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Best Places to Live in Florida in 2024

Florida has seen a lot of growth over the last few years. People seem to be flocking to the Sunshine State in droves from across the country for its warm weather, stunning coastlines, booming career opportunities, and zero state income taxes. (No taxes equal more prosperity—who knew?)

If you’re reading this, you might be one of those people considering the move. Are those endless warm-weather days calling your name? Does the idea of no state income taxes put a giant smile on your face? Can you live among gators and torrential rain?

Whether you’re moving the whole family, scoping out a new young-professionals scene, or looking for your dream retirement destination—we’ll help you narrow down the best places to live in Florida.

Let’s dive in!

Choose Your Region

Florida can be divided into three broad regions: north, central and south Florida. Each one has a distinct identity brought about through decades of history, cultural crossover, environmental factors and changing industry centers. Though many native Floridians may argue the state is actually made up of many more regions, we’re going with these three for the sake of simplicity.

These regions may be different culturally, but they all share one thing: a subtropical climate. No matter which region you choose, you’ll probably encounter alligators and bugs, high humidity (all the frizziness!), rain every summer afternoon, sinkholes, and hurricanes (every so often).

But depending on where you land, the severity of these hazards could go up or down (just like your property insurance premiums). For example, the inland cities don’t get the massive storm surges from hurricanes, but they still encounter lots of wind and rain (which can be pretty harsh).

One more thing: Let’s admit all “best places” lists are subjective—including this one. While we did use some data (population, home and rent prices, etc.), it remains purely opinion and will ultimately depend on your personal likes and dislikes. For example, some people love busy city life, while others prefer a more laid-back place in the suburbs. To add a little authenticity to our list, we consulted a few friendly former and current Floridians who graciously gave us insight based on their own personal experiences.

With that said, let’s get into some of the best cities in Florida so you can compare their stats and features to see if any stand out to you. The cities on our list are presented by region and in no particular order.

The Best Places to Live in North Florida

The north Florida region covers what’s known as the Panhandle. This is the only part of the state that’s directly connected to the rest of the continental U.S., and it resembles (you guessed it) the handle of a pan.

Because of its proximity to the rest of the American South, north Florida is the most “Southern” region of the state culturally. It’s also the oldest in terms of human settlement and has lots of history in its cities and towns.

Pensacola

If you head to the westernmost point on the Panhandle, you’ll find Pensacola. Known as the City of Five Flags, Pensacola has a long history of various governments laying claim to the area (Spanish, French, British, Confederate, and American)—and it’s no wonder why. In Pensacola, you’ll find sunny skies and emerald-green waves from the Gulf of Mexico gently splashing along the shoreline. Pensacola offers plenty of water activities like boating and deep-sea fishing.

Pensacola is also a military town—home to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, the primary base of the world-famous Blue Angels. NAS Pensacola also hosts the National Naval Aviation Museum, where visitors can hop aboard sophisticated flight simulators to see if they have “the right stuff.”

*Metro area population numbers include the city and the surrounding urban and suburban areas.
**“Median Monthly Rent” refers to two-bedroom apartments.

Tallahassee

Even though it’s the state capital, you might say Tallahassee feels like the least Floridian city in all of Florida. For one thing, it enjoys four actual seasons because of its unique position in the Panhandle. If you’re used to seeing fall colors, you’ll still see them in Tally (as it’s called by some locals).

With its gently rolling landscape of red clay soil, natural springs and underwater caves, Tallahassee feels like a little slice of Southern heaven. Aside from all the natural beauty, Tally also has a college-town vibe thanks to Florida State University and Florida A&M University. So, even though it has an old Southern look and history, Tally definitely has a youthful spirit.

Gainesville

Speaking of college towns, Gainesville is a city practically built around the University of Florida. In fact, the university is the biggest employer in the city—almost 12% of the city’s total workforce!11 The university is also known as the birthplace of Gatorade.

But there’s more to Gainesville than Gator football and sports drinks. Even though Gainesville isn’t near any beaches, you’ll find plenty of outdoor opportunities in the city’s parks, botanical gardens and nature preserves—including the famous Satan’s Sinkhole. Gainesville’s arts community boasts everything from theater and public murals to museums like the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention.

Jacksonville

Now, let’s travel up to the northeastern corner of Florida, just south of the Georgia state line. That’s where you’ll find Jacksonville—the largest city by population in Florida and the largest city in the U.S. by land area (outside of Alaska).17 If life in the big city is more your speed, Jacksonville (or Jax, to the locals) might be for you.

Jacksonville is located along the banks of the St. Johns River and several bridges make it convenient to travel between the vibrant downtown area and Jacksonville’s gorgeous beaches. Plus, Jacksonville gives you a front-row seat to cheer on the Jaguars (NFL) at TIAA Bank Field, among other sports teams.

