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Midwestern Retirements Part 2: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

June 21, 2017 – Welcome to Part 2 of our magical midwestern retirement tour. Here is the link to Part 1, which covered the Michigan part of our tour from its Upper Peninsula to Empire (near Traverse City).

From beautiful Empire we followed Route 22 south along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is a pretty drive with frequent views of Lake Michigan and other lakes.

Scenic overlook

Muskegon has a big and busy commercial waterfront. According to our friends this small city of 38,000 is having a resurgence. Muskegon is the commercial center of this area, and this is where area residents come to shop and be entertained.

Muskegon near the waterfront

Grand Haven, just south of Muskegon, shares Lake Michigan and the banks of the Grand River with the adjacent towns of Ferrysburg and Spring Lake. We just loved this town, where we have two sets of retired friends (both are snowbirds). The downtown bustles with wide streets and attractive storefronts. We had breakfast at the local hot spot, the Morning Star – long line but worth the wait. Dinner was at Snug Harbor, perched at the start of the boardwalk going out to the iconic red lighthouse. The town has neat residential streets set along rolling hills – which are actually sand dunes. Recreation of all kinds is available and taken advantage of. A very active pickleball contingent takes advantage of 6 courts (plus 2 tennis courts). People stroll along the boardwalk beside the Grand River for fun. The long, long riverfront and breakwater is enjoyed by many fishermen. You can walk up trails through the dunes, which in winter is a town-run ski slope. Mulligan’s Hollow Ski Bowl offers swooping terrain reached by an inexpensive rope tow. Grand Haven State Park has a fantastic wide beach with a pavilion and rest rooms. All of this is walkable from the old neighborhoods near the lake, which are increasingly sought after by retirees and families. There are frequent festivals, even in winter, and some are so popular that the town population more than doubles.

Holland was our next stop to the south. It is a tourist town with many popular festivals, including the May Tulip Time Festival, which attracts 1 million visitors (the city has planted 6 million tulips). Many wealthy families and companies live here and they provide plenty of financial support (including office furniture makers Herman Miller and Haworth, along with Johnson Controls and the Howard Miller Clock Company). Hope College has a beautiful campus and is just a block from 8th Street, the main shopping avenue. The town has many parks, beaches, and a State Park.
Across the channel from the State Park is the Holland Harbor Light, known as “Big Red.” We did not get quite the sense of what the residential component of living here would be like – there do not appear to be many active communities, but instead it has many attractive residential neighborhoods. Certainly there is no shortage of things to do in Holland. On the downside, you would have to get used to living in a tourist town.

Catching up on other parts of our tour
That concludes the Michigan (middle) part of our midwestern retirement tour. But we can’t leave the trip recap without mentioning our beginning and ending legs to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

Batavia, Illinois, a smallish town to the west of Chicago, was a pleasant surprise and a potentially nice place to retire. Like its neighboring sister cities St. Charles and Geneva, Batavia is an old wealthy town set along the Fox River. When we were there on a weekend the place was very much alive with people of all ages, especially baby boomers, who were out walking, biking (many great trails along the river), and enjoying the Farmers Market downtown. The downtown is small but compact with many stately homes parallel to the River, including Gridley House (Ravine House), a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. There is a beautiful and huge brand new public library at the City’s main intersection. Our cousin Steve lives here and is planning on retiring in the area, which has much to recommend it.

A pair of Columbus’s!
At the end of our tour we ventured to two different cities named Columbus – one in Indiana and the more familiar one in Ohio. Columbus, Indiana is one of the top modern architecture centers of the world. Amazingly, almost no one has heard of this phenomenal town. The CliffNotes version on Columbus is this: It is a small town south of Indianapolis. Home to Cummins Inc., virtually every public building in town – school, church, library, office building, police and fire station – was designed by a world famous architect like Meis van der Rohe, Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, Eero Saarinen, and others. The town has a number of beautiful parks designed by celebrated landscape architects. It also has the resources to make it a fabulous midwestern place to retire. See our more detailed article on Columbus, “An Architectural Gem – with Everything You Want in a Place to Retire“.

