The 13 Best Places to Live in Florida
Florida hosts white sand beaches on three sides, unlimited water access and activities, and family fun. The Alligator State is known for the sun, alligators, boats, and retirees on golf courses. (Preferably, the retiree is always wearing a pink polo or Tommy Bahama shirt with white pants when on the course; it’s basically state law at this point.)
Why Move to Florida?
Florida is one of the most desired places to live in the US. In the last two years, the state’s population has increased by 1%+. That means it has made huge strides toward better resident services, and progress physically shows in the cities. In other words, city-wide progress is the game’s name in metro areas.
If you are considering moving to Florida, your metro options are the best place to start. Take the time to consider your options because every city in the following list has unique features.
In addition to this list, do your own research—start with a quick search of the metro city name. After that, explore the city using Google Maps, and discover more about native Floridians using Florida public records. Anyone can find all the information they need for any move, even to Florida.
The following list is subjective, but the facts don’t lie. Florida has thousands of miles of white quartz beaches, warm emerald waters, and a vibrant community. (There are also a few pirates walking around.)
Where's the best place to live in Florida?
Each of the following cities lists:
- A brief description of the city or area.
- An exceptional aspect of the town.
- A suggestion for the food lovers of the world.
- A recommendation for the dog lovers of the world.
- And some information about the local K-12 scene, just for Mom and Dad.
Surrounded by 24 miles of white sand beaches, Destin is one of the most beautiful locations in Florida. It's also home to Crab Island, a sand bar so well-known for its parties that movies have copied it. Not only is Destin picturesque, but this tiny city also has everything you might need from a major city. For example, locals can find bars, family fun, outdoor adventures, and more here.
- Metro area population: 14,482
- Special aspects: Crab Island
- For food lovers: Boshamps Oyster House serves waterfront Cajun/Creole and seafood
- For dog lovers: Henderson Beach State Park has white dunes and warm water
- For parents: Destin has 16 schools, 3 of which have a GreatSchools rating of 8+
The self-titled “Golf Capital of the World” is first on our list. The city enjoys white-sand beaches and some of the most relaxing areas in the region. Naples is a desirable area to live in—it constantly hits the top-rated cities in desirable housing opinion polls. It’s these areas that make Naples not only a destination for vacation but also a “bucket list” for many retirees.
- Metro area population: 379,345
- Special aspect: Naples Pier
- For food lovers: USS Nemo Restaurant serves Asian fusion seafood and cocktails
- For dog lovers: Love my Dog Resort offers grooming and boarding
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 8 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
Two hours south of Orlando sits this paradise most known for its beautiful beaches and shallow water. Sarasota Bay hosts glowing plankton twice a year, and many beaches offer kayaking to experience the neon up close. The Ringling Museum of Art also calls this city home, offering art, culture, and education within its walls. Sarasota is home to a diverse culture of families, retirees, and a booming industry.
- Metro area population: 57,787
- Special aspects: Ringling Museum of Art
- For food lovers: Owen’s Fish Camp serves seafood and southern hospitality
- For dog lovers: Wet Noses Sarasota offers grooming and bathing
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 7 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
Santa Rosa Beach
Recognized as one of the 16 beach districts of Florida, Santa Rosa offers unique experiences. Luxury beach houses scatter the 26-mile stretch of white sand while an artist colony prepares for the next festival. Santa Rosa also has multiple entrances to the Point Washington State Forest, a 15,000-acre forest preserve.
- Area population: 179,587
- Special aspects: Point of Washington State Forest
- For food lovers: Flounder’s Chowder House serves seafood, burgers, and alcohol
- For dog lovers: Bayview Dog Beach hosts 15-20 dogs at a time, 6 AM to 9 PM
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 6 of the top performing 8 schools 8+ out of 10
Known as the beautiful Space Coast, Melbourne is the location of all of NASA’s piloted rocket launches. It is also the home of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and launch pad. Melbourne is one of the central locations for those looking to explore Florida’s environmental keystone: the wetlands. Retirees, families, and young professionals call this place home.
- Metro area population: 82,281
- Special aspects: Kennedy Space Center
- For food lovers: The Mansion serves American food with a southern flare
- For dog lovers: Doggy D’Tails offers grooming and bathing
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 5 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
In the crook of the Florida Panhandle, Panama City is a tourist destination. The city features water sports, amusement parks, and marine life. Visitors also have access to two state parks, family and pet-friendly state parks. Panama city is also home to the Panama Canal and a vibrant blend of cultures from Spain and America.
