According to United Van Lines 2022 Annual National Movers Study, the 46th of its kind, retirement and being closer to loved ones continue as top motivators to move.
But you know what they say — location, location, location.
Movers are relocating to coastal cities in droves. In fact, six out of the top 10 inbound MSA markets in 2022 are seaside cities:
- Wilmington, NC (81%)
- Bellingham, WA (73.2%)
- Santa Fe, NM (73%)
- Myrtle Beach, SC (72%)
- Punta Gorda, FL (71.6%)
- Flagstaff, AZ (71.4%)
- Sarasota-Bradenton, FL (71%)
- State College, PA (70%)
- Eugene-Springfield, OR (69%)
- Fort Myers-Cape Coral, FL (69%)
- Notably, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Punta Gorda, Florida, ranked in the top MSA inbound markets for three consecutive years.
Now, let’s take a quick a step back to 2021, when the top five cities people moved to were Medford-Ashland, Oregon (83%); Punta Gorda, Florida (81%); Wilmington, North Carolina (81%); and — in a tie — Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, and Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida (81%).
It helps paint a picture, for sure. Coastal cities, along with locations featuring outdoorsy, lifestyle-driven amenities, continue to draw new residents. And that appears true regardless of locations’ proximity to potential natural disasters or the realities and potential impacts of climate change.
Ultimately, it appears one of the pandemic’s indelible — and positive — impacts is a desire to connect with and embrace nature, live out our dreams, and be emotionally present while doing it.
Whether you’re considering a move to one of these top inbound cities or remain unsure of next steps, it’s a great time to delve deeper, immersing yourself in another place and space.
Wilmington, North Carolina
A port city in coastal southeastern North Carolina, Wilmington features a humid, subtropical climate marked by mild winters and hot, humid summers that bring windy conditions and heavy rains. Boasting a large historic district, vibrant riverfront and picturesque walks along the storied Cape Fear River, it sets the tone with varied, architectural homes and moss-draped, old-growth oaks that line the city’s more than 230-block district on the National Register of Historic Places.
A gateway to Cape Fear Coast beaches — including Wrightsville, with its strong surf, and Carolina, known for its long boardwalk — Wilmington’s historic district is trimmed with restaurants, galleries and shops. Meanwhile, the river is where the Battleship North Carolina is moored, and artifacts aboard offer an exploration of WWII naval combat history.
Laidback, open-minded and tucked within lush forests, Bellingham is a coastal gem of the North Cascades. Located near the Canadian border, 1 ½ hours north of Seattle, it’s a port city with ferries to Alaska. To its east stands Mount Baker, a soaring, snow-capped volcano with ski runs. Add mild-mannered weather into the mix and it’s no wonder this was the fourth most popular city to move to in 2022.
The Bellingham of today was once four different towns – Fairhaven, Sehome, Whatcom and Bellingham — though it amalgamated into a single metro area in the late 19th century. Situated on Bellingham Bay, its climate is typical of the Puget Sound region — marine oceanic, strongly influenced by the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains. Receiving an average annual rainfall of 34.84 inches, November is generally the wettest month of its rainy season, which runs from October through April. Those subject to cloudy day blues should take note: Bellingham has the lowest average sunshine of any U.S. city. And winter? There are periodic harsh weather patterns, though that’s not true of winter weather overall.
Ultimately, plenty of folks find its mild, pleasant summers and “Pineapple Express” effect — a meteorological phenomenon that can usher in mild autumn and winter weather — pluses enough.
Offering a scenic series of urban trails, hip, refurbished warehouses, independent food co-ops and the revitalized Fairhaven historic district, Bellingham is dotted with brewpubs and coffee shops. Owing to its youthful vibe to students, plenty attended the University of Western Washington and, understandably, never left.
Given Bellingham’s creative vibe, residents find plenty in the way of performing and creative arts; seafood-heavy, Pacific Northwest-centric dining; and even film.
From its walkable downtown district trimmed with boutiques and cafes to its many craft breweries; whale-watching opportunities; and jagged mountain peaks harboring high elevation lakes and flower-dotted alpine meadows, it’s easy to fall in love with Bellingham. Plus, North Cascades National Park is a hop, skip and a car drive from home. (Learn more about North Cascades and other regional National Park Service-managed lands in our National Parks of the West Coast guide.)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Historic adobe neighborhoods. A timeless, earthy vibe. More museums and galleries than you can imagine. And who could forget Meow Wolf, an off-kilter, immersive, down-the-rabbit-hole art installation that’s not to be missed (and worthy of repeat visits)? Lying more than 7,000 feet above sea level and founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, Santa Fe’s traditional Plaza is lined with Native American jewelers, serving as its heart. Meanwhile, creative arts inform the city’s soul.
Set at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range, Sante Fe is an ideal base for hiking, mountain biking and skiing, as well as a jumping off point for visits to the region’s many other natural wonders. (See our National Parks of the Southwest guide for more on that.)
With a population of 87,505 at the 2020 census, it is the fourth-largest city in New Mexico, emphasizing the trend we’ve seen of people moving from larger to smaller — but culture-rich — cities.
Marked by cool, dry winters, hot summers and relatively low precipitation, Santa Fe usually receives six- to-eight snowfalls a year between November and April. The heaviest rainfall happens in July and August, when the North American Monsoon arrives.
