Am Comparison Feature

5 States In 10 Years: Why Michigan Is The Best Place To Live

Our Navy family travels took us coast to coast across the US. After living in 5 states in 10 years, here’s why I think Michigan is the best place to live...

WARNING: We’re from Michigan. This will be a tad biased.

SPOILER ALERT: We did end up moving back to Michigan. So, this will be more than a tad biased.

My husband David and I moved away from Metro Detroit in 2012 to see the WORLD! Or, you know, he joined the Navy to go wherever they told us to go… we chose to see that as TOTALLY the same thing because, after all, it was still an adventure.

Most important, it was the chance of a lifetime for David to serve our great country as a fighter pilot. I need to brag on David a bit because he will not; his modesty is but one of the many things I love about my guy. 

Over the last 10 years, we were not sent to as many places as we thought we would be, and we were not stationed in the most desirable of places. However, especially now that we are on the other side of Navy life, we can certainly say we made the best of our four domestic duty stations.

David’s Last Flight In The Navy, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Ca.
David’s last flight in the Navy, Naval Air Station Lemoore, CA.

First Stop: Milton, Florida for 1 Year

You might ask, where is Milton, FL? Valid question. Just so you know, three of the four places we were posted will test you geographically and so I’ve included handy-dandy maps for all!

Map Of Milton, Fl.

When the time came to leave the bustling Metro Detroit area and move to Milton, a population of about 9,000 at the time (hey, they recently hit 10,500!), I was pretty devastated. That sounds extreme, but at the very least I underwent some culture shock. We were in our mid-20s, it didn’t feel right to be slowing down and so abruptly at that.

Fortunately, being in the Navy almost guarantees a certain level of social life. Over the years, it has been a unique experience to be doing life with almost exclusively peers. People who hit nearly all the same milestones, career-wise and/or personal, more or less at the same time as you. It was surreal, yet we appreciate its rareness now more than ever.

What We Did and Where

  • Hike Trails at Bear Lake, Milton
  • Canoeing on the Blackwater River and Coldwater Creek, both in Milton
  • Dining and Nightlife in Downtown Pensacola (25 minutes)
  • Navarre Beach, Pensacola (about 30 minutes)
  • Destin Beach, Destin (about 1 hour)
  • Flora-Bama on Perdido Key, Pensacola (about 1 hour)
  • Florida Caverns State Park – Tallahassee, Marianna (about 2 hours)

How Michigan Compares

  1. Bear Lake, Michigan, CHECK!
  2. 7 Black Rivers and 3 Coldwater Rivers, BEAT THAT!
  3. Dining and Nightlife in ALL Kinds of Weather; Michigan People are Next Level
  4. At Least 3 Beaches that Rival the Clear Water of Navarre and White Sands of Destin
  5. We Don’t Straddle State Lines Here, We Go International
  6. We Have Creepy Caves, Too
Canoeing And Hiking In Milton, Fl.
Canoeing and Hiking in Milton, FL.

1. Bear Lake, Michigan, CHECK!

We have four Bear Lakes (and a Bear River!) and I know nothing about them to be quite honest. But I do know Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes and that’s more than Minnesota whose slogan boasts “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Well, that’s awkward…

Anyway, Florida has 7,500 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. It falls just one spot below Michigan in ranking for states with the most lakes. Face it Florida, we got you beat. Not to mention, our waters are fresh and clear; we don’t have to worry about murky brackish waters and what they might be hiding – alligators!

Here’s a sampling of our lakes, great (😉) and small, all fresh:

Lake Lancer In Gladwin, Mi.
Lake Lancer in Gladwin, MI.

2. 7 Black Rivers and 3 Coldwater Rivers, BEAT THAT!

Michigan has seven Black Rivers and three Coldwater Rivers and my husband would be the one to joke they ALL have cold water… But, if that means no alligators, I’ll take it!

