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Michigan Is a Great Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

June 13, 2017 — Your editor went on a road trip last week touring potential retirement spots, and wow, was that a great experience. We learned so much from visiting so many places, as well as from the many interesting folks we met along our 1300 mile journey. Starting out from Illinois on the western side of Lake Michigan we ventured north into Wisconsin, then crossed Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After crossing the Mackinac Bridge we enjoyed several days in northern Michigan before going on to explore a few towns in Indiana and Ohio. The Great Lakes State (MI) was the main focus of the trip, and the first half of that State’s tour is what what we will report on here. Part 2 covers the rest of the Michigan tour, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio portions. We have included more photos than usual to give you a better flavor.

Michigan – A Great Place to Retire
We’ll give you the bottom line first – from so many standpoints Michigan, particularly the area along Lake Michigan, is a tremendous place to retire. It is exceedingly beautiful, uncrowded, and not super expensive (which also makes it a great vacation spot even if you are not going to retire there). The Lake is pretty to look at and offers exceptional boating and beach experiences. Yet its huge Great Lake is not the only body of water – there are rivers and a multitude of lakes, many of which are connected to Lake Michigan. Most towns are very pretty and lively. Its system of bike trails is one of the most expansive in the country. About the only downside is the cold and snow in winter – but if you like winter sports that is not a problem. Neither is it an issue if you escape the cold weather by being a snowbird, like a significant part of its retired population does.

Michigan is not perfect though. It has the 25th highest tax burden according to the Tax Foundation. Taxation of pensions became more problematic in recent years. You can find out more in our Michigan Guide to Retirement.

Our route in Michigan

See bigger Map

The Upper Peninsula (UP)
We did not do an exhaustive exploration of the sparsely populated UP (home of the Yoopers!), although we did cross from the Wisconsin border at Menominee (Marinettte WI is the same town but on the east side of the river) through Escanaba and all the way to the Mackinac Bridge. Menominee is a nice town although very distant from anything. Escanaba, a busy port city, was dismal looking on the bypass road but the surprising downtown on the lake yielded wide streets and some grand buildings, plus spectacular Ludington Park on the Lake (photo).
Escanaba now has a declining population, but was clearly a wealthy town back in the day. The last town in the UP we went through was Manistique, a little place which has a nice waterfront setting. Although some people might enjoy a retirement in the UP (particularly as a snowbird) they would be a rarity because of its sparse population and super-cold winters.

Harbor Springs (MI)
By all reports this is one of the most moneyed towns in America – many of the families who summer in their “cottages” on the private peninsula have quite recognizable names. The village is exceptionally beautiful – the harbor is dotted with boats docked next to a charming downtown with cute shops and restaurants. Located on Little Traverse Bay just east of Petoskey, it has a nice historical society, library, and community center – pretty impressive for a town of 1,200. We had a nice lunch at Turkey’s restaurant (photo). The golf course dates from 1896, and nearby Boyne Mountain is an all-season resort.

We were just getting over how nice Harbor Springs was when we were blown away by Petoskey, just a few miles down the road. Situated on a big hill overlooking the lake, the downtown is busy and loaded with cute stores and restaurants. About one-third of the homes are second homes, it is definitely a resort and town for snowbirds. When we stopped in at the Visitors Bureau we were assured that the area is extremely popular with retirees. The area has a wide variety of developments occupied mainly by 55+ boomers. Bay harbor Yacht Club is a community that offers just about every kind of activity to its residents.

Downtown Petoskey

Active community near Petoskey with ski run and tennis

View of lake from Petoskey

The Friendship Centers of Emmet County have plenty of activities for seniors with offices in Harbor Springs as well as Petoskey.

Next up was Charlevoix, a short drive to the south. Part of its interesting geography includes Round Lake, that connects the Pine River, which empties into Lake Michigan, making it very popular with boaters. The Little Traverse Wheelway (bike/hike/cross country path) goes 24 miles along Little Traverse Bay from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs. Like most of the towns around here, it has a nice downtown with shops and restaurants that attract tourists and retirees. The homes are quite nice, including this thatched roof specimen.