- Metro area population: 35,952
- Special aspects: Camp Helen State Park
- For food lovers: Firefly is a part steak house, part sushi bar, and all casual dining
- For dog lovers: St. Andrews State Park experience Florida at its best
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 10 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
This city is named after Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. It is the most populous city in the Southeast and a significant tourist destination. The town also boasts the most extensive urban park system in the US, with other 80,000 acres to explore. Jacksonville is also home to more than six white-sand beaches and a carousel of festivals yearly.
- Metro area population: 902,488
- Special aspects: The Great Atlantic Seafood Festival
- For food lovers: BB’s serves American food, desserts, and cocktails
- For dog lovers: Pet Paradise offers sitting and boarding (with a dog pool!)
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 11 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
This city is considered a gem in the crown of the Florida Panhandle. It has access to deep water fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and a thriving downtown. Pensacola is the training grounds of all US naval pilots, including the Blue Angels. The city’s relationship with the training pilots is motherly, earning it the name “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”
- Metro area population: 52,918
- Special aspects: Blue Angels Naval Acrobatics Team
- For food lovers: Peg Leg Pete’s serves seafood under a pirate bar theme
- For dog lovers: Blue Angel Pet Salon and Boarding offers boarding and grooming
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 4 of the top performing 15 schools 8+ out of 10
Tampa is the home of the Bay Rays and the Buccaneers—so you know the city is obsessed with sports. But the city also has many other amenities, including museums, restaurants, shops, parks, and festivals. Tampa is also home to one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world: Busch Gardens. Check out the 2.4-mile river walk and see everything.
- Metro area population: 395,912
- Special aspects: Busch Gardens, Tampa
- For food lovers: Rooster & the Till serves American food with awards from Michelin
- For dog lovers: P’s and Q’s Dog Grooming offers grooming and bathing
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 9 of the top performing 15 schools 9+ out of 10
This region boasts one of its 16 beaches as one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best Beaches on Earth” in 2013. South Walton’s domain stretches from the waters of Inlet Beach to the shores of Seascape; in between are the world’s most beautiful beaches. South Walton is known as one of the best places for people to make memories and find rejuvenation.
- Area population: 22,144
- Special aspects: SoWal Live Beach Cams
- For food lovers: Stewby’s Seafood Shanty serves seafood and gumbo
- For dog lovers: Gulf Breeze Zoo offers interactions with wild guests
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 5 of the top performing 11 schools 8+ out of 10
Like many of Florida’s coastal areas, the Emerald Coast region benefits from huge quartz beaches and warm waters. However, unlike many of Florida’s coastal regions, the Emerald Coast also benefits from playing into a pirate theme for festivals. The area is also home to multiple science and cultural centers, museums, and adventure parks.
- Special aspects: Billy Bowlegs Pirate Invasion and Downtown Party
- For food lovers: McGuire’s Irish Pub is a part steak house, part bar, and all Irish
- For dog lovers: Robinson Preserve experience Florida in the wilds of a preserve
Daytona sits on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The city is no stranger to tourists or events, as followers of NASCAR know from the Daytona 500. Daytona’s beaches also offer a boardwalk with rides, arcades, and summer concerts. Visitors also have the option to stay land-locked and still get wet, using one of Daytona’s many water parks.
- Metro area population: 68,711
- Special aspects: Daytona International Speedway
- For food lovers: Caribbean Jack’s voted Daytona’s favorite waterfront restaurant
- For dog lovers: Pet Paradise Ormand offers a dog pool, boarding, and VIP care
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 2 of the top performing 9 schools 5+ out of 10
Home to Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando is one of the best-known cities worldwide. Orlando is also ever-growing since companies are constantly jostling to get into the area. The city has recently released plans to build a 68-acre downtown development project.
- Metro area population: 284,817
- Special aspects: Walt Disney World
- For food lovers: Pig Floyd’s Urban BBQ serves smoked meat and cold beer
- For dog lovers: Plush Paws Pet Salon offers daycare, grooming, and styling
- For parents: GreatSchools rates 12 of the top performing 15 schools 8+ out of 10