Read more about some of our gorgeous, gator-free rivers and how to experience them:

3. Dining and Nightlife in ALL Kinds of Weather; Michigan People are Next Level

It’s easy to party in Florida, but there’s something to be said about Michigan people getting out on the town no matter the season and WE. HAVE. FOUR.

This is my first winter back in the Mitten and I see you! Yes, you in your shorts if the sun peeped out or if it’s above 32 degrees. You all are hardcore. I’ll get back to that, I’m still acclimatizing over here. I’m just saying, YOU impress me.

This one’s for you: 13 Unique Grand Rapids Winter Outdoor Dining Experiences | Heated Patios, Igloo Dining, & More

Our Boys And Their Boats, Lake Huron, Mi.
Our boys and their boats, Lake Huron, MI.

4. At Least 3 Beaches that Rival the Clear Water of Navarre and White Sands of Destin

Enough of this cold talk, Michigan summers are the best. Its dog days have just the right amount of comfortable-hot sun that may deceive you and lead to overexposure. It’s true, some of the worst sunburns my husband and I have ever had took place in Michigan.

You must apply sunscreen and check out these stunning Michigan beaches this summer:

5. We Don’t Straddle State Lines Here, We Go International

The famous Flora-Bama Beach Bar rests on the Florida and Alabama state line and it was a good time, but Michigan takes things up a notch. You can dance on state lines all day if you’d like. Here in Michigan, we cross borders.

Michiganders can visit Canada via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, Bluewater Bridge in Port Huron, and The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie. AAAND then we like to come back home cause America’s awesome, and Michigan is very awesome. Canada, we love you. You’re like a close family friend or cousin we like to visit, even so, there’s no place like home.

6. We Have Creepy Caves, Too

Honestly, I’m not a cave person. Florida has caves. Michigan has caves. Florida has underwater caves. Michigan does, too; the Alger Underwater Preserve and the sea caves found along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

I don’t mean to insult cave people, but they are all kinda the same. They all possess natural beauty and wonder. They can also be kinda creepy. So, let’s not go back to living in them. K?

Second Stop: Kingsville, Texas for 1 Year

Again, where in the world? It’s way down there folks, about 45 minutes south of Corpus Christi.

Map Of Kingsville, Tx.

The population here over doubled that of Milton but somehow it felt more uninhabited. Perhaps it was the heat and lack of refreshing shade over the cracked, dry Earth that made it feel that way. Or that there were just two major grocery stores, H-E-B and Walmart Supercenter. Maybe it’s because there were not many restaurants, good or bad. The nearest Target was 45 minutes away. That last one holds more clout than you realize. Right ladies?

I remember thinking it was a good thing I went to Milton. If I had gone from Metro Detroit directly to Kingsville, all the adapting that needed to take place, especially the climate, would have been far too much for me. Milton prepared me for Kingsville.

Jumping ahead of myself, Kingsville has its place in our journey and it wasn’t all that grim. The people we met in Kingsville, both locals and Navy, were FAR more important than any retailers that were or were not there. The community made our entire stay in Kingsville worthwhile.

AND, Kingsville did prepare us for, wait for it…

Boy Meets World Drama Gif - Find &Amp; Share On Giphy

LEMOORE CALIFORNIA. But there’s another military move before that one, so really, please wait for it.

What We Did and Where

  • South Padre Island (2 hours, 15 minutes)
  • Tigers Baseball Game in Houston (3 hours, 35 minutes)
  • Dining and Nightlife in Austin x2 (3 hours, 45 minutes)
  • Biggby Coffee near Dallas (about 7 hours)

How Michigan Compares

  1. Islands With Fudge, No Sharks
  2. Um, The Tigers LIVE Here
  3. MORE Food, MORE Nightlife, LESS Commute
  4. Um, Biggby Was BORN Here

I love that half of our Texas excursions involved driving crazy amounts to encounter Michigan things. We even drove home for Christmas that year with a snowstorm chasing us most of the way! Cause what is Christmas with no snow?