Elk Rapids was a town on our trip that we hadn’t heard of nor had intended to visit. Yielding to our new policy of getting off of the bypass road and venturing to the city center proved worth the trip. There we found compact downtown with wide streets and nice shops. There is a busy pleasure boat harbor and park at the edge of Lake Michigan. Elk Rapids might be nice as a lower key place to retire in Michigan.

The harbor at Elk Rapids

Traverse City was next, just down the road. This thriving small city was bigger than the other towns we had just visited, complete with lots of traffic at rush hour. We walked into the Visitors Bureau and asked if lots of baby boomers are retiring here. The response was kind of funny – both of the ladies pointed to themselves! We asked what they liked best about living here and they said “friendly people with time to talk”. Folks are retiring here from Michigan, the Midwest, and from far away places as well. Many but not all are snowbirds. One of the nice things was seeing people of all ages on the streets – families with strollers included. Traverse City has many great restaurants like Bistro FouFou, where we had a great meal. Everyone dining there was a boomer – but it was early!

Traverse City downtown

Nearby Empire is a very small village on the Lake right next to the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Our cousin Sandy lives right outside its gates in a small community of efficient homes with front porches and a shared common open area. From there we ventured out via borrowed bicycle on what had to be the best bike paths your editor has ever experienced. These paved bike trails went for miles through the woods and up to the climbing dune, then on to Glen Haven, a ghost town on beach. There are beautiful public beaches everywhere. Empire has a tiny but cute small downtown. One downside of living here is the need to do all your shopping in Traverse City – a half hour away. From Empire we drove scenic Route 22 alongside lakes and past Arcadia, a beautiful golf course. The road offers spectacular scenic views from high above Lake Michigan.

The big dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes. The specs on the left are people climbing.

The town and area are so nice we just had to share a few more photos:

Sandy’s Traditional Neighborhood (TND)

Empire’s low-key downtown

Sandy and your editor

Next time
From Empire we went on to Michigan’s Muskegon, Grand Haven, and Holland. Since this article got so long we will report on those experiences next week, including a couple of additional stops we made in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana. Stay tuned!

Comments? Please share your thoughts about a Michigan retirement in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Part 2 of the Tour: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Topretirements Mini-Guide to Retirement in Michigan
Mejask Reports on Her Hawaiian Retirement
Flo’s North Carolina Retirement Trip
Hop on the Jay Michael Retirement Bus

Posted by Admin on June 13th, 2017


  1. People often overlook Michigan and midwestern states for retirement, but with the money saved by living there one could spend the winter in a warmer climate. Michigan and Indiana as well as Ohio are very inexpensive to live in compared to southern states like Florida and South Carolina. Lakes can be just as much fun as living near the ocean and often are cleaner (do your research).

    by Jennifer — June 14, 2017

  2. We lived in Wisconsin. It’s for people who love cold weather. You want to live in a place where long johns are sold in the lingerie department?

    by Susan — June 14, 2017

  3. Watch out! Michigan taxes pensions. If you are lucky enough to have one….

    by Gail — June 14, 2017

  4. One downside of northern MI and the UP (Upper Peninsula) is access to medical care. In northern MI people are stabilized and moved south to Flint or Grand Rapids or if extremely serious to Univ of MI Hosp in Ann Arbor. In the UP people are moved to Green Bay, WI. Just happened to my neighbors Dad.

    by shumidog — June 14, 2017

  5. I heartily disagree that Michigan is a great place to retire. I “grew up” in a Chicago area and lived in the City for nearly 30 years. However, I spent every weekend, holiday and summer in Douglas, Michigan in my youth and into early adulthood. My parents retired to Douglas in 1986 and we, stupidly, we moved to Holland in late 2009.

    Michigan was a great place to retire, until things changed on January 1, 2012. That is when Michigan began to tax the pensions of those born in 1946 or later. So, being born in 1955, my husband’s pension began being taxed. Add the financial burden of Obama Care to that expense and it’s no longer a great place to retire. In addition, Michigan gas taxes went up on January 1, 2017. Michigan also added to the cost of license plates and registration. Michigan’s vehicle license fee is based on the original purchase price of a vehicle. No account is taken for depreciation of vehicles. It is ridiculous!

