Are you considering a move to Florida? With an incredible 850 newcomers moving to Florida every day, you’re certainly not alone.
And let’s not overlook the fact that Florida isn’t small. At over 65,000 square miles with a wide range of location choices, you’ll need to do your research, so why not take a look at some of the best places to live in Florida.
The best places to live in Florida
The North West of Florida (The Panhandle)
If you’re seeking a lower cost of living that’s never much more than a short drive from the coast, head for the panhandle.
This 200-mile strip of land that runs along the North West of Florida is loved for its silky-white sandy beaches and calm, turquoise coastal waters. It also has a more conservative population.
It’s one of the few parts of Florida that experiences the occasional frosty night, you might even get a few drops of snow in the winter, although it’s highly unlikely you ever get full snowman-building weather.
Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city and a college town, sits bang on in the middle of the panhandle. It’s just 30 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico with its amazing beaches and 20 miles from the Georgia border.
Don’t be deceived by the capital title, we’re not talking about an overpopulated sprawling metropolis. Tallahassee is affordable, relatively quiet with a very traditional American vibe.
Tallahassee is a safe city in comparison with other cities of similar size across the US. The arts are alive and well, the restaurant scene doesn’t disappoint, and Tallahassee’s well-to-do middle class ensures the city maintains its thriving services and businesses.
With good healthcare facilities and an excellent education system, Tallahassee meets the needs of all age groups. Another perk is its moderate house prices compared to other parts of Florida. The median home cost in Tallahassee at the time of writing is $220,100.
In short, Tallahasse has everything for a great lifestyle whether you’re a young family looking to get your first home or retirees looking to find a good place to call home that doesn’t dig too deep into your retirement savings.
If that image in your mind’s eye of ideal living is miles of beaches that aren’t lined with wall-to-wall condos, hotels, bars, or tacky tourist shops – you’re probably imagining Pensacola.
Another one of the less expensive or overcrowded places to live in Florida, Pensacola city feels relatively small and laid-back. It is located on a bay, with Pensacola Beach just about 15 minutes to the east, and Perdido Key about 15 minutes to the West.
Pensacola has one of the best retirement communities along the Florida panhandle. You’ll find the local population are friendly and approachable creating a very relaxed and inviting atmosphere.
Fishing, biking, kayaking, and other sports activities are all easily available. If you want some excitement, fun and freedom in retirement Pensacola is waiting for you.
If you bring your family you’ll discover that Pensacola is a very family-orientated place with plenty of activities and things to do backed up by some great education facilities.
No matter your age, you won’t get bored living in Pensacola. With year-round outdoor activities and frequent festivals often with free admission and free parking, your diary will be full.
The best surprise, however, is the low cost of living and real estate prices that are among the lowest in the state’s beach areas. So by moving here you’ll have the spare cash you need to embrace your new Florida lifestyle.
Are you looking for somewhere smaller and a little more off the beaten track? Destin might just be your perfect place to live.
Even during the height of tourist season, Destin remains relatively calm and relaxed getting even quieter in the winter when the tourist crowds subside.
Regardless of the season, the constant pleasure for Destin residents is natural beauty that surrounds them – rivers, forests, great hiking trails, white sand, emerald green water and pink sunsets.
Hunting and fishing are hugely popular here, especially fishing, fresh and saltwater. Destin is often referred to as the World’s luckiest fishing village.
Other prominent features are the warm and friendly local community, a more laid-back lifestyle and fantastic seafood.
Destin is a safe town to live in with a traditional more conservative appeal.
Critics of Destin call it the redneck Riviera and it’s true, you don’t have to look too hard to understand the politics of many of the local townspeople.
You will see some huge expensive trucks with republican insignia and quite a few of the locals visibly promote their republican faith. If you’re a cultural liberal and you prefer to avoid heated exchanges you’ll probably want to talk about anything but politics.
If it’s small you want then, of course, some sacrifices have to be made. You’ll notice more limited infrastructure and amenities. If you have a major illness, you will have to travel to Tallahassee, Birmingham, Mobile, or Jacksonville for treatment.
