Chattanooga named the best place to retire in new study by Southern Living magazine

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Blue Moon takes a bow over Chattanoogas riverfront on Aug. 31. Chattanooga was rated as the best all-around place to retire by Southern Living magazine.

Chattanooga has been rated as the best place to retire in a comparison of 41 top-rated cities across the South in a new analysis by Southern Living and Investopedia.

The magazine compared each place's housing affordability, the prevalence of restaurants, hospitals, colleges, and other economic and demographic data to determine that Chattanooga was the best city all-around to retire in.

Carolanne Griffith Roberts, a writer for Southern Living, said Chattanooga is an affordable, attractive and hospitable city that offers lots to do but still retains a small-town vibe.

"This spot ticks all of the boxes for a great retirement town — including being a magnet for your children and grandkids," Roberts wrote about Chattanooga in this month's Southern Living magazine. "It's a particularly great spot if you have grandkids, who might be interested in visiting attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum and the Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain."

Florida was the most popular state to move to in 2022 with 319,000 new residents last year, or about 874 people moving into Florida every day, according to census data. But moving data show that Tennessee was the one state that attracted more people moving from Florida than the number that migrated from Tennessee to the Sunshine State.

"We have four great seasons and a lot lower taxes and cost of living," Chattanooga developer John "Thunder" Thornton said in a telephone interview Friday. "That's why we've attracted retirees here from all 50 states and why I am confident in saying this is the No. 1 greatest state for retirement."

During the past decade, Thornton has lured hundreds of retirees from across the nation to his mountaintop development known as Jasper Highlands near Kimball, Tennessee, just west of Chattanooga. Thornton is now marketing an even bigger development known as River Gorge Ranch on Aetna Mountain near Chattanooga.

Bob and Linda Miklos were one of the first to move into Jasper Highlands eight years ago when they relocated from Connecticut to retire in East Tennessee.

"We were looking for lower taxes, more livable weather and a conservative government and brand of people," Linda Miklos said in a telephone interview Friday. "But it was also important to us to have a close connection with a great city. We did our homework and found Chattanooga met the test. We evaluated it for ourselves and fell in love with the vibe of the city, the many great events, great restaurants, and of course, the river and boardwalk."

Dane Bradshaw, president of Thunder Enterprises, which developed Jasper Highlands and is now working on plans for both the River Ranch Gorge and Riverton in Chattanooga, said East Tennessee continues to gain the attention of more retirees looking to relocate.

"It's a trend that seems to grow bigger every year since we first opened Jasper Highlands a decade ago," Bradshaw said. "A lot of retirees are moving here because of the pain of where they are coming from and that can be politics, taxes, cost of living or climate."

Best places to retire in the South

Southern Living and Investopedia identified the best places to retire in the South, overall and in several categories.

— Chattanooga, best all-around.

— Huntsville, Ala., for affordability

— Abingdon, Va., for outdoor enthusiasts.

— Greenville, S.C., for food.

— Blowing Rock, N.C., best mountain town.

— St. Augustine, Fla., best beach town.

— Savannah, Ga., best for arts and culture.

— Beaufort, N.C., best for healthy living.

— Eureka Springs, Ark., best access to nature.

— Fort Worth, Texas, best for city lovers.

— Lexington, Ky., best for lifelong learning.

— Ocean Springs, Miss., best for home-buying.

Source: Southern Living

Tennessee boasts the second lowest per capita tax rate in the nation, behind only Alaska, and had the nation's second fastest-growing economy last year, according to government figures. The Volunteer State still retains comparatively more affordable real estate and better recreation scene than most states, Roberts said.

Miklos and other retirees also praise the Southern hospitality of the Chattanooga area.

"This is a never-met-a-stranger community," former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, who is now retired from the U.S. Senate, said in an interview with Southern Living magazine. "People encourage you to be part of things bigger than yourself."

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Dave and Julie Harp pose for a photo March 23 at Top of the Rock restaurant. The retired couple moved from Chicago to Jasper Highlands, just west of Chattanooga, in 2017.