Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida: Street cafe at beach in Florida, Editorial credit: Solarisys /

10 Friendliest Towns to Visit in Florida in 2024

With anywhere between 230 and 250 days of sunshine a year, Florida earns its nickname “The Sunshine State.” Known for its vibrant cities and beautiful beaches, the state has some of the friendliest small towns in the United States, perfect for a 2024 getaway. Away from the bustling tourist hotspots, these charming communities offer a welcoming atmosphere that makes visitors feel right at home. In towns like Madeira Beach, Anna Maria Island, and St. Pete Beach, locals greet visitors with genuine smiles and hospitality. Whether it's the cozy cafes, local festivals, or the picturesque streets lined with quaint shops, the small towns of Florida capture the true spirit of Southern charm and community.

Madeira Beach

Waterfront resorts, hotels, and apartments in Madeira Beach
Waterfront resorts, hotels, and apartments in Madeira Beach, via Image credit Khairil Azhar Junos via Shutterstock

Ten miles west of busy St. Petersburg lies the small resort town of Madeira Beach. “Mad Beach,” as the locals know it, is the perfect place to spend time on the sand, surf, or just kick off the flip-flops and relax. Visitors who don’t like to sit still for long won’t have to worry as there’s plenty to do in Madeira Beach or in nearby John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, a fishing village named after pirate John Levique, who discovered the pass after a hurricane created it in 1848. The town boasts over 100 merchants with unique shops, popular pubs like Mad Beach Brewing Company, and eateries like Bubba Gump and Friendly Fisherman.

Rent a jet ski from Madbeach Watersports at John’s Pass and head into the Gulf of Mexico. Book an eco-friendly sunset dolphin cruise, or take the kids on a Shark Boat tour on a one-of-a-kind 40-foot tour boat that looks like a shark but attracts dolphins to play in its wake. Spend some time at the Alligator & Wildlife Discovery Center, which has set up a new temporary home in John’s Pass in 2024 after a fire in 2023.


Colorful houseboat residence docked on Apalachicola Bay in the town of Apalachicola, Florida.
Colorful houseboat residence docked on Apalachicola Bay in the town of Apalachicola, Florida.

On Florida’s Forgotten Coast, Apalachicola is a small town steeped in maritime history and historic buildings. Walk through the town’s Historic District to discover more than 900 historic homes and buildings that date back to the 1830s, like Raney House and Orman House. These two antebellum mansions feature 19th-century furniture and provide a glimpse into life in Apalachicola during the 1800s. In the John Gorrie Museum State Park, visitors will learn about the eponymous young physician who became a pioneer in refrigeration after inventing a room to cool the sick rooms of his yellow fever patients in 1851.

The town is also known as “Oystertown,” so visitors should be sure to enjoy a cold microbrew and a dozen fresh 2024 Apalachicola oysters at The Station Raw Bar, Half Shell Dockside, or the Owl Café, next door to The Tap Room. Finally, spend an afternoon on the Apalachicola River by booking a fishing charter with an experienced boat captain who’ll bring all the gear.


Historic downtown Micanopy, near Gainesville, Florida.
Historic downtown Micanopy, near Gainesville, Florida.

While it’s hard not to miss the tiny town of Micanopy, as it takes up only 1.03 total square miles of land, don’t miss it. Settled in 1821, it is the oldest inland town in Florida and calls itself the “Town That Time Forgot,” and it is an antique lover’s paradise. From Lost Ark Antiques, Antique City Mall, Wren Wood Antiques, and Delectable Collectibles, it is considered to be one of the antique capitals of Florida, so spend a morning antiquing before stopping for a Cuban sandwich at Old Florida Café—Micanopy’s oldest restaurant. Be sure to visit the Mosswood Farm Store & Bakehouse in a combined general store, espresso bar, and bakery.

Believe it or not, the town is home to two state parks: Price’s Scrub State Park, where visitors will find a 9.5 multi-purpose trail for hikers, horseback riders, and cyclists, and Paynes Prairie Preserves State Park, where herds of bison and wild horses strangely roam. The park has eight paved trails where visitors can see 300 species of birds, along with alligators, deer, and other wildlife, and climb a 50-foot tall observatory tower for panoramic views.


