One of the first things people learn when moving to Florida is that all of the most popular tourist destinations actually do a pretty bad job of demonstrating the laid back lifestyle that Florida used to be known for.
Hence the birth of the “Old Florida” concept.
Back before tourism was such a big business, Florida was known for a slower pace of life with small towns and family owned shoppes and restaurants. But that Old Florida tradition still lives on today, you just have to know where to look for it.
Here are four of our favorite destinations that offer the perfect version of that Old Florida experience!
Laid Back Beachfront Living – New Smyrna Beach
The Old Florida experience is definitely alive and well in beautifully laid back New Smyrna Beach located along the Atlantic Coast of Central Florida. Located about an hour east of Orlando and just south of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna offers residents a close proximity to the bigger Florida cities without all of the hustle and bustle.
Most of the things to do in New Smyrna revolve around the 13 miles of beaches that are known for having some of the best surfing in all of Florida. There is also a thriving local art community with tons of local artists selling their work in little shops right along the beach.
In addition to the lure of the surf bum lifestyle, New Smyrna also boasts a rich history. You might want to spend a few hours checking out their Sugar Mill Ruins that will really take you back in time.
When it comes to food, it’s all about the casual eateries in New Smyrna Beach. Local operations like Ocean’s Seafood Beachside sell first-class food in takeout containers right along the beach. Then there is the awesome pulled pork nachos at Yellow Dog Eats Kitchen & Bar. Don’t worry, collared shirts and ties aren’t required for great food at either of these spots!
The Island Paradise – Cedar Key
Small, quiet, and located right on the Gulf of Mexico, the island of Cedar Key represents everything that you think of when you hear the term “Old Florida.” It is located about an hour south of Gainesville, and not very far from our good friends at the Villages of Citrus Hills.
One of the coolest things to do while you are in Cedar Key is to tour the island by plane with Marvin Franks. Marvin will take you up in his white and blue 1950 Cessna 170A and give you a 20 minute tour that is full of absolutely breathtaking views of the entire island and surrounding areas.
When you get hungry on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is going to be on the menu just about everywhere you go. Places like Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, Big Deck Raw Bar, and Steamers Clam Bar & Grill are all located right on the island and all serve fantastic tasting seafood in a casual environment.
Upscale Old Florida Charm – Fernandina Beach
On the east coast of northern Florida is where you will find Amelia Island. And on Amelia Island is where you will find the fabulous beach town of Fernandina Beach.
This is one of the more upscale towns in our Old Florida collection, so if you are looking for an option that has a few excellent golf destinations, this is the choice for you. In addition to all of the excellent golf courses, there are also tons of boutique shops where local artists are able to sell their creations.
If you’re looking to grab a casual bite to eat in Fernandina Beach, one of the most unique options is Timoti’s Seafood Shack. This is a super-casual spot with picnic table dining and take-out containers, but the food quality is unbelievable.
For a more formal option that still won’t break your budget, getting tapas from Espana is always a fun option. Just about everything on the menu here is absolutely fantastic. And since it’s all tapas, you can order a few different choices and try them all!
The Gateway to the Keys – Key Largo
As the very first option along that famous stretch of islands known as the Florida Keys, Key Largo offers the perfect combination of close proximity to the mainland with a laid back island vibe. Much like many of the islands further south into the Caribbean, life moves just a little bit slower in the Keys.
Lounging around for most of the day is the optimal way to pass time in Key Largo. But if you do feel the need to be active, it also happens to be one of the best scuba diving locations in the entire world. There are literally dozens of ancient shipwrecks to explore throughout the Keys.
With it’s perfect location almost as far south as you can get without leaving the country, restaurants in Key Largo definitely have a bias towards local seafood. Some of the best spots in town include Lucy, Key Largo Fisheries, Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, and The Fish House.