Our second Columbus, the one in Ohio, was yet another great retirement discovery. Home to The Ohio State University (don’t forget the “The”!), Columbus seems like the perfect place to retire if you want a livable, medium-sized city (860,000 residents) that is very attractive, clean, and has plenty to do. We discovered its livable aspect firsthand on a Saturday. It was easy to drive, bike, or walk through pretty neighborhoods like Victorian Village (great collection of restored Victorian homes). The Olentangy and Scioto Rivers form a picturesque western edge of the downtown, where a big art show was in progress. The city center is walkable with wide streets lined with appealing stores and restaurants. Public bus service seemed to be frequent. The Germantown area is filled with restaurants and brewpubs, along with very attractive neighborhoods of brick homes (we had a great meal at Schmidt’s). Real estate downtown seemed expensive, but nice. Zillow was showing many of these homes in the $400,000 and more range. We walked by a number of apartment high rises where retirees could live happily. We have a number of cousins and friends who have retired here and they love it – now we see why. Outside of town there are all kinds of active communities. Comparing our experience with Pittsburgh, another medium-sized city attractive to retirees, Columbus seemed much more livable and appealing.

Bottom line – a midwestern retirement
As we heard back from many Members after Part 1, a Michigan retirement is not for everyone (the same is undoubtedly true for IL, IN, and OH). Winters are cold and the MI tax situation for retirees is not as favorable as it once was. But we were very impressed with all of the towns we visited on this tour. Compared to the many places we have visited over the years, these towns are definitely 1%’rs. Most people could enjoy a very desirable lifestyle in any of them, particularly if you can get away for most of the winters. One of the things we really liked about the midwestern towns we went through was seeing boomers out enjoying themselves – biking, playing golf, hiking, boating. Every town in all the states we visited had extensive bike trails and numerous public parts. With the beautiful surroundings and extensive cultural and recreational opportunities, these towns should appeal to almost anyone, no matter where you live now.

Comments? We hope your retirement trips are fun and a learning experience too. Please share your experiences and thoughts about retirement in these midwestern towns in the Comments section below. What did we miss, and what could you add? Any other towns we should have gone to?

For further reading:
Part 1: Our Michigan Retirement Tour
Topretirements Mini-Guide to Retirement in Michigan
10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go on a Retirement Tour“.
Mejask Reports on Her Hawaiian Retirement
Flo’s North Carolina Retirement Trip
Hop on the Jay Michael Retirement Bus
An Indiana Town Where Big Names Build

Posted by Admin on June 20th, 2017


  1. You didn’t mention the awful roads in Michigan!

    by Sandy — June 21, 2017

  2. Thank you for all your hard work providing this information. These are exactly the kind of areas that attract my husband and me. We avoid tourist communities which so many people retire to, whether it be north, south, east or west. I’m taking notes and planning to visit several of the places you discussed. Many of them I already knew about. This gives me the push to go have fun! I already live in the Midwest. Well, NE Ohio which doesn’t really seem Midwest. Honestly it’s really 3 months that get seriously cold. We’re not ones to want summer all year so 2-3 months away is more than enough for us. As far as roads in MI go in my opinion Rhode Island has the roughest. The only thing wrong with many of the areas you covered is the bashing that people do about them. I don’t get it, I’ve lived in areas down south that are considered perfect retirement areas and I couldn’t disagree more. The area offers beautiful topography, museums, colleges, libraries, restaurants and outstanding healthcare facilities.

    by Kate — June 21, 2017

  3. Columbus, Ohio was never on my radar as a place to move to; lived in a lot of well-known cities and states…but Ohio? Well a long-time friend moved here and liked it; after living through 4 hurricanes in Florida, sold my home, quit my job and moved to O-H-I-O. Have been reading this newsletter, subscribe to a where to retire magazine and still didn’t know where I’d retire. Last week, I pretended that I knew nothing about Ohio, let alone Columbus. Surprise, surprise I was so impressed and to boot was surprised about the low cost of living, amazing healthcare and research facilities, Columbus seemed to tick off my wants and needs that I had prepared for other cities. For now, Columbus will be where I start my retirement; it really is a hidden treasure and readers of this week’s column would do well to heed the remarks.

    by Helena Brus — June 21, 2017

  4. There are nice affordable 55 communities and cities in Ohio…, Stow, Grove City, Oberlin, Tipp City and Zanesville, to name a few areas I like. Lol! Columbus or Pittsburg? Really? Really?? Both are nice to visit….It is about a healthier climate for me, mentally and physically. Rent a place for a year and decide for yourself. There is always an option to be a snowbird, if you can afford it a second home. You could own an RV and live out it for 3 months of the year (more like 4-5 months) in a warmer climate.

    by William DeyErmand — June 22, 2017

  5. We have lived in NW Indiana for over a decade in a small town near Lake Michigan. The cost of living is low and there are plenty of things to do. Working just two halfdays a week at a golf pro shop gives me the equivalent of a full golf membership. We bought a used pontoon boat and have it in a local lake for just $750 for the season, which includes membership in the local “Yacht” club where drinks are $2.50 and lots of friendly people. So many beer & winefests in the summer, you can’t go to them all.
    We have gone south for the last 5 years from Jan-March but this year plan to stay here with just some short trips out of the area. We want to save our money to mark off two bucket list items next year, Oktoberfest in Munich, and a stay in Tuscany for a week. We had thought about moving south several years ago, but with our life here among many good friends, we decided to stay.
    This is what a good retirement is to us!!

