A hiker standing on the ridge of a cliff overlooking the Carolina mountains.

Here Are the Best Places To Retire in North Carolina in 2024

Retirement North Carolina

by Matt Lyons Posted on December 12, 2023
Is North Carolina a good place to retire? With its rich history, beautiful mountain views, stunning coastlines, and a fabulous arts, music, and entertainment scene — not to mention its favorable tax benefits and low cost of living — current retirees living in North Carolina would likely answer yes! In fact, it’s estimated that around 17 percent of the current population in North Carolina — which grew by over 500,000 people between 2011 and 2021 — is over the age of 65. 

But where are the best places to retire in North Carolina? Let’s find out.
Planning a move to North Carolina? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

Carolina Beach with lifeguard station #21. 

Retiring in North Carolina vs. South Carolina

Both of the Carolinas are popular retirement locations, as both North and South Carolina boast lots of natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, fun local attractions, and a rich history. The main differences between these two states, when it comes to retirement, are the cost of living and tax benefits offered for retirees. 

With a cost of living index of 89.3, it’s technically cheaper to live in South Carolina versus North Carolina, where the cost of living index is a close 91. Tax rates are also technically more favorable in South Carolina, as there is no social security income tax, yet withdrawals from retirement accounts and public/private pension income are partially taxed at a rate of 4 percent. In North Carolina, withdrawals from retirement accounts and public/private pension income are fully taxed at a higher rate of 4.99 percent, yet social security income is not taxed, similar to South Carolina. 

But these differences are minimal, and deciding where you’re going to spend your golden years doesn’t just boil down to tax rates and cost of living comparisons — especially when the numbers are so similar. Instead, you’ll want to look at the whole picture. For starters, here are some pros of retiring in North Carolina versus South Carolina.

Pros of Retiring in North Carolina vs. South Carolina

  • Both North and South Carolina get to experience each of the four seasons, with warm summers and cool winters. But because of the mountainous regions throughout North Carolina, it does tend to get a little cooler than South Carolina — a bonus for those retirees who relish the change of seasons.
  • While both of the Carolinas are proud to show off their natural beauty, North Carolina might be able to show this off a little more than South Carolina (in our opinion), as it is home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the U.S.
  • Transportation is strong in both states; however, North Carolina has more of an extensive public transportation system.
  • North Carolina is home to a vibrant arts and culture scene, whereas South Carolina is more solely focused on outdoor activities.

Places to Retire in North Carolina — FAQs

Q: Is North Carolina a good state for retirees?
Yes! North Carolina is considered a moderately tax-friendly state for retirees, as there is no tax on social security income. The low cost of living is also favorable among retirees, and other perks of the state include the natural beauty, plenty of ways to stay active, lively arts and music scenes, and more. 

Q: Where is the safest place to retire in North Carolina?
According to Niche, Davidson is one of the best and safest places to retire in North Carolina. 

Q: What is the best county in North Carolina for retirees?
Carteret County is the best county for retirees, according to Niche

Q: Is it cheaper to retire in North or South Carolina?
While both of the Carolinas are much more affordable to retire to than many other regions of the country, South Carolina has a slightly lower cost of living along with more favorable tax rates for its retired population. 

Best Places to Retire in North Carolina 

If you’re looking for one of the best places to retire in North Carolina that offers the Tar Heel State’s best perks, look no further than this list of the top 12 for retirees in 2024! 

1. Pine Knoll Shores, NC

Ranked #1 on Niche’s list for the “Best Places to Retire in North Carolina,” this first town provides all the amenities retired residents could ask for. The local public beaches are very accessible with a series of walkways, and the area’s Crystal Coast Country Club is a dream golf destination for retirees. 

There are also plenty of places to shop around town, such as at the Atlantic Station shopping Center. You can also travel just 20 minutes away from the coast to Trash & Treasures Antique Mall

2. St. James, NC

Located in Brunswick County, St. James is ranked as one of the 10 best places to retire in North Carolina — and it has something of interest to offer for every kind of retiree. North Carolina’s natural beauty is perfectly captured in St. James, with places such as the Woodlands Park and Waterway Park showcasing the state’s outdoor scenery with fun recreational activities available like fishing, hiking, biking, and more. 

There are a couple of fantastic markets local to St. James in Southport, as well, such as Angie’s Fresh Produce and the Marketplace on Howe. Beacon315, Mo’s Wood Fired Kitchen, and San Felipe Mexican Restaurant are some of your best options available when going out to eat. 

3. Pinehurst, NC

Pinehurst is one of the best places to retire in N.C. for all walks of life; however, Pinehurst is particularly desirable for retirees because of all its local indoor and outdoor activities. FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital is also nearby, which is a quality healthcare network serving as the referral center for 15 counties. 

If you enjoy getting outdoors and staying active, the local Reservoir Park is home to over 160 acres of land and close to a 95-acre lake. There are also plenty of nature and hiking trails, and fishing and canoeing are among the most popular activities on the lake itself. 

Take time to enjoy the local arts scene at places like the Carolina Philharmonic, and make sure you don’t miss out on fun local events with the grandkids, such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival of Trees lighting.

Nags Head, NC beach, with homes and beachgoes along the water 

4. Nags Head, NC

A popular resort community for retirees, Nags Head is one of the best places to retire in North Carolina near the beach. Along with its exceptional beaches, Nags Head is home to a rich history and friendly communities. Situated right in the middle of the Outer Banks, retiring in Nags Head provides convenient access to the surrounding towns and islands. 

