From the East Coast Atlantic to the Florida Panhandle, we picked 13 quiet Florida beach towns that you need to check out.
Here’s the thing about Florida: You visit time and again, and you’re quite sure you know the state and its glorious sandy stretches and the best beach towns in Florida pretty well. But there’s always a surprise waiting for those who stray from the classic Panama City–Orlando–Miami–Key West stops. From Atlantic coast enclaves that locals try to keep to themselves to subtropical islands dotting the Gulf of Mexico, from the Tampa Gulf and the Florida Panhandle, most of our picks for the best beach towns in Florida that are under the radar, too, won’t ring a bell, but consider that a good thing. Get away from the vacationing masses for a taste of old Florida in these spots where the simple things—sun, surf, and a no-worries attitude—still reign on these quiet beaches.
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Atlantic Beach, Florida, weather averages:
There’s just one high-rise building—the classy One Ocean Resort & Spa along this primarily residential beach just east of Jacksonville, which is one of the most kid-friendly small beach towns in Florida. In-the-know surfers and vacationers converge for an east coast beach vibe that feels more like the Outer Banks than Florida. The surf break called Mayport Poles, just north of Atlantic Beach, is one of the best places to go surfing in Florida. And outdoor activities abound here on and off the sand. Bathing suit–clad bikers pedal colorful beach cruisers along the beach at low tide and past the cluster of shops and restaurants along Ocean Boulevard, where Atlantic and Neptune beaches converge. Grab your morning coffee with surfers at Southern Grounds, a local favorite hangout in Neptune Beach (the neighboring seaside burg). Or opt for a sunset cocktail later in the day at the Lemon Bar, right on the beach and attached to the old-school Seahorse Inn. Vacationing families and locals alike head to Whit’s Frozen Custard for a sweet interlude to a great beach day (after dinner, the line snakes down the block). There’s hardly a chain hotel or restaurant to be seen in these parts, and that’s much of what makes Atlantic Beach so special.
INSIDER TIPHead just north of Atlantic Beach (you can bike along the beach or go by car to get there) to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, which has some of the best mountain biking trails in Florida. The beach break here is also one of the best places to go surfing in Florida.
Deerfield Beach, Florida, weather averages:
Heading south from West Palm Beach, tourists tend to make a beeline for the vacation destinations of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. But it’s well worth exiting I-95 at Deerfield Beach for a different kind of Florida stay. The luxury boutique hotel Royal Blues Hotel, with just 12 yacht-inspired rooms fronting the ocean, is a contemporary stunner clad in teak and marble. But there’s still an old-school feel to Deerfield that defies South Florida’s overt bling. The beach here is particularly pristine and has been named a “Blue Wave Beach” by the Clean Beach Council. Among the many outdoor activities and kid-friendly activities you can get up to, toss out a line from the 976-foot-long fishing pier that juts into the Atlantic or go boogie boarding or surfing near the Deerfield Beach Pier, one of the best places to go surfing in Florida. Those who are certified can enjoy top-notch scuba diving just offshore by heading out with Dixie Divers to the wreck of the Ancient Mariner; a 1930s Coast Guard cutter that sits upright in crystal-clear waters and is loaded with fish. Deerfield Beach restaurants recommended include JB’s on the Beach for the view; The Modern Rose for brunch (twice voted best café in Florida), and The Cove for seafood.
INSIDER TIPAccessible by boat only (with a free weekend boat shuttle), Deerfield Island Park has spectacular nature trails draped with mangroves and other native Florida flora.
Vero Beach, Florida, weather averages:
Located within roughly two hours of both Orlando and Miami, Vero Beach, another of the very best small beach towns in Florida, sits along Florida’s Treasure Coast. This stretch of the state’s Atlantic coastline was named for the Spanish treasure fleets that sank here in the 1700s. After a big storm, you’ll see folks with metal detectors in hand strolling along the beach, hoping to get lucky. But even luckier are the vacationers who find their way to this subdued stretch of sand over the ticky-tacky tourist towns like Daytona Beach to the north. Made largely of driftwood and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, The Driftwood Resort has great rooms for families and a lively restaurant and bar called Waldo’s fronting the ocean. For excellent Cuban food and Caribbean vibes, stop by Wave Kitchen & Bar at the stylish Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa, owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa is another beautiful oceanfront property with kid-friendly activities and a heated oceanfront swimming pool for vacationing families. Loggerhead turtles nest here from March through October; you can witness the action during sea turtle watch programs that take you out on local beaches for a chance at seeing nesting turtles in action.
Related: The Best Things to Do in Orlando
INSIDER TIPSebastian Inlet State Park, just north of Vero, is one of the best spots in the state for fishing (try your hand at hooking a flounder or snapper) and one of the best places to go surfing in Florida, too.
