Florida is famously a destination for northern snowbirds, but when Steve Huffstutler retired in 2020, he went the other way.
“I loved Florida, it was great, but it’s so hot in the summertime,” says Huffstutler, 70, a former resident of Naples, on the Gulf Coast. He’d also grown weary of the threat of hurricanes, growing environmental problems and real estate developers filling the local landscape with high-rise apartment towers.
He and his wife, Jackie, knew just the place for them: Frankfort, Michigan, a beach community of about 1,300 on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. He had been stationed in Frankfort while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard decades before and the couple owned a cottage there.
“Frankfort is a real nice little town,” Huffstutler says. “And we live a block from Lake Michigan, which really moderates the weather so that it doesn’t get too hot in the summer.”
With Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and its miles of sandy beaches, lush forests and spectacular vantage points close by, and more urban Traverse City just an hour’s drive away, he says, “I think we really have the best of both worlds.”
Sun Belt? Pass.
Huffstutler is one of many retirees passing on traditional Sun Belt havens and instead relocating to a northern state that’s quietly become an attractive option for older Americans. Michigan is the third most popular destination for retirees making interstate moves, according to a December 2022 report by moving services clearinghouse HireAHelper, topped only by Florida and North Carolina.
Some are seeking cooler summer temperatures and the change of seasons; others are attracted by Michigan’s many small towns, with their slower pace, year-round access to outdoor activity, and fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers. Relatively low housing prices and reasonable living expenses are other draws.
“There is lots to do and love about Michigan,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and owner of Azoury Financial in Troy, near Detroit. “The four seasons bring a new feel to each of them. With the Great Lakes surrounding the state, there are beautiful beaches to visit during the summer months. If ice fishing is your hobby, the lakes will be your friend during the winter months.”
“When most people think of Michigan, they think of Detroit and the car industry,” says Rick Rasmussen, 81, who lives in a retirement community in the lakeshore city of St. Joseph and has written books about southwest Michigan history. “That’s all over on the east side of the state.” Western Michigan, he says, is “the classic kind of small-town America.”
Michigan also has good health care, another key concern for retirees. U.S. News & World Report ranks the state 11th in health care quality and sixth in Medicare quality (meaning a large number of Michigan’s Medicare Advantage enrollees are on plans with four-star federal ratings).
“Our health care improved exponentially when we moved back here to rural Michigan,” Huffstutler says.