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 lie breathtaking natural beauty, unique townships and rural communities. From Cedar Key to Boca Grande, Culture Trip brings you Florida’s 10 most picturesque towns and villages.
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. Cedar Key is off the beaten path, accessible by Route 24 along Florida’s Nature Coast. The small downtown offers 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. With plenty of private accommodation available, the small town is a place to connect with nature and slow down.
Behind the Bright Eyes album and the Tom Petty song, Cassadaga is also known as the “psychic capital of the world.” This unincorporated community in Volusia County is home to a large number of psychics and mediums. Spiritualism is the main industry here. Visit the Cassadaga bookstore, where books about clairvoyance and metaphysics are sold alongside crafts, candles and semi-precious stones. Of course, the main attraction in Cassadaga is a spiritual reading at the Cassadaga Hotel, and you can stay the night there too – but if you’d rather stay somewhere a bit homier, try one of the local Airbnbs.
Located two hours from Tampa Bay, the town of Crystal River is on Florida’s Nature Coast, showcasing one of the state’s purest and clearest spring-fed water systems. The main attractions are kayaking and snorkeling, which are offered year round on the Crystal River and in the winter months in the less populated Homosassa River. Both rivers guarantee an encounter with the endangered Florida manatee. The Rainbow River is also nearby, with visibility of over 200ft (60m), giving snorkelers a chance to swim with fish, turtles, aquatic plants and natural spring vents. To beat the crowds, be sure to book a stay at one of the town’s many Airbnbs.
Founded in 1912, Sebring is also known as the City on a Circle because of the circular historic downtown district. Surrounded by rivers, lakes and citrus groves, Sebring offers boutique shopping and access to some of the best hiking in Florida. Located on Florida’s scenic ridge, 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. For somewhere to stay, check out what’s available on Airbnb.
North of the main attractions of 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. Check into a local Airbnb, dump your bags, and take a stroll down Park Avenue where al fresco dining restaurants fill the street. Just off Park Avenue is Central Park with its 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 to see a vigorous performance during the spring season.
Boca Grande is an affluent community located on Florida’s west coast, known for its charming downtown, white-sand beaches and world-class tarpon fishing. It was also named one of the best coastal small towns by USA Today. Stroll over to the landmark Gasparilla Inn and Club, which was built in 1911 and has maintained its charm through authentic renovations. Or 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. After all that sightseeing, rest up in your own home away from home.
Mount Dora is a beautiful lakefront town in central Florida, known for its antique shops, estate jewelry and artwork. Outdoor cafés, gourmet restaurants, galleries and wineries line its downtown area, and there’s plenty of choice in the way of private accommodation. 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 of Florida.
Located north of Tampa, Dade City is home to the 16-acre (6.5ha) Pioneer Florida Museum, which showcases the state’s history and boasts 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. For overnight stays, take your pick from Dade City’s local Airbnbs.
Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island on Florida’s eastern border. Graceful architecture, pristine beaches and delightful shops and restaurants make up this quaint town. Many structures located in the heart of Fernandina Beach’s 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 visitor’s center on the waterfront details a historical walking tour through Fernandina Beach. Alternatively, take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Centre Street, and head back for happy hour at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest continuously operated drinking establishment. When you’re done, sleep it off in your own Airbnb crash pad.
Located 12mi (19km) south of Gainesville, 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 Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival is a big attraction in this town, as are the antique shops located on the main drag, Cholokka Boulevard. Perch in your own rocking chair on the front porch of one of the many Airbnbs in town.