    So, we are going to have to leave Michigan. For the first time in my 59 years, I will have no connection to Michigan. My parents met in Saugatuck and 25 years later my husband and I were married in Saugatuck. Feeling defeated, so we are leaving! I am “sick” over it, but it is necessary, otherwise, we could end up broke.

    Michigan is beautiful and you cannot beat living near Lake Michigan. But, it is not affordable for many retirees.

    by Michaelle — June 14, 2017

  6. To each his/her own …. but, I spent 52 years in this completely messed up state ( in the Grand Haven area and a weekend place near Charlevoix) and left for Florida on the day I retired directly from my employer’s parking lot 13 years ago and am soooo thankful to be out of there! State Income taxes and 6% sales tax, a sad economy and miserable winters. I’ve never for one moment regretted getting out as soon as I possibly could! There are a LOT of vastly better places for retirement!! Be careful! But, again… to each his own

    by JJ — June 14, 2017

  7. We left the Chicago suburbs for Traverse City ( TC ) just over 4 years ago. Absolutely no regrets about the move except we should have done it sooner. If we’d known you were in town, we’d given you the grand tour. TC has many cultural amenities, for example, a restored opera house, a playhouse, 2 state of the art downtown movie theaters, numerous public beaches and parks, a wonderful trail system with over 60 miles of mostly paved trails, a huge farmers market, a new YMCA, a college with an expanding museum. Our favorite high point is during the summer we have the TC Film Festival, now the 4th largest in North America with over 123,000 admissions for 255 films in 2016. Does it snow in the winter? Yes – who cares?

    by Troutbum — June 14, 2017

  8. Michigan average car insurance $2,738, national average $1,325. What’s great about that?? Then with outlandishly high Obamacare premiums you’ll go bankrupt. The roads have not been maintained because the money was diverted to other special interests. The citizens of Flint were poisoned with lead and Legionnaire’s disease and the badly maintained sewer lines caused a massive sinkhole in Macomb County this past Christmas Eve. It still is not repaired. It caused 13 million gallons of raw sewage to be dumped in Lake St. Clair. BEWARE all that glitters is not gold.

    by J Mosorjak — June 14, 2017

  9. Articles like this recommending retiring to this high tax state(for retiree’s) certainly does nothing to bolster this readers confidence in the advice given each week. Winters in Michigan? High heat bills, really?? Pensions taxed for most baby boomers, high gas tax and property taxes, vehicle registration fees on the increase. Did the writer look at any of these things or was he focused soley on the social aspect of certain locales. A retiree needs money to do the social scene and thats in short supply if ibe choses to live in Michigan.

    by Carl — June 14, 2017

  10. My father was born in Michigan north of the Indiana border. I had NO idea that the state taxed pensions and the insurance rate given is double what I pay in Washington, DC. Thanks to all who wrote in. I have always loved Michigan but did not go near Detroit except to see the Ford Museum, etc. How sad. Looks like I need to rethink Michigan–maybe back to Indiana.

    by Jennifer — June 14, 2017

  11. After 30 years in Southern California, the U.P., Northern MI, or the northwestern Cascades are looking better and better to me for retirement. I’m sick to death of the crowds, heat, cost of living, taxes, 2 hour commute, and my $500K shoebox condo. The 75F and sunny weather is so over-rated– it’s really just a giant desert , it’s filthy bevaise it never rains, and the

    by Jill — June 14, 2017

  12. nothing would be green unless you watered it. I look forward to snow and being away from so many people. The only thing that worries me is the lack of easy access to good medical care.

