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.