For a state nicknamed "The Sunshine State" for its warm temperature, it would seem unusual to associate Florida with the cold season. However, Florida experiences the winter season even though it doesn't get as cold as other areas in the country. With the temperatures plunging to a frigid low in the northern states, Florida emerges as a haven for snowbirds escaping the cold.
Besides the warmer temperatures, the diverse natural landscapes, from the beaches and sand hills to flat woods and floodplain forests, transform into a picturesque setting with smaller crowds. Contrary to the big cities, the small towns offer an excellent way to experience winters in this beautiful Southern state, with a chance to enjoy a laidback atmosphere that draws you to the outdoors. Here are the best towns in Florida to visit in winter.
This idyllic barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is home to high-end resorts, golf courses, marinas, and beaches that attract tourists around the year. However, the island is exceptional during the cooler months, when the temperatures are perfect for exploring the outdoors. Several parks provide a lovely setting for a lazy walk when you feel like stepping out. An excellent option is Mackle Park, which has a relaxed atmosphere, a walking trail, and facilities for basketball, sand volleyball, and fishing. Elsewhere, birdwatchers can find various local spots forming part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, including the smooth, sandy shores of Tigertail Beach, to spot species like great blue herons and ospreys.
But if you prefer indoor settings, the Marco Island Historical Society presents the perfect pastime on a chilly day. The museum hosts thousands of records you can browse to get acquainted with local history. For accommodation, you can choose from a long list of luxury beachside resorts, including Marco Beach Ocean Resort and JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.
Cool temperatures in Florida bring to life one of the state's most famous marine mammals. The gentle Florida Manatees escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico to warmer springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, such as the gorgeous Three Sister Springs. Crystal Rivers boasts a long list of park spaces that are perfect to visit during the winter season. At Crystal River Preserve State Park, you find various fun recreational opportunities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, and bird-watching.
Alternatively, you can mix your love for history and the outdoors at the Crystal River Archeological State Park. This pre-Columbian site houses a plaza area, temple mounds, and burial mounds that portray a primitive way of life in ancient Native American societies. A visit to Crystal River would not be complete without an intimate encounter with the town's most famous marine resident, and the Swim with Manatees boat tour provides tourists with this rare opportunity.
Mount Dora's slow pace of life and relaxed atmosphere paint the picture of a quintessential small town, presenting a sweet escape from the urban hustle and bustle. This quaint destination is famous for its antique shops and festivals, and by exploring the lively downtown, you will discover several spots worth visiting. One of the highlights is the Modernism Museum, a great place to admire intricate designs of modern furniture. But if you are interested in actual history, you can step into the Mount Dora History Museum. Here, you will explore a local legacy dating back to the 1880s through exciting exhibits. Stepping outside, Mount Dora is surrounded by picturesque sceneries like Palm Island Park. This tranquil nature preserve features a promenade passing along Lake Dora and through a wooded area. You can find a laidback picnic area or fishing spot to spend quality time. Meanwhile, one of the best times in Mount Dora is during winter festivals like the Mount Dora Arts Festival or the Mount Dora Half Marathon.
St. Augustine is a historical town on Florida's northeast coast whose claim to fame is being the country's oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement. It is steeped in history and harbors a treasure trove of historical landmarks perfect for exploring in chilly winter weather. You can start your historical tour at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fortress in continental America. Later, you can move to the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, home to authentic artifacts that take you back to at least three centuries ago.
If you are tired of the endless historical attractions in St. Augustine, you will find the perfect alternative at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The facility houses over 20 crocodilian species and features among Florida's oldest continuously operating tourist attractions. Meanwhile, the outdoor inclined will find exciting opportunities at Anastasia State Park, from swimming and fishing to camping and hiking.
Destin might be better known as a summer hotspot, but this little town in northwest Florida is just as alluring during the winter months. Its often-crowded sandy beaches have fewer crowds during the cooler season, leaving you with the freedom for relaxed walks along the shores of Henderson Beach State Park. The setting is perfect for relaxing, unwinding, and enjoying the blue-green sparkly waters of the Atlantic. But if you want some company, you can stroll through the vibrant Destin Harbor Boardwalk and stop at the different bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops, including Life is Good, The Fudgery, and Sunset Lifestyles, to name a few, while enjoying epic views of the Emerald Coast.
But your visit to Destin would not be complete without venturing on the scenic waters, and the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise presents a luxurious way of finding undiscovered treasures on a relaxed boat trip. While multiple events are held during the cold season in Destin, nothing brings the locals and tourists together like the Shrimp and Grits Festival in February.
If you are looking for a picturesque island getaway to spend the cold season, Pine Island is among the best towns in Florida to check out. The largest island on the Gulf Coast comprises five separate communities that impress with a peaceful hometown feel and simple way of life. Famous for its agriculture and fishing opportunities, you will find excellent angling spots along the Bokeelia Fishing Pier, which has served the local community for over a century. Alternatively, you can head to the Galt Preserve and choose between fishing, hiking, and picnicking to pass the time inside the beautiful nature preserve. If history is what floats your boat, you will discover interesting gems at the Randell Research Center, showcasing the ecology, archeology, and history of Southwest Florida. For more of this, the Museum of the Islands offers a deeper dive into the region's past, with the opportunity to browse ancient exhibits and archeological finds from the Calusa Indian community.
Naples oozes Italian vibes with its world-class arts scene and high-end shopping opportunities, making it a top destination for snowbirds looking to perch in Florida. The town is surrounded by exquisite views of the Gulf of Mexico, and walking along the Naples Pier puts you in the perfect spot to admire the scenery. The historical landmark is also a hub for fishing, dolphin-spotting, bird-watching, and catching the spectacular sunset. Meanwhile, the Naples Botanical Garden presents a 170-acre expanse of delightful green space, ideal for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
For animal lovers, the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is a lovely 43-acre facility housing exotic species like giraffes, lemurs, and gibbons that would not mind some TLC. But your visit would not be complete without sampling the vibrant shopping scene. Naples Plaza is the ideal venue to enjoy some retail therapy, hosting over 20 stores and selling everything and anything that comes to mind.
It is hard to catch the winter blues on the sunny beaches of Panama City, with a 27-mile stretch of smooth sand to explore. This idyllic beachside community is a snowbird magnet, thanks to its fresh seafood scenery, luxury resorts, and multiple water sports. There is so much to see and do, but you can start by visiting Oaks by the Bay Park to explore the outdoors. This scenic green space offers a delightful atmosphere for relaxing and features a waterfront boardwalk where you can view stunning sunsets. Elsewhere, you can visit the Bear Creek Feline Center for up-close encounters with amazing Florida wildcats and other exotic feline species.
Several quirky museums in the town offer an exciting look into Panama City's past. A good example is the Man in the Sea Museum, which houses a unique collection of exhibits and documents chronicling the local diving history. Meanwhile, the Panama City Publishing Company Museum offers a glimpse into the vintage craft of printing in the area through old machines, artifacts, and published resources. Before leaving the town, remember to stop by the trendy Schooners and sample some sumptuous fresh seafood.
For years, snowbirds escaping the cold in the north have been perching in the Sunshine State to enjoy its cozy, warm weather and pristine beaches. This trend will not change anytime soon. The small towns in Florida are a desired destination, thanks to a relaxed atmosphere, friendly communities, endless outdoor opportunities, and fun winter festivals.