11 Cool Florida Beach Towns that Deserve a Second Look
For serenity, beach time or a big move to sandy beaches, these Florida towns deserve a second look.
You don't have to go to cities like Miami, Daytona Beach and Tampa to get the most out of Florida. There are a lot of smaller seaside towns in The Sunshine State where you don’t have to deal with expensive accommodations, heavy traffic or throngs of people. Below is a list of modest seaside towns that deserve your consideration.
Located in northwest Florida along the Gulf of Mexico, Apalachicola started out as a colonial trading post called Cottonton. Miles of beaches, shallow bays and freshwater rivers make it apparent why traders chose this location to set up shop.
Today, those bodies of water are enjoyed by tourists and residents alike, while Apalachicola’s Historic District includes many old homes, museums and theaters.
“If you want a laid-back, relaxed lifestyle, with an old Florida historic feel, it’s the perfect place,” says John Solomon, executive director at the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce.
Recently named as a top ten vacation spot for families with toddlers by Trip Advisor’s Flipkey, Captiva Island and its sister island Sanibel are located in the Gulf of Mexico, just off the coast of Southwest Florida. In addition to beaches perfect for building sandcastles and chasing waves, the islands are also home to the Sanibel Sea School, which hosts fun educational programs on its main campus and in various resorts.
Santa Rosa Beach’s white sands and turquoise waters make it an underrated gem that is prized by in-the-know vacationers. Located in Northwest Florida, Santa Rosa Beach also feature a unique artist collective known as Gulf Place, where visitors can browse the jewelry, pottery, photography, sculptures and acrylics in eight colorful galleries.
Known as the “Sponge Capital of the World”, Tarpon Beach gained its reputation from the Greek sponge divers that immigrated to the area in the early 20th century. The region still has a strong Greek cultural influence that can be seen in the food and architecture.
“I tell people I live in ‘Greek Mayberry’,” says Jack Spirk, a staff member with the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a lovely town and it’s very much into preservation. It’s not overbuilt; there’s no high-rise buildings.”
The town hosts many regular street events with music and food vendors, some of which are Greek-themed.
The white sand beaches in Destin may be more common in the southern part of the state, but they are somewhat rare in the Florida Panhandle, where the city is located.
If you’re looking for more than seaside frolicking, Destin also has four championship golf courses, pirate-themed cruises and a massive water park.
With a 17th century fort, Gilded Age hotel, alligator farm, historic Old City, Pirate and Treasure Museum, World Golf Hall of Fame, gourmet restaurants and local distillery, it’s hard to imagine how visitors to this city on the Northeast Florida city ever make it to the beach.
While St. Augustine isn’t completely off tourists’ radar, it’s still an underrated Florida destination spot compared to other tourist magnets like Miami and Orlando.
Encircled by breathtaking stretches of freshwater and saltwater, Fort Myers is located on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. The area’s natural beauty is likely what attracted Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who both have winter estates in Fort Myers that are preserved and open to the public today.
The seaside town also an interactive science museum called The Imaginarium and The Seminole Gulf Railway, which provides riders with a charming trip through countryside.
Located between Daytona Beach and Miami on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Vero Beach is much smaller than those two tourist hot spots, but the little town still offers a range of cultural experiences.
“Activities do go on, but it’s very quiet and relaxing,” says Beautiful Edden of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Edden added that free parking near the beaches and the lack of crowds also appeal to many Vero Beach Visitors.
Visitors to Vero Beach can also enjoy a hotel made from driftwood, an aquarium, art galleries and the region's only professional ballet company.
If relaxing while surrounded by nature’s beauty sounds like your ideal Florida experience, you probably can’t do much better than the small clutch of Gulf Coast islands known as Cedar Key. Vacationers can rent traditional wooden stilt houses and take guided kayak tours.
Pro tip: Visit in October for The Cedar Key Seafood Festival, held to kick off stone crab season.
Old-school, but with modern amenities, Deerfield Beach offers the best of both worlds. Every Sunday, a farmer's market takes over the Cove Shopping Center, so you can get fresh produce to go with the fish you catch off the 976-foot-long fishing pier. The Royal Blues Hotel, which opened in 2014, offers contemporary amenities for those who don't want their visit to get too rustic.