Tau pathology is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) but also occurs in normal cognitive aging. Using the tau PET agent 18F-AV-1451, we examined retention patterns in cognitively normal older people in relation to young controls and AD patients. Age and β-amyloid (measured using PiB PET) were differentially associated with tau tracer retention in healthy aging. Older age was related to increased tracer retention in regions of the medial temporal lobe, which predicted worse episodic memory performance. PET detection of tau in other isocortical regions required the presence of cortical β-amyloid and was associated with decline in global cognition. Furthermore, patterns of tracer retention corresponded well with Braak staging of neurofibrillary tau pathology. The present study defined patterns of tau tracer retention in normal aging in relation to age, cognition, and β-amyloid deposition.