- Audra Clemons
Each year, Florida plays host to over 80 million tourists, most of whom flock to the theme parks of Orlando and beaches of Miami. However, outside these predominant tourist destinations lie breathtaking natural beauty, unique townships and rural communities. Here is a list of 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 lined with meandering roads and century old live oak trees. Flocks of endangered spoonbills pass by to land on the nearby beach in time for a sinking orange sunset. The small town is a place to connect with nature and slow down time.
Cedar Key Welcome Center, 450 2nd St, Cedar Key, Florida, USA +1 (352) 543-5600
Behind the Bright Eyes album and the Tom Petty song, Cassadaga, Florida, 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, aside from a couple of New Age bookstores, a café, hotel and post office. Visit the Cassadaga bookstore where books about spiritualism and metaphysics are sold alongside Native American crafts, candles and semi-precious stones. Of course, the main attraction in Cassadaga is a spiritual reading at the Cassadaga Hotel.
355 Cassadaga Road, Cassadaga, Florida, USA +1 (386) 228-2323
Located two hours from Tampa Bay, the town of Crystal River is situated on Florida’s Nature Coast, showcasing one of the state’s purest and clearest spring fed water systems. The main attraction is kayaking and snorkeling, which is 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 200 feet, giving snorkelers a chance to swim with fish, turtles, aquatic plants and natural spring vents.
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, a leather factory with hides from alligator to cow, and world class golf courses are just a few things that make Sebring a great place to visit.
Sebring Chamber of Commerce, 227 US 27 North, Sebring, Florida, USA +1 (863) 385-8448
North of the main attractions of Orlando, Winter Park offers an array of cultural and outdoor activities. Amidst 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 its beautiful fountains, Hannibal Square and the historic Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum designed by acclaimed architect, James Gamble Rogers II. If music is of interest, Winter Park is home to The Bach Festival Society that gives vigorous performances throughout the spring season.
401 S. Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida, USA +1(407) 599-3399
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 the landmark Gasparilla Inn and Club, which was built in 1911 and has maintained its charm through authentic renovations. Take a boat ride out to the barrier reef island of Cayo Costa, where secluded beaches are abundant. The Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum offers a beautifully scenic historical tour describing the times of the region.
480 E. Railroad Avenue, Boca Grande, Florida, USA +1 (941) 964-0568
Mount Dora is a beautiful lakefront town in central Florida, known for its antique shops, estate jewelry and art finds. Outdoor cafes, gourmet restaurants, galleries, wineries and bed and breakfast inns line the small town’s downtown area. Founded by homesteaders in 1874, Mount Dora showcases 19th century clapboard houses and a country living slow-paced style. The oldest structure, established in 1883, is the Lakeside Inn and the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce, built in 1893 is located in the 1915 railroad depot.
341 Alexander Street, Mount Dora, Florida, USA +1 (352) 383-2165
Located north of Tampa, Dade City is home to the 16-acre Pioneer Florida Museum designed by architect E. C. Hosford and constructed in 1909. The museum details and showcases the state’s history and the lawn is 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.
14112 8th Street, Dade City, Florida, USA +1 (352) 567-3769
Dinner with Mariah – “Unbelievable. You have to come here. Wonderful experience. I’m in love, and I can’t wait to come back already!” Get right up close and personal… / 4:19
Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island at Florida’s northernmost eastern border. Graceful architecture, pristine beaches, delightful shops and restaurants make up this quaint northern Florida 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 visitors center on the waterfront offers a historical walking tour through Fernandina Beach. Alternatively, take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic city through Centre Street and back for happy hour at The Palace Saloon, named as the oldest saloon in Florida.
Located twelve miles 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, restaurants and boutique stores located on the main drag, Cholokka Boulevard.
207 Cholokka Boulevard, Micanopy, Florida, USA +1 (352) 466-9229