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 some of our favorite destinations that offer the perfect version of that Old Florida experience!
Follow the Sun to Dunedin
Located west of Tampa and just north of Clearwater, Dunedin offers residents the perfect hybrid lifestyle that allows them to be close to the big city action, but also far enough removed that they can find some peace and quiet as well.
As one of the oldest cities along the West Coast of Florida, there is a fantastic amount of history that exists here, and more to come as the locals are continually improving their quality of life with world-class dining options.
Like many of the small coastal towns in Florida, Dunedin has its share of unique shops full of interesting items. As you stroll through the area, you can always find something interesting at The Spice & Tea Exchange, and The Celtic Shop of Dunedin.
Whether you are looking to grab some BBQ from The Dunedin Smokehouse, enjoy fresh seafood from Lucky Lobster, or sip on a pint and order a bite to eat at Clear Sky Draught Haus, your inner foodie can’t help but appreciate the variety and quality it will find in Dunedin.
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 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 The Breakers sell food right along the beach. Then there are 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!
If you find yourself in this area, be sure to swing by and check out Venetian Bay:
Perfectly situated in Central Florida’s favorite beach town, New Smyrna Beach, Venetian Bay (A Geosam Capital development) offers World Class Resort-Style amenities to its residents. Play a round of golf on the 18-Hole Championship golf course, spend a day with your family at the Beach and Swim Club, enjoy a relaxing day at the World Class Spa, stay active by joining the on-site fitness center or walking and biking on the miles of beautiful trails.
Residents also enjoy dining at the onsite restaurants. Residents sense a feeling of belonging. Variety is well defined at Venetian Bay with wide spread appeal. You’ll discover luxury estates in gated private communities; semi-custom homes; mid-sized single family homes and duplexes; maintenance free luxury townhomes and apartment homes. With prices ranging from the $300k's to over $1 million, there really is something for everyone at Venetian Bay.
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.”
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.
If you find yourself in this area, be sure to go check out the Villages of Citrus Hills:
Located less than an hour from The Villages, the Villages of Citrus Hills is a Florida Retirement Community with single-family homes and maintenance-free villas that have been built with today’s demanding baby-boomer in mind. But what makes the promise of Florida Retirement in the Villages of Citrus Hills truly come together for today’s new breed of active adult retiree is its extraordinary collection of world-class community country club amenities and extensive social activities. Villages of Citrus Hills offers a variety of home styles and neighborhoods to choose from.
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!
And for a bit of history, don't forget to hit the oldest bar in Florida, The Palace Saloon (pictured above). If nothing else, at least visit their website and scroll down and read about the history of it, it's pretty cool!
If you find yourself in this area, be sure to check out Del Webb Wildlight:
Experience a new level of retirement living at Del Webb Wildlight. This distinctive active adult community is located 20 minutes away from downtown Fernandina, Amelia Island beaches, and downtown Jacksonville. Del Webb Wildlight provides unique opportunities centered around signature resort-style amenities hosted by a full-time lifestyle director to ensure you stay active.
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 the 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 its 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 Key Largo Fisheries, Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, and The Fish House.
Over to you…
Know a great place to experience that “old Florida” feeling? Let us know in the comments down below!