Delightful Daphne, Tucked Along Mobile Bay in Southwestern Alabama, Entices with its Lush Neighborhoods, Southern Traditions and Quiet Way of Life
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
The inviting city of Daphne (Daf-ney) sits on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in southwestern Alabama. It is considered a suburb of Mobile (population 200,000), which is on the western side of the bay, and it is connected to that city via a causeway and Interstate 10. Despite the proximity to its large neighbor, Daphne (population 25,000) has charm and a Southern style that is all its own. It started out as a resort area in the mid-19th century and was heavily influenced by Italian settlers who arrived in the early-20th century.
In the last two decades the city has boomed by 120%, and it has landed on at least one "best places to live" list. Yet Daphne remains a quiet place with attractive homes, traditional values and a languid pace. With gentle bay breezes and the scent of gardenia in the air, Daphne is a calming place in a hectic world.
Thirty-five percent of residents are age 45 or better. Nearly 40% of locals hold at least a four year college degree, and the city has a household median income that is above the national median. Politics lean very much to the right. Crime is but a concept, and the cost of living is 4% below the national average. The city has some racial diversity.
The median home price is $175,000. Older, less expensive neighborhoods are leafy and lushly landscaped, while higher-priced areas have canopy lanes and driveways lined with stately live oaks draped in moss. Homes styles range from plantation and ranch rambler to modern foursquare and new brick traditional. Residences on the west side of the city sit back from the water, and some have bay access via a private or semi-private boardwalk. Condominiums and apartments are available for lease. Daphne also has at least three mobile home parks (none are age-restricted).
Alabama is a friendly state when it comes to retirement and taxes (and overall it has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country). Social Security is not taxed and military, civil service, state/local government pensions, private pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs are all exempt from state taxation. Real estate is assessed at 10% of its fair market value, and homeowners 65 and better are exempt from all state property taxes. Seniors may also receive a homestead exemption of $2,000 to $5,000, depending on annual income. In Daphne, the annual taxes on a $175,000 home are approximately $1,650. The state sales tax is 4%, and prescription drugs are exempt (but food is not).
Daphne is a tightly knit place where neighbors walk their dogs on peaceful streets while kids play in nearby parks. The sidewalks roll up at around 9:00pm, and katydids serenade residents to sleep. Some people say that living on the Eastern Shore, as this area is called, is a little dull. Most residents, however, seem happy with the relaxed, suburban way of life.
Classic Gulf Coast beaches are about an hour away, but Daphne has sandy waterfront areas with boat launches and several piers for fishing. May Day Park has a small swimming area. Bayfront Park and its pavilion overlook the bay and are home to evening performances by the City Rhythm Band and the Baldwin Pops. As the music plays and Mobile glimmers in the distance, residents enjoy spellbinding sunsets over Mobile Bay.
The biggest event of the year is the Jubilee Festival, so named because it is the time of year when shrimp, blue crabs and fish "rush" to the shore to be scooped up by people waiting with pails and buckets. Plenty of food, crafts and music add to the celebration.
The Daphne Path is a walking trail that meanders southward and crosses Gator Alley, home to numerous alligators and other water creatures. Residents enjoy two golf courses, one with eighteen holes and one with nine holes.
Tree-lined Highway 98 is the main thoroughfare through town and is where most services and shopping are located. Merchants include Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Winn-Dixie, Pizza Hut, Staples, Wal-Mart and many others. As a result, Daphne's original downtown is small but inviting with old homes now housing a handful of cozy cafes and welcoming restaurants serving everything from homestyle cinnamon rolls and sweet tea to seafood and pizza (Guido's is especially popular). For more shopping opportunities, Eastern Shore Centre in nearby Spanish Fort (six miles) has Belk, Dillard's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Pottery Barn, Talbots, William and Sonoma, Barnes and Noble and many more.
Daphne does not have its own hospital, but Fairhope's Thomas Hospital, just seven miles away, is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. It is also award-winning for overall patient experience. For military retirees, Mobile, about 12 miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic. The closest VA hospital is in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is 65 miles away.
Baldwin Area Transportation System (BRATS) has a limited fixed route service and a dial-a-ride van service, the latter of which requires an advance reservation. Between the two, residents can reach most points in the county, particularly medical, grocery and shopping venues. The closest regional airport, which is served by United, Delta and American, is Mobile Regional Airport, about 30 miles away. The nearest international airport is in New Orleans, 167 miles away.
The Daphne Senior Center is open Monday through Friday. Services include exercise classes, a monthly movie, trips, games, potlucks, art classes, birthday parties and congregate noon meals five days a week. The Baldwin County Commission on Aging provides meals to homebound seniors and has a number of programs for people age 60 or better, including legal assistance, income tax preparation help and a charitable pharmacy.
The Daphne Public Library has public access computers, free wi-fi inside and outside of the building, an interlibrary loan program, sunny reading areas, classes and more than 67,000 book titles.
This area has a humid, subtropical climate. Summer high temperatures reach into the low-90s, and winter temperatures are in the 40s, 50s and 60s. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, the city comes in well below the national average. On average, the area receives 65 inches of rain annually, and the sun shines 220 days of the year. The air quality is below the national average.
Even with its natural beauty and Southern ways, retirement in Daphne has some drawbacks. The tornado risk is 85% higher than the national average, and homeowners' insurance is expensive ($2,000 or more per year is not unusual). The new growth is bringing suburban sprawl. Some people say that the Eastern Shore has an "attitude" and looks down on the city of Mobile.
Despite these downsides, new residents arrive in Daphne every day to find a safe, quiet place to settle down and enjoy their retirement. It seems that this waterfront gem pleases just about everyone and should continue to do so for years to come.
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