brown beach house with porch to beachfront

Most Unexpected Snowbird Destinations

Lauren Nowacki8 minute read
January 07, 2022

When temperatures in the northern United States begin to drop, the country’s snowbirds prepare for their annual migration.

For those not familiar with the term, snowbirds are folks who move to warmer climates during the winter months to escape the cold weather experienced in northern parts of the country instead of staying in one place year-round.

These people aren’t looking for a winter wonderland covered in white snow. Instead, they want a summer-like paradise covered in white sand for their winter getaway. Of course, when the weather heats up, they retreat to places with milder summers to escape the humidity and heat.

While the majority of snowbirds have always been retirees, a new real estate trend is emerging. Thanks to the pandemic and the newfound ability to work remotely, young professionals are also opting to migrate to warmer climates for the winter. Many come from the North, Midwest and the Northeast Coast of the United States, but there’s also a handful who come from Canada.

No matter the age or where they’re migrating from, many snowbirds will be looking for a place to call their second home. While some may purchase in popular snowbird cities like Tucson, Miami and Phoenix, many may be looking for less-populated areas that still offer warm winter weather, natural beauty and plenty of outdoor activities. Rocket HomesSM teamed up with BestPlaces.net to find some of the best, most unexpected places for snowbirds to live this winter.

Finding And Ranking The Most Unexpected Snowbird Destinations

To find lesser-known places, we looked at medium-sized metro areas with populations of 10,000 – 30,000 people. Then, the researchers at BestPlaces.net used nine metrics to determine the rankings for the most unexpected places for snowbirds to live.

To get a more complete list of destinations across the country, we first looked at the top four states that ranked with these metrics, then found the top three cities in each of those states that ranked with the same metrics.

  • Average winter temperature
  • Percent of days that are predominantly sunny or partly sunny
  • Percent of homes for vacation or seasonal use within county limits
  • Number of days with measurable precipitation
  • Inches of precipitation
  • Average humidity
  • Number of hours of sunlight per day
  • Percent of homes for vacation or seasonal use within city limits
  • Percent of county area covered by water

Because snowbirds typically reside in places with warmer climates during the winter months, all climate, weather and daylight measures were pulled for the winter season only. That means these metrics were measured from December 21, the official first day of winter, through March 20, the official first day of spring.

Arizona

Arizona Sunset With Palm Trees

1. Fortuna Foothills

  • Population: 29,937
  • Average winter temperature: 61.2 degrees
  • Percent of sunny days in winter: 75%

Ranking at the top of our list for the percent of sunny days and the least amount of rainfall during winter months, Fortuna Foothills has weather that provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the area’s outdoor amenities. That includes plenty of trails, like the Telegraph Pass Trail and the historical landmark Jester’s Trail Trailhead, which offer hiking and mountain biking opportunities. It also offers better affordability than some of the most popular Florida locations.

2. Fort Mohave

  • Population: 15,460
  • Average winter temperature: 58.1 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 72%

Fort Mohave has more vacation homes than 95% of medium-sized metro areas in the country, making it a desirable place to purchase a seasonal abode. Located along the Colorado River and Arizona-Nevada border, the city serves as the perfect base camp for those who like to take day trips to places like Lake Mead, Lake Havasu, the Mojave Desert and the Las Vegas Strip – all within a 2-hour drive from the city.  

3. Somerton

  • Population: 16,716
  • Average winter temperature: 60.5 degrees
  • Percent of sunny days in winter: 74%

While snowbirds go where it’s warm, they may not prefer sweltering heat. With high temps reaching 73.5 degrees, one of the best places for snowbirds’ winter home in terms of ideal winter temperatures is Somerton, a town located just 15 minutes from the Mexico border. So even in the hottest days of winter, residents can comfortably enjoy the many events that happen during the season, including the annual light parade, Petpalooza and famous Tamale Festival.

Florida

Colorful street lined with palm trees

1. Key West

  • Population: 23,767
  • Average winter temperature: 71 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 62%

While a popular tourist destination, the Florida Keys can also be a great option for living during the cold season. With temps only dropping to about 65.6 degrees in the winter months, Key West ranks #1 on our list for comfortable low temperatures. And since snowbirds typically migrate south to avoid the cold, they’ll be pleased in even the lowest temps of Florida’s southernmost point. 

2. Marco Island

  • Population: 18,089
  • Average winter temperature: 65.3 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 61%

With more hours of sunlight than 95% of the country’s midsize cities, Marco Island on the Gulf of Mexico has winter weather that’s perfect for indulging in the many outdoor recreation opportunities. When it’s 75 degrees in the winter, that’s considered “hot.” With marinas, golf courses, white sand beaches and a tidal lagoon, it’s no wonder it ranks in the top 1% of midsize cities for the amount of vacation and seasonal homes within city limits.

3. San Carlos Park

  • Population: 19,972
  • Average winter temperature: 66.2 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 54%

San Carlos Park is a lesser-known city on the gulf coast compared to Fort Myers, one of the most popular snowbird destinations on Florida’s west coast. However, both cities are in Lee County, where 77% of homes are seasonal or vacation residences. Those looking for a second home may find more affordable housing in the San Carlos Park area, where the median home price is $276,100 – almost one-third the median home price in Key West. While inhabitants enjoy an average temperature of 66 degrees in the winter, they’ll get an even better treat if they stay through March, when Major League Baseball’s famous Spring training takes over the area.

