5 LGBT-Friendly Small Town Retirement Destinations

Most lists of top retirement destinations focus on medium to large cities. For LGBT baby boomers, as well as many others who prefer places with diverse populations with thriving arts and culture scenes, larger cities usually have the most to offer. Larger cities also provide more options for medical care and senior support services.

But if you prefer the more relaxed pace of small town living but still hope to find an inclusive and welcoming community with a fun, artsy ambiance, you’re in luck. Here are five small, affordable, LGBT-friendly towns with big personalities that are worth your consideration as retirement destinations.

Bisbee, Arizona

During its copper mining heyday in the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Today this town of 5,575 in the southeast corner of Arizona has transformed into a vibrant, quirky town with interesting shops, a thriving arts and music scene and remarkably well preserved 1900-era architecture. There are dozens of unique local restaurant choices and western-style saloons. Real estate prices and overall cost of living are well below national averages, and temperatures are moderate year-round. When you need to venture to a larger city, Tucson is 80 miles to the northwest. Bisbee has been voted ‘America’s Best Historic Small Town’ by USA Today readers.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs is a resort spa town nestled in the scenic Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Its charming Victorian architecture, twisting streets, and easy going, laissez-faire attitude has attracted a diverse community of 2,350. The town offers “diversity weekends” four times a year as well as being home to numerous gay-owned businesses. Nearby Fayetteville offers many of the cultural perks of a college town, but the nearest large city is Tulsa, 150 miles to the west.

Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan

The adjacent towns of Saugatuck and Douglas, on the shore of Lake Michigan, have a combined year-round population of about 2,000. But these towns can swell to three times that size during the summer season. Saugatuck’s Oval Beach has been named one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde Nast and the nearby sand dunes are visually stunning. Between the two towns, there are over 140 LGBT-owned or friendly shops, galleries, restaurants and lodging options. While Saugatuck and Douglas thrive during the summer months, winters are cold and annual snowfall is over six feet. Median house prices are approximately $300,000, which makes this area a more expensive choice. When you need a big city, Grand Rapids is just 40 miles away.

Yellow Springs, Ohio

This small, woody town of 3,500 about 20 miles east of Dayton earned its reputation as a liberal oasis during the hippie movement of the 1960s. Today, its small downtown is lined with shops, galleries and a tiny long-standing art film theater, many of which sport rainbow flags and decals. Homes are inexpensive, the cost of living is low, and there’s plenty of hiking to enjoy in nearby Glen Helen and John Bryan State Park. When you need big city amenities, Dayton is nearby and Columbus and Cincinnati are both about an hour away. Yellow Springs experiences typical Ohio winters with below-freezing temperatures and an average annual snowfall of over two feet.

Moab, Utah

Moab is a small, isolated town in eastern Utah, situated between the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both renowned for their stunning natural beauty. The area thrives on outdoor adventure and is popular with mountain bikers, hikers and whitewater rafters. Downtown Moab offers an interesting array of restaurants, galleries and shops. The town began to establish its reputation as an LGBT-welcoming place several years ago when over 500 of its 5,000 residents turned out to participate in Moab’s first-ever Pride parade and festival. Now, the town stages annual events such as A Day in the Park, the Visibility March, and Gay Adventure Week. House prices and cost of living are close to the national averages. Since Moab is situated in an arid high desert region, it experiences chilly winters and warm summers with light annual precipitation and snowfall. The nearest large city, Salt Lake City, is over 230 miles away.

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For this article, only cities with a population under 25,000 were considered. These five cities were selected after evaluating a wide range of factors including the cost of living, median house price, state tax burden, available art and cultural amenities and the size of the LGBT community. Since these towns represent a variety of personalities, geographical areas and climates, there should be at least one place that’s appealing to you.

As always, please feel welcome to comment below.

Reprinted from my blog on U.S. News – On Retirement.
© 2017 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Small town street: Dustytoes.
Bisbee: Mr.TinDC. Some rights reserved.
Eureka Springs: Jack GraySome rights reserved.
Saugatuck: njenneySome rights reserved.
Yellow Springs: weirdbydesignSome rights reserved.
Arches National Park (Moab): Sean Biehle. Some rights reserved.

17 Responses

  1. Les Groby says:

    Regarding Yellow Springs, Ohio, your statement “homes are inexpensive, the cost of living is low…” is absolutely false. Housing in Yellow Springs is scarce and the prices are much higher than surrounding communities. Utility costs are the highest in region, by far in some cases. Real estate and local income taxes are high. No, it is NOT a low-cost place to live.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Les,

      You’re correct that prices in Yellow Springs are higher than other communities in the surrounding area, as well as most other places in Ohio, so my claim that “homes are inexpensive, the cost of living is low…” is probably an overstatement.

      A lot depends on what you’re comparing it to. Ohio is the second cheapest state in the nation for home prices (Iowa is cheapest). The median price for a home in Yellow Springs, according to Zillow in July, 2021, is $189,200. That will seem very reasonable to many people in other parts of the US. The median home price in the US is $350,300. Zillow’s “typical” home price for middle-tier homes is $287,148.

      City-data.com calculates that the cost of living index for Yellow Springs is 96.6, which is higher than surrounding areas such as Dayton and Springfield, but lower than the national average of 100. So again, it may not be “low cost,” but it is below average in the US.

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. HGH says:

    After I retired about five years ago, I moved from Washington, DC to Eureka Springs, AR.

    DC had been a great place to live and work, but now living on a retirement pension I needed a less expensive place to hang my hat. I had grown up in Arkansas, and like so many others, I fled the state after graduating from college. Arkansas then touted itself as The Land of Opportunity. Or as we would jokingly add, “and the first opportunity you get, you get out.” Perhaps that is why the state legislature eventually changed its motto to The Natural State.

    I lasted in Eureka Springs for only about six months. I had never been so bored in all my life. Living for over thirty years in an urban center like Washington, DC will do that to you. For most LGBT people, there really is no going back home.

    Eureka Springs today is what it must have been like to live in the Jim Crow south in the 1950s. Or as the Hollywood Reporter said in its review of the recent documentary “The Gospel of Eureka,” Eureka Springs is “equal parts queer pride and Christian piety.” It is a tiny segregated oasis afloat within a sea of openly hostile conservative Christianity. Yes, Fayetteville is nearby; but Branson, MO looms even closer.

    I now live in Williamsburg, Virginia.

    While Williamsburg — nor Virginia, for that matter — is an epicenter of openly queer living, it is relatively sane, moderately affordable, well governed, and there is a small LGBT presence here. When I need to bite the apple, I can easily escape to nearby Richmond or Norfolk or DC or Rehobeth Beach for a day or for a weekend.

    Nirvana does not exist. So you just have to decide for yourself what you can live with, and then make your peace with those things in life that you would rather live without.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your first-hand experience with living in Eureka Springs. I can see how living there would really put you in an oasis. Once you have seen and done what there is to do in town, there’s not much else, and you may not feel very welcome once you’re outside city limits.

  3. Carl says:

    With the exception of Ohio, I’ve been to all of these towns and I think they are all great choices. While we’d all like to live in a blue state, it’s not possible or practical for all of us to pick up and move to a coast due to family, finances, etc. Granted, if you are already living in a progressive state, you probably won’t be interested, but everyone is already aware of the obvious locations, so kudos for writing a piece on some of the more obscure locations with potential,

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Carl.

      Nationwide marriage equality has eliminated some of the discrepancies between states, but some differences remain.

      But I think our approach should be to continue to work on gaining equality and acceptance in those places that are still somewhat behind, rather than just clustering in those places that are already LGBT-friendly. I hope to see the day when we can feel safe and welcome wherever we want to live. Until then, we’ll never be entirely free.

  4. Wm DeyErmand says:

    I am surprised you didn’t pick cities from Oregon, South Carolina or Pennsylvania Dave. I believe all states irregardless of the laws have their “hollers” where it isn’t LGBT-friendly.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      I really wanted to include New Hope, PA, but real estate there is pretty expensive. I did get a couple suggestions from Oregon that I may include if I ever venture into this controversial water again.

  5. About Creativity says:

    Also, I have been to Bisbee, Az – very special place on the planet. The soil there is amazing. The area reminds me of the western days if you will…I might wear my cowboy hat.

  6. About Creativity says:

    Very good and thank you for the insight of options.

  7. Mark J says:

    Arkansas? Arizona? Utah? Really? These towns may be “LGBT-Friendly” but those states certainly are not. Not LGBT-friendly in the extreme. Thanks, but I’ll look elsewhere.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      I live in Arizona (Phoenix suburbs), and many parts of the state are quite LGBT-friendly – most parts of Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Sedona, Jerome, and of course Bisbee. It’s one of the least red of the red states.

      The reason I chose these and excluded many of the better-known LGBT-friendly small towns such as Provincetown, New Hope, Key West, Rehoboth Beach, and anywhere in California is that the real estate is expensive and, in some cases, they are in high-tax states.

      No place is perfect.

    • Randy says:

      Exactly. If you are LGBT you are not going to want to live in a state that has laws that are not supportive of you or your relationship. This article is crap.

    • Anonymous says:

      I lived in Oregon for a few years and Yachats is a known gay town, very welcoming, on the coast and it’s gorgeous! I am not LGBT but I have a child who is. I currently live in Utah and it’s mostly Mormon population are very judgmental and unaccepting. I don’t care where you are in Utah, it’s not a place for any LGBT. Contrary to what the claims are about the church/members being kind, loving, merciful and Christ like, that’s far from what the LGBT will encounter.

      • Dave Hughes says:

        I had not heard of Yachats until now. I’ll check it out!


      • Jackie says:

        I’m sorry you are feeling so unwelcome here. We have a large gay population. It’s a great place to live, if you can accept there is no separation between State and church. Honestly, the only Mormons I am friends with are Jack Mormons. (Non practising).
        Maybe because I mostly hang out with other gay people, my experience has been different.
        Have you checked out the gay center? I understand the proud parents of gay kids is pretty big.
        I am on here looking for a small gay friendly town, with a milder climate. Definitely can’t afford CA. If I do find a place, I will really miss my life here. My friends, my support. I just hate the hot summer’s. Can live with the snow. Just want somewhere more even keel☺
        I hope you find friends here you can enjoy. Plenty of Jack Momons hereThis place has changed so much since i came here 20 years ago. Always had a great gay community though. Everyone is welcome at the gay center. It’s on State st. Sorry can’t remember the address. Good luck

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