachella valley resident, I can back up everything you say, Suzette. And, add something- there are very few jobs there. Hard to support yourself.
      I know this is about retirement, but many retirees do part time work. And, if one is a little younger and wants to settle there before retiring, like I did, you’ll find there are very few jobs to be had.
      The cost of living there, especially housing, keeps going up. Many of the nice pros moved and left snobs behind. After 2006, the valley lost it’s charm and appeal. Now, crime and drugs run rampant. It still looks nice but don’t let that deceive you. It’s only skin deep.

    2. I have been visiting Palm Springs for 25 years. I own a small home there. Where you find the meth-heads, drug dealers must be that you go to parts of the Coachella Valley that most people do not visit. Any city has bad elements if you go looking for trouble any city will welcome you with open arms. We do not even lock our doors. When I see comments like yours I always wonder what kind of lifestyle you are living?
      I know Las Vegas quite well.Crime is rampant in some parts of town but in most of the area homes are safe, secure and serene. Want to get into meth or H it is available. Just hang out near the Stratosphere. All the trouble you can imagine. Want to walk with your children at night, try Summerlin.

  2. I agree with both Suzette and Mike. Both make valid points. However, I ended up retiring in Palm Springs. After MUCH consideration and comparison. I like that there’s more to do in Vegas (and no, I do not gamble) and the shopping is 100% better. Although Vegas is isolated, it is self contained. Palm Springs is not. If you need something out of the valley, it’s a long awful trip to Los Angeles or San Diego. I chose Palm Springs because I need a smaller community. For me, Vegas is just too big. Who knows, however…..I may sell my PS home and head over that way if I don’t like the way things are going here.
    Here are some notes and tips to help, if you’re going to Palm Springs to retire.
    1. Do not buy a condo, townhouse, or apartment. Buy a home. A single dwelling. And buy it on fee land, so you own the land, too. Otherwise, it’s owned by Indian Tribes. Make sure you know who’s living around you, and beware homeowners who rent their places out. Check crime history for your immediate area, and ASK QUESTIONS. Be informed before you buy. And install an alarm system.
    2. If you’re buying in Palm Springs itself, stay in the South end. You may pay a little more for your home, but it will be worth it. If you decide to brave the North end, stay East. Unless you’re going to be living in Little Tuscany or the Movie Colony. The North end is bad news. Crime and gangs.
    3. Stay away from Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta and Indio. Although some have nice areas, they are basically hotbeds of crime. Especially Desert Hot Springs.
    4. See what your potential neighborhood is like on Friday and Saturday nights. It can be a real shock. Check it out on BOTH nights. Hey, that applies to ANY neighborhood, in any town.
    5. If it’s in your budget, think about installing solar for your heating, cooling, etc. Summers here are scorching hot….from May through September. Your a/c bill can go really high….$300, $400….upwards of $600 per month…..even more. Solar will take it way down.
    6. Don’t leave anything out in the sun. It’ll bake, flake, and blow away.
    7. Don’t discuss sensitive/personal matters with anyone until you know them well. Small town(s), big ears.
    8. Be prepared to pay more for most things here. It’s a tourist/resort area, and they take advantage of it.
    9. Know which areas are higher crime. Avoid those if possible. If not, make it a daylight trip. Always look around and be aware of what’s going on and where you are. Again, advice for anywhere. The warm weather and casual atmosphere of the desert can make you drop your guard. Don’t. Stay alert.
    I hope these tips help all Coachella bound retirees. Good luck. So far, I’m doing OK. But prices keep going up….

    1. Thanks Andy, I presently live in Naples, FL. We plan to move West to either Vega$ or PS. We are visiting PS this weekend and our last visit was 1995. It does appear similar to Naples, where everything is much higher prices compared to its sister city of Fort Myers. We do like Vega$ more for the Entertainment value, single family home costs and ease of air travel(Everyone flies to Vega$).

  3. We actually lived in Palm Springs for about 8 years, from end of 2005 – mid 2013. Our first 2 years there were the last good years of the desert. Homes were being built everywhere, people kept coming there, and crime went up.

    Sorry, Bobby Axelrod, I’m not trying to be argumentative, but you must live way, way up in the Mesa, and never come down, because the meth heads are everywhere. And we don’t hang out in bad areas, or look for trouble. We don’t do drugs- heck, we hardly ever drink! But the meth heads are all over the valley. In Palm Desert they like the bus stops. And crime is everywhere, too. What made us move is that our home was broken into, alarm on. Luckily we came home while they were in there and I carry a gun, so we stopped them and held them till the police got there. That shook us up…bad enough, then our neighbors a couple doors down were burglarized. Their alarm was on, too. They weren’t home, so the thieves got away with quite a bit. We lived in South PS, between the Mesa and Smoke Tree shopping center. There is a fire station in the area we lived. A nice area, but places were being burglarized on a regular basis.
    After property values started rising again, post recession, we decided to sell and get out.

    We decided on Vegas because there are nice areas to the west of it, and there’s Henderson to the east. We bought a home in Spring Valley, and love it. Homes are much cheaper in Vegas, and the crime stays mostly where it is, in the city. We are not gamblers, but there is gambling and entertainment on the strip. There is shopping and restaurants galore; Vegas, unlike the Coachella valley, is self contained. Everything you need is there. And, like Tall Terry said, there’s a big airport. The one in PS is dinky, and you have to take a hopper to Los Angeles or Phoenix to get where you’re really going.

    Shopping in the Coachella valley is very limited, and unless you want to commute 3 1/2 hours to Los Angeles or San Diego, you’re stuck with whatever is in the valley. Riverside, et al, is closer, but again, not many choices.

