Some people just know.
Right from the start, they know exactly where they want to live when they retire.
Those are the lucky ones.
For the rest of us (which is pretty much all of us), the process involves a lot of time spent weighing the different pros and cons of various retirement destinations.
Time spent imagining what our lives might look like in different locations, for example, Orlando vs. Jacksonville.
Orlando has long been the focal point of just about every Florida retirement guide as a central location specializing in people, attractions, and food, with plenty of diversity in each of those areas.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville has been growing more and more popular every year recently. It might not get all the publicity that comes with being “The House of the Mouse,” but it offers a host of benefits along with genuine southern hospitality and close proximity to the coast.
Let’s compare and contrast some of the unique aspects of these two popular retirement destinations to help you understand which one is right for you!
Location & Accessibility
Located right in the heart of Florida, Orlando is central to just about everything you might want to do anywhere in the state. The actual city is only about 100 square miles, but the greater metro area is much larger.
Because it is such a popular tourist destination, Orlando International Airport offers direct flights to almost everywhere, and it is only a short drive from most places around the city.
Jacksonville is located in Northern Florida along the Atlantic Ocean, about 125 miles northeast of Orlando. With a total of 841 square miles, it is Florida’s largest city in terms of footprint.
Jacksonville International Airport is much smaller than Orlando International Airport, so there won’t be as many direct flights, but it is also a relatively new facility that is a pleasure to fly out of.
Both cities are accessible from I-95, but drivers will experience much more traffic navigating their way around Orlando and its suburban areas than they will find in Jacksonville.
The climate in Orlando and Jacksonville is very similar. However, with Jacksonville being north of Orlando, residents there will experience slightly cooler temperatures in the winter.
On average, Orlando gets a tiny bit more rain than Jacksonville, but its location along the coast makes Jacksonville a little more susceptible to the effects of tropical weather.
Population & Demographics
If you do a quick Google search comparing the populations of Orlando and Jacksonville, you will see a much larger number in the Jacksonville column.
This is a little misleading because the Orlando number only accounts for the people living in the city limits.
Both cities offer a very diverse collection of residents. Due to the wide range of people employed by the theme parks, Orlando offers more diversity and a slightly younger overall population.
In contrast, lower population density allows Jacksonville residents to enjoy more space to spread out.
Cost of Living
Most of these points of comparison come down to personal preference, but there is no getting around the fact that just about everything about your lifestyle will cost a little bit more in Orlando.
Because of its tourist-focused economy, the overall cost of living in Orlando comes in slightly higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Jacksonville is actually below the national average.
This also holds true on housing costs, with the median home price in Orlando sitting about $30k higher than the median home price in Jacksonville.
There are good and bad deals to be had on homes in both cities, but Jacksonville is going to be a little cheaper on a day-to-day basis for someone enjoying retirement there.
Jacksonville might have a slight edge on Orlando after factoring in the cost of living, but healthcare is one area where both places truly excel compared to just about anywhere else.
Due to the size and population of its extended metro area, Orlando does offer more hospitals and more beds than Jacksonville, but residents can find exceptional care in both cities with hospitals like Advent Health Orlando and Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center, Mayo Clinic in Florida in Jacksonville, and UF Health Jacksonville.
Lifestyle & Culture
Lifestyle and culture is an area that really comes down to personal preference. There are no wrong answers here, but the way you lean on this one will likely be the deciding factor in which city you prefer.
Orlando is a tourist spot best known for theme parks and attractions. Foodies will feel especially at home with celebrity chefs from around the world having restaurant locations here. It is also home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Jacksonville residents prefer the beach and nature parks to theme parks. The lifestyle here is all about getting out and exploring the beautiful scenery of the Florida coast. Jacksonville also has its own NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Both cities have plenty of arts and culture to explore, but Orlando culture features more diversity while Jacksonville culture leans more towards local history.
There are some great 55+ communities to choose from in both the Orlando and Jacksonville areas, and if you click either of those links you'll see more than a few recommendations in each place, but here are two of my favorites.
In the Greater Jacksonville area:
Stillwater – St. Johns, FL
Stillwater is a 55+ community by Lennar Homes located just off I-95 about 20 minutes south of downtown Jacksonville. Homeowners have access to exciting amenities, such as the Bobby Weed-designed 18-hole golf course and a community swimming pool. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants and shops nearby in St. Johns.
A total of 549 homes are planned here, and attached villas and single-family homes are available. Prices start in the $300k’s.
In the Greater Orlando area:
Solivita – Kissimmee, FL
Solivita is a national award-winning retirement community in Central Florida’s attraction zone, offering great natural beauty, vast recreational amenities and enough to do to keep any active adult as busy as you care to be. No matter where you live within this lush gated 55-plus community in Kissimmee, you can easily walk, bike or drive your golf cart to indoor and outdoor dining venues, state-of-the-art spa and fitness complexes, pickleball or tennis courts, and other facilities for sports and games.
With two stunning championship golf courses, intimate neighborhood centers, a softball field, miles of green space for walking, and cycling and too many classes and clubs to count, you will have many ways to enjoy the Solivita life. Residents have access to a full-time on-site Activities Director and Lifestyle Team dedicated to creating a diverse, packed schedule of events, as well as assisting the 200+ Social Clubs created by Solivita residents. Prices start in the $300k’s.
Either of these cities could be an ideal retirement destination, but only you can do the hard work of determining the best fit for you.
Are you obsessed with theme parks, diversity, and easy access to direct flights?
Or do you prefer a laid-back stroll along the beach and a slightly lower overall cost of living?
The choice is yours.