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 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 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! And don't miss Donnie's Donuts for their vintage donuts!
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!
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!
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 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!
High Springs and Micanopy are cool small Florida towns too.
Deborah Huckeba says
Apalachicola still has an old Florida vibe. Very much off the beaten track. Only Highway 98 in and out., and we do have moss on oaks, river and beaches.
Linda Ward says
Homasassa Springs is Old Florida at its best. Don’t miss the fresh shrimp at The Freezer on the riverfront.
Jim T says
Check out Crystal River and Inglis ,Yankee town area where Elvis filmed follow that dream.
You will be transported back in time to a more peaceful historic Florida that time has forgotten !
Bernadette Penfield says
Floral City, Inverness and Crystal River. All have an old Florida vibe!
Michael West says
You can have all the moss on my oak trees…in Bartow.
Jason Kersey says
Matlacha and Pine Island west of Cape Coral
Sharon Burstein says
Boca Grande is quintessential Old Florida at its best. Nicely styled old world laid back feel with well dressed understated crowd.
I’ve stayed in Cocoa Beach when there were only two motels there, 60 years ago. You could drive and park on the beach. There was no such thing as parking meters to pay to park to go to the beach……..That was old Florida.
Charles Dailey says
Old Florida waterfront living is what I’m looking for for a seasonal rental
James Buxton says
I would definitely add Mount Dora & Cassadaga just because of it’s funky paranormal vibe.
Michael Schumacher says
What about Bokeelia?
Stuart, Venice, Mount Dora to name a few more.
Jodi Pearson says
These are wonderful recommendations. I’m wondering if there are any towns in Florida left that still have Moss hanging from the trees. I want to live somewhere where there’s Moss hanging on the trees!
Charles Craig says
I believe we saw those trees when we visited Dunedin. Hadn’t seen anything like that before.
Floral city still does It reminds me of the movie The Headless Horseman
St. Augustine is where the tree moss is plentiful.
Micanopy and any towns around Gainesville
Bagdad Fl is much more “old Florida” than anything in the article!
Lisa Cross says
Winter Garden was such a nice place to visit. Walking on the street, browsing in the shops and eating at local eateries.
Edward McGowan says
Palm Coast, Florida looks nice.
Clearwater used to be that way back in the 1960’s. I was born in Tampa and my Godparents lived on the beach in Clearwater. I miss going to their house.
Jerry Horn says
“Used to be” is right. My Grandparents retired to Largo in the sixties after deciding that the west coast of Florida was less crowded than the east coast. Pinellas County in the sixties was a developing area. I lived with my Grandparents from 1968-1971, graduating from Largo HS and St Petersburg Jr College. It was a wonderful place to live at that time.
When I returned for my 50th high school reunion in 2019, I found the Clearwater/Largo area to be a much different place than I remembered. It was still nice, but the laid back ambience was gone.
Joan Adh says
This is what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much for featuring this appealing option. While I love all inclusive areas, as they are beautiful, I long for that old Florida appeal.
Arcadia Florida is also very old Florida the town main Street has antique shops , an old fashioned ice cream Parlor and the old theater turned museum is fun to check out.
Do you want to see real old Florida go to Quincy Florida rich in history just north of Tallahassee Garson County
Roy Smith says
Cedar Key is a marvellous place, used to ride my motorcycle there every winter several times, affordable living and certainly less hustle and bustle.
Anna Maria Island.
Teresa Amin says
And Cortez near Anna Maria Island. One of the last fishing villages left in FL.
Love Venice! We were there yesterday!
Welaka is really old Florida! For now
Frederick P. Ahrens says
You forgot Brooksville, FL
Constance Dickerson says
Though I certainly understand the appeal of beach communities, there is certainly a vibrant old Florida feel in communities like Lake Placid. Give us a look sometime. It has fishing, hiking, boating, good restaurants and affordable living.