PLACES TO RETIRE – CALIFORNIA RETIREMENT – Part 5 of 5: Costa Mesa, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Palm Springs.


Costa Mesa, with a population of 109,960 as of the 2010 census, is located 37 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 88 miles north of San Diego. This area was incorporated in 1953 and has evolved from a semi-rural farming community to a city with a local economy primarily based upon retail commercial business. This should be great news for retirees who love to shop. As with the rest of Southern California, the climate is ideal and its location provides easy access to beaches, mountain areas, deserts, Disneyland, and Knott’s Berry Farm where retirees will love entertaining their grandchildren.

Climate: With only 11 inches of rain and an average 274 sunny days per year in Costa Mesa, retirees will find it an ideal golfing climate and delightful for any outdoor activity.

Cost of living: The cost of living in Costa Mesa is quite a bit greater (43%) than the national average, and housing is worse at approximately 150% greater than the national average. The median retirement home cost in Costa Mesa will run around $512,200.

Colleges and Universities: Retirees will enjoy lifelong learning classes at Orange Coast College which is the only community college in Orange County that has its own Starbucks.

Transportation: Orange County has excellent air service out of John Wayne Airport. Local bus service is provided by Orange County Transportation Authority.

Travel and tourism: As mentioned before, shopping is outstanding in Costa Mesa at the South Coast Plaza. The Orange County Performing Arts Center offers many entertainment options, and other attractions include the Orange County Fair and Event Center, Pacific Amphitheatre, South Coast Repertory Theatre, Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Samueli Theater, three beautiful golf courses, and the Noguchi Gardens.


San Juan Capistrano, with a population of 41,379 as of 2011, is probably most famous for the swallows that return from their winter migration on the same day every year. This is March 19 to be exact, and the birds nest in the walls of the mission until around October 23. San Juan Capistrano is also home to the beautiful Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded on November 1, 1776, and is considered to be the oldest building in California. The charming Serra Chapel,  whitewashed outside and decorated with vivid frescoes inside, is the only chapel still standing in which Father Junípero Serra gave Mass, and which he tended personally for many years.

Climate: With rainfall of only 13 inches per year, no snow, and on average 284 sunny days in which to play golf or enjoy being outside, many retirees consider coastal Southern California an ideal climate.

Cost of living: However, living in paradise is expensive, at 43% greater than the national average. And even worse, the price of a retirement home in San Juan Capistrano will run approximately 160% greater than the national average, at a daunting $586,700.

Colleges and Universities: There will most likely be courses geared toward learning in retirement at Saddleback College in nearby Mission Viejo.

Transportation: Orange County is served by John Wayne Airport, and Amtrak provides train service. Local transportation is offered by Orange County Transit Association.

Travel and tourism: This charming town is a historic cultural center full of art and music and magic. As a train town, San Juan Capistrano is situated around the historic Capistrano Depot, which retirees will enjoy exploring along with the Historic Los Rios District. Not to be missed is the Festival of the Swallows which celebrates their return from their South American sojourn. The swallows are best observed at feeding time, usually early in the morning and late afternoon to early evening.


Mission Viejo, with a population of 93,483 as of 2011, is one of the largest planned developments in the U.S. It is a largely residential area with picturesque tree-lined neighborhoods, and seems to make everybody’s list of Top 10 Safest Places to live numerous times. Everything is new here, since Mission Viejo was one of the last regions of Orange County to be urbanized, and was not fully completed until 1980. Mission Viejo is conveniently located about half way between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Climate: Similar to the rest of Southern California, Mission Viejo enjoys 283 sunny days per year, with only 13 inches of rain.

Cost of living: Unfortunately similar to the rest of Southern California, the cost of living in Mission Viejo is 43% greater than the national average, so it is not for retirement on a budget. Likewise, a retirement home will run about 170% greater than the national average at a median cost of $514,800.

Colleges and Universities: There are a comprehensive array of high-quality courses and programs that foster lifelong learning at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.

Transportation: The nearest airport (John Wayne Airport) is located just 15 miles north of Mission Viejo. OCTA operates bus lines throughout the city, although most people get around by car.

Travel and tourism: Mission Viejo even has its own man-made lake which allows swimming, sailing, kayaking, and fishing. As expected, golf is primo in this climate, and upscale shopping which is appealing to many retirees.


Palm Springs, with a population of 44,552 as of the 2010 census, is the cultural core of the 300-square-mile Coachella Valley. Newer developments such as Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Bermuda Dunes, Indio, and La Quinta extend eastward without noticeable interruption between these cities, and comprise a larger metropolitan area of around 160,000 people. Heaven for retirement, largely because of the warm winter desert climate, Palm Springs is a laid-back getaway with retro charms and some of California’s most striking landscape. Rugged mountains soar out of the palm studded desert, creating a playground for cyclists, rock climbers, skiers, and hikers in addition to the traditional sports fans of golf and tennis. Palm Springs, which was home to the original Rat Pack, today prides itself on the preservation of its 50’s architecture known as “Modernism”. Its political climate is liberal and outgoing, and it is a place where retirees mix amiably with artists, movie and theatre folks, hip weekenders from L.A., and a significant gay and lesbian contingent.

Climate: The climate is hot and dry in Palm Springs, with 354 days of sunshine and only 4.83 inches of rain annually.

Cost of living: Not as expensive as coastal Southern California, the cost of living in Palm Springs is 22% greater than the national average. There are a variety of housing options from the very swank gated estates to modest condos, so the median home cost in Palm Springs is $255,400 which is about 28% greater than the national average.

Colleges and Universities: There is an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University San Bernardino in adjacent Palm Desert. The Palm Springs Art Museum also offers classes where mature adults can learn for the pure joy of it.

Transportation: Palm Springs International Airport is conveniently located close to downtown, and SunLine Transit Agency provides local bus service in the area. Amtrak’s Sunset Limited stops at the Palm Springs Amtrak station three times a week.

Travel and tourism: When it comes to entertainment, Palm Springs pretty much has it all! It’s always been a party town, where snowbirds from the Northern states (and more recently an invasion of Canadians due to the favorable exchange rate) want flashy vacation homes, and lots of entertainment. Much of the down town is owned by Indian tribes, and their casinos bring in big name shows and fine dining in addition to gambling. When retirees are not out on the golf course or hiking in the desert, they can shop at one of the nation’s largest outlet malls or high-toned boutiques, explore museums, sample a date milkshake, tour a windmill or straddle a fault line. Major golf tournaments are held here each year, with celebrity-studded rosters. The Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts more movie stars and celebrities. Modernism Week in February actually runs more like 10 days and is filled with activities, lectures, films, and tours showcasing Palm Springs’ lovingly restored mid-century architecture. To get away from it all, nearby Joshua Tree National Park is fascinating for its unique geology, flora and fauna. Retirees will want to take their grandchildren and other visitors to the Living Desert which is a wonderful zoo and desert botanical garden.

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