Classic Film Snow Gif By Filmeditor - Find &Amp; Share On Giphy

1. Islands With Fudge, No Sharks

The second most shark-infested Texas beach is actually a whole island of beaches. You guessed it, South Padre Island. It was nasty hot with no reprieve; I was too frightened to get in the water!

Michigan has several alluring, lush islands and not one comes with sharks. Some even come with fudge! You know where I’m headed with this… Our most celebrated island is surely Mackinac Island. It is so picturesque it was the main location for a big picture that featured a star-studded cast, Somewhere in Time circa 1980.

Mackinac Island offers fun for all; families, foodies, history buffs, movie fans, bicyclists/hikers/health-nuts, bookworms, climate activists (the only vehicles on the island are emergency vehicles), horse lovers (your carriage awaits!), dog lovers, run-of-the-mill tourists, florists, and, I could go on, but this is getting exhausting! Just trust me, Mackinac Island is for YOU!

But let’s not underestimate your compatibility with these other magnificent Michigan islands:

2. Um, The Tigers LIVE Here

Have you ever wondered why baseball is called America’s pastime? It’s because baseball has been played (and has been a joy to observe) for generations. The sport has pulled through countless economic undertakings and national hardships, think revolutions and wars. Baseball has survived the test of time and it’s a beautiful thing.

The very first Tiger’s Stadium, Bennett Park, was constructed in 1895 in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. The Tiger’s Stadium most are familiar with, Navin Field, was built on the same site in 1912 and later declared a State of Michigan Historic Site. Comerica Park was built in 2000 on Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit.

The Houston Astros have also played in three ballparks in the city of their namesake: Colt Stadium (1962–1964), the Astrodome (1965–1999), and Minute Maid Park, which similarly was erected in 2000.

The Astros hold two World Series titles (2017 and 2022) and five pennants (one in the National League and four in the American League).

The Tigers have won four World Series titles (1935, 1945, 1968, 1984) and 11 American League pennants.

Tigers Game At Minute Maid Park, Houston, Tx.
Tigers game at Minute Maid Park, Houston, TX.

Sure, it’s been a long while since the Tigers have come out on top. Still, as it stands, we’ve been doing this longer and have done it better. Frankly, I don’t remember who won the game in Houston that day; I do remember how proud I was to root for my home team on someone else’s turf.

3. MORE Food, MORE Nightlife, LESS Commute

Texas is the second-largest state in the US with an area of 268,597 square miles, and Michigan is 96,716 square miles. Based on the sheer size of Texas, we know it has more cities than Michigan. In truth, Texas has over 90 officially-designated Main Street cities across the state.

The questions that come to mind are, do you have the motivation, the time, and/or the money to visit them? The longest routes from east to west or north to south across Texas will take you 14 to 16 hours of drive time. We are talking gas money, overnight stays become more likely, and not necessarily because you want to…

From the bottom to the top of Michigan can take about 10 hours. Driving across the widest section of the lower peninsula takes about three to four hours. Expect seven to eight hours to drive the length of the upper peninsula.

Michigan is divided into 83 counties, and further divided into 1,240 townships, 276 cities, and 257 villages. With better drivability and, in my opinion, superior scenery – it’s easy to find the motivation and funds to explore our state and experience our downtowns, both big and small!

4. Um, Biggby Was BORN Here

Yes, I drove about seven hours to visit the Michigan-born, Biggby Coffee in Dallas Texas! OK, technically it was in Allen Texas which is near Dallas, and yes, ‘was’ – sadly that location has since closed.

And alright, my husband’s friend may have had a decent layover in Dallas at the time. But it’s HIS friend! I maintain that I did not have to go on that 14-ish hour round trip. I did it for the love of Michigan/Michigan coffee/a taste of home!

Proof That I Made The Long Drive To Get Biggby Coffee.
PROOF! I made the long drive to get Biggby Coffee.

Imagine my relief now that I can drive four minutes from my house to a Biggby Coffee – THERE ARE SO MANY BIGGBY’S HERE! 

