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.
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.
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. It is so interesting we plan to do a separate article on Columbus as a retirement destination. But the CliffNotes version is this: It is a small town south of Indianapolis. Home to Cummins Inc., virtually every public building in town – schools, churches, library, office buildings, police and fire stations – was designed by a world famous architect like Meis van der Rohe, Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, Eero Saarinen, and more. 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.
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:
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