Editor’s Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Florida attracts millions of visitors every year, but the Sunshine State isn’t all Miamis and Orlandos. There are plenty of smaller towns — some off the beaten path — with alluring attributes of their own.
Below, find 10 of the best small towns in Florida with populations of 15,000 or less. What they lack in size, they make up for in quaint shops, tasty restaurants, easygoing vibes, and enough water and land activities to keep visitors occupied and happy.
While the greater Palm Beach County is one of Florida’s largest and most popular regions, Palm Beach proper — a 10-square-mile barrier island — sports a population of just under 9,000. One of the wealthiest zip codes in America, Palm Beach somehow remains approachable, with beautiful beaches and lots to do within just a few square miles.
Visitors can stay at The Breakers or another hotel — some glitzy, some old-school, all refined and historic — ride bikes along Lake Trail for a glimpse of the island’s multimillion dollar estates, or shop the designer boutiques and art galleries lining Worth Avenue, often called the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast. The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, originally home to the railroad tycoon and hotelier himself, is another must-visit in Palm Beach; the Gilded Age mansion was Flagler’s wedding present to his third wife.
Anna Maria Island
Considered one of the state’s best-kept secrets, Anna Maria Island is home to wide white-sand beaches lapped by emerald and sapphire seas. While the Gulf Coast barrier island’s shores are wild, natural, and picture-perfect, visitors also love strolling Pine Avenue to check out the shops, galleries, and restaurants. The wooden Rod and Reel Pier, dating back to 1947, is another Instagram-worthy spot to visit.
It doesn’t get much tinier than Cedar Key, home to approximately 800, but this old-fashioned destination in the Gulf of Mexico is worth a detour. You can hike the trails of Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, explore a 1920s home and artifacts depicting the area’s history as a busy port at Cedar Key Museum State Park, or simply stroll the multilevel houses and mom-and-pop stores perched on stilts in this artsy, humble fishing village. Enjoy the low-key, slow-pace vibe that’s totally different from anywhere else in the state, and don’t leave without sampling fresh local seafood at one of the many on-the-water restaurants.
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Housing a population of approximately 14,000, Mount Dora is a relatively small central Florida destination with big-time charm, especially in its quaint downtown district, where you’ll find antique shops, eateries, and annual festivals lining the streets. (The Mount Dora Arts Festival, held the first weekend of February, is a perennial favorite, attracting about 200,000 attendees each year.) There are also museums dedicated to a variety of subjects, from modern furniture to local history and even classic cars. Peppered with lakes and live oaks, Mount Dora’s slow pace is a refreshing taste of old Florida.
The Florida Keys may be one of the Sunshine State’s greatest assets, but the cities lining this 125-mile island chain house small populations. Towns like Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo are decidedly quirky, but offer visitors a perfectly tropical getaway, complete with great snorkeling, diving, and boating, as well as a laid-back island vibe available nowhere else in the country.
Under 700 people reside in Micanopy, a tiny rural town in the middle of the state. Named for Seminole chief Micanopy and considered one of the antiques capitals of Florida, Micanopy is not just one of the smallest towns in the state, it’s also among the oldest: It was settled over 200 years ago, in 1821.
Here, visitors can expect to find narrow dirt roads and ancient oaks dripping in Spanish moss. Visit Micanopy to shop its antiques stores or for the annual Fall Festival with music and crafts. Nearby, check out Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and climb its 50-foot observation tower for the chance to spot bison and wild horses.
Sanibel, located on Sanibel Island in southwest Florida, is known for its picture-perfect Gulf beaches that are a sheller’s paradise. And there’s good reason for its reputation: It’s one of the few islands that runs perpendicular to Florida’s coastline (most run parallel), so the shells that wash ashore here are truly one of a kind.
Less than 7,500 people call Sanibel home, but this quiet community has great beaches, a fishing pier, a 19th-century lighthouse, a national wildlife refuge, and a boardwalk winding through marshes, so visitors will find plenty to do during a relaxed getaway. Plus, its location on the western coast guarantees spectacular sunsets.
Cypress Gardens’ claim to fame is introducing the very first theme park in Florida: Cypress Gardens Adventure Park originally opened in 1936 (decades before the debut of Disney World) and became world-famous for its breathtaking botanical gardens and impressive water-ski shows. The park closed in 2009, but today, the grounds are home to Legoland, and the historic garden portion is preserved inside the park. Residents and tourists can also take boat tours while visiting this scenic destination.
For a destination with a population of approximately 10,400, Cape Canaveral packs in a lot of action: It’s home to the Kennedy Space Center, and residents are treated to unobstructed views of future-defining space shuttle launches from NASA, SpaceX, and the like on the regular. However, Cape Canaveral also has beaches, including the Canaveral National Seashore — 24 miles of undeveloped beach — as well as a cruise ship port. Nearby Cocoa Beach (population 11,619) is similarly small, but attracts tons of tourists each year, as it’s one of the most popular beaches in Florida.
Located on picturesque and lightly ritzy Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach remains a bastion of easy living. It’s found in the greater Jacksonville area, and beloved for its boutiques, restaurants, and thriving wildlife. To top it off, visitors can enjoy 13 miles of quiet beaches.
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