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14 Top-Rated Small Towns in Florida

Written by Alison Abbott
Jul 11, 2019

The Sunshine State and its lovely small towns offer something for everyone. Florida has one of the most diverse populations of any place in the US. Sure folks come here to retire, but there's good reason the population swells during the colder months up north. This state is a playground for snowbirds and anyone else wanting to enjoy great beaches, wildlife, and lots of fun in the sun. If you do your homework, these small towns offer a variety of activities and personalities sure to please any kind of traveler.

For ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the top small towns in Florida.

1. Safety Harbor

Safety Harbor fishing pier at sunset

Located close to Tampa, Safety Harbor is full of small-town charm while still being close to anything you might need from a larger city. It's known for the Safety Harbor Restaurant and Spa, where visitors flock to the healing waters, as well as the abundance of additional activities to enjoy. Nearby beaches are a big draw as are the many first-class restaurants on Main Street.

Outdoor lovers should add a visit to Philippe Park to their list for a beautiful walk along the harbor. You can also watch the pleasure boats heading to and from the ocean. Fisherfolk can cast a line at the Safety Harbor Marina and Fishing Pier. A walk around the historic district offers further exploration, and make sure to stop and see the ancient Live Oak at Baranoff Park, rumored to be between 300 and 500 years old.

For the visitor looking for something different, the Instagram-worthy Whimzey Bowling House is a great spot to snap a quick picture before heading out of town.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Safety Harbor

2. Vero Beach

Vero Beach

Tucked along The Treasure Coast is a barrier island, which in years past has been labeled "The Best Small Town in Florida." Town planners have been very restrictive about zoning and building heights, allowing Vero Beach to grow in a way that still maintains its lovely charm. One can walk for miles along the coastline and not see another soul. How rare is that in Florida!

The reefs just offshore were notorious for claiming ships carrying valuables, thus the Treasure Coast name. The resulting shipwrecks have left their mark, and this is a favorite spot for divers and those searching for treasure with metal detectors. There is even a newly sunk shipwreck, the S.S. Breconshire right offshore from the iconic Ocean Grill.

Visitors can kayak and paddleboard the short distance for some snorkeling. Additional activity favorites include McKee Jungle Garden and Lion Country Safari. Restaurants in the Vero have had a bit of a renaissance, with an influx of farm-to-table plates incorporating artisan ingredients.

The area is often called the Gateway to the Tropics, and the climate is classified as a transitional zone. Gorgeous, intense flora is the result, with a lovely mix of vegetation combining flora from as far north as the Carolinas with tropical palms and greenery.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vero Beach

3. Venice

Venice Beach and pier

A trip to Venice, Florida on the scenic Gulf coast won't soon be forgotten. Known for being the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, Venice is filled with a rich and colorful history. It once was the winter home to The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and its Clown College. Present day entertainment includes the number one community theater in the US, The Venice Theater. Save time to check out a show if you can.

In addition to the arts and culture, Venice also boasts world-class golfing and water sports. Venice Beach is not only a great place to sunbathe, but you can also search for fossils and shark teeth. Caspersen Beach is especially known for successful fossil finds.

Before you leave this delightful small town, take a walk in the downtown area. Tourists will find it filled with northern Italian architecture, reminiscent of its Italian namesake.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Venice

4. Apalachicola

Aerial view of Apalachicola at sunset

"Quaint" is often used to describe the fishing village of Apalachicola, located in Florida's panhandle. The reputation this small town has for delicious seafood is more than justified.

The warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico ensure pleasurable water sports along unspoiled beaches. The National Forest and Tate's Hell State Forest are both filled with hiking trails for the outdoor explorer.

History buffs will want to leave time to enjoy over 900 historic structures, which date back to the early 1800s. Learn more about Apalachicola's past in one of the four museums around town.

5. Captiva

Colorful chairs on the beach at Captiva

Everyone who visits loves Captiva Island. Located on the southwest coast, it has a gorgeous and Instagram-worthy topography. Think cottages draped with bougainvillea and picturesque sunsets at the end of the day.

Don't be surprised when you see visitors walking for miles in a hunched over position. They are looking for shells, one of the area's main attractions. In addition, there is more of Florida's tasty seafood and lovely beaches. Biking, birding, sailing, and the usual offering of water sports are available as well.

While here, visitors should also visit Captiva's sister island, Sanibel. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge are highlights not to be missed.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on Sanibel Island

6. Crystal River

Manatees in the Crystal River

Nature lovers flock to Crystal River, where the big draw is the ability to swim with manatees in the clear waters. The constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit, combined with visibility often reaching 200 feet insures an enjoyable snorkeling experience. These gentle giants seek the warm water of the state's purest spring-fed water system when temperatures drop in the Gulf of Mexico. Turtles and schools of fish are also frequent visitors, but be sure to follow regulations about keeping your distance.

In addition, tourists can golf at the area's Plantation at Crystal River. History lovers may want to take a trip to the Crystal River Archaeological State Park and view the ruins of days gone by.

7. Dunedin

Dunedin Causeway

Nature calls in the Gulf Coast town of Dunedin just south of Palm Harbor. Across the causeway, Honeymoon Island State Park is one of the most visited parks in the state, with an abundance of ospreys calling it home. Visitors love the beaches and over three miles of marked trails making their way through virgin slash pine forests. Two additional parks provide more opportunity for outdoor hiking and bicycling.

As one of the oldest town's on Florida's west coast, Dunedin also has the unique characteristic of a healthy Scottish population. Festivals and the Highland Games are a big attraction and keep the heritage alive.

8. Sebring

Fiery sunset over Lake Jackson in Sebring

Home to the Sebring International Raceway, this small town in the center of Florida is not only a great pit stop for race fans, but for anyone craving some outdoor adventure. If you aren't here during race weekend, you can still check out the massive automotive facility.

Those who crave the outdoors will want to explore the picturesque Highlands Hammock State Park and take a hike or leisurely walk. Lakes are the focus of water activity with sports aplenty.

Museums are also well represented in this town, nicknamed "The City on the Circle." After exploring the namesake loop of boutiques and galleries among the unique architecture, find a museum to your liking. History buffs will love the Military Sea Service Museum. Additional options include the Peter Powell Roberts Museum of Art or The Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC).

9. Winter Park

Winter Park, Florida

In an area known for theme parks, this resort community north of Orlando is so much more than the busy metropolitan area it encompasses. Close to Disney and Kissimmee, Winter Park is the perfect place to take in a show, visit museums, or play a round of golf. It's also a popular spot for northerners to escape the winter.

The city is known for its arts and culture, as well as Rollins College, and your first stop should be a visit to the main street, which houses many shops, art galleries, and museums. The impressive Charles Hosmer Morse Museum is a showplace for American art, as well as housing an impressive collection of Tiffany stained glass.

Visitors will find the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden scenically overlooking Lake Osceola. Over 200 works by the Czech-born American artist are on display. Check the calendar for one of the many cultural events hosted on the property.

Throughout the year, Winter Park and its more than 70 green spaces, hosts community events, as well as offering a shady respite from the notoriously hot Florida sun.

In addition to some outstanding shopping on Park Avenue, foodies will find a selection of restaurants to suit every taste. They should also make sure to visit the Saturday farmers market, held in the unusual setting of the historically restored train depot.

10. Anna Maria Island

Aerial of Anna Maria Island on a sunny day

If you are looking for a perfect stretch of white, sandy shore, choose Anna Maria Island for your small town getaway. Located between the Gulf of Mexico and the mainland, this seven-mile strip of a barrier island promises white beaches and a sanctuary for bird lovers.

Some might call the peaceful town sleepy; others call it laid-back and relaxing. Antique stores, galleries, and seafood restaurants dot the downtown area. The pier, built in 1911, makes a great spot for a stroll. Be sure to keep your eye's peeled for dolphins offshore when you take to the ocean for fishing, surfing, or a spin on a paddleboard.

11. Mount Dora

Palm Island Park in Mount Dora

It's hard to imagine the peaceful shores of Lake Dora are just a quick hour away from the hustle and bustle of Orlando. Festivals, antiquing, and a quaint lakefront town await in Mount Dora. Check for the dates of the ever popular seafood, blueberry, and arts festivals. The undisturbed historic village attracts visitors who are looking for an authentic atmosphere.

Unique to the area is the lighthouse, guiding boaters after dusk, and the only one on a Florida lake. Tours to see more of the area are available by Segway; pontoon boat; kayak; and CatBoat, a small two-person watercraft made for exploring. Nicknamed the Bass Capital of the World, it's a sure bet you'll find this a popular stop for fishermen.

12. Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach

The northernmost city on Florida's Atlantic Coast and located on Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is known for its amazing golf and its reputation as being one of Florida's favorite island destinations. While here, stay in one of the upscale resorts and spas to get in some rest, relaxation, and pampering.

Although there are many things to do downtown, like shopping and dining, the biggest draw to this area is the 13 miles of pristine beaches, where you can fish, sunbathe, or take part in a variety of water sports. Check out Fish Amelia for an experience like no other.

If you aren't a beach lover, visit one of the many galleries, like Amelia SanJon Gallery or Shady Ladies Art, where you can take a class if you have time. Fernandina Beach also has some eclectic vintage and antique shops that are a must-visit. Should you be visiting this great small town in May, make sure to add the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival on your itinerary.

13. Islamorada

Aerial view of resorts in Islamorada

Known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World, Islamorada encompasses five islands and offers some of the best water sports in Florida. A visit to Islamorada isn't complete without a fishing adventure, so be sure to reserve your spot on a local charter before you arrive. If fishing isn't on your agenda, you can have a dolphin encounter at The Theater of the Sea.

For visitors who would rather stay on dry land, visit the St. Mary's Submarine Museum or the History of Diving Museum. Alternatively, take a trip to the Indian Key Historic State Park, where you can view the remains of an 1830s shipwreck.

Another interesting place to visit is the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, where you can walk through the mangroves, an iconic Florida sight. Make sure to indulge in some fresh seafood in one of the many waterfront restaurants.

14. Matlacha

Palm trees, blue sky, and calm waters in Matlacha

Looking for an Old Florida feel captured so beautifully by the Highwaymen outsider artists of the 50s? Matlacha might just be the spot to transport you. The combination of bohemian artists and traditional fishermen makes for an eccentric hidden gem.

Pine Island is made up of five communities, and Matlacha is one, with traditional Florida cottages, interesting art galleries, and a vibe that can be difficult to find with all the expansion that's taken place in the Sunshine State. Plenty of the usual water activities await: kayaking, stand up paddleboarding (SUP), swimming, and dolphin spotting. This colorful spot is a funky postcard of a destination just a hop, skip, and a jump from the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva on Florida's southwest coast.

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