    by Bill — June 22, 2017

  6. Check out Ohio taxes for retirees before you commit.

    by Jeff L — June 22, 2017

  7. Bill is your social security and pension taxed in Indiana as a retiree? How are property taxes?

    by Jennifer — June 23, 2017

  8. Jeff: What taxes concern you in Ohio? Ohio real estate taxes look lower than PA but comparable to NC on (The PA difference may be offset by the fact that PA doesn’t tax retirement income.) Ohio real estate taxes look a little higher than FL, but FL’s insurance costs are substantially higher and that offsets them. I thought Ohio didn’t tax Social Security? Gas taxes and sales taxes seem pretty comparable. Am I missing an additional tax? I still haven’t looked at estate taxes in OH.

    SC still has the lowest tax bite of the states I’m considering thanks to really low real estate taxes, but I’m also weighing Northern winters to be closer to family..

    by Kate — June 24, 2017

  9. Social Security retirement benefits are exempt from the state income tax in Indiana, while income from pensions and retirement savings accounts are not. Indiana has low property taxes and the fourth lowest average cost of living in the U.S. Wages are taxed at normal rates, the marginal state tax rate is 4.0%.
    Our property tax on an 1800 sf home on two acres is about $1000

    by Bill — June 24, 2017

  10. Ohio taxes your pension and IRA distributions, See Kiplinger tax tables by state or

    by Jeff L — June 24, 2017

  11. Jeff – Thank you! There aren’t too many states that don’t tax that income (and the ones that don’t usually have other expenses (like the higher insurance costs in FL or higher real estate taxes in PA) that tend to balance out for many states. Some states also have exemptions that help to reduce a retiree’s actual taxable income. Figuring out the actual cost of living can be very tricky. Kiplinger’s and the various cost of living calculators on the real estate sites are good for research, to help narrow down the choices. I am going to spend the $20 per state for the state software on Turbotax this year for my two finalist states and run a sample return, to see how the same info compares. Yes, I am a “little” compulsive about research. I will make my final decision and retire at 65 in the first quarter of 2018, since I have hit my financial target HURRAY! I am focused on the East Coast, and am familiar with each location on my final list. For me, it’s down to SC, PA, OH (and a distant 4th FL). Each one has a lot of pros and cons, like weather or being near to relatives. This is harder than I thought it would be!

    by Kate — June 24, 2017

  12. Kate- Also look at Ky, Tn, and Ga. Even then carefully look at the taxes et all in specific locations. Different states, locals, may better than others depending on your finances and how they are structured.

    by Jeff L — June 25, 2017

  13. Thank you for your tour of Michigan, my home state. I currently live in CA. I was very disappointed that you were unable to spend more time in Traverse City, MI. I lived there for over 23 years and it is the most beautiful place in the world to live. Spring, Summer, and Fall are so beautiful!!! Then you would need to go someplace warm for the winter, say from October until April (that is when the snow flies)! Munson Medical Center is and excellent hospital; an regional medical center in Traverse City with First Class physicians, nurses, surgeons, a Cancer Center, Hospice and Palliative Care program; a Rehab program. A skilled facility next to the hospital. Everything you need. A hospital based Home Care program; Private Duty. The best of the best in medicare care. Great restaurants; shopping, entertainment, the National Cherry Festival every year. Grand Traverse Bay. A walking/biking trail. Traverse City has it all; and a beautiful Senior Center on the water! Go for a visit and you won’t be disappointed! You’ll want to move 🙂

    by Barb — June 25, 2017

  14. I agree with all of the above comments.

    by john — June 25, 2017

  15. A year ago, the wife and I on one of our day trips, stumbled upon Gallipolis, Ohio. Since then we have visited the town every other month. We spent two weeks for a vacation in this surprising town after the 4th., finding it is a very friendly retirement community. Boating and fishing is important to me, and my wife loves entertaining places. Winter was mild, little snow (has a history of 8 inches a year!) and Summer has a need for air conditioning. On the east side of town is all the major shopping stores. There is a local smaller airport to make connecting flights in Columbus, 90 miles northwest. People can use motorized vehicles, hike, or bike on the local trails. There is even a golf course. It may seem small time to some, but it is big time living in a small active town at a lessor cost.

    by William DeyErmand — August 3, 2017

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