Florida’s 10 best small towns and how to enjoy them

Travel magazine looks at sub-17K populations

Lilia Carabine shared this photo from Fernandina Beach

FLORIDA – If you know (or are) a longtime Floridian, you’re likely aware of the sentiment that things are starting to feel a bit crowded around here, no doubt as the state takes on thousands-more new residents from other parts of the country.

Travel + Leisure reminds us that Florida still has ample small towns to visit, offering 10 ideas for a day away from the bustle, traffic and all else that annoys us about metropolitan life in the Sunshine State.

Travel + Leisure’s methodology involved looking at towns with populations of 17,000 people or less, ruling out any “Miamis or Orlandos,” as they put it. Another thing to mention is how the magazine’s list is unranked, presenting the towns in no particular order.

Here’s what was suggested, and why:

Palm Beach (Pop. ~9.2K in 2021)

Travel + Leisure pitched this barrier island due to how it’s one of the nation’s wealthiest ZIP codes, offering beaches, a bike trail and otherwise boujee amenities such as hotels and boutiques.

Anna Maria Island (Pop. ~8.5K in 2005)

This island bears picture-perfect wild shores to explore, as well as some shopping, restaurants and other activities, the magazine states. Travel + Leisure suggested checking out the Rod and Reel Pier.

Cedar Key (Pop. ~700 in 2021)

Described by the magazine as an “old-fashioned destination,” this port community offers a glimpse of slower life, access to the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and general historical indulgence.

Mount Dora (Pop. ~16.6K in 2021)

Here’s one in Central Florida, so I apologize if you’re among the 16-thousand-or-so Mount Dora residents that the magazine is sending others to go visit. Not to worry though, as Travel + Leisure suggested visitors head primarily to the downtown area, as well as make time in February for the Mount Dora Arts Festival.

Florida Keys (Pop. ~12.9K in 2020)

If you asked the average Floridian, chances are they still might not have made it down to the Keys yet. But you can’t really blame them, can you? For many of us, it means committing to a round trip of 600 miles or more on the road.

Still, Travel + Leisure points to the 125-mile island chain’s numerous small communities, mentioning places such as Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo as “decidedly quirky” locations for a tropical getaway “complete with great snorkeling, diving, and boating, as well as a laid-back island vibe available nowhere else in the country.”

Micanopy (Pop. ~647 in 2021)

Opening its blurb on Micanopy by noting a fewer-than-700-people population, the magazine highlights this town as one of the state’s oldest, settled in 1821. These days, Travel + Leisure writes visitors can expect to meander “narrow dirt roads and ancient oaks dripping in Spanish moss,” adding Micanopy offers festivals, antique stores and the nearby Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

St. Augustine Beach (Pop. ~6.9K in 2021)

This town offers “a perfect small-town-by-the-ocean atmosphere,” the magazine writes, if you’re not tired of hearing about places like that yet. A short distance away from St. Augustine’s historic district, you’ll find all the beaches, restaurants and outdoor recreation that the nation’s oldest city simply doesn’t seem to have room for.

Cypress Gardens (Pop. ~10K in 2020)

This town now serves as the backdrop for Legoland Florida Resort, which seems to be the only reason aside from local boat tours that Travel + Leisure suggested it.

Cape Canaveral (Pop. ~9.9K in 2021)

Cape Canaveral needs no introduction here on ClickOrlando.com, but sure, we can pretend like you’ve never heard of it before.

Here and on nearby Merritt Island, visitors will find more space-related things to do and see than they can likely bargain for. Home of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, respectively, we affectionally call this area Florida’s “Space Coast.”

However, with its public-access beaches, ample restaurant options, always-available hotel rooms and kitschy tourist traps (which, let’s admit, are usually fun and affordable), Cape Canaveral is famous even among Floridians as a tip-top choice for a vacation, let alone a day trip.

Fernandina Beach (Pop. ~13.1K in 2021)

Though we’re dangerously close to Georgia here (said sarcastically), Amelia Island’s Fernandina Beach was described by Travel + Leisure as “a bastion of easy living...beloved for its boutique shops, restaurants, and thriving wildlife.” Should you venture to enjoy the 13 miles of quiet beaches that the magazine advertises, you won’t have to be as wary of wild horses as you would on Cumberland Island, just across the state’s northern border, which you should also check out if you’re in the area.

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Population data from U.S. Census Bureau.

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.