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6 Reasons to Retire in Arizona

Sunny days, desert vistas draw many to settle in the Grand Canyon State


spinner image a couple sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon
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Few states can top Arizona’s résumé when it comes to attracting retirees. With low taxes, endless outdoor activities and a dry, stable climate (no hurricanes here), the Grand Canyon State ranks behind only Florida in drawing older adults, and Mesa leads the nation’s urban areas in gaining new denizens ages 60-plus, according to a review of recent U.S. Census data by consumer finance website SmartAsset.

Real estate broker Scott Fuller, who moved from Northern California to Gilbert, Arizona, in 2020, notes one advantage his adopted home state has over others when it comes to winning over retirees.

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“Many have already been here,” he says — visiting the Grand Canyon and other major tourist attractions, seeing kids attending Arizona State in Tempe or the University of Arizona in Tucson, “or as snowbirds from the Midwest and East Coast who have already spent chunks of time there.”

“A lot of people think Arizona is just kind of the desert way out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do,” says Nat Pellegrini, 80, who moved to the state in 2005 with his wife, Peggy.

“But in our community” — Sterling Grove in Surprise, about a 30-mile drive from Phoenix — “we have restaurants, walking trails, pools, quite a lot of amenities,” Nat says. “Plus, you can be outdoors more often during the year. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and we didn’t think about golf until April or May because everything was frozen with snow on the ground. Not here.”

Here are six reasons to consider retiring in Arizona, and one reason to perhaps think twice.

1. (Almost) endless sunshine

Arizona was long known as the state of the 5 Cs: citrus, cotton, cattle, copper and climate. It’s still the top copper-producing state in the U.S., but it’s that last element, climate, that remains the primary draw for retirees.

Yes, it gets hot during the summer. Really hot. And it’s getting hotter: On July 18, temperatures in Phoenix topped 110 degrees for a record 19th straight day.

But it truly is a dry heat, and from November through April average highs in the Phoenix area range from 66 to 85, with just eight inches of rain annually. Just make sure when summer rolls around that you understand the health risks extreme heat poses, especially for older adults, and take steps to mitigate them.

spinner image woman hiking in Sedona Arizona, at a scenic red rock formation
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Temperatures are cooler at increased elevations in cities like Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff and Tucson. Those places even get snow in the winter months. But overall, Arizona is the sunniest state in the union, according to federal data, and the World Meteorological Organization names Yuma the sunniest city on earth.

2. The (really) great outdoors

The Grand Canyon may give Arizona its nickname (and draw nearly 5 million visitors a year), but there’s must-see country just about anywhere you go across the state.

Along with three national parks — Grand Canyon; Saguaro, dotted with giant cacti; and Petrified Forest, with its fossil-filled Painted Desert — Arizona is home to 18 national monuments (tied with California for most in the country), including unforgettable Canyon de Chelly, Montezuma Castle and Sunset Crater Volcano. Not to mention swimming, boating, camping and fishing at Lake Mead, America’s first and largest national recreation area. A National Park Service Senior Pass ($20 annual, $80 lifetime) gets you unlimited access to all of it.

Or you can marvel at the beauty of Sedona’s Red Rocks, look for ghosts in the old mining town of Jerome or step back into the Old West in Tombstone. More than 2,000 hiking trails crisscross the state, offering everything from scenic strolls through city centers to more elevated workouts like Camelback Mountain within sight of downtown Phoenix, Humphreys Peak near Flagstaff and Mount Lemmon outside Tucson.

3. Low taxes

“Arizona has a very friendly fiscal structure when it comes to retirees in terms of the property taxes they pay and the income taxes they pay,” says Dennis Hoffman, director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

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As of 2023, Arizona has a flat income tax of 2.5 percent, and WalletHub’s 2022 ranking of states by property taxes places Arizona in a tie for 12th lowest (with Arkansas). Some forms of retirement income are taxed, but Social Security isn’t. Veterans can fully deduct military retirement pay from their state taxes, and former federal workers can deduct up to $2,500 a year in pension income.