Hawaii

beach house on waterfront

1. Kihei

  • Population: 22,750
  • Average winter temperature: 72.5 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 65%

Located on the island of Maui, Kihei is said to be one of the sunniest places on the island, with more than 11 hours of sunlight each day. And though it ranks at the top of our list for the amount of sun it gets every day, residents won’t mind watching some of the island’s most stunning sunsets, too. Those aren’t the only sights available in the city. Residents can also find endangered Hawaiian stilts and coots at the north end’s Wildlife Conservation District or catch glimpses of humpback whales from Kihei’s 6 miles of beachfront.

2. Ewa Beach

  • Population: 14,623
  • Average winter temperature: 72.9 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 60%

With “beach” in its name, it may come as no surprise that Ewa Beach ranks at the top of our list for water coverage. Located on the leeward side of the island of O’ahu, the Honolulu suburb is popular for swimming, boating, surfing and other water recreation. Landlubbers can also find opportunities for recreation and leisure. Ewa Beach also features six different golf courses, as well as city parks, premier shopping and the Hawaiian Railway, which hosts a tour along the west track of Ewa aboard a traditional locomotive.

3. Ocean Pointe

  • Population: 13,197
  • Average winter temperature: 72.9 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 60%

Ocean Pointe ranks in the top 1% of the country’s midsized cities for the best average temperature in the winter. Located just 20 miles from Honolulu, Ocean Pointe can be a great option for those who wish to enjoy the splendors of popular nearby cities without living among the snowbird crowds.

California

Lake with mountain background

1. Rancho Mirage

  • Population: 18,954
  • Average winter temperature: 61 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 72%

Rancho Mirage ranks in the top 5% of midsize cities for average temperature during the winter months, with an average of 61 degrees. The comfortable winter weather may be one reason almost 84% of homes in the city are vacation or seasonal homes – and why past presidents Nixon, Obama and Ford have stayed here. Along with great weather, the area hosts an abundance of resorts featuring golf courses, waterparks, spas and restaurants with breathtaking views.

2. Blythe

  • Population: 19,673
  • Average winter temperature: 58.5 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 74%

Located on the Colorado River, Blythe has ample opportunities for water recreation and relaxation. And with 74% sunny days and less than 2 inches of rainfall on average during the winter months, snowbirds can enjoy a refreshing swim or relaxing kayak trip on the calm river current without having to worry about the weather.

3. Desert Hot Springs

  • Population: 29,611
  • Average winter temperature: 59.2 degrees
  • Percentage of sunny days in winter: 72%

With high temperatures reaching an ideal 72 degrees, Desert Hot Springs residents can feel comfortable and relaxed all winter – and not just because of the weather. True to its name, Desert Hot Springs hosts some of the purest mineral springs in the world. Because of this, the Coachella Valley city features several spas and retreats to heal, transform and energize.

Methodology: Finding The Most Underrated Places For Snowbirds To Live

In this study, we reveal 12 lesser-known places for people who leave the cold to live in warm weather for the winter, also known as snowbirds. Instead of our usual metropolitan areas, this study looks at all the cities and towns in the United State with a population between 10,000 and 30,000. With this criteria, Rocket Homes and Best Places analyzed 3,424 cities and towns.

The data team at BestPlaces.net collected and analyzed statistics in nine key measures, which give insights into each city's snowbird appeal. We created a snowbird score for each city based on the average winter temperature (warmer is better), low humidity, number of sunny days, days with precipitation (fewer is better), and proximity to water. We also rated cities and towns on the number of vacation homes in the county, which gives us insight into how desirable a town is for vacationing. Rocket Homes chose metrics that are as current and detailed as possible to reveal the lesser-known places where snowbirds are most likely to enjoy the winter months.

Each data metric is normalized and transformed to a common range of 0 – 100 points for scoring and comparison. Weights are applied to each metric that reflects its importance in the study. The weighted scores for each metric are summed to create the overall snowbird score for each place. The final scores are sorted to produce the final rankings and our list includes three great snowbird options in each of the five highest-scoring states.

           

Metric

Weight

Level

Source

Average temperature

28%

Metro

NOAA 30 year Climate Normals, modeling by BestPlaces, 2019

Percent of sunny days

20%

Metro

NOAA, National Centers for Environmental Information, Cloud Climatologies

Percent of vacation homes in the county

20%

Metro

Census Bureau/American Community Survey, 2019

Days with precipitation

10%

Metro

NOAA 30 year Climate Normals, modeling by BestPlaces, 2019

Amount of rainfall

10%

Metro

NOAA 30 year Climate Normals, modeling by BestPlaces, 2019

Humidity

4%

Metro

PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, 2015

Hours of sunlight

4%

Metro

BestPlaces calculations based on city latitude, 2020

Percent of vacation homes in the city

2%

Metro

Census Bureau/American Community Survey, 2019

Percent of water in the county

2%

Metro

Census Bureau/American Community Survey, 2019

High temperature

0%

Metro

NOAA 30 year Climate Normals, modeling by BestPlaces, 2019

Low temperature

0%

Metro

NOAA 30 year Climate Normals, modeling by BestPlaces, 2019

Population

0%

Metro

Census Bureau Population Estimates Program (PEP), 2020

Median home price

0%

Metro

Bestplaces.net

Table of Contents

    Lauren Nowacki

    Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.