Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Best Places to Retire in Texas


The Rio Grande Valley is the region along the course of the Rio Grande River as it winds its way down the southernmost part of Texas and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river forms the border with Mexico. The valley, which is situated as far south as Miami, Florida, is known for its subtropical climate, its large crop of ruby red grapefruit, its blending with the Hispanic culture and its laid back lifestyle. It has a great diversity of wildlife and plants, and is one of the best places in the U.S. for seeing a wide variety of birds and wildlife, or seeing hundreds of species of butterflies. It is a comfortable driving distance to the magnificent beaches of Padre Island, there are a good number of fine golf courses, and good hunting and fishing. There are a many activities and amenities along with excellent healthcare facilities. Much like Florida, it is a Mecca for retirees who want to escape the coldest months of the year.

The valley’s three largest cities, starting from nearest the Gulf, are Brownsville (population 145,000), Harlingen (population 65,000) and McAllen (population 120,000), which are spaced 26 to 34 miles apart and are linked by Highway 83. Numerous small and medium sized communities are located throughout the area.

Brownsville is the southernmost city in Texas. It is a thriving deepwater international seaport and a major interchange point on the Mexican border. It is literally a short walk across a river bridge to Matamoros, its sister city in Mexico. There you will find plenty of shopping, especially for art and handcrafts. There are also many good dining choices, festivals and entertainment.

Brownsville began in 1846 when Fort Brown was established to support the Rio Grande as the national boundary when Texas achieved statehood. Today it is a thriving city with a multicultural atmosphere, an active and diverse economy, plenty of good dining choices, shopping, entertainment, nightclubs, cultural activities, good music, museums, and an interesting history. It is only about a 30-minute ride to the wide, crystal sand beaches of South Padre Island. There are also many good golf courses within an easy drive, or if you choose, there is offshore fishing. Brownsville was recently chosen as an All American City. The community refers to itself as “On the Border Ö By the Sea.”

Harlingen is located in the center of the lush Rio Grande Valley, about 26 miles northwest from Brownsville. It is another of the resource centers for the region. Harlingen has an attractive “Main Street” feel to the downtown, which has undergone an extensive restoration in recent years. There are restored storefronts, street lamps, palm trees, plantings, sidewalk benches, and many small businesses. The town has more than 80 antique and collectibles dealers within just a four-block area. There are also specialty shops, clothing, furniture, jewelry, arts and crafts, coffee shops and restaurants. Harlingen has been called the “Tropical Playground of Texas” because of its semi-tropical climate and the relaxed lifestyle. It is a part-time home for “Winter Texans” (who come mostly from the Midwest and Canada) to enjoy the mild winter weather. There is excellent healthcare, entertainment and activities, and numerous choices for dining. It is approximately 40 miles to South Padre Island’s world-class sand beaches.

McAllen is located 34 miles west of Harlingen and about 75 miles from the Gulf Coast. It is in the upper Rio Grande Valley, just four miles from the Mexican border with easy access to Old Mexico. McAllen hosts many thousands of tourists and a great many seasonal visitors from the Midwest and Canada who spend their winters here. Its population literally doubles from October through March. The city is sometimes referred to as the “City of Palms” with its wide, tree-lined streets and many flowering plants. It is a growing, thriving city with a healthy economy, boosted by NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement).

McAllen is also the shopping, social, cultural, and healthcare resource center for its metropolitan area, which includes Reynosa, Mexico. The combined population served exceeds an estimated one million people.

The downtown streets display a great deal of the Mexican culture and a wide variety of goods. Vendors display their wares outdoors and the streets are often busy throughout the day. You will find jewelry, clothing stores, western wear, music stores and more. There are also over 40 retail shopping centers in the area. McAllen has excellent healthcare choices and it also has its own international airport with direct connections to both Dallas and Houston.

McAllen has recently been ranked as the third lowest cost of living city in the U.S., and it has been cited as among the “Best Places To Do Business in America.”

Arts & Culture

Valley Symphony Orchestra & Chorale (McAllen) offers a subscription series with performances at University of Texas-Pan American Fine Arts Auditorium.

The University of Texas at Brownsville presents an annual arts and entertainment season featuring Latin dance, photo choreography, Russian ballet, and classic performances.

Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts works to strengthen the community through the performing arts.

Camille Lightner Playhouse in Brownsville produces community theater.

Brownsville Museum of Fine Art exhibits the arts of the Rio Grande Valley

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site at Brownsville is a 3,400-acre site where an artillery duel opened the Mexican War in May 1846.

Commemorative Air Force Museum in Brownsville contains vintage military aircraft from World War II and the Korean War, as well as other memorabilia.

Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville.

Sabal Palm Audubon Center & Sanctuary, Brownsville, offers educational activities and trails for birding.

Charro Days is an elaborate four-day festival with costumes and parades between Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico. It has been celebrated since 1938.

The Harlingen Art Forum consists of about 65 local artists. Its membership encourages young students to further develop their talents. D’Arte Centre features artists of the valley and sponsors workshops and holds classes.

The Rio Grande Valley Museum (Harlingen) demonstrates the contributions of Native Americans, Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and the United States to the history and development of the region.

Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center (San Benito) preserves, promotes and develops Mexican visual arts, theater, dance, film and literary works.


Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission,Texas, is headquarters of the World Birding Center. It is well-known for birds not found elsewhere in the U.S. except deepest South Texas. This 760-acre state park, together with over 1,700 acres of adjoining federal refuge land offers outstanding birding.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is the largest protected area of natural habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (45,000 acres). Its features include temperate, subtropical, coastal and desert habitats. Located near Rio Hondo, about 15 miles east of Harlingen, Laguna Atascosa is world famous for its bird population and wildlife.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo, Texas, is a 2,088-acre site along the banks of the Rio Grande River, seven miles south of the city. It is home to nearly 400 different types of birds and other wildlife. It is a part of the flyway to and from Central and South America.

Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is headquartered at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, seven miles south of Alamo. The refuge follows the last 275 river miles of the Rio Grande River. It is considered one of the most biologically diverse NWRs in the U.S. and hosts 1,100 types of plants, 484 bird species, and over 300 species of butterflies.

Valley Race Park (Harlingen) offers Greyhound racing from November through April. The park is open throughout the year and offers simulcast events.

The King Ranch (at Kingsville, Texas – northwest of McAllen) is the largest working ranch in the U.S. with 825,000 acres. The ranch offers guided nature tours and special programs for bird-watchers.

Rio Grande Speedway is a 1/4 mile dirt track.

Dodge Arena (Hidalgo – just south of McAllen) is a 6,800-seat venue owned by the city that produces concerts and sporting events.

Edinburg International Raceway is a 1/8 mile and 1/4 mile drag race strip.


The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College are both located in Brownsville. The combined student population is about 10,000. Texas Southmost is a two-year public institution with an enrollment of 7,800. The University of Texas offers Bachelor and Masters programs.

Marine Military Academy is one of the top military preparatory schools in the country. It is also well-known as the location of the original Iwo Jima Memorial. The duplicate is located in Washington, DC.

Texas State Technical College, Harlingen, is a state supported institution that offers more than 30 courses of study. It confers Associates degrees, certificates of completion and academic credits for transfer to a four-year university.

South Texas Community College has campuses at McAllen, Westlaco, and Rio Grande City. Its total enrollment is nearly 15,000. It offers 81 degree and certificate programs of study.

University of Texas-Pan American has a 220-acre campus at Edinburg, Texas. It offers 56 programs leading to a Bachelors degree and 42 Masters programs. Enrollment is 16,000.

Senior Programs

Senior Citizens Center of Brownsville. (956) 544-2767.
Rio Hodono Senior Citizens Program, Los Fresnos. (956) 748-3082
“Seniors’ Choice” is a customized package of services offered by Valley Baptist Medical of Brownsville.

Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) assists eligible individuals 55 years and older to gain competitive job skills through temporary subsidized employment and training.

This link takes you to a list of organizations and clubs in the McAllen area that provide opportunities for seniors.


Valley Baptist Medical Center in Brownsville is part of one of the largest medical systems in South Texas with approximately 600 beds.

Harlingen Medical Center is an acute care hospital specializing in cardiovascular care, orthopedics, neurology, and obstetrics and gynecology.

Valley Baptist Medical, Harlingen, was the first Level III trauma center in South Texas. The Valley Baptist Health System has 600 beds and has been serving the area since 1925. It is also a teaching hospital.

McAllen Medical Center is a major hospital facility with 490 beds.

Mission Hospital (Mission, Texas) is a 138-bed general hospital.

Edinburg Regional Medical Center is a 167-bed acute care hospital.


Brownsville South Padre International Airport –

Rio Grande Valley International Airport (Harlingen) –

McAllen-Miller International Airport offers direct flights to Dallas and Houston.


The average Brownsville temperatures for January are a high of 70 and low of 50 degrees. The average temperatures for July are a high of 93 and low of 76 degrees. Brownsville weather

The average Harlingen temperatures for January are a high of 69 degrees and low of 50 degrees. The averages for July are a high of 93 and low of 75 degrees.

McAllen has an average annual rainfall of 23.2 inches. The average temperatures for January are a high of 68.5 degrees and low of 48.5 degrees. The averages for July are a high of 95.8 degrees and low of 74.9 degrees.


Brownsville Herald –

The Monitor – is the largest local paper for McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, and the surrounding areas.

The Valley Morning Star is a daily local paper from the Rio Grande Valley.

Property Taxes

Cameron County Tax Assessor (for Brownsville & Harlingen areas)

Hidalgo County Tax Assessor (for McAllen area)

State Taxes

Chamber of Commerce

Brownsville Chamber of Commerce –
Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce –
Harlingen Chamber of Commerce –
McAllen Chamber of Commerce –
McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce –

State Aging Agency


From Brownsville:
Port Isabel – 23 miles
South Padre Island – 27 miles
Los Fresnos – 12.5 miles
San Benito – 20 miles
Harlingen – 26 miles
La Feria – 34 miles
Mercedes – 39 miles
Weslaco – 45 miles
Donna – 49 miles
Alamo – 53 miles
McAllen – 60 miles

From Harlingen:
McAllen – 34 miles
Brownsville – 26 miles
South Padre Island – 40 miles

From McAllen:
Harlingen – 34 miles
Brownsville – 50 miles
South Padre Island – 73 miles

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