Nags Head is also home to one of the “oldest and longest” piers on the entire Outer Banks, making it one of the best places to fish in the entire region. You will have to make a trip at some point to Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of the most well-maintained lighthouses in the nation, that includes self-guided tours of the impressive structure. And if you’re a fan of the arts, the Seaside Art Gallery is one of the premier places in Outer Banks to view and buy fine art.

5. Fearrington Village, NC

Fearrington Village is a planned community near Chapel Hill, one of the top college towns in the country. Fearrington Villages attracts a mix of all walks of life; however, it provides many amenities for its retired population that are harder to find elsewhere in the state.

Facilities such as the Duke Center for Living at Fearrington are ideal for retirees looking to improve their fitness, which contains professional staff along with fitness specialists, personal trainers, exercise physiologists, and even a heated indoor pool. The Duke Primary Care Clinic is also a recent addition to the area, which has some of the best health and wellness facilities in the entire state. 

Emerald Isle, NC beach with homes on top of the dunes 

6. Emerald Isle, NC

Emerald Isle is another one of the best towns to retire in North Carolina by a beach, as it sits on the western side of the stunning Bogue Banks barrier island. Emerald Isle is a tranquil small town, perfect for retirees seeking a laid-back lifestyle, and it’s also a popular vacation destination, thanks to its 12 miles of beaches, green waters, fun festivals, and more.

While the beaches in Emerald Isle can get quite crowded during the summer time, driving on the sand and camping are popular activities from September to April. Residents and tourists visiting Emerald Isle can check out EmeraldFest in the summer — a free concert series. And the fall season brings the Emerald Isle Beach Music Festival, which is another great event to get out and enjoy some music and great food. 

7. Flat Rock, NC

Also sometimes referred to as the “Little Charleston of the Mountains,” Flat Rock is one of the most charming villages in North Carolina with a lot of history. The entire village is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and tourists from all over the world travel to Flat Rock to check out the magnificent Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

Besides the rich history, one of the most popular attractions offered here is the Flat Rock Playhouse, a local professional theater offering performances from musicals to operas to rock concerts. And just minutes away from the Blue Ridge Parkway, retired residents living in Flat Rock can visit for biking, hiking, and even ziplining opportunities.

8. Laurel Park, NC

  • Average rent (one-bedroom): $1,275
  • Median home sale price: $592,500
  • Great for: Tranquility, outdoor recreation, fun local attractions

Laurel Park is another community situated near Flat Rock, which is home to the Blue Ridge Mountains. With a population of well under 10,000, Laurel Park is a tranquil small town that’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities like hiking, fishing, and camping. And while the atmosphere in Laurel Park is very peaceful, residents can always venture to other nearby cities, such as Asheville and Charlotte, for more entertainment. 

Some fun attractions close to Laurel Park include the Elijah Mountain Gem Mine and Goat Farm, The Brewery Experience, and Jump Off Rock. Bring the grandkids to pet some goats and check out some gorgeous gems, take a guided brewery driving tour, or stay active and hike on a variety of fun trails and drive through the most panoramic views in the state!

9. Clemmons, NC

Living in the village community of Clemmons provides the best of both worlds for retired residents, with so many things to do in the area — and it’s not too far from other larger areas, like Winston-Salem. Along with a vibrant business community, Clemmons is a great place to live if you enjoy the outdoors, as it’s home to Tanglewood Park. This park is home to an aquatic center and a two-acre space for your dog to play and run around. 

Some fun things to do local to Clemmons include visiting the Creative Drama Children’s Theater to catch a performance with the younger grandkids, taking walks on the Village Point Greenway, and spending some time by the pier. 

10. Valley Hill, NC

Nestled right in the Appalachian Mountains, you can find the charming town of Valley Hill, which offers a relaxed pace of life and many local activities available to the community. The Valley Hill Heritage Festival is, by far, one of the area’s most popular events and showcases local artisans, music, and plenty of options for food.  

Only about 10 minutes away from nearby Hendersonvile, Valley Hill is in close proximity to a number of nature parks, such as the Triple Falls Trail, the Bullington Gardens, and Jackson Park. Hendersonville Theatre is a great place to visit to catch both music and plays, offering everything from Broadway-style musicals to rock concerts and even stand-up comedies. 

A lush river in Davidson, NC as the sun hangs over the horizon 

11. Davidson, NC

Situated just 22 miles north of Charlotte, Davidson is a gorgeous lakeside town that rests on the east shore of Lake Norman, which is over 30,000 acres. Davidson is also a college town, as it’s home to Davidson College, a very selective liberal arts institution. 

A charming downtown with red brick sidewalks can be found in Davidson, which includes lots of shops and cafes. Served by a branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, the Davidson College Arboretum dates back to the 1850s and features the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center

12. Biltmore Forest, NC

Biltmore Forest is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods close to Asheville that features an eclectic mix of homes and easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, similar to a couple of other places on this list. The community offers a fair share of parks, greenways, and other common areas. For dining, shopping, and entertainment, residents can head to Biltmore Park Town Square

The local Biltmore House has been deemed “America’s largest home” and is where visitors can self-guide their way through three floors and the basement of the former residence of George and Edith Vanderbilt — the founders of Biltmore Forest. You can even take rooftop tours and explore the unique balconies of the house. 

A couple loading up their PODS container for their move to North Carolina

PODS Can Help You Move to One of the Best Places To Retire in North Carolina 

Once you've found one of the best places to retire in North Carolina with your name on it, give PODS a call and let them help you get there when you're ready for the big move. They can provide you with a portable storage container that can be delivered right in your driveway, and they'll take it to your new home whenever you're ready. One month's storage is included in each move, too, so you can easily unload without feeling rushed. 

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

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