Downtown street in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

The Best Small Towns in Florida for a Weekend Retreat

Florida, with its nearly year-round pleasant weather, is full of towns and cities that are perfect for a weekend retreat. Whether it is beaches to lounge on or historical landmarks and natural parks to explore, you would be hard-pressed to not find a place that spices up your travels. From the Emerald Coast on the Gulf of Mexico to the central swamps to the historic eastern coast, there is something for everyone here. Let us explore these eleven small towns that exemplify what Florida has to offer for tourists and residents of the Sunshine State alike. See how many you can fit into your next road trip this year!

Mount Dora

Mount Dora's downtown area.
Mount Dora's downtown area. Image credit Jillian Cain Photography via Shutterstock

Unlike many tourist destinations in this state, Mount Dora is an idyllic small town in Central Florida. Somewhere to both stay for the night and appreciate the history of this town while here, The Lakeside Inn, a historic hotel dating back to the late 19th century is highly recommended for visitors.

Mount Dora is mostly known as a hub for outdoor activities in this lake and forest-filled region of Florida. It sits beside Lake Dora, where you can go boating, fishing, or take a scenic cruise from one of several docks, including the Rusty Anchor. For those seeking more natural beauty, the nearby Trimble Park has hiking trails and camping spots with views of the lake, perfect for a weekend retreat outside.

This town also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, such as the Mount Dora Arts Festival and the Mount Dora Craft Fair, a perfect place to be for those who are artistically inclined.

Cedar Key

Downtown Cedar Key, Florida.
Downtown Cedar Key, Florida.

Cedar Key is a small town on the Gulf Coast of Florida, known for its laid-back vibe and stunning tropical surroundings. Being located on the central-west coast of the state, this lesser-known key is a great alternative to the southern Florida Keys if you want to avoid crowds. With a strong local focus on clam farming and fishing Cedar Key is also an ideal spot for fresh seafood.

Cedar Key's location on the Gulf of Mexico provides easy access to a range of water-based activities. Kayaks rentals are abundant and it is easy to explore the surrounding islands, which are part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, known for its diverse bird species. Fishing charters are also available for those looking to make a catch of their own. There are many professional charters available, like Southern Salt Charters, Chums Guide Service, and more.

This somewhat isolated town comes with a strong sense of community, reflected in its local festivals and events, such as the Annual Cedar Key Arts Festival.


Street view of the Dixie Theater in Apalachicola, Florida
Street view of the Dixie Theater in Apalachicola, Florida

Apalachicola is located in Florida's Panhandle, near the famed Emerald Coast. Once a major port for the oyster industry, it still retains much of its historic charm, with many of its original buildings still in use, this time mainly for restaurants and other tourist attractions. Be sure to explore the downtown area while uncovering Apalachicola's past, where you'll find a variety of shops, eateries, and museums among the abundant old buildings. The John Gorrie Museum State Park, for example, is dedicated to Dr. John Gorrie, the inventor of mechanical refrigeration, who lived in Apalachicola.

Apalachicola is a popular jumping-off point to the Gulf of Mexico, providing ample access to the warm tropical waters. Fishing charters are popular, allowing visitors to try their luck at catching some of the area's many sporting fish. For something more outdoor activity on land, it is recommended to check out the nearby Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, a protected area that encompasses salt marshes, tidal creeks, and barrier islands.


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

As one of the state's oldest towns, Micanopy has a notable downtown area featuring several wonderful structures from the 19th century. You can easily spend a day browsing the various antique stores and art galleries here, where you can find unique treasures from a bygone era in this central region of Florida. The Micanopy Historical Society Museum offers more exhibits exemplifying the town's past, displaying artifacts and photographs that tell the story of its early days dating back to its original American settlers in the 1820s.

Every year downtown, you can attend events like the Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival, where you can taste and purchase some of the local produce from this rich agricultural area. Micanopy is also close to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a vast natural area where visitors can hike, bird watch, or even spot wild horses and bison.


Urban views on Douglas Ave in Dunedin, Florida
Urban views on Douglas Ave in Dunedin, Florida

Dunedin, located on Florida's west coast near Tampa Bay, has a distinctive Scottish heritage that isn't found in any other part of the state. As you can imagine, this coastal township has Scottish roots that are celebrated annually during the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival, which features traditional Scottish music, food, and athletic competitions. This is meant to celebrate the heritage that many of the original Euro-American settlers shared with many of the current residents to this day.

Dunedin is also a place to be to get out into the wild this weekend. The Pinellas Trail, a popular biking and walking path, runs through the town, providing a scenic route for outdoor enthusiasts. Just offshore, Honeymoon Island State Park has pristine beaches, yet more trails, launching points for kayaking, and birdwatching spots. Caladesi Island, accessible by ferry, provides a more remote beach experience with its undeveloped coastline. Book your spots on the ferry soon!

St. Augustine

Shops and inns line St. George. Once the main street, it is still considered the heart of St. Augustine, Florida
Shops and inns line St. George. Once the main street, it is still considered the heart of St. Augustine, Florida, via Sean Pavone /

St. Augustine is a town of around 15,000 residents on Florida's eastern coast that is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in Florida and in all of the United States, being founded by the Spanish Empire all the way back in 1565. Because of this, this area has a well-documented and long-standing history, visible in its cobblestone streets, many historic landmarks, and Spanish colonial architecture. Be sure to see sites like Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fortress overlooking Matanzas Bay, or take a stroll along St. George Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare filled with shops, restaurants, and well-preserved historic buildings.