Third Stop: Virginia Beach, Virginia for 1 Year

Now we were on the map! Most everyone knows Virginia Beach! 

Map Of Virginia Beach, Va.

This felt the most like home in terms of all the conveniences and having seasons again. Well, the seasons were more tempered than Michigans and so I still found myself longing for a crisp fall; how I ached to wear all the sweaters again and clutch a HOT coffee.

The year spent here went quickly, this is code for “we were busy.” David’s flight training was in full swing and I worked in an office nearly an hour from our rental. It was a relief to have countless amenities so we did not have to venture as far to find excitement.

What We Did and Where

  • Chic’s Beach and the Oceanfront, Virginia Beach
  • Kid Rock Concert, Virginia Beach
  • Busch Gardens Adventure Park, Williamsburg (about 1 hour)
  • Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, NC (1 hour, 45 minutes)

How Michigan Compares

  1. Beach Towns, Piers, Boardwalks, and Riverfronts Galore
  2. Kid Rock, Michigan Born and Raised
  3. Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon
  4. The Wright Brothers Collection at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn

1. Beach Towns, Piers, Boardwalks, and Riverfronts Galore

Virginia Beach is made up of multiple beaches, we frequented The Oceanfront with its three-mile boardwalk and Chic’s Beach, a favorite of the locals. Fun spots indeed.. but, I can’t help it, I prefer freshwater.

As I touched on before, Michigan has loads of freshwater; we rank second on the list of US states that have the most water at 40,174.58 square miles. We’ve been declared a “Water Wonderland” and that means we have beachfront communities, piers, boardwalks, and riverfronts abound. To name several:

5Th Avenue Beach, Manistee, Mi.
5th Avenue Beach, Manistee, MI | photo via @nmi_dryfly

2. Kid Rock, Michigan Born and Raised

Here I was again, trying to get my Michigan fix in non-Michigan places! I went to see Michigan born and raised Kid Rock at Farm Bureau Live (now Veterans Home Loans Amphitheatre) in Virginia Beach. He put on a great show!

I went to the concert with another military wife from Michigan who is similarly married to a Michigan man (you might say we have good taste), we hardly knew each other but became fast friends thanks to Kid Rock.

I’ll be making a point to see Kid Rock perform in Michigan to see if he rocks even harder in his home state.

Kid Rock Concert In Virginia Beach.
Kid Rock at Farm Bureau Live (now Veterans Home Loans Amphitheatre) in Virginia Beach.

3. Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon

Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon is the largest amusement park in the state at 247 acres and over 60 rides, slides, and attractions. Bush Gardens Adventure Park, Williamsburg is 130 acres and has 53 rides. Do I really need to say more? When it comes to adventure parks, bigger is always better.

David And I At Busch Gardens In All Kinds Of Michigan Gear.
David and I at Busch Gardens in all kinds of Michigan gear.

4. The Wright Brothers Collection at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn

I grew up visiting the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn. I have fond memories of the place and retained a fact or two; I mostly remember feeling inspired by the inventiveness of Americans.

And, oddly enough, attending a glassblowing demonstration that fascinated me so much that I thought I would blow glass as a career for some time. Don’t just take my personal, childhood-based recommendation – the venue has dang near 5 stars according to 23,000 reviewers.

Fast forward, I visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, one of three National Parks in Outerbanks, NC. The monument celebrates the journey of invention and the first flight that took place in Kill Devil Hills in 1903.

Wright Brothers Visitor Center, Kill Devil Hills, Nc.
Wright Brothers Visitor Center, Kill Devil Hills, NC – in my “Run Wild” Detroit Zoo tee.

Wait, you might be thinking Kitty Hawk, NC (just a six-minute drive away from the Kill Devil Hills, Wright Brothers National Memorial) is the location of the first flight, but you would be mistaken. The memorial provides a lot of information, including the fact that Kill Devil Hills was not an established town until the 1950s, and therefore could not be credited as the location of the first flight.