Ocala

A popular spot for retirees, Ocala offers a small-town feel with a tight-knit community. The city is surrounded by natural beauty—green pastures with no civilization for miles. It’s even home to one of the largest natural springs in America: Silver Springs State Park. You can board one of the park’s famous glass-bottom boats to observe the spring’s unique underwater ecosystem.

Ocala is also known for its connection to horses. In fact, Ocala rivals Lexington, Kentucky, for the title of Horse Capital of the World with its many horse farms. The World Equestrian Center, the largest horse complex on Earth, also calls Ocala home.

The Best Places to Live in South Florida

Because of its proximity to the Caribbean, the vibe of south Florida is decidedly more tropical and laid-back. Everything from the food to the music scene is infused with Latin flavor, courtesy of people who have immigrated to the region for decades from places like Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia.

Sarasota

Along the southern Gulf Coast of Florida is Sarasota—home to some of America’s best beaches, like Siesta Key Beach. Sarasota consistently holds the top spots for places to live in Florida on many “best places” lists. The water is clear and warm, and the sand is so soft and white you’ll feel like you’re sinking your toes into powdered sugar (just don’t sprinkle any on your French toast).

Sarasota is an ideal place to hang your hat if you’re looking for a good life after your well-earned retirement. The median resident age of the Sarasota metro area is 54, so the population is made up of lots of retirees.28 That means more friends to reminisce about the good old days, complain about those darn kids, and play some serious shuffleboard with.

Naples

Just south of Sarasota on Florida’s Paradise Coast is Naples—which got its name from the famous Mediterranean community on the Italian coast. And there are definite similarities between the two: gorgeous weather, gentle waters and lots of fishing. Naples is especially known for its sugar-sand beaches and beautiful coastal sunsets (with the legendary green flash in the summer!).35 But there’s more to Naples than beaches (though they are pretty cool). There’s fine dining, boutique shopping, botanical gardens, dolphin viewing and swamp buggies too (yes, they’re a thing—and yes, they’re awesome).

While Ocala may be the Horse Capital, Naples calls itself the Golf Capital of the World. If a day on the links does your heart good, there are over 90 golf courses throughout the city and many more in the vicinity. Bonus: If your ball lands near a gator, you get a free drop with no penalty!

Port St. Lucie

Over on the Atlantic coast of southern Florida, well north of Miami, is Port St. Lucie. This city offers year-round perfect weather (compared to other areas of the state), along with all the water activities of a beach town—things like boating, fishing, and even paddling near manatees. Golf carts are a way of life there, and many of the businesses in Port St. Lucie provide golf cart parking.

Speaking of golf, sports can be enjoyed year-round in Port St. Lucie. You can work on your swing at one of the 72 holes at the PGA Village Resort—it’s like a theme park for golfers! And if you don’t care for golf, the New York Mets (MLB) visit the city every year for spring training.

Fort Myers

If you follow Florida’s southwestern Caloosahatchee River, you’ll spot Fort Myers. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford put Fort Myers on the map when they chose to build their winter homes there. The famous sight of Edison’s royal palm trees along McGregor Boulevard earned Fort Myers its official nickname: the City of Palms. But Hurricane Ian did a number on the city back in 2022, and it’s still bouncing back.

As you travel past the gateway of Fort Myers and head toward the gulf, you’ll come across a series of islands—including the shelling beach of Sanibel (famous for the “Sanibel stoop” that tourists do when they pick up the shells). Fort Myers’ shoreline sits on a shallow water plateau, which makes collecting seashells really fun.

Miami

Miami is the third most populated metro area on the East Coast. Seated on the southern tip of Florida, this tropical city has a lively beach scene and nightlife that attracts people from all over the world. In fact, celebrities from sports, music and movies can be regularly spotted at Miami’s beaches and resorts. Since a majority of its population is Hispanic (around 70%), Miami has a sizable Latin influence in its local culture, food and customs.51 Don’t forget to check out the dancing scene in Little Havana for live Latin music.

Miami also offers year-round perfect weather, so you can enjoy outdoor shopping and watching pro teams from every major sport—like the Dolphins (NFL) and Marlins (MLB). The popular Miami Open tennis tournament is also held there.

The Best Places to Live in Central Florida

Central Florida is where everything comes together, culturally speaking. It’s really the best of both worlds—the Southern charm of the north and the energy of south Florida. Central Florida is also the center of the state’s tourism industry and home to its most popular vacation destinations.

Melbourne

With a front-row view of the Atlantic Ocean, Melbourne is part of Florida’s Space Coast thanks to its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. This is where every crewed space flight by NASA has been launched. It’s also where Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been launching astronauts (and did launch his Tesla in 2018) into space. Melbourne is also close to Port Canaveral, one of the busiest cruise and shipping hubs in the world.

Beyond the cool space and seacraft stuff, Melbourne’s beach-based community offers all kinds of fun activities for residents—a trendy downtown area, thriving art and festival scenes, and a variety of sports for both in and out of the water.

