Through extensive and thoughtful research, we determined the top best cities to move to after transitioning to civilian life, including the best cities for military families, for veterans to retire and for where to buy a house.
Every year, more than 250,000 military members transition out of the service. This transition can involve anything from finding a new career in a new city to reevaluating your financial plan, and everything in between.
The List Just Keeps Growing
Servicemembers and their families deserve added support and resources to help them through the significant life change of transitioning to civilian life. To aid in this effort, we released our Best Cities After Service 2022 list in partnership with the nonprofit organization, The Mission Continues.
In expanding the Best Cities list—first established in 2018 and revisited in 2020—we found that a global pandemic, inflation, evolving needs and social trends have impacted the locations best suited for transitioning servicemembers and their families.
In celebration of the fifth year of the “Best Of” lists, Navy Federal has made this list the biggest resource yet! Different from the last 2 iterations, this list also features 3 sublists—Best Cities for Families With Children, Best Cities for Retired Vets and Best Cities to Buy a House.
“The expanded version of this year’s report emphasizes the diversity of cities across the U.S. that can meet the needs of transitioning servicemembers,” said Clay Stackhouse, a retired Marine Corps colonel and regional outreach manager at Navy Federal.
“This population of individuals is unique, and with today’s economic challenges, it’s more important than ever that we support servicemembers and their families as they approach this pivotal, often challenging, moment.”
Navy Federal curated this list with an understanding of the many factors servicemembers consider when deciding where to live. These include considerations around veterans’ average income, unemployment rates and proximity to VA hospitals and military bases. We paired these factors with a suite of quality-of-life measures.
In partnership with Sperling's Best Places, Navy Federal evaluated and ranked 400 U.S. cities across the country based on that variety of quality-of-life metrics (veteran community, cost of living, etc.) and determined which cities best meet the needs of transitioning servicemembers overall, and then specific to those with families, to those looking to retire from the workforce, and for those looking to buy a home.
The Best Cities After Service 2022 list showcases a diverse set of locations across the country so that every servicemember can find the right fit for their home.
Top 10 overall cities we identified as best after military service this year:
- Charleston, SC. This beautifully preserved, Southern city is known for both its history and hospitality, not to mention access to the Atlantic Ocean from its many barrier islands. With reasonable housing and living costs, there are also plenty of cultural activities to check out like the annual Spoleto Festival along with great shopping and a growing dining scene in the Historic Charleston City Market. The city is dotted with plenty of greenspaces and trails, which are perfect for seeing the charm of this low-rise, harborside town. Additionally, there’s a large military community in the area with Joint Base Charleston just a half-hour drive from the center of town.
- Norristown, PA. This area adjacent to Philadelphia makes for some quiet, low-key communities that are also easily accessible via local highways and the SEPTA regional transit system. Valley Forge and Longwood Gardens are just 2 of many popular parks in the area for exploring the natural landscape of Pennsylvania. The 3-county area also features access to many of the nation’s top colleges and universities like UPenn, Villanova, Drexel and Temple.
- Cambridge, MA. Located west of Boston, Cambridge-Newton-Framingham hosts the amenities of an urban community with the charm of suburban living. Home to 2 of the most prestigious universities in the world, MIT and Harvard University, Cambridge is historic (almost 400 years old!) and lively with many bars and cafes. If you’re looking to escape into nature, though, Framingham is home to Cushing Memorial Park and Callahan State Park.
- San Diego, CA. Famous for its sunny weather and stunning beaches, the San Diego-Carlsbad area is a rapidly growing border town just minutes from Mexico. It’s the second most populous city in California, known for being home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the US, with veterans making up 13% of city residents. San Diego has some incredible local attractions too, like swimming and diving at La Jolla Cove, the thousand-acre Balboa Park, the USS Midway Museum and the world-famous San Diego Zoo with more than 10,000 animals.
- Naples, FL. Located on the Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, the Naples and Marco Island area features a mix of resort and retirement communities that are known for their plentiful golf courses and white sand beaches. For the more adventurous, there are millions of acres of federal and state parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges to explore. Immokalee, just north of Naples and Marco Island, offers a casino, raceway and lots of shops and services for local residents.
- Anchorage, AK. Anchorage serves as a grand gateway to countless natural adventures in the Alaskan wilderness like sparkling glaciers, vast parks and trails, and dazzling northern lights, which are all within a short drive or train ride from the city. Plus, all Active Duty, military retirees and their dependents receive a 20% discount on tickets for the Alaska Railroad. For those seeking more in the city center itself, Anchorage offers great, tax-free shopping.
