Published February 2009

By Jahna Jacobson
North Santa Rosa County is the wild woods of the Blackwater River State Forest.
South Santa Rosa is the snow-white dunes and glittering Gulf waters of Navarre Beach.
Between them you’ll find the history, art, festivals and music that make Santa Rosa County a top spot for retirees.
“We get six to a dozen couples in every week saying they were thinking about moving here,” said Donna Tucker, executive director of the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce.
“They come in from all over the country – Maine, Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, New York – all over the U.S. and other countries, too.
 “Many of them traveled through here while vacationing or had friends here with the military.”
Santa Rosa County enjoys a slower pace of life, with the benefit of history but with every convenience a retiree could want.
“We have lots of free activities and festivals that are right downtown along the river,” said Kim MacCarthy, president of Mainstreet Milton and owner of the Copper Possum Antique Mall. “During the summer concert series, you can bring a lawn chair and watch the sunset to the music.”
Tucker said that it is the sense of community that is the biggest draw for retirees.
“They like the friendliness and the simplicity of the community,” she said. “The number one thing I hear is that we are such a friendly community. They get here; they meet people; they feel at home and feel welcome.”
Santa Rosa County has about 145,000 residents, and about 12 percent, or 17,000, are 65 or older.
Real Estate Affordability
Milton offers a wide variety of housing options ranging from affordable to luxury, riverfront, secluded or suburban. EASI Housing Affordability Index: 79.3; US Average is 100.
“We have historic homes, patio homes, newer subdivisions, and more,” Tucker said. “And a low crime rate, which is important to our retirees.”
Health Care Options
Santa Rosa County is served by three hospitals, an array of physicians and three major hospitals in nearby Pensacola.
Santa Rosa Medical Center has more than 50 physicians and provides a wide range of services. Santa Rosa Medical Center also operates Pace Family Medical Center and has two family practice physicians located in Navarre.
The county is also served by two smaller hospitals in Gulf Breeze and Jay. Baptist Health Care also offers two primary care centers: Gulf Breeze Internal Medicine Associates and Navarre Family Medicine Center.
The base sales tax in Santa Rosa County is a low 6.5 percent, although there are additional taxes on the beaches. Santa Rosa property taxes are among the lowest in the nation.
The varied natural resources of the area and the subtropical climate provide an atmosphere where residents can choose from water sports, hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, tennis and golf. Santa Rosa is home to more than a half-dozen golf courses.
Racing fans can visit the local drag strip or one of the region’s best dirt tracks, which features truck racing and Cajun sprint cars. Rodeos are also popular entertainment. The Northwest Florida Zoo is also a popular attraction.
Milton is home to branches of both Pensacola Junior College and the University of Florida.
Jobs (retirement)
Retirees interested in relocating to Santa Rosa County frequently ask about business opportunities and see Santa Rosa as a good place for post-retirement entrepreneurial adventures, Tucker said.
“They are selling their big houses and moving here from up north looking for something smaller, and to start a business,” Tucker said. “They see the opportunity to do something that is fun and something they enjoy.”
Retirees are very desirable to Santa Rosa employers, she added. “Employers that will look to that age group because of their work ethic.”
Santa Rosa also has a wide range of volunteer opportunities, from mentoring school-aged children to building with Habitat for Humanity.
“Most retirees get involved with several organizations,” Tucker said. “Regardless of what is near and dear to your heart, you can be out there volunteering.”
Residents enjoy almost limitless opportunities to explore the food, music and visual arts of many cultures through a variety of festivals and performances throughout the year.
The Arcadia Mill, The L&N Depot and Museum of Railroading History and the historic village of Bagdad with renovated pre-Civil War-era homes give a glimpse into the area’s rich history. Residents also enjoy live theatrical plays at numerous locations throughout the year and concerts ranging from opera to bluegrass.
Downtown Milton is undergoing a revitalization, with several gift shops and several small restaurants, and a new 1950s style downtown diner with a lunch counter.
“We have everything they need,” Tucker said. “We have great little gift shops, and Hall’s Hardware. We have the little specialty niche type stores, and we’ve got the Walmart, Publix, and Target.”
“One of our biggest shopping draws is antiques,” she added.
Sense of Place
Milton’s small town charm, nestled in the best that nature has to offer makes Santa Rosa County an ideal home for retirees who want a sense of belonging and an endless variety of recreation and discovery.
“We have a wonderful sense of community,” MacCarthy said. “We have a lot of people who have relocated to retire, and we all become like an extended family.