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Big Pine Key, Florida
Part of Florida's Lower Keys, Balmy Big Pine Key is a Remote Place with an Ends-of-the-Earth Feeling
Overview: At the beginning of Florida's remote Lower Keys, the least developed islands in the Keys, balmy Big Pine Key sits on an island of the same name where the Keys island chain takes a slight turn to the west. The Lower Keys have an untamed, ends-of-the-earth feeling, and Big Pine Key does, too. It is, though, the commercial hub of this area.
The town has a shopping center with a Winn-Dixie and some thatched roof restaurants. Other merchants, including a hardware store, a bar or two, a bait and tackle shop and Coconuts liquor store, are along the Overseas Highway that runs through town. Diving and snorkeling are what bring people to Big Pine Key, and just south of town, Looe Key Reef in the National Marine Sanctuary is known for its gorgeous coral reef and schools of friendly fish. Wildlife is never far away, particularly with the National Key Deer Refuge just north of town. The refuge is home to the last remaining herd of Key Deer.
Residents enjoy festivals such as the Island Art Festival and the Underwater Music Festival (for divers and mermaids). Neighborhoods feel unfinished, with sandy roads and overgrown vegetation. Residences include cottages, bungalows, ranch ramblers and stilt homes. Some sit next to a canal.
Population: 5,500 (city proper)
Age 45 or Better: 48%
Cost of Living: 30% above national average
Median Home Price: $445,000
Climate: Summer has temperatures in the 80s and 90s, and winter has temperatures in the 60s and 70s. On average, the area receives 40 inches of rain per year.
At Least One Hospital Accepts Medicare Patients? No
At Least One Hospital Accredited by Joint Commission? No. The nearest accredited hospital is in Marathon, 18 miles away.
Public Transit: Key West Transit travels between the Keys and makes three stops in Big Pine Key.
Crime Rate: Meets the national average
Public Library: Yes
Political Leanings: Liberal
College Educated: 31%
Is Florida Considered Tax Friendly for Retirement? Yes
Cons: Hurricane Irma struck Big Pine Key in 2017 and caused significant damage. Future hurricanes are always a possibility.
Notes: Some locals complain about "island fever." The nearest larger town, Marathon, is 18 miles away. Key West is 30 miles away. Big Pine Key's population has grown by 40% within the last decade.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Maybe. Big Pine Key is a seductive place, but the travel time to an accredited hospital and the distance to other civilization should be weighed before retiring in this tropical outpost.
Sticking out into Hurricane Alley, Florida was a land no nation seemed to want. Ruled successively by Spain, France, England, and the Confederate States of America, the state had a backwater reputation. Other than St. Augustine and Pensacola, there were few cities. The area was rural and populated by frontier farmers.
In the late-1800s, changes came when railroads began chugging down both coasts. Industrialist Henry Flagler's Florida Easy Coast Railway even made it all the way to Key West. The Great Florida Land Boom, the build-up to World War II, and the space industry also helped turn Florida into one of the nation's most populous states. In 1900, there were about 500,000 residents. Today, there are more than 20 million, almost 351 people per square mile.
Why do people keep coming? Tourism marketing is one reason. Annually, millions visit Orlando's theme parks and the state's 663 miles of white sand beaches. Taxes generated by the billion dollar vacation industry allow Florida to prosper without a personal income tax. Budget-sensitive retirees have flocked to its cities and shorelines.
If you can ignore the hurricanes, the state's climate is relatively mild. Only five other states are sunnier. Florida's system of state universities and community colleges is sizable, and its big cities are meccas for culture and the arts. Sarasota is a good example. Its Ringling Museum Complex contains internationally known art museum, a circus museum, an historic theater, and a 66-acre garden. Museums near Orlando range from a Zora Neale Hurston gallery to a Madame Tussauds.
Population - 20,612,439
Persons 65 years old and over - 20%
High school graduates, persons age 25+ - 87%
Bachelor's degree or higher, persons age 25+ - 27%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 24%
White persons, not Hispanic - 58%
Median household income - $47,525
Median home value - $159,900
Social Security taxed? No
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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