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Michigan is a state valued for its deep historical roots, rich heritage and magnificent vistas. When Michigan is mentioned to outsiders as a retirement destination, some may initially think of the cold winter weather and the Motor City with its current economic and crime-ridden problems. However, there are many smaller towns throughout the state that offer retirees a peaceful, settled and rewarding lifestyle. For those in the know, Michigan offers affordable waterfront locations, unlike more expensive states like Florida (which is not immune to its own weather hazards).

Located between the Great Lakes, Michigan offers stunning waters, forests and quaint villages. Traverse City with its bay views, Petoskey with its Gaslight District and Holland’s Dutch heritage are not to be missed. Neither are villages like Marquette on the shores of Lake Superior, Charlevoix with its quirky architecture, the artistic haven of Saugatuck and Alpena with its maritime history. Each town has something unique to offer seniors. Come with us on a field trip through Michigan’s towns that are not only beautiful, but also affordable, safe and close to reliable healthcare.

Traverse City

The charming downtown of Traverse City, Michigan.
The charming downtown of Traverse City, Michigan.

On the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, the small town of Traverse City is surrounded by lush hills and forests. Downtown features Victorian architecture, boutiques, and art galleries. Poppycocks on Front is described as a “hip spot” with cocktails and live jazz music. The Cherry Republic offers an excellent shopping experience, and the Crooked Tree Arts Center is a great place to enjoy local art. Popular attractions include the Grand Traverse Commons, which was once the state hospital and now offers shopping and dining in preserved Victorian Italianate buildings. Clinch Park offers beaches, water sports, a marina, and hiking trails. The Old Mission Lighthouse, at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, is an 1870s lighthouse with panoramic views of Lake Michigan (https://www.traversecity.com). Given Traverse City’s natural beauty, low crime rate, and the fact that over 23% of the population is 65 and older, it has become a popular retirement town for seniors. An affordable median home price of $336,900 for a waterfront village doesn’t hurt either (census.gov). Munson Medical Center is a well-rated hospital in town that offers seniors access to good medical care (health.usnews.com).

Petoskey

The historic business district on Mitchell Street in Petoskey, Michigan.
The historic business district on Mitchell Street in Petoskey, Michigan. Photo credit: Roberto Galan / Shutterstock.com.

On the shores of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay lies the city of Petoskey, with its forests and rolling hills. The downtown Gaslamp District is a real eye-catcher not only for its architecture and boutique shopping, but also for the numerous festivals held throughout the year, such as the Bay Harbor Art Festival. Other local attractions include Petoskey State Park, with its sandy beaches and water activities. There are also hiking trails to enjoy nature and the stunning shoreline, dune and forest scenery. The Bear River Valley Recreation Area offers hiking trails and whitewater kayaking (https://visitpetoskeymichigan.com). Nearly 20% of the population is 65 and older. The crime rate is low and the median home price is an affordable $256,400. McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital is located in town and is well-rated (health.usnews.com). All in all, Petoskey is becoming quite attractive to seniors.

Holland

Dutch architectural style shops on Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan
Dutch architectural style shops on Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan, via SNEHIT PHOTO / Shutterstock.com

The small town of Holland is located on the shores of Lakes Michigan and Macatawa. The flat terrain makes the town senior-friendly, and the beautiful beaches are a lovely way to spend your retirement, with or without grandchildren. The lively downtown area boasts Dutch architecture and has everything you could want. Attractions include Windmill Island Gardens, a Dutch-themed village of windmills. Holland State Park offers a sprawling beach and the popular “Big Red” lighthouse. The De Zwaan windmill was imported from the Netherlands and grinds wheat into flour, providing a unique experience for locals and visitors (https://www.holland.org). Holland is not far from Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey. Nearly 17% of residents are 65 and older. The crime rate is low and housing is affordable, with the median home price being $212,900 (Census.gov).

Marquette

Marquette, Michigan, is a port city on the shores of Lake Superior.
Marquette, Michigan, is a port city on the shores of Lake Superior.

Nestled along the rugged cliffs and dense forests of Lake Superior is the small town of Marquette. Downtown features a mix of historic and modern architecture. Must-see attractions include the 323-acre Presque Isle Park, with stunning lake views as well as hiking trails and picnic areas. The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse offers tours, and the Marquette Maritime Museum, not far from the lighthouse, exhibits local history, shipwreck stories, and lighthouse tales (https://www.michigan.org/city/marquette). Nearly 16% of the population is 65 and older. The crime rate is low, and the median home price is about $231,500, making Marquette an attractive option for seniors (census.gov). The city’s hospital, UP Health System-Marquette, is considered a high-performing center (health.usnews.com).

Charlevoix

Street view in Charlevoix, Michigan.
Street view in Charlevoix, Michigan. Image credit: Fsendek via Shutterstock.com

Located between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, the city of Charlevoix is ​​admired for its rolling hills and water views. The quaint downtown area boasts historic architecture and notable stone homes. Don’t miss local attractions like the Charlevoix South Pier Light Station and Castle Farms, with its medieval architecture (originally built in the early 20th century) featuring stone buildings and gardens. Earl Young’s Mushroom Houses are whimsical stone homes designed by Young, a local architect (https://www.visitcharlevoix.com). Nearly 28% of the population is 65 and older. The median home value is an affordable $220,000 and the crime rate is low (census.gov). Munson Healthcare Charlevoix Hospital is rated as a top performer (health.usnews.com). All in all, Charlevoix is ​​a real contender.

Saugatuck

Waterfront buildings near the entrance to Oval Beach on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Waterfront buildings near the entrance to Oval Beach on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Saugatuck’s sand dunes and wooded areas offer great views of the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. The downtown area is known for its artist community and historic buildings. Attractions include Saugatuck Dunes State Park, which offers excellent bird watching in addition to the dune formations and secluded beach. The popular Oval Beach is admired for its pristine sand, sunsets, and clear waters. Mount Baldhead is a large sand dune that is a challenging climb (https://www.michigan.org/city/saugatuck). The city’s median age is 58, suggesting it is popular with a more mature population. The median home value is in the mid-500s (partly due to the small population), making it more expensive than some on our list, but still affordable (Data USA). The well-respected Holland Hospital, as mentioned, is less than a 20-minute drive away.

Alpena

A commercial district on 2nd Avenue in Alpena, Michigan
A commercial district on 2nd Avenue in Alpena, Michigan, USA. Image credit: Roberto Galan / Shutterstock.com

Located on Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, the city of Alpena features rolling hills and exceptional water views. The downtown area is enchanting with its historic buildings and maritime museums. Must-see attractions include the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, an underwater preserve with a collection of historic shipwrecks. Nearby is the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, a museum with interactive exhibits on the history of the Great Lakes and stories of local shipwrecks. Alpena Light, also known as “Little Red,” is a lighthouse at the entrance to the Thunder Bay River and is known for its views and fishing (https://www.visitalpena.com). Medical Center Alpena, the local hospital, has good ratings for patient experience (health.usnews.com). Nearly 22% of the population is 65 and older. Low crime rates and a particularly affordable median home value of $105,400 should put the city of Alpena at the top of the list of places to retire (census.gov).

Farewell thoughts

From the outstanding beauty of the Upper Peninsula with its ruggedness and dense forests to the sand dunes further south, rolling hills, fertile farmland and 3,200 miles of shoreline along four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is a state full of natural beauty. It is a four-season state and one that can be quite affordable. With good access to healthcare and safe small towns, the Great Lakes State has so much to offer that meets the basic needs of retirees.

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