    by Jill — June 14, 2017

  13. Here is an article on Best places to retire and Michigan is number 2 on the list!

    by louise — June 15, 2017

  14. The situation for retirees in Michigan is not as dire as some might paint it. For one, it has the 3rd lowest cost of living of any state, according to MERIC. The taxation of pensions for people born after 1952 has gotten more difficult than it used to be. Overall it has the 25th highest tax burden. Michigan offers many beautiful places to live. If you can afford it, the State is a great place to be a snowbird. But if your primary goal is finding the cheapest place to live there are many better choices, primarily in the midwest and deep south. See our Michigan Guide to Retirement for more facts about the state.

    by Admin — June 15, 2017

  15. Lol! Sure Ohio, and Michigan have a cheaper cost of living due to the cheaper housing, and your blood will get thicker adjusting to the climate. Michigan is a beautiful state like Ohio. There is many things to see and do weather permitting. I do live in Ohio to make the wage I could not make in the South. AS for living here or in Michigan after I retire? NO WAY! As you get older you need thinner blood, more sunlight, and things to do year round. Taxes are increasing every month, the medical field is great and should be for what they charge. There are nice affordable 55 communities and cities in Ohio…, Stow, Grove City, Oberlin, Tipp City and Zanesville. But it is about a healthier climate for me. Rent a place for a year and decide for yourself.

    by William DeyErmand — June 15, 2017

  16. Michigan’s tax are to high and the winters to cold! Sorry

    by Ron — June 15, 2017

  17. Traveling to Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, from the Los Angeles metro area: There is one big negative issue that stands out with me personally. The lack of SUNLIGHT!!! After about four days I start losing my superpowers. LOL

    by Bubbajog — June 15, 2017

  18. I’m meeting many people all the time that have recently moved to my area of Ohio from all over. We did our homework. We researched and visited so many areas exploring places to relocate. In the end we discovered we have it the best where we are. We lived in Florida. Not everyone can handle that heat as they age. I particularly find as a mature woman the last thing I want is increasing body temperature. Coming to this area due to a job turned out to be the best thing that happened….even though at the time I wasn’t thrilled. Michigan is a beautiful area. I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean. I have to say living by one of the Great Lakes definitely has its advantages. We plan to stay in Ohio and spend 2 months in a milder climate during the winter. For us it financially makes the most sense. Michigan and Ohio are lovely areas. If family was closer I would love to live in several areas in Michigan.

    by Kate — June 16, 2017

  19. Well, we wouldn’t want that to happen, Bubbajog! What would happen to your insightful (and fun) comments? Keep on truckin,’ or, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!!

    by ella — June 16, 2017

  20. I would suggest that you not consider Northern Michigan, especially Traverse City and the local area. We much prefer to enjoy it ourselves, although it is getting harder considering the press we receive:

    * 50 Best Beaches in America (June 2017) –
    * 2017’s Best Beach Towns to Live In (June 2017) – WalletHub
    * 100 Best Destinations Around the Word in Four Seasons (June 2017) – National Geographic
    * 12 Of The Most Underrated Food Cities in America (June 2017) – BuzzFeed
    * The Prettiest Town in Every State (May 2017) – The Daily Meal
    * 21 Nicest Small Towns in America Everyone Should Visit Before They’re 50 (April 2017) – Reader’s Digest
    * Strongest Town (March 2017) – Strong Towns
    * 24 Coolest Towns in the USA — Leland (March 2017) – Matador Network
    * 20 Prime Places to See Beautiful Cherry Blossoms (March 2017) – Cheapism
    * 1 of 10 Best Walks in America: Empire Bluff Trail (March 2017) – Prevention Magazine
    * 21 Best Beaches in the World (January 2017) – National Geographic
    Top 10 Cities for Wine Snobs (January 2017) – Travel Channel
    * 21 of the Best Small Towns in America (October 2016) – Architectural Digest
    * Blog for Lifestyle & Travel (September 2016) named Torch Lake one of the Top 10 Clearest Lakes in the U.S. You Have to See to Believe
    * 25 Coolest Midwest Lake Vacation Spots (August 2016) – Midwest Living
    * America’s Favorite Beach Towns (August 2016) – Travel & Leisure
    * Best American Vacations for Beer Lovers (July 2016) – Thrillist
    * Best American Beach Towns for July 4th (June 2016) – Coastal Living
    Best Small Town in America (June 2016) – Livability
    * Runner Friendly Community (May 2016) – Road Runners Club of America
    * Thrillist (May 2016) – 25 Best Small US Cities to Spend the Weekend
    * Forbes Magazine (April 2016) – Top 25 Places to Retire in 2016
    * Midwest Living Magazine (March 2016) – Midwest Living Greatest Town
    * (January 2016) – America’s Best Small Towns
    * Condé Nast Traveler (January 2016) – “The Most Beautiful Towns in America”
    * (February 2016) – “9 Most Romantic Cities”
    * USA Today (September 2015) – ” Best Scenic Autumn Drive”
    * CNN Money (September 2015) – “America’s Best Beer Towns”
    * Huffington Post (July 2015) – “11 Of America’s Best Small Towns, Perfect For A Long Weekend Trip”
    * Pure (July 2015) – “The 12 Cutest Small Towns in America”
    * Zagat (July 2015) – “6 Hot U.S. Food Destinations to Visit This Summer”
    * Coastal Living (July 2015) – “10 Best American Beach Towns for Fourth of July”
    * Network (June 2015) – “20 Coolest Beach Towns in America”
    * House Beautiful (June 2015) – “50 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America”
    * Livability (June 2015) – “Top 100 Best Small Towns”
    * Lonely Planet (June 2015) – “Best Places to Travel in September 2015”
    * Country Living (May 2015) – “20 of the Most Charming Beach Towns Across America”
    * Thrillist (May 2015) – “14 Best Beach Towns in America”
    * Smithsonian Magazine (April 2015) – “20 Best Small Towns”
    * Condé Nast Traveler (April 2015) – “Up-and-Coming Food City”
    * Horizon Travel Magazine (February 2015) – “Must See American Cities”
    * Golf Digest Magazine (February 2015) “Best in State” golf courses including Lochen Heath Golf Club and Grand Traverse Resort & Spa (The Bear)
    * (July 2014) listed Traverse City as a Top 10 Small Town as well as a listing in June 2014 as one of America’s Top 10 Foodie Towns
    * Coastal Living (May 2014) named Traverse City, Empire and Suttons Bay “Michigan’s Three Best Beach Towns
    * Family Fun Magazine (April 2014) listed Sleeping Bear Dunes as one of the Top 10 National Parks for Families
    * Travel + Leisure Magazine (April 2014) listed the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail as one of America’s Most Scenic Waterside Drives

    Travel + Leisure Magazine (February 2014) listed Traverse City one of “America’s 20 Most Romantic Towns”
    * Redbook Magazine (January 2014) listed Traverse City among its “Best Travel Finds for 2014”
    * Lonely Planet (December 2013) named Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Michigan’s ‘Gold Coast’ as the “Top US Travel Destination for 2014”
    * Travel + Leisure Magazine (October 2013) named Traverse City one of “America’s Favorite Towns” (#12 out of 20)
    * Fodor’s (March 2013) named Traverse City one of the “10 Best Small Towns in America”
    * The Travel Channel (July 2012) ranked Traverse City among the “Top 7 Beer Destinations in North America”
    * Good Morning America viewers voted the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” (Aug. 2011)
    * Bon Appetit named Traverse City one of America’s five top foodie towns (Sept. 2010)

    by Steve — August 30, 2017

  21. Not everyone is seeking warm and humid. I get it that many are. But not all of us.
    I can’t take the summer heat and humidity of some cities farther south, so sorry to disappoint Susan, but yeah, if they sell long johns in the lingerie dept, I’m in. Ha!
    I can always layer up in winter but there is only so much you can take off. That sticky sweaty feeling of going out in summer here in St Louis…….ugh. Yeah, not so much snow, but probably way more ice.
    The air seems cleaner, the skies are clearer, the lakes and streams look cleaner……in places like Michigan. I’ve lived in WI too. Several years in Madison. Loved it. We’re not all cut out of the same mold. Which I guess is a good thing. To each his own, as they say!

    by nerdwalker2019 — August 31, 2019

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