Ponce Inlet, Florida weather averages:
Just 10 miles south of the busy spring break and biker scene of Daytona Beach lies one of the most relaxing and affordable beach towns in Florida, Ponce Inlet. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse—built in 1835, and the largest lighthouse in Florida—is the crown jewel in the unpretentious town of roughly 3,000, and looks like something you’d spot along the coast of Maine. There’s an observation tower as well as surrounding nature trails to explore, making a lighthouse visit one of the most kid-friendly activities you can get up to here (when you’re not building sandcastles or looking for shells along the beach, of course). Lighthouse Point Park, on the southern tip of the peninsula, has beaches with sugar-fine sand and calm waters that are often visited by playful dolphins. Cool off with a rum-spiked cocktail at the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill, next to the lighthouse, and feast on some of Florida’s best seafood at waterfront Down the Hatch Seafood Company.
INSIDER TIPStroke a stingray in the touch pool and learn about turtle and seabird rehabilitation programs with a visit to the Marine Science Center, a great family outing.
Cedar Key, Florida weather averages:
Located about 2.5 hours north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, the low-development cluster of islands that comprise Cedar Key makes for a very different kind of Florida vacation. Here, getting back to nature and the simple things are the focus in one of the most affordable beach towns in Florida. Cedar Key feels like the kind of locale where Hemingway would hang his hat. The Cedar Key Seafood Festival, held every October at the start of stone crab season, is a great time to visit, as it’s one of just a few times during the year when visitors can access nearby Seahorse Key (reached by boat), a protected island with a historic lighthouse that’s part of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge. Be sure to try local delicacies like mullet dip, oysters, and clam chowder. You can find traditional wooden stilt houses to rent on vacation rental websites, and plan to head out for outdoor activities with companies like Kayak Cedar Keys to spot horseshoe crabs, ospreys, and raccoons and visit a 19th-century cemetery during a paddling tour. Cedar Key camping options include the public Shell Mound Campground, private Low Key Campground, Motel and Tiki Bar, and RV camping site Angler’s RV Campground.
Related: Florida Panhandle Travel Guide
INSIDER TIPYou’ll likely be directed to Tony’s Seafood Restaurant by anyone you ask for a restaurant recommendation thanks to its famous clam chowder, but be sure to hit 83 West, too, for Florida’s tastiest shrimp and grits.
Vilano Beach, Florida weather averages:
Historic St. Augustine, America’s oldest town, is one of Florida’s top tourist attractions and can feel as crowded as a theme park much of the year. Travelers in the know opt to visit as a day trip and then bed down just north in the quieter coastal community of Vilano Beach, one of the most relaxing vacation places in Florida, where an old-school beach vacation awaits. Magic Beach Motel is a cool retro hotel with funky murals in the rooms and complimentary breakfast to start you off right for a day of sun and surf on Vilano’s pristine beach, one of the best beaches in Florida for surfing, especially during a windswell or groundswell from the east. For the most romantic hotel in town, book in at the historic Casa Monica Resort & Spa. Beaches at Vilano is a local’s favorite restaurant for dinner, with outdoor tables overlooking the Tolomato River. Live music accompanies the sunsets here, and the seafood is second to none.
INSIDER TIPThe beach at Vilano is one of the best in Florida for finding shark teeth, one of the most kid-friendly free activities you can have on the sand. Just sift through the sand at low tide and look for telltale razor-sharp edges glinting among the shell shrapnel.
Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island, Florida, weather averages:
From crème brûlée French toast for breakfast on the front porch at Ginny and Jane E’s, a restaurant and beach-inspired home furnishings shop housed inside a former IGA grocery store, to pedaling a beach cruiser around the quiet residential streets, Anna Maria Island outdoor activities are as good as the Florida Gulf Coast beach life gets. Located at the northern tip of a barrier island just offshore from swanky Sarasota, AMI, as the locals call it, is almost entirely free of chain stores and hotels, making it one of the best small beach towns in Florida. Stoll the beach and town (did we mention this is also one of the most walkable beach towns in Florida?), then settle in at a table with your toes in the sand at the SandBar Restaurant for beautiful sunsets and killer grouper sandwiches. At Beach Bums, you can rent toys like beach cruisers, SUPs, surrey bikes, and kayaks. Among the many other inexpensive kid-friendly activities to put on your vacation agenda here, don’t miss a visit to the Rod and Reel Pier to toss out a fishing line or snack on some fried clam strips or Key lime pie at the onsite restaurant overlooking the water. Anna Maria Island weather is typical for this region of Florida even though it’s an island: hot and humid mostly year round (70-90 °F) but cool and delightful in the winter (50-70°F).
INSIDER TIPAnna Maria is an idyllic place to rent a vacation home for a multi-generational gathering. Pineapplefish Rentals has an incredible selection of artistically decorated bungalows and villas on AMI’s beautiful canals and sugar sand beaches.