Fast forward even more and I’ve come to find out that the Henry Ford Museum has a Wright Brothers assemblage of published material, photographs, and some letters, largely from the time right after the first Wright brothers’ flight in 1903.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial has some great intel but I’m not sure how many artifacts they have, even the flyer at the monument isn’t the original. Regardless, the memorial has comparable stars to Henry Ford, but only 7,000 reviewers.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is better. The memorial or the museum? Or are we comparing apples and oranges here?

Fourth Stop: Lemoore, California for 7 Years

Oh, Lemoore. You were hard to explain to friends, family, and sometimes strangers. People would ask where we were stationed and their eyes would light up when we replied California.

That light would slowly dwindle as we elaborated on your exact whereabouts; the VERY hot, dirty Central Valley. You all probably think I’m being harsh, but Lemoore is surrounded by three cities that made the top five list of most polluted (air) cities in the US.

Map Of Lemoore, Ca.

Now, this part is going to make me sound crazy. That VERY hot, dirty place grew on us like the real-life fungal infection called Valley Fever. Eh, it wasn’t the place per se, it was the people and the life events that happened there over nearly seven years. Among David’s career highlights, we had our two boys, I was baptized, and we celebrated 10 years of marriage.

Hiking In Morro Bay, Ca.
Hiking in Morro Bay, CA.

What We Did and Where

(Rather, some highlights – seven years of exploits is a lot to unpack!)

  • The General Sherman Tree/Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Three Rivers (2 hours)
  • El Capitan, Yosemite National Park (about 3 hours)
  • Paso Robles and Napa (Respectively, 1 hour and 30 minutes, 3 hours and 30 minutes)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco (3 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Santa Catalina Island (3 hours, 30 minutes + 26-mile ferry ride) 

How Michigan Compares

1. Winter Feels and Impressive Forest Coverage
2. The Huron Mountains, Upper Peninsula
3. Michigan Wineries
4. The Mighty Mac, Spanning The Straits of Mackinac
5. Our Biggest Islands: Isle Royale and Drummond Island

1. Winter Feels and Impressive Forest Coverage

The 2,300 to 2,700-year-old General Sherman in Sequoia National Park is the largest, by volume, known living single-stem tree in the world. It’s not the tallest known living tree, nor is it the widest or oldest (though it is one of the longest-lived of all trees) – it’s the most voluminous.

Our family would marvel at this majestic giant of a tree and sneak in some winter vibes at this national park; our kids’ first snow experience(s) were here.

Snow Day At Sequoia National Park, Ca.
Snow day at Sequoia National Park, CA.

Michigan gives all the winter feels you could ever want and then some, just ask my husband come January and he’ll tell ya (truly, he should probably read this article: The Secret to Enjoying a Long Michigan Winter).

We may not have a tree that compares to General Sherman, but knowing that 55.7% of Michigan is blanketed by forests that are NOT in great danger of burning down on a semi-regular basis brings me copious amounts of joy. How about you?  

2. The Huron Mountains, Upper Peninsula

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is one of the most well-known rock formations in the world. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet from base to summit along its tallest face and is a sought-after challenge for rock jocks, as well as an inspiration for artists.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, Ca.
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, CA – wearing Detroit swag.

Michigan generally isn’t thought of as a mountainous state, but we hold our own with 347 named mountains.

Our tallest mountain at 1,979’ is Mount Arvon with Mount Curwood closely behind at 1,978’ tall. They are part of the same mountain range, the Huron Mountains, located mostly in Marquette and Baraga Counties. This region in the Upper Peninsula has many truncated, yet rugged mountains.

So rugged, most of the peaks are nameless because they can’t be reached. Despite this fact, the area has become ever so popular with climbers in the past few years for its numerous granite cliffs.

