Leelanau County housing options represent Northern Michigan living at it’s best. It is pretty much the poster image of living the good life in Northern Michigan: cozy little towns and villages, sweeping Great Lakes shoreline, hills quilted with orchards, vineyards, farmland and forests, inland lakes dotted with cabins and cottages. “Moving here was the best decision my husband and I ever made,” says Judy Levin, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Schmidt in Suttons Bay. Levin had dreamed of living in Leelanau County for three decades before finally making the move 21 years ago.

Because the vacation-home market is such a big part of the scene in Leelanau, real estate availability and pricing varies dramatically throughout the county. For instance, in-town living can be a completely different experience based on whether one lives in an inland, farm-based village, or a waterfront tourist town.

Suttons Bay, which is on the east side of the county, is the largest community in Leelanau and a large portion of its downtown businesses remain open year-round. Living in town here means walkable and bikeable access to stores, restaurants, the beach and marina, having access to lots of services, and being just a 20-minute drive from Traverse City. In-town home prices here hover around $225,000, Levin says.

The small towns that hug the Lake Michigan shoreline on the county’s western edge tend to have a more tourist-driven, seasonal economy. Towns like Glen Arbor and Leland have tight-knit, year-round communities and offer a laid-back, walkable lifestyle; real estate prices in these places are higher than other spots in Leelanau because of the vacation-home market. Prices for homes not on the waterfront in these communities start at around $300,000, Levin says. The exception is Northport, which is an up-and-coming village at the very tip of the peninsula; homes here that are not on the water start at around $175,000.

For those who dream of a quiet, bucolic life, there’s plenty of space inland where the scenery is top-notch—and the lakeshore is still just a short drive away. Communities like Cedar, Maple City and Lake Leelanau have rich agricultural roots and all have their own distinct personalities. Homes here might start around $125,000, Levin says. For those who work in Traverse City but don’t mind not living within walking distance of stores and services, Leelanau townships like Bingham and Elmwood offer bedroom-community access (Traverse is just 15 minutes away) with a country-living feel.

Of course, many folks dream of moving up here to have immediate access to the water, and Leelanau serves up that lifestyle in spades. Frontage on and/or views of Lake Michigan in Leelanau County come at a premium, with waterfront homes starting around $1 million. The entire east side of the county borders Grand Traverse Bay, which is also a desirable location (with gorgeous sunrises). The larger inland lakes like Lake Leelanau and the Glen Lakes are popular for fishing and boating, and there are dozens of smaller inland lakes, too.

With all that Leelanau has to offer, you really can’t go wrong. “The beauty is incredible. The vistas change. The seasons are all amazing,” Levin says. “And the people here are wonderful. What else is there?”

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Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski