The Getaway
Escape to Old Florida: Small Towns with Big Charm

Florida is one of the most scenic states in the US. Everyone knows about Disney World and the major cities, but do you know the best towns to see? These towns may be smaller, yet they have beautiful sights and exciting experiences all the same. Whether you want to be close to the beach or explore inland Florida, you can find whatever travel adventure you're looking for—even if it's in a place you've never heard of.

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01 Ponce de Leon

Boardwalk leading past the Ponce de Leon lighthouse near Daytona, Florida. benjaminjk/ Getty Images

If you're up for an underwater adventure, you must visit Ponce de Leon in the Panhandle. Ponce de Leon is mainly known for Morrison Springs, where people enjoy diving into freshwater spring pools up to 300 feet deep. If you're not looking to dive into the chilly waters, you can simply swim or walk along the boardwalk to embrace the scenery.

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02 White Springs

Immerse yourself in nature on your trip to White Springs, Florida. With few tourist attractions, you can truly enjoy the great outdoors whether you visit Big Shoals State Park, which boasts incredible white water rapids, or follow the bike trail around Gar Pond. There's also the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, where you can ride horses, canoe, hike, and camp.

03 Havana

Welcome to Little Havana Sign in Calle Ocho, Miami, FL Juanmonino/ Getty Images

Named "Florida's Friendliest Small Town," Havana is a historic area where you can stroll through the streets and enjoy food, drinks, and shopping. Black Crow is a standout shop that sells vintage toys, artisan goods, and local art pieces. It's a great place for unique gifts and fun, retro candy. There are also antique shops, like The Planter's Exchange, where you can peruse vintage jewelry, dolls, and collectibles.

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04 Rosemary Beach

A low angle view down a wooden boardwalk leading to the beach and ocean in Rosemary Beach, Florida. D. Lentz/ Getty Images

If you're looking for an upscale town, Rosemary Beach is ideal. It is a tight-knit community where you can lounge on the beach during the day and then enjoy cocktails at the Havana Beach Rooftop as the sun sets over the Gulf. There are fine dining options, like Restaurant Paradis, places like the Sugar Shak, an ice cream parlor, and a candy shop that will make you feel like a kid again.

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05 Cedar Key

Evening sky with moonrise over Dock Street in Cedar Key, Florida William Dummitt/ Getty Images

Cedar Key is a blast from the past where you can view historic sites or have a spooky experience on Atsena Otie Key, an island ghost town that is owned by the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. You can kayak there to see the old cemetery or the ruins of the pencil mill that once made the island a thriving port. If you visit in the fall, you'll also want to catch the annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival for arts and crafts vendors and delicious seafood like stone crab, clams, and shrimp.

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06 Micanopy

Historic downtown Micanopy, near Gainesville, Florida. Michael Warren/ Getty Images

Micanopy has rich Native American history and is named after the Seminole chief who governed the land that is Micanopy today. You can visit the Micanopy Historical Society Museum to learn more about the Native history of this region. The Stewart Merry House is another good place to visit since it's considered the "oldest known house" in Micanopy.

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07 Key Biscayne

Wooden boardwalk in beautiful Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. Miami, USA Gabriele Maltinti/ Getty Images

Key Biscayne is an island town near Miami. This South Florida paradise is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, which was built in 1825. Visitors can climb the 109 stairs for an incredible view. Another unique feature in Key Biscayne is the forgotten zoo, which was left behind after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Today you can still see the empty cages for an eerie, unusual experience.

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08 Howey-in-the-Hills

Howey-in-the-Hills is a hidden gem for Spanish-style architecture and the magnificent Howey Mansion. You can take a guided tour of this historic mansion once owned by William J. Howey, an innovative citrus developer, and politician. There are regal staircases, towers, and a library that will transport you to the past. You can actually book a stay in the Howey Mansion or the Gardener's Cottage for a luxurious experience.

09 Apalachicola

Aerial shot of St. George Island, Florida at sunset. St George is a small town known for its beaches and resorts. halbergman/ Getty Images

Don't be fooled by Apalachicola's quaintness—there's exciting nightlife to experience. During the day, check out the Raney House Museum in the historic district. David Raney was a wealthy cotton merchant when Apalachicola was the third-largest cotton port on the Gulf Coast. When the sun goes down, you can check out the High Five Dive Bar, a bar that doubles as a live music venue for a night of dancing and drinking.

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10 Seaside

Seaside is a picturesque community that was the filming location of The Truman Show. Enjoy live music at Seaside's amphitheater, which is conveniently located along Airstream Row. Airstream Row is a lively area that is lined with food trucks that serve classic American favorites, like hotdogs, barbecue, and grilled cheese. You can round out your day by experiencing Merchants of Seaside, an open-air market with lovely boutiques, food, and galleries.

11 Grayton Beach

Aerial shot of Greyton Beach, Florida during sunrise in spring. A small historic village near Greyton Beach State Park. halbergman/ Getty Images

Grayton Beach is a seaside village that has incredible scenery to brag about. If you visit, you'll need to see Grayton Beach State Park. It's more than just a beautiful beach. You can paddle board in the lake, explore the salt marshes, and even spend a few nights in a cabin with comfortable amenities: fireplaces, heating and cooling systems, and even kitchen appliances.

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12 Mount Dora

Brilliant sunset shining through clouds over Lake Dora in Florida Susan Rydberg/ Getty Images

Home to adorable bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and outdoor markets, Mount Dora, provides a relaxing escape from reality. Renninger's Twin Markets is a flea market with over 200 vendors to explore. You can find clothing, produce, antiques, collectibles, and more in this air-conditioned marketplace. Another great place for shopping is Scott's Country Market. This market changes seasonally, with flower picking in the spring and corn mazes in the fall.

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13 Matlacha

Aerial drone photo Matlacha severly damaged by Hurricane Ian circa 2022 felixmizioznikov/ Getty Images

Matlacha is a quirky fishing village near bustling Cape Coral and Fort Myers. Because it's tiny, you can start with a walking tour to view the brightly colored shops, art galleries, homes, and restaurants while also learning some history. Matlacha provides a visually whimsical experience, but you can also bring yourself down to earth with some fishing on the "World's Fishing-est Bridge."

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14 St. George Island

USA, Florida, Saint George Island, Cape St. George Lighthouse Henryk Sadura/ Getty Images

St. George Island is the perfect escape from over-commercialized cities. The beaches of St. George are untouched and uncrowded, making it a serene destination. You can easily bike or scooter around town to enjoy the weather and see some sights, like the Cape St. George Lighthouse or the Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park. It also has pet-friendly beaches, which can be a rarity in Florida, so don't hesitate to bring your furry friend for a romp along the shoreline.

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15 DeFuniak Springs

Aerial image of Lake Definiak Springs Florida USA felixmizioznikov/ Getty Images

In this Panhandle town, you'll find Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, which is named after the fifteenth-century Spanish explorer who searched for the fountain of youth. The natural springs here are a constant 68 degrees for anyone who wants to take a soothing dip. Defuniak Springs is also home to Chautauqua Vineyards and Winery for complimentary tastings. Throughout the year, they also have special events with food and music, so check the community calendar before you book your trip.

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