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