There are few high-paid jobs available in the area as it’s mostly tourism-related businesses, so unless you are retired or have some form of passive income, Destin might not work for you.
The Gulf Coast of Florida
The Gulf Coast of Florida has a bounty of fantastic beaches, with clear warm and peaceful waters.
If you love the ocean and beaches but don’t feel the need for a great surfing experience, the Gulf Coast is waiting for you.
If on the other hand, you’re planning on packing your surfboard, stick to the Atlantic coast of Florida, that’s where the bigger waves live.
Despite having a relatively low population Naples is upscale and sophisticated. You won’t go short of classy restaurants or high-end shopping experiences.
Sophistication arrives in the form of museums, art exhibitions, concerts, and Broadway plays which are all very affordable. The beaches are clean, beautiful and free.
While Naples is a small city it has many of the attractions you’d normally expect to find in larger cities. You’ll be able to take a stroll through 170 acres of garden paradise at the Botanical Garden or visit the wildlife at Naples Zoo in the Caribbean Park.
Children won’t miss out either. There’s plenty to do from the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples to the Sun N Fun Lagoon, a fantastic water park that kids are guaranteed to love.
Naples is a compact and well-maintained city that’s safe to live in with very little crime. Southwest Florida International Airport is approximately a 45-minute drive north of Naples in Fort Myres.
You’ll find the Naples community to be friendly towards newcomers and the city doesn’t feel crowded when compared to Orlando or Miami.
Naples’ level of sophistication and desirability does come at a cost with relatively expensive housing. The current median listing price of property is over $650,000; upwards of $750,000 is quite normal for a 3-bedroom family home.
5. Fort Myers
If Naples feels too pricey for you, head north to Fort Myers. It’s a bigger city with more affordable housing and more infrastructure and amenities.
Fort Myers has been growing and developing rapidly and is an attractive location for families, young people and retirees alike. It has everything you’ll want from a seafront city – access to beautiful beaches, all the facilities you need on a day-to-day basis and good public transport.
You’ll also have Southwest Florida International Airport, a great bonus if you need to travel internationally.
Fort Myers is a city of more: you get more stores, more restaurants and more great shopping malls to explore. Head to Miromar Outlets Mall for great discounts at brand names and designer stores or check out Coconut Point Mall for a bit more upscale shopping.
Healthcare facilities are great and there’s a wide range of various outdoor activities suitable for all ages and interests.
In short, Fort Myers is a brilliant all-rounder city that has a bit of everything and still remains affordable.
Venice City is small and friendly. For a long time, Venice was very much a secret retirement paradise, but the secret is well and truly out thanks to Forbes magazine naming Venice one of the top ten retirement destinations in the United States.
The city is well-equipped for retirement: parks, beaches, golf and tennis clubs and a pretty diverse eating-out scene.
There is a great community theater and symphony and performing arts hall. Not to mention all of Venice’s canals, just like in its Italian namesake.
The best part of the city is no doubt Venice Island which has been created by an artificial intercoastal waterway. With access via bridges, there is a marina and a small beach.
This affluent area with a distinctive shopping district is home to a highly-sought after John Nolen planned community. It is an urban, mixed-use, walkable community that today makes up the historic heart of Venice featuring lots of small parks and creative landscaping.
The downside of Venice is that it’s not a low-cost location to live in. Its average house prices are above Florida’s average and that also impacts the general cost of living here.
Plenty of the population of Sarasota will tell you it’s the best place to live in Florida. Sarasota was rated one of the top ten cities to retire in, and Siesta Key Beach almost always wins first place for the country’s best beaches.
Sarasota is stunning whenever you go. It has many attractions that other Florida coastal communities lack: a vibrant arts scene and an ever-growing reputation as a foodies’ paradise.
There’s an opera house, a number of rooftop bars, fine dining downtown and a more peaceful and ambient experience of Siesta Key Village or St. Armands Circle.