Orlando

When people think of Florida, chances are they think first of Orlando (well, maybe right after alligators). After all, it’s one of the top family vacation destinations in not just the U.S., but the world! It’s the home of the Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort—Mickey Mouse and Hogwarts. Not to mention SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida Resort. It’s basically theme park heaven.

But there are also plenty of activities to enjoy in the Orlando area besides just the theme parks. Because of its multicultural base, the city boasts lots of festivals and a variety of restaurants that’ll be sure to satisfy any hankering you have. There are also pro sports teams to watch and follow, like the Orlando Magic (NBA) and Orlando City SC (MLS). And because of its central location in the state, you can get to so many other places in Florida in a matter of hours—including the beach.

Tampa

Tampa, situated along the shores of Tampa Bay, has the touristy energy of an Orlando-type big city combined with a laid-back beach lifestyle. It makes for a great combo. Tampa is home to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which has roller coasters and exotic animal exhibits. And if big-city life isn’t your thing, Tampa’s suburbs are a little quieter.

The city is full of intertwining cultures, including a thriving Hispanic community. In fact, Tampa has claimed to be the birthplace of the Cubano sandwich, one of the signature dishes of south Florida—though Miami would say otherwise. Every year, the city celebrates its legendary pirate history (pirates in the Caribbean—it’s a real thing) with the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. And the metro area is also home to three major sports teams: the Buccaneers (NFL), the Lightning (NHL), and the Rays (MLB).

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach is probably best known as the home base of NASCAR—specifically for the famous Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. That’s pretty awesome all by itself.

But there’s more to Daytona than super fast stock cars. Daytona’s unique beach culture includes a beautiful boardwalk with restaurants, shops, a pier and an amusement park. You can also fish, golf, and visit museums and performing arts centers. Plus, trips to the beach are especially convenient because you’re still allowed to drive on the actual beach in certain areas!

Lakeland

Our final city is a land of lakes (no, not the butter). Lakeland is home to nearly 40 beautiful lakes, so you’ll have plenty of options to enjoy Florida’s warm weather on the water. It’s also close to popular cities like Tampa and Orlando.

Lakeland is famous for having the largest collection of buildings designed by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright—all located at Florida Southern College. This city is also home to nature parks and one of Florida’s top-ranked art museums, the Polk Museum of Art.

Best Places to Live in Florida for Families

If you’re moving the whole family to Florida, you probably want to find an area near the safest cities and the best school districts. To get you started on your search, here are a few places that our Florida friends recommend as great places to raise a family:

  • Harbour Island (Tampa)
  • Winter Springs (Orlando)
  • Oviedo (Orlando)
  • Nocatee (Jacksonville)
  • Winter Garden (Orlando)
  • Virginia Park (Tampa)

What Part of Florida Is Good for Young Professionals?

Now, if you’re a young professional moving to the Sunshine State, you’ll probably want to know more about Florida’s economy and where you can find the best job opportunities—not to mention where the other young adults are.

Here are a handful of suburbs that are great for young adults:

  • Miami Beach (Miami)
  • North Bay Village (Miami)
  • Maitland (Orlando)
  • Jacksonville Beach (Jacksonville)
  • Doctor Phillips (Orlando)

Best Places to Live in Florida for Retirees

For you folks who have been crushing it with your finances and can now enjoy your dream retirement, Florida is a great choice. It’s no secret that Florida locales rank high on many “best cities to retire” lists year after year. After all, does any other state scream paradise as loud as sunny Florida?

Here are a few favorite Florida cities among retirees:

  • Pensacola
  • Naples
  • Sarasota
  • Daytona Beach
  • Lakeland
  • Melbourne
  • Clermont

What’s the Most Affordable Place to Live in Florida?

If you’re anything like us here at Ramsey, you know one of the most important things to do before moving to a new area is to make sure you can actually afford living there.
One way to know you can afford it is to research the cost of living in Florida. The biggest factor that’ll determine whether you can afford living there is the cost of housing.

Here are Florida areas that rank high for affordable housing:

  • Jacksonville
  • Dunedin
  • Cape Coral
  • Dade City
  • Melbourne
  • Gainesville
  • Kissimmee

Keep in mind, these locations may be above or below your own housing budget. To figure out your housing budget, use the 25% rule—never buy or rent a home that comes with a monthly payment more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay.

If you’re getting a mortgage, that 25% limit includes principal, interest, property taxes, home insurance and private mortgage insurance (PMI). And don’t forget to consider fees from homeowners associations (HOAs), which are part of many Florida neighborhoods. Use our mortgage calculator to enter your down payment amount and try out different home prices within your budget.

If you want a mortgage you can pay off fast, talk to the home loan specialists we trust at Churchill Mortgage about getting a 15-year fixed-rate conventional loan. Any other type of mortgage will drown you in interest and extra fees and keep you in debt for decades.

The mortgage is a big part of determining affordability—but don’t forget about the cost of the move itself.

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