Shops and restaurants around the intersection of Commercial Boulevard and A1A in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Shops and restaurants around the intersection of Commercial Boulevard and A1A in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, By Infrogmation of New Orleans - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

North of busy Fort Lauderdale, the seaside town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is steeped in Old Florida retro nostalgia. Known for its colorful Anglin’s Town Square lined with Adirondack chairs, visitors can indulge in retail therapy at shops like Coast Boutique, which sells sea life jewelry, DigsnGifts, and Diamonds & Doggies. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is called “Florida’s Beach Diving Capital” and is renowned for its superior diving. Divers and snorkelers can explore the wreck of the SS Copenhagen, a British steamship that ran aground off the coast of Florida in 1898, located less than a nautical mile offshore.

Other attractions on the beachfront include Anglin's Fishing Pier, the longest pier in South Florida. Although the historic pier is being restored to its former glory, visitors can still see it from any outdoor cafés near its entrance, like the Aruba Beach Café or Backflip Beach Bar & Kitchen in the Plunge Beach Resort. Get around Lauderdale-by-the-Sea on the Pelican Hopper—a free shuttle that makes round-trip daily visits to popular places around town during the summer of 2024.

Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island

Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande.
Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande. Image credit: PVSBond via Wikimedia Commons

Boca Grande is a small town on Gasparilla Island, surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Far from the hustle and bustle of other beach destinations in the Sunshine State, the island is known for its shelling, fishing, swimming, and snorkeling opportunities on the beaches in the Gasparilla Island State Park. Shellers can stoop for prized whelks and sand dollars, while anglers can drop a line for tarpon, snook, redfish, and trout. Boca Grande Outfitters on the island can help visitors with gear and guides for the ultimate Fly Fishing trip. Check out Hudson's Grocery for everything else for the perfect day in Boca Grande.

The island hosts not one but two historic lighthouses: The 1890 Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum, which watched for German U-boats during World War II, and the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse Range Light, surrounded by 7.4 acres of walking trails and a butterfly garden. Visitors to both will find postcard-perfect views, especially at sunset. Don’t miss the award-winning key lime pie at Keylime Bistro.

St. Pete Beach

People enjoying in a beach in St. Pete Beach, Florida
People enjoying in a beach in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Editorial credit: VIAVAL TOURS /

St. Pete Beach is a laid-back beach town known for its Old Florida charm, historic district, and, of course, its beautiful beaches where visitors can spend hours on the water. Kayak tours with Island Ferry Eco Tours are the way to go if visitors want to see stunning schools of fish, manatees, and dolphins through a clear-bottom kayak. Or stop by any PADL—a paddle board rental station—at Pass-A-Grille or Upham beaches and rent one through the app.

Foodies will love the culinary scene where visitors can listen to live music over cold drinks at Jimmy B’s Beach Bar, slurp oysters at kid-friendly P.J.’s Oyster Bar, celebrating its 31st year in 2024, or head over to the iconic St. Pete Pier for icy mojitos and Yucatan shrimp at Doc Ford’s. In the historic district in the nearby beach community of Pass-A-Grille, watch the sunset with the locals from the rooftop bar at the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant.

Anna Maria Island

Two kayakers paddle near a public pier that attracts fishermen and other sightseers in the Anna Maria Island
Two kayakers paddle near a public pier that attracts fishermen and other sightseers in the Anna Maria Island. Editorial credit: Ken Schulze /

Probably one of Florida’s best-kept secrets, Anna Maria Island is home to gorgeous white-sand beaches and emerald waters. The seven-mile-long barrier island is home to three small towns: Anna Maria in the north, Holmes Beach in the middle, and Bradenton Beach in the south. The shops along Pine Avenue should do the trick for visitors looking for the perfect souvenir. Visit the Island Cabana for beachwear, the Olive Oil Outpost for gourmet treats, or Emerson Quillin Artist for whimsical artwork, cocktail napkins, and notepads.

