Northwest or Southwest? The decision is difficult, but either way, you'll have top-notch communities to choose from.

Deciding to retire in Florida is an excellent idea, especially for active adults who want sunshine and shoreline. Deciding to retire on Florida’s Gulf Coast is an even better idea; there are fewer tourists than on the Atlantic side, there’s a lot of nature, and new residents will find plenty of golf, shopping, art, and recreation.

The next thing to decide is—which part of the west coast will make the best Florida retirement? In Northwest Florida, there’s a more tranquil feel and a lot of new construction available. Southwest Florida offers a bit more activity, and over 100 established active adult communities ready to welcome new residents.

If you’re wondering where to buy, take a look at the differences in each area, and decide which spot sounds more like home to you.

Northwest Florida Retirement

What to Love

With nicknames like Nature Coast and Emerald Coast, it’s easy to see what attracts people to Florida’s northwestern region. It has remained fairly wild and untouched by corporate and commercial sprawl. The waters are green and well-known for producing mussels and clams, and the area is home to hundreds of bird, fish, and plant species.

In Northwest Florida, it’s all about nature and outdoor activities. There are dozens of beaches and state parks that allow swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. There also are hiking trails and camping spots. The Apalachicola State Forest is close, and there are plenty of scenic and historic spots to visit, including lighthouses and archeological sites. A great place to spend some time is Cedar Key, a salt marsh and fishing village about 10 miles off the mainland and accessible by the narrow and low-lying State Road 24. In Northwest Florida, residents also enjoy being close to Panama City and the state capital of Tallahassee.

Golfers will enjoy exploring courses like Bay Point Golf Club with its incredible views and Windswept Dunes Golf Club in the tiny bayside town of Freeport. And, while the Northwest Coast of Florida is notoriously tranquil, there are plenty of places to party. The Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis offers shows, casinos, and several interesting dining options. Contemporary art galleries can be found all over the coast, one of the most popular being the Weil Art Gallery in Panama City, which features recent works of art by indigenous Panama peoples from the Wounaan, Embera, and Guna tribes.

Where to Live

Buyers looking for Northwest Florida homes for sale should consider Watersound, where there are two active adult new construction communities to be excited about. One of the most thrilling and highly anticipated neighborhoods is Latitude Margaritaville Watersound, a 55+ community designed for anyone who embraces the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle celebrated in his famous lyrics. Residents can expect amenities like resort-style pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a thriving retail center, and a clubhouse designed as a town center, where neighbors can gather for social events, club meetings, and other activities.

Buyers who prefer a luxury community without age restrictions can check out Watersound Origins, where new homes start in the high $500s. More than a dozen floor plans are available from 1,750 to 2,948 square feet with three or four bedrooms, three or four bathrooms, and attached two-car garages. It’s a community built for golf cart travel, and there are also boat slips and private beaches. A six-hole golf course is also available to residents, and the Watersound Beach Club includes restaurants, cafes, and spa privileges.

Southwest Florida Retirement

What to Love

Southwest Florida covers a lot of mid-sized cities that are popular among active adults looking for a fun but affordable Florida retirement. With destinations like Sarasota, Venice, Fort Myers, and Naples, there's always something to do and somewhere to play. The beaches in Venice wash up shark teeth, and the shells at Sanibel Island are legendary. The area’s coastline is popular for snorkeling, sunbathing, and deep-sea fishing. It’s not hard to find a pier with local artists selling their creations, restaurants with the freshest locally caught seafood, and shops and boutiques offering everything from postcards to home furnishings.

Bird and wildlife lovers will enjoy the habitats along the southern Gulf coast. At Koreshan State Park in Estero, there’s not only hiking and biking to be enjoyed but also a historic religious settlement to visit. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples has an observation tower, and it's known for its trophy fishing and canoeing.

Baseball fans will find that Southwest Florida also fits their spring training needs. The Tampa Bay Rays play in Port Charlotte, and both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins train in Fort Myers. If golf is your preferred sport, there are hundreds of courses to choose from. Some of the most popular places to play include Naples Grande Golf Club and Rolling Green Golf Club in Sarasota.

Where to Live

Plenty of 55+ communities can be found in Southwest Florida, and for buyers, the toughest decision will be whether they want to live close to the water, on a golf course, or in a condo with great views and an easy trip to spectacular shopping. One of the most popular communities for new residents has been Pelican Preserve in Fort Myers. New and resale homes are available as condos, attached villas, or single-family houses. It’s on a golf course, it has every amenity you can think of, and it’s constructed with environmental health in mind. Pelican Preserve was one of the first master-planned communities to earn the Auduban’s Gold Seal of Sustainability.

Del Webb Naples is also appealing to 55+ buyers looking for a lot of amenities and comfortable housing. This community in Ave Maria is like its own town; it's close to a university, it's equipped with pools and fitness centers, and it offers movement studios and space for volleyball, pickleball, and tennis. There are 2,000 single-family and attached homes. The community is close to Interstate 75, making trips to Miami, the Everglades, and Tampa easy to accomplish. 

Lakewood Ranch is a master-planned community just outside of Sarasota with a lot to offer buyers. There are five communities inside the development, several of them 55+ and others without age restrictions. Check out Cresswind at Lakewood Ranch for new construction or Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch for new and resale homes with a Mediterranean aesthetic and no age restrictions.