The Most Beautiful Towns in Florida

Beyond Florida's main tourist attractions lie quaint historic towns and quiet pockets of natural beauty such as Crystal River
Beyond Florida's main tourist attractions lie quaint historic towns and quiet pockets of natural beauty such as Crystal River | © David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Audra Clemons
4 May 2021

Each year, Florida plays host to more than 80 million tourists, most of whom flock to the theme parks of Orlando and the beaches of Miami. However, outside these tourist hotspots lies breathtaking natural beauty, unique townships and rural communities. From Cedar Key to Boca Grande, here are the most picturesque towns and villages in the state.

Cedar Key

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Cedar Key represents a slice of old Florida, with a low-season population of around 900 and a two-lane road leading on and off the Key. The town is off the beaten path, accessible by Route 24 along the Nature Coast. The small downtown area has boutique stores, and is lined with meandering roads and century-old oak trees. Flocks of endangered spoonbills pass by to land on the nearby beach in time for a Floridian orange sunset.

Cassadaga

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Despite having a name lent to a Bright Eyes album and a Tom Petty song, Cassadaga is just as well-known as the “psychic capital of the world.” That’s because this unincorporated community in Volusia County is home to a large number of mediums. Spiritualism is the main industry here. Visit the Cassadaga bookstore, where tomes about clairvoyance and metaphysics are sold alongside crafts, candles and semi-precious stones. The main attraction is a spiritual reading at the Cassadaga Hotel – you can even stay the night there.

Crystal River

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© David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Located two hours from Tampa Bay, the town of Crystal River is on the Nature Coast, showcasing one of the purest and clearest spring-fed water systems in the state. The main attractions are kayaking and snorkeling, which are offered all year on the Crystal River and, in the winter months, the quieter Homosassa River. Both guarantee an encounter with the endangered Florida manatee. The Rainbow River is also nearby, with visibility of more than 200ft (60m), giving snorkelers a chance to swim with fish, turtles, aquatic plants and natural spring vents.

Sebring

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Founded in 1912, Sebring is also known as the City on a Circle, thanks to the round historic downtown district. Surrounded by rivers, lakes and citrus groves, Sebring offers boutique shopping and access to some of the best hiking in Florida. The city is nestled in rolling hills, which are unique to the otherwise flat and swampy state landscape. The International Speedway is an attraction for race car fanatics, and the leather factory and world-class golf courses are just a few other things that make Sebring a great place to visit.

Winter Park

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© Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo

North of the main attractions in Orlando, Winter Park offers an array of cultural and outdoor activities. Amid the lakes of Orange County, the suburban town hosts Rollins College and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Natural Art. Take a stroll down Park Avenue where al fresco dining restaurants fill the street. Just off Park Avenue is Central Park, with beautiful fountains, Hannibal Square and the historic Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum designed by acclaimed architect James Gamble Rogers II. If you’re interested in music, head to the Bach Festival Society for the chance of seeing a vigorous performance during the spring season.

Boca Grande

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Boca Grande is an affluent community on the west coast, known for a charming downtown area, white-sand beaches and world-class tarpon fishing. Stroll over to the landmark Gasparilla Inn and Club, which was built in 1911 and has thrived ever since – even through authentic renovations. Alternatively, take a boat ride out to the barrier island of Cayo Costa, where secluded beaches await. The Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum runs a scenic historical tour providing insight into the changes the town has experienced over the decades.

Mount Dora

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© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 18+ / Alamy Stock Photo

Mount Dora is a beautiful lakefront town in central Florida, known for antique shops, estate jewelry and artwork. Outdoor cafés, gourmet restaurants, galleries and wineries line the downtown area. Founded by homesteaders in 1874, Mount Dora showcases 19th-century clapboard houses and a country-living, slow-paced style. The Lakeside Inn, established in 1883, is the oldest continuously-operated hotel in the state.

Dade City

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© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 7+ / Alamy Stock Photo

North of Tampa, Dade City is home to the 16-acre (6.5ha) Pioneer Florida Museum, which has a lawn replete with mossy oaks and a gazebo for shade. The annual Pioneer Days Festival is also held in Dade City, which brings the Civil War era back to life through theater. Stroll the downtown streets, filled with historic Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings. Also worth visiting is Giraffe Ranch just outside the city where the gentle giants roam freely.

Fernandina Beach

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© James Schaedig / Alamy Stock Photo

Fernandina Beach is on Amelia Island, on the eastern border of the state. Graceful architecture, pristine beaches and delightful shops make up this quaint town. Many structures located in the heart of the 55-block historic zone are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and pre-date the 20th century. A free brochure offered at the visitors’ center on the waterfront details a historical walking tour through Fernandina Beach. Alternatively, take a horse-drawn carriage ride on Centre Street. Make sure you head back for happy hour at the Palace Saloon, the oldest continuously operated drinking establishment in Florida.

Micanopy

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© Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 13+ / Alamy Stock Photo

Located 12mi (19km) south of Gainesville, Georgia, this sleepy Florida town is untouched by time. Clothes dry on the line, folks ride horses down dirt roads, and friends gather on front porches in rocking chairs. Founded in 1821 as a trading post by Edward M. Wanton and named after a Seminole chief, Micanopy has endured Native American wars, army posts and settlers of a new frontier. The Fall Harvest Festival is a serious attraction in this town, as are the antique shops located on the main drag, Cholokka Boulevard.

These recommendations were updated on May 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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