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Outside of Florida’s big city tourist hotspots, the Sunshine State is home to an array of beautiful towns packed full of picturesque natural beauty and historic charm. Reminiscent of Old Florida, these towns are blessed with unspoiled landscapes, where visitors can discover mom and pop-style eateries, quaint shops and intimate bed and breakfast accommodation. From underrated attractions to uncrowded beaches, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of Miami and Orlando and soak in the peaceful ambiance of these communities brimming with small-town charm. Perfect for a day outside of the theme park crowds, pack your bags and explore one of these beautiful towns in Florida.
Made famous for its world-class shelling and white sandy beaches, Sanibel Island retains its small-town vibes with its absence of fast food restaurants, street lights and city noise. Whether you want to unwind under the tall swaying palms or mimic the famous “Sanibel Stoop” and search for seashells, you are sure to enjoy a peaceful day of tropical surroundings here. Visitors can also explore nearby Captiva Island or spot diverse wildlife at J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Santa Rosa Beach
Founded in 1910, Santa Rosa Beach is a small community located in Walton County on Florida’s stunning Emerald Coast. Named one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 5 Favorite Towns in America, the biggest draw to this family-friendly destination is the sugar-white sandy beaches lined with sparkling turquoise waters. There is plenty to explore outside of the beach area, as visitors will also find excellent dining, boutique shopping and attractions for the entire family to enjoy. Nearby Topsail Hill Preserve State Park offers a day of hiking, biking and bird watching, while the funky Gulf Place colony is a haven for artists and creative types.
A small beach village on Florida’s picturesque Panhandle, Grayton Beach is nestled between Destin and Panama City. With an unofficial motto of “Nice Dogs, Strange People,” you just know this town is worth exploring. Artsy and full of character, here visitors will find Hemingway-style wooden homes situated in side streets paved with crushed oyster shells. With emerald green waters and a top-rated beach devoid of crowds, visitors can even take a break from the sunshine to meander through the local boutiques, art galleries, and funky shops on the water.
A small lakefront town in Central Florida, Mount Dora is a beloved destination for its antique shopping opportunities. Popular in the 1920s, visitors who take a trip to Mount Dora will be greeted with 19th-century clapboard houses and historic buildings, nestled amongst large canopy trees and quaint bed and breakfast accommodations. Lined with outdoor cafes and antique shops, visitors are encouraged to stroll the quaint downtown area. Host to a variety of nationally known annual festivals, it’s also a great place for fishing enthusiasts to get out on the water.
The perfect combination of Spanish moss, quaint B&B’s and tranquil beaches, Amelia Island is dripping with small-town charm. Located just off the coast of northeast Florida, visitors can take a trip to this barrier island to find its golden-hued sand and guided horseback rides along the shore offer an ideal recipe for a memorable family getaway. With Old Florida vibes, the area’s 4,000 years of history are perfectly displayed in nearby Fernandina Beach. Whether you pop in for a drink at the longest operating saloon in Florida or comb the beach for seashells and shark teeth, visitors will find this vibrant barrier island town packs a lot of punch for its size.
Anna Maria Island
With a speed limit that never exceeds 35 mph, Anna Maria Island is a small barrier island 50 miles south of Tampa. A quaint seaside town, this 7-mile barrier island is full of cyclists and kayakers eagerly exploring the area’s natural beauty. Visitors here won’t find high-rise condos or fast food joints to clutter the island’s view of turquoise waters, making it perfect for those looking to get away from it all. Take a day trip to nearby Sarasota or simply lounge on the shoreline, as most locals are indulging in its array of outdoor activities, from hiking to parasailing.
Ideal for nature lovers, Longboat Key is perfect for vacation itineraries filled with shelling, birding, and beachside strolls. The island has its own unique flavor, a vibrant combination of secluded beaches, waterfront golf, fine dining, and luxury resorts. Nature enthusiasts can join eco-tours that explore the lagoons and mangroves and spot wildlife at Quick Point Nature Preserve. Anglers can cast a line in at Ken Thompson Park or under New Pass Bridge, while the island’s bayside and Intra-coastal Waterway offers plenty of opportunities to go wind and kite surfing, kayaking, or paddleboarding.