St. Augustine's history isn't its only draw; the town is also known for its many festivals and cultural landmarks that are fun to experience. Throughout the year, St. Augustine is home to several festivals, like the Nights of Lights during the holiday season, when the entire town is illuminated with millions of lights. Nearby Anastasia State Park has activities for more active visitors, like hiking, kayaking, and camping.

Fernandina Beach

Main street of Historic town center of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
Main street of Historic town center of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, via peeterv /

Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island in the very northeastern corner of Florida on the border of Georgia, is a gorgeous coastal town a short drive from Jacksonville. Visitors should start their adventure here in the historic district downtown and learn about the area's past at the Amelia Island Museum of History, which has displays that range from subjects like the local Native American tribes to the Spanish settlers and beyond.

It is no surprise that Fernandina Beach has plenty of access to many great beaches. Fort Clinch State Park, located on the northern tip of Amelia Island is one of those spots with beach access, along with hiking trails and even a historic fort with reenactments on a regular basis.

If you like shrimp, the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is perhaps the most popular event in the country based on the delicious tiny crustaceans. This festival has been held every May since 1964.

Tarpon Springs

People walking around in the historical downtown of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
People walking around in the historical downtown of Tarpon Springs, Florida. Image credit via

In the suburbs of the city of Tampa, Tarpon Springs holds a unique historical legacy associated with the sponge-diving industry. This town's famous Sponge Docks gives a glimpse into this small yet interesting natural resource, with shops selling locally picked natural sponges, locally produced products, and other souvenirs. You can take a guided tour of the Sponge Docks to learn about the sponge-diving tradition and its role in the town's development.

Tarpon Springs also has a lively downtown area with a variety of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. This area celebrates its distinct Greek roots, with many Greeks having settled here originally in the 1880s, with events like the annual Epiphany Celebration, a major Greek Orthodox tradition. In fact, Tarpon Springs has the highest concentration of Greek Americans, with 10.4% of residents here claiming this as their ancestry.

In addition to its cultural attractions, Tarpon Springs is surrounded by top-notch natural areas to adventure in. The Anclote Key Preserve State Park, accessible by boat, contains clean, sandy beaches and opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and nature watching.

DeFuniak Springs

Aerial view of Defuniak Springs, Florida.
Aerial view of Defuniak Springs, Florida.

Smack dab in the middle of Florida's Panhandle, DeFuniak Springs is a place known for its unique circular lake and other interesting geological features. Lake DeFuniak, one of the few naturally occurring circular lakes in the world, serves as the town's centerpiece, providing a scenic backdrop for the trails that circumnavigate it. Surrounding the lake are classic Victorian-style homes, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, like Sun Bright, the home of Florida's 22nd governor Johnston Catts.

Explore more of this town's history by visiting the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood, a historic building with a significant role in the local educational system. The Walton-DeFuniak Library, the oldest continuously operating library in Florida, is also worth a visit for history buffs.

DeFuniak Springs holds notable events and festivals, including the Chautauqua Assembly, which mainly focuses on education and community-building activities.

Dade City

The Pasco County Courthouse
The Pasco County Courthouse, By Ebyabe - Own work, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Dade City, situated in Pasco County in central Florida, is a quaint small town that serves as a great place to escape the big cities and the beach crowds. The historic courthouse, a landmark in the heart of town, reflects Dade City's past, and the nearby Pioneer Florida Museum further showcases artifacts from the region's early settlers.

Dade City is known for its rural charms and agricultural heritage, hosting the annual Pasco County Fair and the Dade City Farm Festival, where visitors can enjoy local produce and handmade crafts. For outdoor adventurers, Dade City is close to Withlacoochee River Park, with its extensive trails, boat launches, and more. Dade City's proximity to parks like this makes it a convenient base for exploring the less-seen countryside in this part of the state, with its rolling hills and scenic landscapes.

Crystal River

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida
Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. Image credit Nicole Glass Photography via

The primary draw of the town of Crystal River is the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, home to a significant population of West Indian manatees. Visitors from around the world come to Crystal River to experience the rare opportunity to swim with manatees in their natural habitat, a unique experience that defines this coastal town.

Beyond the manatees, Crystal River hosts a variety of other outdoor activities you should definitely go after. For one, the surrounding waterways and springs are ideal for kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Three Sisters Springs, with its clear blue water, is a must-see spot for nature lovers, providing a tranquil setting for swimming and wildlife observation. Make sure to bring your camera along with your swim trunks.

Spend Your Weekend in these Florida Towns

Each of these small towns from all corners of Florida is clearly ideal for a weekend retreat. Whether you're drawn to the history and arts scene in places like St. Augustine or Mount Dora, the coastal beauty of Cedar Key or Crystal River, or the old streets of Micanopy or Dade City, it is not hard to fill up a weekend road trip with adventure and fun. From water-based adventures to exploring local shops and historic sites, these towns provide an escape from the daily grind of the big city, allowing you to see firsthand Florida's diverse cultural and physical landscapes.

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