- Derry, NH. These are the 2 easternmost counties in New Hampshire; Rockingham borders Massachusetts and hugs the Atlantic coast while Strafford is to the north and stretches further inland. In Rockingham County, Portsmouth is the popular port city with many great bars, restaurants and shopping options. Strafford County is known for its less dense population and beautiful natural attractions like Bow Lake and Bellamy River Wildlife Sanctuary. With convenient access to the Boston urban area, these 2 suburban counties are perfectly positioned for those who want to find a peaceful place to live with the excitement of city and country adventures nearby.
- Virginia Beach, VA. Centered around the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk, this coastal area in Southeastern Virginia is a stunning spot to live that’s known for its rich dining scene, abundance of entertainment options and magnificent waterfront views. With so many current servicemembers and veterans living in the area, there’s strong community support for the military. The area has 2 large parks—the Norfolk Botanical Garden and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center—and Virginia Beach is known for its Atlantic shoreline and many amusements as well. The Newport News-Hampton Roads area is also located within easy driving distance of attractions like Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
- Hempstead, NY. Nassau and Suffolk Counties cover all of Long Island, from the city’s closer-in suburbs to the rural farms and famous Hamptons region. Nassau County is perfect for those seeking a small neighborhood lifestyle, while Suffolk County also boasts many popular vacation spots like the North Fork, Fire Island and Montauk. These 2 counties have lots of natural recreation spaces between them, with plentiful parks and beaches (many of which are free to local residents) along with some notable museums (like the Cradle of Aviation Museum) and historical homes (like the Gold Coast mansions of the North Shore).
- Waukegan, IL. Located along the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake County features beautiful beaches like Rosewood and Illinois Beach State Park, while Kenosha County offers residents its beautiful Simmons Island Park and Carol Beach. Both counties are home to suburban towns with easy access to the more urban areas of Illinois and Wisconsin, like Chicago to the south and Kenosha to the north.
Top 5 Overall Cities Identified as Best for Military Families
- Fort Worth, TX. Located just west of Dallas, the Fort Worth-Arlington area is in the cultural and commercial heart of North Texas. As the best city for military families, Fort Worth-Arlington military families in Fort Worth-Arlington enjoy a strong education system, high concentrations of green space and child-centric entertainment. There’s also a litany of family-friendly entertainment options like the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the Fort Worth Zoo.
- Derry, NH. Rockingham and Strafford Counties are home to a strong veteran population, which is no surprise given its robust recreation, amenities and education offerings. What’s more, New Hampshire features some of the best colleges and universities on the east coast, with many additional benefits available to veteran families. Children of disabled veterans, those missing in action or those who are prisoners of war receive free tuition at state community colleges.
- Norristown, PA. Beyond the overarching features that make this a great place for transitioning servicemembers and their families, Montgomery County-Bucks County-Chester County boasts a robust community of veterans and received a perfect score for its school systems.
- Charleston, SC. While the city tops our overarching list, it’s also an ideal location for military families looking for natural beauty, community engagement and more. Not only does it have a low crime score, but it also shows strong indicators for recreation and high-quality schools.
- Columbus, OH. Known as a “city of neighborhoods”, each with its own distinct character, there really is something for everyone in Columbus. Nature lovers will enjoy the city’s more than 350 parks, art enthusiasts can tour its many museums and performances, and families can spend fun-filled days at COSI, a science and children’s museum. Military families will relish the quality education in the area, extensive green spaces and a wide variety of activities for kids to get involved.
Top 5 Overall Cities Identified as Best for Retired Veterans
- Tampa, FL. Sitting on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater are known for sunny weather and beautiful beaches. These cities offer laid-back lifestyles with the amenities of a larger metropolitan area. Florida has no military pension tax, and the cost of living in the Tampa Metro Area is lower than Florida’s average. Residents can take advantage of the warm weather with a plethora of outdoor activities, including golfing, boating, beachgoing and enjoying the area’s many green spaces. Take a stroll on the Bayshore Linear Park Trail, the world’s largest continuous sidewalk, or spend an evening at Mahaffey Theater, home of the Florida Orchestra.
