Pair plentiful outdoor activities, job opportunities and affordability with a welcoming vibe, and it’s no wonder Michigan is a draw for families.
With more freshwater coastline than any other state and an impressive array of natural wonders – from pristine beaches to expansive wildlife areas – Michigan is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The state also boasts a wide variety of job offerings, thanks in part to the auto industry that’s brought people from across the country, and the world, to the Great Lakes state.
For families looking for a great place to put down roots, Michigan offers plenty of choices. Whether you’re searching for a quaint small town, or a home base that’s close to state parks, or you’re leaning toward a more suburban spot with access to both metropolitan and rural offerings, Michigan has something for everyone.
1. Ann Arbor
In 2018 Ann Arbor, MI, captured the #1 spot in our Top 100 Best Places to Live list. And it just nabbed the #2 spot on our Top 10 Best Places to Raise a Family list as well. So what makes this community so special?
Residents are likely to give you a long list of reasons they call Ann Arbor home. Certainly one major draw is the top-ranked University of Michigan, with a total enrollment of around 46,000. Its extensive Ann Arbor campus boosts employment in the area, but also creates an overall emphasis on education that permeates the community.
The city’s enviable food and art scenes are also a factor for many families, and these help spur community events throughout the year, like the Ann Arbor Art Fair. The colorful Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum downtown has become a destination for kids (and parents!) to delve into science and learn more about the world around them. Then again, they might point to the regions many outdoor activities, from hiking trails to kayaking, biking and fishing.
Ann Arbor schools – elementary, middle and high school – consistently get high marks from GreatSchools.org, including 8s and 9s (out of a 10-point scale). The bottom line? Whether you’re in kindergarten or finishing up a graduate degree, Ann Arbor has got you covered.
Within commuting distance to Detroit, MI, to the south and Chrysler’s Headquarters and Technology Center and GM’s Global Propulsion Systems Engineering Center, to the northwest, Troy, MI, has built-in employment opportunities. Beyond the auto industry, the area includes offices for major banking institutions and other businesses.
Add to that the fact that the area offers a patchwork of parks and plentiful shopping, including the big box retailers, Oakland Mall, and an upscale shopping area, the Somerset Collection.
Troy School District encompasses most of the city, but there are five other school districts with boundaries that edge into the area. U.S. News & World Report ranks Troy High School as number six in the state, flagging the school’s favorable student-teacher ratio, 17:1 and College Readiness Index, which is 61.8% for a school with 1,980 students enrolled.
With three higher education institutions tucked into town and several industries and major businesses calling Kalamazoo home, the city of around 75,000 offers a plenty of great job opportunities. Within the area, you’ll find Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. And several pharmaceutical and medical science businesses. Kiplinger recently ranked Kalamazoo as number four on their Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In list, noting affordable housing and the low unemployment rate (5%).
The city also has a strong arts scene – the first Friday of the month, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo holds an Art Hop. The free event includes a variety of activities and music for families to enjoy. The Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts has extensive programs for kids and families, too, along with various permanent and rotating exhibits.
Kalamazoo’s schools include a significant perk for students – all students receive a 4-year scholarship covering tuition and fees for students attending in-state colleges (yes, free college tuition!). Known as the Kalamazoo Promise and funded by anonymous donors, there are guidelines, such as the student must have attended all high school years (9-12) within the Kalamazoo Public School system, but it’s a unique and wonderful opportunity for local kids to take advantage of.
4. Grand Rapids
On the western side of the state, about a 30- to 40-minute drive from the Lake Michigan’s coastline, Grand Rapids, MI includes all the perks of a larger city while still being manageable for families. Bridges criss-cross town over the Grand River, which runs right through the city. Take your pick from museums, parks and more to explore, like the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum (the 38th U.S. president moved to Grand Rapids as a child), the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Millennium Park and others.
Yet the low crime rates, manageable cost of living and affordable housing that helped make Grand Rapids the number one recommendation on Forbes list of Best Cities for Raising a Family within metropolitan areas. The median household income is $40,355 and the median home price $109,400.
With a population hovering around 5,000, Frankenmuth, MI, is known as Michigan’s little Bavaria. And it does feel a bit like you’ve stepped into a quaint German Village, with its European architecture and frequent festivals. More than three million tourists visit annually – drawn both to the town’s European vibe and its beloved holiday store, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which is reportedly the largest Christmas store in the world.
Families, however, can enjoy Frankenmuth’s charm year round – and its top-rated schools. Frankenmuth School District includes the elementary, middle and high schools all in one campus. U.S. News and World Report ranks Frankenmuth High School among one of the best in the state, most recently it made the list at number seven. Here, students can choose from a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes – 72% of students do take advantage of APs. The high school also boasts impressive graduation rates; in fact, 99% of students receive their diplomas.
The median home value hovers around $180,000, with the median income at $47,199, making Frankenmuth an affordable place to settle down.