Nestled in the Desert of Southwestern Utah, Sun Drenched St. George Draws Retirees Seeking a Dry Climate, Lots of Golf, Spectacular Natural Beauty and Healthy Living
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Scenic St. George (population 80,000), nestled in the very southwest corner of Utah and about 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas, started out in 1861 as a cotton mission under the direction of Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The plan was to produce a crop that would help the Church become self-sufficient. The idea never quite worked out, but St. George managed to prosper as a quiet Mormon outpost for more than 100 years. Then in the 1970s, tourists began to discover it, and during the last 10 to 20 years, this sun drenched metropolis has grown by nearly 200%.
Much of this growth has come from retirees drawn to the stunning desert setting, dry climate, blue skies, a bounty of outdoor recreation and year-round golf. In fact, 36% of the population is age 45 or better. Twenty-eight of all locals have at least a four year college degree. Most residents lean to the right politically. The area has some racial diversity. The crime rate is sigficantly below the national average, and the cost of living is 4% higher than the national average.
The median home price is $275,000. Housing is an interesting mix of old, smaller pioneer homes in town and dozens of newer, sprawling, Southwestern-style developments with single family homes and town homes on the edges of the city, many of which were built within the last couple of decades. Desert Color is a new master planned development that will eventually have 10,000 residences, retail spaces, resort facilities and lakes. SunRiver is a lovely 55+ community with a riverfront golf course. Apartments are in good supply. There is also a significant RV retiree population here, and four RV resorts, including the Palms RV Resort, accommodate road warriors year round.
Utah is not generally considered a tax-friendly state for retirees. Social Security is taxed at 5%, but the state does allow people age 65 and better to claim a tax exemption of $450 (single) or $900 (married) if they meet certain income requirements. Real estate is assessed at 55% of market value (or assessed at 35% for people age 65+ with limited income). The annual taxes on a $275,000 St. George home are roughly $1,650 (although people whose annual income is less than $31,845 may receive a tax credit of up to $939). The state sales tax is 4.7%, but the rate on food is only 3% and there is no tax on prescription drugs.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had a strong influence in St. George and still does so today. Brigham Young built a winter home here, and the gleaming white St. George Temple, built in 1877, is hard to miss (it is also the Church's longest continually-operating temple). One notable Mormon manifestation is that St. George has no full-fledged bars, and only a few restaurants serve liquor. This is clean living country, and while St. George is an active place, it is also a quiet place. The city has taken on somewhat of a resort ambiance in the last several years, but it really has very little nightlife. A lot of emphasis is placed on family, building community and maintaining traditional values.
The primary reason many people choose to retire here is the stark beauty of southwestern Utah. St. George sits along two rivers on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and the landscape is constantly changing color. Shadows dance over the desert, often turning it from a tapestry of blazing gold and red to a patchwork of refreshing purple and blue. Surrounding mountains, green valleys and striking red sandstone buttes on the north side of town add to St. George's mystical quality.
Within all this natural beauty, opportunities for outdoor fun abound. There are 10 golf courses, most fairly affordable (the $300 CityCache Card offers discounts), and several spectacular state parks are close at hand. Rugged Zion National Park may be the most well known and is home to soaring red rock formations, cliffs and inspiring desert vistas. Not too far off is Bryce Canyon National Park, a series of pink limestone amphitheaters that seem to glow at sunset. Visitors can bike, hike, ride horses or fish. Three large nearby reservoirs double as parks and have marinas for fishing, water skiing and boating. Arizona's Grand Canyon is 300 miles to the south.
In and around town, 35 miles of paved, walking and biking trails connect 25 parks, dozens of neighborhoods, beautiful desertscapes and the town center (there is a neighborhood park or paved walking path within one half mile of everyone in St. George). The Sand Hollow Aquatic Center has swimming and diving venues. The St. George Recreation Center is home to racquetball courts, game rooms, hobby and craft activities, a gym and more.
Downtown has a slight Route 66 vibe with law offices, real estate agents, restaurants, clothiers and more housed in historic buildings. Parks are plentiful. The Red Cliffs Mall is not huge but has more than 50 stores, and the Shoppes at Zion has 30 stores with name brand retailers. The St. George branch of the Washington County library system is in a pretty red brick building and has public computers with Internet access. Tabernacles dot the city.
Water from the Navajo Aquifer flows to Saint George, keeping the area drought-free. In fact, St. George has some of the highest per-person water usage in the entire country. A pipeline project that would pump water from Lake Powell 140 miles away and over the mountains into the Sand Hollow Reservoir outside of town is under discussion (some residents want the pipeline while others say that it is unnecessary).
SunTran is the public transit system and offers four routes through town. The regular fare is $1.00, but anyone age 65 or better rides for $.50. There is also a curb to curb service. And while St. George may seem isolated, it is just off of Interstate 15, Utah's primary north-south connector.
Senior Sampler is the weekly newspaper geared for older adults, and the friendly St. George Senior Citizen's Center (age 60+) sponsors a wide variety of activities and events, including health screenings, dance classes, legal services, meals-on-wheels, yoga, trips and a volunteer program. St. George also hosts the annual Huntsman World Senior Games, in which seniors from all over the world compete.
Dixie Regional Medical Center is a 245-bed community hospital with two locations and a world-class cardiac care center. It has been recognized as a Top 100 Hospital, as the Best Regional Hospital and is the major referral hospital for northwestern Arizona, southeastern Nevada and southern Utah. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and is award-winning for excellence in emergency medicine, cardiac care, joint replacement surgery, patient satisfaction and more. Medicare patients are accepted. The Doctors' Volunteer Clinic, a private, non-profit, community-based health care clinic, provides medical care at no cost to citizens who cannot pay. For military retirees, St. George has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Las Vegas, 125 miles away.
As would be expected, St. George is hot in the summer. Temperatures in July and August can easily reach 100 degrees or more but humidity levels are low (the area receives about eight inches of rain annually). Evening temperatures are considerably cooler, usually dipping into the 60s and 70s. Winters are generally mild, with an occasional dusting of snow and daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s. The sun shines 300 days of the year. The air quality meets the national average.
For all of the positives about St. George, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind. Infrastructure has not always kept pace with growth. Traffic has increased, and there is suburban sprawl on the city's outskirts. Not all long-time residents are happy with the influx of newcomers. And some of these newcomers complain that there is a definite division between Mormon and non-Mormon residents, with each "side" keeping to itself. Others say that St. George, with all of the recent transplants, is more welcoming than it has ever been (many neighborhoods are divided evenly between Mormons and non-Mormons).
So while this desert oasis is not for anyone seeking lots of nightlife, liberal politics or a fast pace, it may be the perfect place for outdoor lovers in search of a safe, quiet, conservative city in a dry climate and a beautiful natural setting.
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