Sarasota is a very popular tourist destination, so it can become quite crowded for about half the year and will seem quite empty during the off-season period.
Tampa is the major centre for tourist activity in Western Florida. From Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park to the Florida Aquarium, to the amazing range of sandy world-class beaches, Tampa is the hive of activity.
The city has a lot going for it: great colleges, good hospitals and a fantastic choice of social activities and sports.
In terms of housing, you can find everything from inexpensive apartments to multi-million dollar mansions.
Being in the center of the state, Tampa makes it easy to get to almost any part of Florida with a reasonable drive.
If you like to travel further afield you will appreciate the convenience of the Tampa International Airport.
There are a lot of activities available for outdoor enthusiasts. The Jackson Springs Skate Park, multiple nature preserves and Ben T. Davis Beach, Tampa’s best beach, are all favorite places for both the local community and tourists to visit and enjoy.
The downside is that to get to the best beaches if you live in Tampa, you’ll need to cross over to the Pinellas peninsula and the St. Petersburg area. When the traffic is heavy, crossing the bridge can take an hour instead of 20 minutes!
For more information on Tampa’s areas, cost of living, and the pros and cons, read our Living In Tampa guide.
Clearwater is a highly regarded city in the Tampa Bay Area, popular with spring-breakers and snowbirds, and named one of the Top Beach Cities in Florida.
There is an abundance of entertainment and activities on offer including Splash Harbour Water Park and the Clearwater Aquarium. You can enjoy great restaurants and bars, and there’s a good variety of nightlife, too.
It is also the unofficial capital of the Church of Scientology. There are crowds of Scientologists wandering the streets here and some of the prime real estate downtown has been bought or developed by the church, which has contributed to home prices rising significantly.
Clearwater is a bit more expensive compared to Tampa itself. The median house prices in top neighborhoods such as Clearwater Beach Oaks of Northwood are way above $800,000.
If you feel this is the right place for you, but do not have that much money to spend, look at the Skycrest neighborhood. It is more affordable (for Clearwater) and family-friendly, with medium to large homes and occasional small apartments.
If warm weather and non-stop sunshine are all that matters, St. Petersburg is the right place for you.
It’s pretty, diverse, tolerant, hip, growing, has good airports, sports teams, colleges, and recreation facilities. St Petersburg is dog and bicycle friendly and boasts a lively art and entertainment scene. It’s a blue city with a rainbow above (meaning liberal and very LGBTQ-friendly).
Downtown St. Petersburg has become a Mecca for dining, nightlife and arts, which has made it more attractive to a younger community.
St. Petersburg has a few cultural treasures like the Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater, but first and foremost it’s known for its beaches like St. Pete Beach, Fort DeSoto Park, Indian Rocks Beach, Treasure Island and Madeira Beach.
Most importantly, St. Petersburg remains a more affordable destination with housing average expenses being below national and state averages.
Clearwater and Tampa are just an hour’s drive away which is very convenient for a quick day trip or a fun night out.
Located on the Pinellas peninsula and surrounded by beaches, St. Petersburg doesn’t have much in terms of hiking trails or walks. You have to travel to ‘the mainland’ for it.
Florida Keys – where the Gulf meets the Atlantic
For a tropical climate, true island experience, more natural beauty than anywhere else, and to enjoy both the Atlantic and the Gulf choose the Florida Keys, the island chain off the southern tip of Florida.
11. Key West
Key West is a tiny town where most Florida Keys residents live.
It is remote and relatively isolated from the rest of the world, and it takes forever to drive anywhere from here.
Key West is a boating and fishing paradise; you can’t beat it if that’s your pleasure.
Weatherwise, almost every day is the same – a perfect 81F (27C) and sunny, the exception being the summer peak when the heat and humidity can become quite exhausting.
Life moves slower, and the local population are generally much more laid back. If you need some action, head to Duval Street. That’s where all the bars, pubs, outdoor cafes, shops, galleries, restaurants, and celebrated attractions are. This is also where all the partying is done in Key West.
The downside is that being a resort town and a popular retreat with the wealthy and famous, Key West has a fairly high cost of living for Florida. You need a lot of money to buy a house in a quiet area with some space around it. Otherwise, you risk living among vacation rentals and noisy holidaymakers.
If you can afford your dream property here and don’t mind the lack of shopping, patchy healthcare, minimal options for trade services and the constant influx of tourists and visitors, then this could be your ideal location.
The Atlantic Coast
The East Coast gets more summer breezes than the Gulf Coast, so it is cooler and more tolerable in the summer. It is also the place to be if you are an avid surfer.
If you are young or young at heart and have a reasonable level of wealth, Miami may well be your place.
Miami is a wonderful mix of city and beach living spiced with a generous dose of Latino/Cuban culture.
Miami is an obvious answer if you are looking for a great food scene and action. It is the most multicultural city in Florida and has a distinctly Latin American vibe.
The range of unique foods and drinks from Colombian to Cuban to Dominican to Brazilian and everything in between is remarkable and spectacular.
The central city features different eclectic ethnic neighbourhoods. The area around South Beach is more like a film set filled with glitz and glamour.
The phrase “affordable housing” does not apply to Miami. The median price of a single-family home in Miami is over $500,000, while condos’ median price reached $390,000.
If you plan to rent, there are some excellent options for renters in the greater downtown area. If you want to buy and your budget is below $1,000,000, check out Homestead or Miami Shores.
Looking for a classy home? There’s a tempting range of luxury real estate in Miami and you can definitely get a lot more for your money than you would in other luxury market locations like Los Angeles.
For more details, the best areas, pros and cons and local quirks, read our Living In Miami guide.
13. Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale has an urban multicultural vibe while feeling quite residential. It has sophisticated shopping and dining options and miles of beautiful beaches.
It is close enough to Miami and allows you to experience everything Miami has to offer without actually living there.
Looking for a quieter area? Check out Weston. This cosy suburban area is known for its lovely homes, lush, well-manicured lawns, top schools, and great restaurants. Basically, it is a great place to settle down with your family.
14. West Palm Beach
If the crowds, traffic and costs of Miami and nearby areas scare you, head north to West Palm Beach. It is much cheaper and easier to navigate.
West Palm is approximately the same size as Miami but has fewer residents and not as many traffic problems. Having said this, wherever you live in Florida, traffic is always going to be an issue one way or another.
Outdoor lovers will find plenty to enjoy here, with fishing and boating being the number one choice among the residents. Palm Beach County has the largest number of golf courses in the state.
Retirees and snowbirds love West Palm Beach, but the city is attracting a younger population too. Plenty of restaurants, funky art galleries, antique shops, concerts, events at the performing arts center and music festivals provide enough entertainment and things to do.
It’s just a 10-minute drive to Palm Beach International Airport and you will have easy access to the Florida Keys, you’re also not too far from Orlando if you want to visit the parks.
15. Vero Beach
Vero beach is the epitome of an affordable, comfortable and cosy retirement destination that offers a laid-back and quiet beachfront lifestyle.
Compared to other beachfront cities in Florida, Vero Beach feels positively underdeveloped and uncrowded.
It has plenty of parks, eclectic small shops, the Indian River Mall, ice cream parlours, restaurants and cafes, and a long wooden boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Vero Beach South, a southwestern part is especially attractive with its nicely planned areas and gated developments.
Head to the east of the Intracoastal Waterway for stunning oceanfront homes.
For the upscale feel, check out Johns Island – a 1,650-acre gated community with three championship golf courses.
16. Daytona Beach
Need something a bit louder? Welcome to Daytona – a bit noisy, and some would say a bit tacky and kitschy in places, but also inexpensive, cheerful, diverse, and with lovely beaches framed by high-rise condos and concrete.
Daytona is far from being a quiet little seaside town. In February and July, you will have thousands of Stock Car crowds in town for a week or so. In March and October, the Bikers come. If you like NASCAR or motorcycles then this is your place.
If you need to take a break from the noise and crowds, you can always hit the red-sand beaches of Ormond by the Sea, north of Daytona. Or take a bicycle ride around ‘the loop’ in Tomoka park to enjoy 22 miles or so of untouched Florida wilderness.
Daytona is one of the most affordable beach places in Florida for two reasons: it’s far from any major city to be convenient for commuters, and it has some pretty run-down areas that bring the overall prices down.
There are nice areas such as South Daytona, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, and Daytona Beach Shores, where you can find lovely homes and safe neighbourhoods.
Jacksonville (Jax) is a truly urban and diverse city with something for everyone. Here you will find riverside homes that sell for up to $10 million and trailer parks where you can live for $200/month.
Overall, it is a lively city with an impressive range of activities and amenities, friendly folks, a great climate, and more affordable housing.
Southside is definitely in the top nicest areas to live in Jacksonville, with the beaches, colleges, shopping and restaurants nearby. Other areas to check are Riverside, Ortega, Argyle and Jax Beach.
Jacksonville is also home to one of the largest urban park systems in the United States, at 80,000 acres or 4x the size of Manhatten Island. You’ll have 400 city parks and gardens and an arboretum to explore.
It’s a great city for professional couples and working families who want to enjoy seaside living while having all the city amenities at hand.
It is also close to St. Augustine, which is quite a different kettle of fish altogether.
St. Augustine is a fascinating community. It is historic, leafy, medium-sized, and offers a high quality of living.
Tourists flock here to have a look at the oldest continually inhabited city in the U.S, and many of them fall in love with the Spanish colonial architecture and the quaint feel of the town. Quite a few of those tourists later return as residents.
St. Augustine is perfect if you want to have it all: it’s neat, safe, beautiful and orderly within a short commute to Jacksonville. It has lovely beaches, plenty of outdoor activities and a great variety of dining out options.
St. Augustine is less than an hour from the airport at Daytona and less than two hours from Orlando. It has world-class medical facilities and good schools.
However, it comes with a few downsides. It is manicured to death and is often overrun by tourists. Traffic can be a nightmare, too.
With that said, St.Augustine does have a lot going for it, and there’s a high demand to live here, so you can expect to pay top dollar for your housing needs. Starting small, we found a one-bedroom, one-bath home in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood listed on Zillow at $349,000 in March 2022.
If beaches aren’t your cup of tea, Central Florida might offer a good alternative. It’s the best location if you love horses and are a child at heart or have grandchildren to entertain a few times a year.
Central Florida’s most famous location internationally has to be Disneyland. Still, there are also many small towns dotted around with a great sense of community, reasonable property prices and good amenities. Let’s talk about some of them.
“Don’t live in Orlando unless you need to”, they say, citing the sprawl, the horrendous traffic and over-dependence on cars, the heat, the bugs, the overly white bread, and the transit nature. The nice areas feel too expensive, and the affordable areas are not very desirable, and it goes on and on.
Well, yes, but…
Living in Orlando has some undeniable positives, the theme park being high on the list.
Indeed, for Disney fans living in Orlando is pure bliss. You never miss any special events, you can visit in the morning and enjoy your favorites before the crowds turn up, and you can be spontaneous while not spending a fortune on long trips.
Also, Florida residents get discounts on several theme parks, including 30% to 40% off Walt Disney World tickets. Not a bad reason to live here!
It’s a big city so you can find any lifestyle you want.
If you want more space in a quiet suburban-ish setting, there are lots of communities to choose from.
If you like to get out and do cultural things and want to be in the thick of it, then downtown Orlando – Winter Park is worth checking out.
Downtown however means more expensive and smaller properties, and more people, so not really peaceful and quiet. It’s brilliant though for maintenance-free apartment living.
Lakeland is definitely a more affordable place to live. Housing here is about 30% cheaper than the Florida average.
It has great healthcare facilities and is considered one of the top places to retire in the USA.
Being inland it has a lower risk of hurricanes. It’s not overcrowded or overrun by tourists either.
Lakeland is very conveniently located if you want to travel around the state. Tampa is just 40 minutes away, Orlando is 60 minutes away and if you want to take your children or grandchildren to Walt Disney World, it is just 42 miles.
Fancy a day out on a beach? Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Ft. Desoto Park to the west of Lakeland are about an hour, to an hour 15 minutes drive.
Some of the nicest neighbourhoods to consider are Beacon Hill, South Lake Morton, Raintree, Cleveland Heights, New Jersey Road, and Edgewood.
It’s the Horse Capital of the World or at least this is what the residents proudly think of Ocala. Indeed, horses and green pastures feature heavily when you approach the city.
This is a “country city”, in other words, here you will have all the necessary day-to-day facilities and amenities: shopping, services, and doctors; there are even museums and art centers. But step outside of the heart of the city and you will see green pastures and beautiful horses working or grazing.
You will be able to enjoy great state parks nearby, the Rainbow Springs State Park is a must to see.
And you will be living only just over an hour from great beaches in either direction.
Need to travel? Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) is about 2 hours away; Orlando International (MCO) about 1.5 hrs away, and Tampa International (TPA) about 2 hrs away. There is also Gainesville Regional airport.
Schools are good, crime is low, houses are affordable and the community spirit is strong. Even if you’re not a horse person, you will appreciate the views and the countryside and enjoy watching the horse events, especially Cavalia’s beautiful white performing horses.
Gainsville is great if you are looking for a small-town feel with lots of outdoor activities available nearby.
Gainesville is not for everyone. It’s a college town and a retirement spot. Hence there is a noticeable lack of people aged 25-40. Students graduate and leave for careers adding to the town’s transient feel.
The town has all the amenities you need for a comfortable life: shopping, restaurants, museums and theaters. The music scene has bounced back after Covid.
Children can enjoy a well-maintained city pool with a water slide and Depot Park with its great “splash pad”.
The place is big on outdoor activities and is home to eight state parks with over 100 miles of biking, hiking, and birding trails.
Some fun activities include floating down the Ichetucknee River, swimming in fresh-water springs dotted around and going kayaking. You can go on a day trip kayaking with the dolphins in Cedar Key which is only an hour away.
It’s only 2 hours to St. Augustine, Tampa, Orlando, and Daytona Beach — close enough for day trips or stress-free weekends that don’t include a long drive.
It’s a college town and as such has its quirks. During term times it’s fun and vibrant with lots of entertainment available and the streets constantly jammed with traffic. During holidays it can be quiet.
Rentals in the areas around the college are hard to come by. But there are very nice neighborhoods dotted around. For families and retirees Haile Plantation, Oakmont and Longleaf in Southwest Gainesville are really great. Weschester in the northwest is close to San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park.
For golf lovers, it’s worth looking at Turkey Creek, a gated neighborhood built around a golf course.
Best places to live in Florida – our summary
With such a variety of locations on offer, it’s hard to choose where in Florida you want to be. It all boils down to who you are, what you want from a location and most importantly how much you want to spend.
Using priorities like the cost of living, travel connections, amenities, and how close to the ocean you want to be, – you should be able to narrow down the choices quite a bit.
The climate is also a big factor. The further inland you go, the more oppressive the humidity can feel. If it’s an issue for you, you will be better off moving to the coastal regions of Florida where you can enjoy the sea breeze.
Make sure you plan for your healthcare needs. Many snowbirds opt for international health insurance to be covered in both countries. To make sure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal.
If you plan and research well, wherever in Florida you choose to live, the Sunshine State won’t fail to deliver.
You might find useful:
- Living In The USA – The Expats’ Guide: a detailed relocation guide covering visas and residency options, the costs, paperwork, various areas and more
- Best Places To Live In The USA For Retirees – a detailed overview of the most popular retirement locations
- Living In California – all about moving to and settling down in California
- USA Property Guide: Renting Or Buying A House In The USA – how to rent or buy a property in the States: a detailed manual for expats.