Full of coastal charm, Rosemary Beach is a small beach community that is often referred to as one of America’s most romantic small towns. It’s easy to see why, as you can spend your days relaxing along the shoreline for a day of uncrowded bliss, then plan a romantic date at local eateries such as Edward’s Fine Food And Wine or The Pearl’s Havana Beach Bar & Grill. The kids will delight in a chocolate treat at the Sugar Shak, while shoppers will enjoy browsing the handpicked books at The Hidden Lantern.
Old world charm mixed with Greek heritage, Tarpon Springs is an under-the-radar small town just minutes from Clearwater. Celebrated for its Greece influences, the town has a beautiful waterfront and pleasant mix of antique stores and art galleries. Considered the “Sponge Capital of the World,” the famous Sponge Docks are the area’s main attraction. The downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places where quaint shops offer unique souvenirs for visitors, from natural sponges to olive oil soap.
Nicknamed the “Sailfish Capital of the World,” Stuart is nestled along the Atlantic Coast in Martin County. With an abundant shoreline and pastel-colored condos, visitors come here not only for the legendary fishing opportunities but its rich history, water-based adventures, and pedestrian-friendly downtown area. It’s here that the famous fountain in the shape of a sailfish sits and marks the beginning of the area’s unique galleries, quaint cafes and excellent restaurants. Locally owned retail stores and restaurants provide a pleasant mix of upscale and budget-friendly options, while a two-mile-long Riverwalk hosts free concerts on the weekends.
One of the most colorful towns in the state, Seaside was made famous by the movie “The Truman Show.” An idyllic oasis located on Florida’s Panhandle, pastel-colored houses and iconic whitewashed buildings look like they are straight out of a postcard, while its beaches are the perfect retreat away from lively beach action at nearby Panama City Beach. Play in the gentle surf of the shores or hop on a bike and explore the brick-paved pedestrian streets to discover a mix of beachside eateries, art galleries, and souvenir shops.
St. George Island
Simply paradise on one of Florida’s most beautiful barrier islands, St. George Island is located just off North Florida’s Gulf Coast. Stretching across 28 miles, visitors here are surrounded by the sparkling Gulf of Mexico waters and Apalachicola Bay. Consistently rated one of the best beaches in the country, its white powdered beaches allow for days filled with outdoor adventures, from swimming and sunbathing to canoeing, hiking, and fishing. The surrounding community has no high-rises or chain stores, making it feel like you’re worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Starting off with the most colorful city of the bunch, Matlacha is one of Florida’s most treasured hidden gems. A part of the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, it is one of the five communities found on Pine Island. Old Florida mixed with a burst of color, this coastal village offers visitors a warm welcome with laid-back vibes and plenty of outdoor activities to indulge in. Boasting an array of free-spirited artists who have set up their candy-colored shops, fresh seafood is easy to find, and historic Indian mounds and a small MOTI – the Museum of the Islands offer history enthusiasts a peek into the background of the area.
*Matlacha suffered significant damage from Hurricane Ian. Check official sources for updates before you travel.
A small town with a big heart, Venice is a beautiful town in Florida with pearly white beaches and a lushly landscaped historic district. Just south of Sarasota, Venice offers an abundance of recreational opportunities, including swimming, sunbathing, fishing and boating, while searching for fossilized shark’s teeth is a favorite pastime of both locals and visitors alike. Stroll the downtown area to see Italian architecture that dates back to 1925, where a romantic ambiance is highlighted by elegant arches and red tile roofs that are home to boutiques, restaurants, and locally owned businesses.
Indian Rocks Beach
Just a short drive from Tampa and St. Petersburg, Indian Rocks Beach is a beautiful town bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. With gorgeous white-sand beaches and a town filled with locally owned eateries, shops and quaint, family-friendly attractions, it comes as no surprise that this area is beloved by visitors of all ages. Watersports are popular daytime activities, as getting out on the water to soak in the beautiful views is the perfect place to disconnect from your daily stressors.