Florida is home to some of the prettiest beaches in the world and expansive forests. The state is a unique mix of tropical coastline and isolated countryside. On the tourism side, the bigger cities are mostly visited, which is unfavorable to some travelers. There is another option, however, that should not be overlooked: the small towns. Of all the small towns available to visit in Florida, these 9 stand out the most.
St. Augustine is a quaint town in northeast Florida and is the nation's oldest town. As such, the town is full of history. It would take at least a week to visit the historic sites like the Castillo de San Marcos fort, the lighthouse, and the historic district. It is also a family-friendly spot that happens to have great nightlife in spots like A1A Ale Works, a local hangout and popular microbrewery.
Historic downtown, known locally as Old Town, is wholly unique in that the streets and the buildings have been preserved so that they still carry their Old World charm. St. George Street, the heart of the historic district, is a pedestrian-only street where you will find the legendary Columbia Restaurant, boutiques, and other restaurants.
Steinhatchee is a little-known town in Florida's Big Bend, and that's how the locals like it. The main draw for visitors is that this spot is known as the scallop capital of the world. During the summer months, visitors flock here just for the phenomenal scalloping and snorkeling opportunities.
The most unique thing about Steinhatchee is that it is a perfect amalgamation of the country lifestyle and the Gulf lifestyle. The population is less than 600, and most homes are attached to large tracts of land. However, the marinas that lead to the beautiful Gulf waters are always within a few short miles. This is perhaps the best town to experience "Old Florida" at its finest.
As the name suggests, Clearwater has some of the prettiest ocean water to be found. The three-mile stretch of beach is a barrier island with restaurants and shopping and is home to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where injured sea turtles and dolphins are rehabilitated. Though the beach is a prime reason to visit, the walkable downtown area is internationally known and is home to a host of shops and restaurants.
Clearwater also has a vibrant cultural arts atmosphere. The Capitol Theatre is a nod toward the 1950s, and the Ruth Eckerd Hall is a 73,000-square-foot performance theatre that holds regular events. Along with the beach and arts scene, there are several parks where visitors can bike or kayak, like the Fort De Soto Park Weedon Island Preserve.
Key West is a sparsely populated yet heavily visited town in the Straits of Florida. This funky and vibrant town has had its share of historical and colorful characters, among them Ernest Hemingway, whose home can still be visited today. Though Key West is essentially a beach town, it is known more for its coral reefs than its beaches and is a haven for scuba divers and offshore anglers.
There is much to do in this party town. World-famous bars like Captain Tony's and the Hog's Breath Saloon are two of the most famous, especially during one of the frequent pub crawls. Of course, no trip to Key West is complete without stopping by Mallory Square to watch the sun set. This is one of the most spectacular views one can find of the sunsetting, and people often visit here just for this purpose.
Vero Beach, on the Atlantic coast, is a barrier island across from the Indian River Lagoon. Along with world-class fishing, the town also has a rich cultural history that is on display downtown. South Beach, downtown, displays the local citrus history, while on the outskirts of the island lies Mckee Botanical Gardens, replete with tropical plants and lilly-filled streams.
In town are extravagant resorts, golfing, and a thriving arts culture. The kitschy historic downtown offers cigar shops, boutiques, and art galleries like the Admiralty Gallery. There are multiple historical homes and sites like the Hallstrom House and the Fellsmere Historic Church.
Dunedin, on the Gulf Coast, is one of the oldest towns in Florida and is known for its pine forests, subtropical climate, and friendly atmosphere. It is a designated trail town, which means the town offers hiking and biking amenities and a trail lifestyle.
The eclectic downtown has pastel-colored buildings and a host of restaurants and boutiques. Main Street is a must-see attraction, which is the heart of downtown and where you will find the Dunedin Downtown Market, an open-air market with vendors. For a more natural scenic trip, there are two state parks off the coast, Caladesi and Honeymoon Island.
Venice is a gem of a town on the southwest side of Florida. It is the shark's tooth capital of the world and offers a laid-back atmosphere. Venice Beach offers tropical blue waters, and you can often find shark teeth on Caspersen Beach. There are also abundant hiking trails that meander by the Intracoastal Waterway, and kayaking is a favorite pastime of the locals.
In town, the visitor will discover the historic downtown, which was built in the 1920s. The streets are lined with moss-covered oaks, and there are several historic sites to explore, like Hotel Venice, San Marco Hotel, and the Orange Blossom Garage. The best part about this historic area is that it is only one mile away from Venice Beach and is ideal for a daytime stroll.
Named after the capital of Cuba, Havana, Florida, is on the northwest coast by Tallahassee and at one time produced quality tobacco similar to Cuba's. The historic town was built in 1906 for tobacco production and today is known for its antique shops and art galleries. The shops and galleries are located off Main Street, a charming street flanked by classic brick architecture and shade trees.
Havana (pronounced Hay-vana by locals), has been dubbed Florida's friendliest town, and this charm draws in guests as much as the antique shops do. There are also historic sites to discover, like the Planters Exchange, which delves into the history of the shade tree boom that helped develop this town.
St. George Island
St. George Island is a 22 mile barrier island in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The beauty of this island is that it is largely unspoiled and sparsely populated, making it ideal for a serene getaway. There are no high rises anywhere, but there are shopping and dining options available. Fishing is the major draw and there are beachfront restaurants serving up an array of fresh fish like the Blue Parrot Cafe.
Happily considered the "forgotten coast", St. George prides itself on remaining sparsely populated and not having "touristy" attractions that will cause the beach to become overpopulated. In fact, the beach is often rated as one of the best in the US because it is so uninhabited. There are a few hotels on the island, and camping is available at the St. George Island State Park.
Florida is a great place to visit year round and,one trip to any one of these small towns shows why. From historical landmarks to remarkable beaches, these towns offer it all. Following these towns on a map is like recalling the history of Florida: how it started and how it is being preserved.