Hurricanes and sweltering summer heat aside, Florida is still a great place to retire. Yet it's not necessarily the top spot in the country.
Based on David Savageau's research, those honors go to a coastal community 3,000 miles away that's not even in the Sunbelt.
The half-million U.S. seniors who move between states each year should think about retiring to Florence, Ore., says the author of the just-published 2004 edition of "Retirement Places Rated."
Based in part on his nationwide travels in an Airstream RV, Savageau chose 203 retirement spots to rate after factoring in safety, affordability, age-based demographic trends, population size and natural resources.
He then ranked them on the basis of ambiance, cost-of-living, climate, personal safety, services such as health care and education and local economy. That last factor, Savageau says, is especially important to seniors who plan to work during their retirement
1. Florence, Ore.
Florence, based on Oregon's central coast with a full-time population of 7,000, fulfills most if not all of the criteria that retirees and baby boomers seek. It get high marks for ambiance: There are massive dunes to hike, sea lions to watch, lighthouses to photograph, golf courses to blaze and mushrooms to hunt. Plus, there's Historic Old Town, which features art galleries and antique stores.
2. Scottsdale, Ariz.
Just northeast of Phoenix, this 185-square-mile city with a population of 250,000 is far from an undiscovered gem. But it is a perennial favorite, especially when it comes to climate (the number of sunny days per year is 314 and average precipitation is just 7.66 inches) and ambiance (there are 180 art galleries and as many golf courses, including six of the top 100 in the country, according to Golf magazine.)
3. Charleston, S.C.
Nestled on the coast, South Carolina's second largest city boasts unique architecture (it's one of the oldest cities in the country), warm Southern hospitality (it's been designated "America's Most Mannerly City" for nine years running) and warm weather (the average January low is 38 and the average August high is 89).
4. Melbourne-Palm Bay, Fla.
Hurricanes notwithstanding, this part of Florida's Space Coast is home to 33 miles of mostly unspoiled beaches, the Cracker Fest, greyhound race tracks and weather that's almost always warm -- January's average low is 51 and July's average high is 90. Despite its climate, Melbourne-Palm Bay is not necessarily known as a retirement community, says Chuck Galy of Melbourne's Chamber of Commerce.
5. North County San Diego
Over on the other coast, 30 miles north of San Diego, is this popular retirement area, which includes the cities of La Jolla and Del Mar. And what's not to like?