- Honolulu, HI. Famed for its crescent beach and cosmopolitan city, Honolulu offers an unparalleled escape for all its residents. Honolulu's bustling city center situated next to its tropical beaches ensures that whether retirees are seeking adventure, exploration or relaxation, it has something for everyone. Proclaimed as one of the most beautiful places in the world, there’s no shortage of activities to enjoy and sights to see. Residents and visitors alike frequent notable landmarks, like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the Diamond Head State Monument. For those seeking relaxation, Waikiki Beach and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve are musts.
- Jacksonville, FL. Veterans account for 11% of the total adult population in Jacksonville, creating a robust community for retirees. Nestled in the northern part of Florida, Jacksonville is home to picturesque beaches and beautiful weather that the Sunshine State is known for. Retired residents always have places to explore, from fishing at Little Talbot Island State Park and nature preserves to shopping and dining options. Jacksonville is also home to a vibrant arts and culture scene, with attractions like the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, the largest fine arts museum in Northeast Florida, and the Florida Theatre, one of the few remaining high-style theaters built in the 1920s.
- Norristown, PA. The Philadelphia metro area contains 20 VA hospitals, as well as low veteran unemployment. It’s not only well-suited to support this population, but will also offer a host of recreational activities and natural beauty to be enjoyed. There’s a population of 85,000 veterans living in the area, lending itself well to building a community for retirees.
- Virginia Beach, VA. Beyond the strong qualities that rank this location in our top cities overall, it also contains 9 VA hospitals along with 34 Virginia Department of Veterans service offices, which help connect local veterans to benefits. It ranks well in affordability and low tax rates, allowing retirees to spend their time in the robust attractions and natural beauty in the area.
Top 5 Overall Cities Identified as Best for Veterans to Buy a House
- Altoona, PA. Altoona is perfect for veterans, ranking as the number one place for veterans to buy a house with reasonable property taxes and low housing costs. Located in Central Pennsylvania’s beautiful Alleghenies region, Altoona is filled with history and outdoor fun. Known to some as “Railroad City”, Altoona is perfect for history buffs as it’s the site of the Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark and home to the Railroaders Memorial Museum. Altoona offers residents the best of both worlds, with a suburban feel but also plenty of bars, restaurants and parks to explore.
- Florence, AL. Paired with affordable housing costs and low taxes, Florence-Muscle Shoals is situated along the Tennessee River in northwestern Alabama. The area boasts a rich history, best known for the “Muscle Shoals Sound,” housing the world-famous FAME Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sounds Studio, where artists like Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Cher recorded some of their biggest hits. Places like the Children’s Museum and George H. Carroll Lion Habitat make the region a great area for families to explore.
- Abilene, TX. With its suburban feel, several outdoor community areas and parks, and affordable homes and reasonable tax rates, Abilene is one of the best cities in the entire country for veterans to buy a house. The “Official Storybook Capital of America,” Abilene, Texas has the largest public collection of sculptural storybook characters in the state. Additional attractions that bring families from across the country include the Abilene Zoo, with more than 1,000 animals, including white tigers and snakes, and the Morgan Jones Planetarium.
- Elizabethtown, KY. Known among its residents as “E-town” due to its easy-going nature, Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Kentucky has a flourishing historic downtown center with boutique shopping, several restaurants and a handful of community festivals throughout the year. Military families who live here appreciate the low prices and the community that’s grown alongside one of America’s most famous military installations, Fort Knox.
- Muncie, IN. With its specialty museums, wine and breweries, and unique flea markets, Muncie, Indiana is home to some of the best cultural gems in the state. It provides people of all ages with affordable costs of living and entertainment, whether it be the sculpture garden at the Minnetrista, the National Model Aviation Museum or the Tonne Winery. In addition to its attractions, its vibrant downtown boasts a small-town community feel despite its population of close to 70,000.
Regardless of where you move after service, planning for the transition to civilian life also means having a financial plan to match. There are differences in mortgage, equity and insurance when you leave the military, and your expenses and income may change, too. Navy Federal Credit Union is proud to offer tools, tips and resources to help servicemembers succeed as they transition to civilian life.
Navy Federal has presented its “Best Of” lists every year since 2018. In 2018, we developed the first iteration of the Best Cities After Service list and updated the list in 2020. Last year, Navy Federal developed Best Careers for Military Spouses, a comprehensive list of the best careers to help military spouses achieve long-term career success.
If you’re interested in even more resources, check out our Transition to Civilian Life Kit or visit our Military Life page. You’ll find articles and tips on topics ranging from the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to budgeting and managing debt and even finding homes for rent or sale by other servicemembers.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.