Oh, for those who are extra observant and/or picky, El Capitan is referred to as a rock formation, not a mountain. So, if the Huron Mountains just don’t work for you as a comparison with El Capitan – then Michigan’s remarkable rocks will, well… rock you. Enjoy:

3. Michigan Wineries

I’m nervous about this one. California wine versus Michigan wine. I’m nervous because I’m just not sure where I stand yet… I’m not a connoisseur by any means, but I’ve enjoyed my California wine for the last seven years.

Now that I’m back in Michigan I have some catching up to do because according to Wine Enthusiast, the vineyard area here has doubled in the past decade and most of Michigan’s quality wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. Boy am I happier than ever that we moved to the west side of the Mitten! 

Wine Enthusiast was sure to list these Michigan wineries on their site:

  • Bel Lago Vineyard, Winery, & Cidery
  • Black Star Farms
  • Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery
  • Chateau Grand Traverse
  • Left Foot Charley
  • Mari Vineyards
  • Shady Lane Cellars
  • White Pine Winery
  • Wyncroft Wine/Marland

I’ll also be referencing these helpful articles closely and keep you posted on my findings:

4. The Mighty Mac, Spanning The Straits of Mackinac

The 8,981′ Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was the longest suspension bridge in the world upon its completion in 1937. The keyword was. Move on over, Golden Gate Bridge, the Mighty Mac has come on the scene.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Ca.
The Golden Gate Bridge is iconic and as pretty as a picture. Be that as it may, it’s no Mighty Mac.

The Mackinac Bridge, aka the Mighty Mac, opened in 1957 and is the longest suspension bridge in the US; the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world. Its 26,372 feet stretch across the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan.

The Mackinac Bridge.
The Mackinac Bridge | photo by the Awesome Mitten Team

You can walk on the Golden Gate Bridge any old day of the year; there is but one day out of the entire year you can walk across the amazing Mackinac Bridge. The Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk is a highly anticipated event that has been held on Labor Day every year since 1959.

5. Our Biggest Islands: Isle Royale and Drummond Island

Santa Catalina Island (most commonly referred to as Catalina Island), is 76 square miles, of which 66 square miles are protected. Catalina is best known for its wildlife, scuba diving, coastal towns, and Mt. Orizaba. There are two main resort towns on the island: the rustic town of Two Harbors, and the charming, historic town of Avalon. We chose to stay in Avalon for our 10th-anniversary getaway and it did not disappoint.

View Of The Avalon Theater As The Ferry Came Into The Dock On Catalina Island.
View of the Avalon Theater as the ferry came into the dock on Catalina Island.
Wrigley Memorial In Avalon, Ca.
Wrigley Memorial in Avalon, CA.

Michigan has so many islands! Who knew?! I listed several earlier, but let’s look a bit closer at our two largest islands: Isle Royale (pronounced Royal) and Drummond Island.

Isle Royale is Michigan’s largest island at 206.7 square miles. Ninety-nine percent of Isle Royale is designated as a federal wilderness area to preserve and protect its ecological processes, resources, beauty, and wildlife.

Isle Royale has 165 miles of hiking trails and 36 campgrounds for backpackers, paddlers, and recreational boaters. There is excellent fishing, historic lighthouses, and shipwrecks, forgone copper mining sites, and innumerable opportunities to enjoy scenery and wildlife.

Drummond Island, nicknamed “Gem of the Huron,” is 249 square miles. Just 56 acres of land is protected here yet the island is renowned for both its outdoor pursuits and untouched beauty. If you’re looking for adventure, tour over 100 miles of ATV and ORV trails, kayak the Heritage Water Trail around the island, or scuba dive to view multiple shipwrecks.

Our Backyard, Our First Home Ever, Mattawan, Mi.
Our backyard, our first home EVER, Mattawan, MI.

Final Destination: Mattawan, Michigan

We made it back to Michigan and this time we are on the west side, far better than the west coast. A perfect landing spot for us with nearly all the conveniences we had in Metro Detroit but at a slightly slower pace. It’s more country roads and outdoor excursions for us and we couldn’t be more contented. Because if there’s one thing we learned from all our adventures, it’s to slow down and take in the fresh [Michigan] air.