The Rod and Reel Pier, tucked away on the far North end of Anna Maria Island, has been serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1947 in a restaurant directly over the Gulf of Mexico. Or head to the family-friendly Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the historic Bridge Street Pier for daily fresh oysters and tiki drinks. Book an eco boat tour with Paradise Boat Tours, who “guarantee you will see dolphins” on one of their six daily 90-minute tours.

Cape Canaveral

Entrance to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida
Entrance to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Editorial credit: Allard One /

A prime destination for astrogeeks, Cape Canaveral is home to the Kennedy Space Center, which will host plenty of events in 2024. Moon Fest Weekend will be held from July 19 to July 21, 2024, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Aviation Weekend takes place from August 2nd to 4th, 2024, where astronauts and pilots share stories of reaching the stars. If visitors can’t attend those events, there are regular rocket launches from NASA and SpaceX and astronaut meet-and-greets.

Visitors who like to keep their feet firmly on terra firma can spend time on the Canaveral National Seashore—24 miles of undeveloped beach and the longest Atlantic Coastline in Florida. For a one-of-a-kind experience, book a guided turtle watch tour in 2024, where visitors watch turtles laying their nests before returning to the ocean, then help protect the nests by putting a screen across the egg chamber and marking the nest for research purposes.

Mount Dora

Downtown Mount Dora in Florida
Downtown Mount Dora in Florida, via Nigel Jarvis /

Forty minutes from the magical city of Orlando, Mount Dora is a lakefront destination with lots of charm, a busy historic downtown, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. It is anchored by its renowned annual Mount Dora Arts Festival, which celebrates its 50th year from February 1st to 2nd, 2025, and typically attracts over 200,000 visitors. Mount Dora overlooks Lake Dora, which covers over 4,000 acres and is a favorite bass fishing spot.

In the historic district, visit the Lakeside Inn, which opened in 1883 and is Florida's oldest continuously operating hotel. President Calvin Coolidge once stayed there for a month in 1930. Walk along the lake on the Palm Island Park boardwalk to see the 35-foot-high red-and-white lighthouse, which looks historic but isn’t; it was built in 1988. Visitors will also see Old Joe, a 15-foot bronze alligator statue, perfect for a photo opp. Enjoy a one-hour scenic narrated Mount Dora Trolley Tour, or book a fun tour in a golf trolley and see the Donnelly House—a house built in the Queen Anne style of architecture in 1893—and the Atlantic Coastline Train Depot, then have lunch at Tony’s Chowder House in a circa 1925 building.

Palm Beach

Visitors and residents enjoy the nightlife in West Palm Beach, Florida
Visitors and residents enjoy the nightlife in West Palm Beach, Florida. Image credit Sharkshock via Shutterstock

Not to be confused with Palm Beach County, one of Florida's largest and most popular regions, the small town of Palm Beach is a 10-square-mile barrier island. There’s plenty to see and do with legendary resorts like The Breakers, built in the 1890s by Henry M. Flagler, one of America’s great industrialists, and his landmark Gilded Age mansion, Whitehall, now the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. The Palm Beach Lake Trail is a must-see on any visit to Palm Beach. The 5.5-mile-long trail runs alongside the western edge of Palm Beach, perfect for walking or biking. If visitors can wait that long to spend time in this luxurious town, the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival takes place from December 12 to 15, 2024, and is a who’s who of celebrity chefs.

Finally, no trip is complete without a stroll along Worth Avenue, the East Coast version of Rodeo Drive, with shops like Ferragamo, Chanel, Gucci, Versace, and many other chic, expensive boutiques. Dine al fresco at Breeze Ocean Kitchen overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, or stop for a freshly made Italian gelato at Piccolo Gelato.

In Summary

Florida has some of the friendliest small towns perfect for a 2024 getaway. These warm communities provide a welcoming atmosphere for those seeking a break from bustling tourist hotspots. Unique attractions include kayaking with manatees, diving at shipwrecks, and shelling on pristine beaches. Notable events in 2024, like the Kennedy Space Center's Moon Fest Weekend and the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, make this year an exceptional time to experience the true spirit of Southern charm and community in Florida's delightful small towns.

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