Overall, “[tax] rates are very low, with the exception of sales taxes, but there is no food tax of consequence,” Hoffman says. “Those who are looking to avoid taxes and regulatory burdens are attracted to the state.”

4. World-class golf

With more than 300 courses and all that sunshine, Arizona’s golf scene is hard to beat, whether you’re a duffer or a diehard. There are municipal courses, daily-fee courses, resort and private courses, and residential golf communities ranging from the very upscale Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, with its collection of Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, to Sun City northwest of Phoenix, where none of the eight courses cost more than $50 to play.

“I look at the appeal of golf for retirees in the Valley of the Sun, and really throughout the state, as the three Vs: variety, views and value,” says Joe Passov, who knows the turf well as former senior travel editor for Golf Magazine and a 40-year Scottsdale resident.

spinner image Aerial shot of houses built around an artificial lake in Sun City, an age restricted community in the metropolitan area of Phoenix,  Arizona on a clear sunny day.
Lakeside homes in Sun City, an age-restricted community near Phoenix.
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“You can pay top dollar for the trophy courses, but there’s also exceptional value that so many courses, especially in and around Phoenix, really deliver,” he says. “For those on a fixed income, like many retirees are, affordability and value are easily found thanks to the sheer volume of choices out here.”

5. Plenty of company

Home to the country’s first residential development for people 55 and up — Sun City, which opened in 1960 — Arizona now has 151 active adult communities, more than all but five other states, according to real estate site 55Places.com.

Many are clustered in largely purpose-built communities such as Sun City, neighboring Sun City West and Green Valley, south of Tucson, where upwards of 75 percent of residents are 65-plus. But retirees have also gravitated to midsize cites and scenic towns such as Prescott, Sedona and Lake Havasu City.

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Nat and Peggy Pellegrini moved to Surprise in 2020 after 15 years in Sun City West.

“We liked that Sterling Grove is a multigenerational community,” Nat says. “What we had noticed in other 55-plus communities is that you get a lot of turnover. As time goes by, when a spouse dies, the other one usually leaves and moves back to be with family elsewhere. Having younger people here keeps it fresh.

“There are more people using the restaurants and facilities,” he adds. “We really like that concept. There’s a vibrancy that adds to the whole experience.”

6. The old ballgame

Fan of diamonds? Half of Major League Baseball heads to Arizona every February, with 15 teams prepping for the season to come in Cactus League action at 10 stadiums in the greater Phoenix area, many offering ticket discounts for retirees.

Residents and snowbirds alike flock to see the Chicago Cubs play at Sloan Park in Mesa, the biggest spring ballpark at 15,000 seats. Other top tickets include the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks, who share Salt River Fields in Scottsdale with the Colorado Rockies, and the San Francisco Giants, whose preseason stadium sits in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale.

Of course, you can watch the D-backs through the summer at Chase Field in Phoenix. Add in the Arizona Fall League, showcasing top prospects from early October to mid-November, and Arizonans can enjoy baseball almost year-round.

And one reason to think twice

Of course, by drawing so many to the state, all those sunny days, spectacular vistas and perfect greens put pressure on another important commodity — places to live. According to Catherine Reagor, senior housing journalist for the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, there may not be enough housing supply to meet the growing demand.

“Many retirees buy in retirement communities in metro Phoenix and often buy new homes,” she says. “But new home building in the valley is down from last year and still hasn’t recovered from the crash of 2008–11. And builders aren’t expecting to ramp up during the next few months.”

That means the market is “bouncing back in sellers’ favor because supply is so low,” Reagor adds. “Sun City and Sun Lakes, two of the valley’s bigger and well-known retirement communities, are sellers’ markets again.”

Another challenge to the housing market: water, or lack of it. After years of sprawling development, Arizona recently put limits on new residential development in the Phoenix area because there’s not enough groundwater to support all the planned housing. Amid a long-term drought, it’s an issue prospective residents may want to keep an eye on.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Arizona's tax deduction for military veterans.

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