    If you’re looking to retire, or just move, Vegas is a better choice. Read Andy’s post wherever you’re thinking of going, he has some great advice. And listen to Suzette and Mike, because they have the REAL truth about the Coachella Valley. And let me tell you, if you don’t have financial security, it is easy to get stuck there. I know several people who are.

  4. I love Palm Springs, and I miss it terribly. We had to move due to hubby’s job. Would I go back and retire there? I don’t know, but “no” is winning right now. Currently, we’re in the Pacific Northwest…and I hate it. I miss the sun.
    All the previous posters are 100% right…. except for Bobby A. He is delusional. Recent visits have revealed that it has gotten WAY more expensive, the crime rate has at least quadrupled, and too many people live there now… it’s over crowded. The real estate prices…both rental and sales….are astronomical. That’s a big caveat. The shopping is terrible, although they’ve FINALLY added a Whole Foods. Big deal. And the druggies and homeless are everywhere….no, Bobby, not just if you’re looking for them.
    I would say weigh Vegas very carefully. The outskirts are very nice, the prices are lower. But Palm Springs still has a tiny bit of charm left over from the old days.
    BTW, we lived there from 1987 till 2004.

  5. ALL of the above comments are very informative and helpful. Thank you!
    I am retiring in 2018; leaving the SF Bay area. I have weighed the pros and cons of staying in CA and have looked online at retirement communities in PS and Palm Desert. Sky high housing prices, HOA fees and let’s not forget those property taxes – and liberal politics.
    Found my Mayberry in Nevada, NE of Vegas. Close enough to Vegas but far enough from the maddening crowds. Affordable all around. 300 days of sunshine. Tax friendly! I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. You must be looking at Mesquite, NV. It’s a very nice community; I have friends there. The only drawback is that there is very limited choice in shopping. My friends are probably moving to Vegas outskirts because they are tired of commuting to shop…and that includes groceries. But other than that, it’s nice. If you don’t need more than a basic grocery store and a Walmart, you’d be fine there.

      As for Palm Springs, I lived there for over 10 years. Too young for retirement, I needed work. After the recession, jobs were extinct, unless you were in healthcare. The blue collar jobs disappeared. Rents, real estate, and everything else went prices through the roof, as you found, Calnurse. I left in 2011, after I lost work and couldn’t find another job. Luckily I had a savings, so I could get out. It’s a beautiful place, but has changed way too much, for me, anyway. I’m glad I left.

      Another consideration is the Coachella fest, and Stagecoach fest..2 music venues that come to the desert every spring. They take place in Indio but can be heard as far as Palm Desert. That’s nothing. The Coachella crowd is druggy, boozy, and messy. They litter grocery store parking lots from North Palm Springs all the way to Indio. They are messy and rude, and camp out at the venue. So local businesses (hotels, etc) do not benefit much. The Stagecoach crowd is better behaved, though they’re pretty boozy, too. So the valley is invaded with these rude people from everywhere. Fights at festival are common, and they commit other crimes. I never liked when they came every spring.

      Hope that helps. I’m not.trying to take anything away from Palm Springs; it’s a great place to visit. I’m just stating the facts. Hope this helps.

  6. My wife and I have lived in Palm Springs since 2004. As other posters have said, there was a big change in 2006. Many homes were built (mostly in other desert cities), people flocked there from other areas, and, as with all growth, crime has gone up. However, we have stayed because we love it so much.

    We were in our early 50s when we moved there, and recently I retired. My wife is an independent contractor, and is working part time. She will retire in a couple years. We moved here from the suburbs of the East Bay, in the San Francisco Bay area. We owned a modest house there, and because of the exorbitant rates there, we sold it for a pretty penny. We decided to rent for a couple years, then buy in a 55+ mobile community here in PS. More for our money.

    My wife had to work for a company for a couple years, then she built clientele and went out on her own. I became a manager for a local business, having done so with success in the Bay Area. We were renting at the North end of PS, and although we had a nice apartment, we saw that the North end had its problems. There was more crime there, unless you lived in the movie colony are, or went far East. I think another poster touched on this, too. So, we bought a mobile in a nice community in South PS, in 2007 when home prices went way down. We found a huge remodeled home priced very low, and the lot rents in our community are low, which is a great help. Our community is conveniently located, for PS, anyway, and has been safe and trouble free. Because we have money left over, we have a little nest egg to see us through difficult times, if that happens, or to chip away at for vacations and little treats. With our combined retirement income, we will be fine. We installed solar right away and it has saved us hundreds every month on utilities. So we are very fortunate, as real estate prices have gone crazy here. We could sell our home and easily quadruple our investment.

    The lack of shopping is a bummer…but the addition of Whole Foods has helped with groceries. Also, the mostly useless Henry’s out in La Quinta has become a Sprouts, so we’re good for groceries. Jensen’s, although pricey, has some items that are unique and unavailable elsewhere. My wife’s sister and her husband live in the Los Angeles area, so 3 or 4 times a year we go there for long weekend visits and retail therapy. They visit us, as well.

    We have been to Vegas a few times and we both love it. The outskirts are very nice, and more laid back than the city. If crime keeps going up here in the Coachella Valley, and it gets too overcrowded, we may head over that way. But for now, we’re doing fine.

    If you decide to retire in this area, and can afford it, you’ll be fine. If you need work, however, there isn’t much here anymore, especially for blue collar jobs. Other than that, PLEASE read poster Andy’s thread…he knows exactly what the desert is, and has some great advice. And do compare PS area with Vegas….Vegas is most definitely worth a good look. Good luck to you!

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