11 Places To Retire That Are Just Like California (But Aren’t in California)

Escape to California-like havens without the Golden State price tag.

senior couple enjoying beachside waves
Updated May 28, 2024
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California sounds like a dream location for retirement. But the state’s high cost of living and high taxes can make retiring in the Golden State daunting.

Fortunately, there are many places that share California's charms but don't come with the state’s high price tag.

Whether you're planning for retirement or your golden years are still a little while away, check out these options if you want a California-like retirement without the drawbacks.

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Austin, Texas

f11photo/Adobe downtown skyline of austin texas

Austin is known for being an eclectic town with a fantastic music scene, fun outdoor activities, and cool bars and restaurants. The city also has great weather, which is important if that’s one reason you've considered California.

While Austin’s cost of living is far below that of many California towns, the capital city has become a somewhat expensive place to live. So, before you retire, you might want to visit and see if it’s right for you.

Brookings, Oregon

mdurson/Adobe beach scene in brookings oregon

If you like California’s location but don’t want to live in the state, head a little farther up the coast to Brookings.

The town on the Pacific Ocean has a coastal, small-town feel without the added costs of living in California. It can be a great place if you want to spend some of your retired life outdoors or on the water.

Charleston, South Carolina

f11photo/Adobe charleston south carolina usa

If you love the ocean but don’t mind switching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, add Charleston to your list of retirement candidates.

The South Carolina city has parks and museums, and costs are more affordable than in California. South Carolina doesn’t tax Social Security income and only partially taxes pensions and retirement account withdrawals.

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Port Townsend, Washington

R. Jeff Huth/Adobe port townsend washington

Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is another affordable coastal town.

There are plenty of outdoor activities you can enjoy if you want to stay active. Or, check out the town’s art scene before getting a good bite to eat.

The city is also only two hours from Seattle if you want to be relatively close to a big city without being too near.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Maridav/Adobe honolulu city from diamond head lookout

If island life is more your style, check out Honolulu as a possible retirement option.

The city has plenty of sun, beaches, and snorkeling. Or, you can take an adventure into nature with day trips on the island of Oahu.

Be aware that the cost of living can be high in Hawaii, even if property taxes are low. So, if your main reason for avoiding California is cost, Honolulu might not be a great fit.

Denver, Colorado

f11photo/Adobe denver skyline at twilight

People who love the mountains in California might want to consider Denver as an alternative.

The Mile High City of Denver offers easy access to the mountains and nearby ski resorts. Enjoy skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer.

Unlike California, Colorado is considered a tax-friendly state for retirees.

Key West, Florida

aiisha/Adobe footbridge to smathers beach at sunrise

At the southern tip of Florida is Key West, a tropical paradise with a laid-back attitude similar to what you will find in some coastal California towns.

The city has plenty of outdoor activities due to its pleasant weather, so you’ll never be bored if you want to be active.

However, housing can be an issue, as home prices are high here. But you will not pay income tax in Florida.

Wilmington, North Carolina

Chansak Joe A./Adobe johnnie mercers fishing pier at sunrise

Wilmington has beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean that could make you forget about the sand and surf in California.

Check out the city’s Riverwalk, which features outdoor cafes, a marina, a concert venue, and more. Median home prices here are a bit above the national average.

Tucson, Arizona

SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe tucson arizona usa skyline

Retirees who like the warmth of California but want something more affordable are heading to cities in Arizona, such as Tucson.

Tucson has outdoor activities for residents and visitors alike, including golf and hiking in the Sonoran Desert. Housing is affordable here.

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Seattle, Washington

Tommy/Adobe seattle skyline with space needle

Want a big city on the West Coast that isn’t in California? There aren’t too many options, but Seattle is a great exception.

The city has a variety of things to see, including museums, the Space Needle, and the famous Pike Place Market.

But like other major cities, Seattle’s cost of living can be a bit high.

Galveston, Texas

Matt/Adobe beach at galveston seawall

Galveston is on the Gulf Coast in the Lone Star State. It has beaches and warm weather like California, but tends to be much less expensive.

It can get hot here, but you can cool off at Schlitterbahn Waterpark. So, grab one of your best travel credit cards and take a trip to Galveston to find out whether it’s a good fit for you.

Bottom line

charnsitr/Adobe highlighter with retire date

As you prepare for retirement, keep in mind that there are plenty of California-like options that won’t weigh you down with the elevated prices, high taxes, or traffic congestion of the Golden State.

So, explore some of the options on this list to see if one will provide you with big California dreams on a much smaller budget.

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Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.