A hotbed of creativity, Sante Fe has been designated a UNESCO Creative City, thanks to its proliferation of visual artists (and the galleries that showcase them); literati, like D.H. Lawrence; plentiful music, dance and opera performances; and impressive collection of museums, showcasing everything from Native American works to modern and contemporary Southwestern artwork, one dedicated to solely to Georigia O’Keeffe.
Infused with Spanish and Pueblo influences and loaded with spectacular outdoor spaces with stories to tell — including Bandelier National Monument and two national parks, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands — you’ll find no shortage of ways to pass the time. Not to be overlooked, Sante Fe is an architecture lover’s paradise, one with distinctive, low-slung, earth-colored buildings, much of it crafted from adobe bricks.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Offering an attractive package of fun and sun, it’s no wonder Myrtle Beach — with its captivating beaches — appeared toward the top of 2022’s list for inbound cities (72%). From its amusement parks to its greens and vacation-worthy attractions, this laidback spot on the Atlantic coastline brims with possibilities.
Beyond its beachy lifestyle — there are endless arcs of sand, after all — Myrtle Beach has other charms, including its warm Southern hospitality, thousands of miles of walking paths, a plethora of shopping malls and plenty of dining options that are sure to delight. Then there’s the matter of affordability. On an index of 100 —100 representing the average cost of housing in the U.S. — housing Myrtle Beach sits at about 65. That’s significantly less than many other cities in the U.S., making it quite the seaside catch.
Warm and subtropical, Myrtle Beach resides in northeastern South Carolina, at the center of a continuous, 60-mile stretch of beach called “The Grand Strand.” Short, mostly mild winters see average daytime highs from 57ºF to 61ºF. Warm, leisurely summers see temps between 83 and 91ºF. On average it sees 215 days of glorious sunshine.
Among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in America, palm tree-stippled Myrtle Beach is also known for its well-performing public and private schools.
Punta Gorda, Florida
Anchored by a picturesque historic district and set on the south bank of the tidal Peace River and Charlotte Harbor’s eastern shore, Punta Gorda draws ocean enthusiasts in search of swaying, palm-lined boulevards and tin-roofed, Old Florida-era homes wrapped with wide verandas. A no-brainer for boaters, fisherman, shoppers and sunworshippers alike, it has a chill feel, coupled with long, hot summers and brief, cooler, windy and partly cloudy winters that promise a break from the heat.
The Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast offers breathtaking beaches; activities that range from boating and fishing to golfing; and plentiful, nature-driven experiences, like shelling and collecting fossilized shark teeth. Delivering relaxation and adventure amid an outdoor wonderland, it’s easy to see why people of all persuasions decide to call this slice of south-central Florida their home.
Nestled in Northern Arizona amid mountains, desert and fragrant ponderosa pine forests, relaxed, pedestrian-friendly — not to mention “granola” — Flagstaff attracts cheery, outdoors-loving, athletic crowd. Northern Arizona University (NAU) infuses a dose of college-town flair, while a rich railroad history is evident throughout town. The reason? In the 1880s, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through Flagstaff and the rest of northern Arizona and New Mexico. Upon purchasing the line in 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad established Flagstaff as a continuous rail connection between St. Louis and the Pacific Ocean.
Set at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, Flagstaff is variously reported to have a warm dry-summer Mediterranean climate, Hemiboreal climate and cold semi-arid climate, the latter of which it’s most commonly designated. Northern Arizona experiences a summer monsoon season from July to September, with July and August typically the wettest months. There is also a winter monsoon season, albeit less pronounced. June — and summer as a whole — is driest. Flagstaff’s hottest temperature on record was 97ºF in July 1973, meaning the temps are much more bearable than Arizona’s lowland areas.
A gateway to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon and mighty Colorado River that carved it, Flagstaff was designated an International Dark Sky City. As such, stargazing is topnotch. In fact, budding astronomers can drive up to Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill, just west of downtown, to capitalize on the view. A bit further afield is the incredible Antelope Canyon, its undulating sandstone formations on land belonging to a Navajo family. Plan ahead and take the awe-inspiring tour — guides are a must.
Of course, the natural wonders don’t stop there. Hiking is popular during the warmer months, including on trails in Coconino National Forest and ones crisscrossing Mt. Elden northeast of downtown. Friendly to cyclists, Flagstaff also sports more than 50 miles of peddle-ready trails. When winter arrives, locals zip down the slopes of Agassiz and Humphreys peaks on 40 runs from 9,200- to-11,500 feet.
With all the formations around, ways to appreciate history and geology also run deep. There are three fascinating national monuments within 40 miles of the city, standouts being the lava field at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the 800-year-old pueblo at Wupatki National Monument. Of course, you can also explore indoors at the Museum of Northern Arizona, which lends insight into the Colorado Plateau.
Want to venture further afield? Check out our National Parks of the Southwest guide.
Find yourself wondering where people were most moving from?
The top slots in 2022 were largely on the East Coast — the first four, in fact: Hagerstown, Maryland (81%); Nassau-Suffolk, New York (78%); Poughkeepsie, New York (76%); and Bergen-Passaic, New Jersey (76%).