Pass-a-Grille Beach, Florida, weather averages:
This small beach community at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach gets its curious name from the French passe aux grilleurs, a reference to the French mariners who used to grill their fish on the beaches here during pirate times. It was the Spanish, however, who first arrived in Pass-a-Grille from the Old World in 1528. Sandwiched between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the small town center, lined with yellow and sky-blue buildings, houses independent shops and restaurants and has been named a National Historic District. When it comes to small beach towns in Florida, it’s definitely one of the most colorful and atmospheric. Tuck into grouper sandwiches and other Florida seafood specialties at the dockside Sea Critters Cafe, with its marine-life murals covering the walls, or settle in beachside for a bucket of cold beers and burgers steps from the sand at the uber-casual Paradise Grille. The crystalline waters are perfect for swimming nearly year-round (just do the “stingray shuffle” to stave off any unwelcome encounters with these marine animals who are just as drawn to the lovely beach as you).
INSIDER TIPAs long as you’re in the area, make a point to take a day trip to Fort DeSoto Park, with its emerald waters and pristine shelling beaches.
Santa Rosa Beach
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, weather averages:
Continue about 45 minutes west of Panama City Beach in the Panhandle to reach this far more mellow and upscale community along northwest Florida’s sublime Emerald Coast. Families especially love Santa Rosa Beach thanks to the abundance of vacation homes for rent along the sugary sands and calm, clear waters ideal for dipping. From all-encompassing luxury resorts like WaterColor Inn & Resort to quaint guest houses that conjure a Key West vibe (like the Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse), there’s an accommodation for every type of vacationer here in one of Florida’s best hidden-gem beach towns. Watching the sunset is the only thing set in stone on most people’s schedules here, along with a seafood feast at one of a handful of atmospheric restaurants that include classic spots like Stinky’s Fish Camp, known for its fish tacos and excellent raw bar serving up fresh Gulf oysters.
INSIDER TIPIf you love to get out on the glassy waters here on a SUP, SurfSup delivers paddleboards to your vacation rental or hotel, free of charge.
Longboat Key, Florida, weather averages:
Lined mostly with low-rise residential condos and low-key hotels, Sarasota’s best small beach town is Longboat Key, where sugar-fine sands and warm shallows beckon along Florida’s Gulf coast. For a stay that welcomes you to settle in, get comfortable and stay a while, the most inviting option in the area is Sand Cay Beach Resort, with condominium-style accommodations with full kitchens and multiple bedrooms overlooking the beach and a beautiful communal outdoor grill and picnic area set just back from the dunes. For a quintessential Florida seafood restaurant, book a table at the Lazy Lobster. And Harry’s Continental Kitchen is Longboat Key’s go-to brunch spot, with a breezy outdoor patio and delicious Lowcountry-style shrimp and grits on the menu. Kid-friendly activities abound in Longboat Key, whether you visit Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium in nearby Sarasota to see its resident manatees and sea turtles or head to St. Armands Circle to hunt for the best ice cream cone among the many cafes and boutiques.
INSIDER TIPAt low tide, you can walk to Beer Can Island, a sandbar that’s usually only accessible by boat. Off the northernmost point of Longboat Key, it has a sweeping stretch of sand that’s quiet during the week and a party paradise on weekends and holidays.
Navarre Beach, Florida, weather averages:
This quiet Panhandle beach ‘burg located roughly equidistant from the busier destinations of Pensacola and Destin calls itself Florida’s most relaxing town. And Navarre Beach it’s also one of the most affordable beach towns in Florida, with several inexpensive chain hotels for a relaxing stay. If clear blue waters for swimming and sugar sand beaches with very few crowds are the Florida vacation ingredients most important to you, you won’t be disappointed here. SpringHill Suites Navarre Beach is an affordable hotel fronting the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t miss a visit to observe sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. And ziplining adventures, tubing along a four-mile-long river route and other family excursions are among the offerings at Adventures Unlimited, an activities center located just inland in the small, pleasant town of Milton. Navarre Beach Camping Resort is top-rated for those traveling to Navarre Beach via RV.
INSIDER TIPHead out for a sunset kayak eco-tour with Navarre Beach Kayaks on Santa Rosa Sound, where you might spot dolphins and sea turtles as you paddle the calm waters.
Fernandina Beach, Florida, weather averages:
The inclination for most people who drive into Florida from Georgia is to keep speeding south along Interstate 95. But it’s worth detouring just across the border, once you enter the Sunshine State and heading to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island to experience one of the most relaxing vacation places in Florida. The northernmost city on Florida’s East Coast, Fernandina Beach feels more like a sweet little southern coastal town, with historic buildings lining its quaint downtown, long stretches of dune-backed Atlantic beaches, and miles of bike paths shaded by live oak trees to explore. If you’re looking for kid-friendly activities off the beach, Amelia River Cruises takes people out on shrimping eco tours on the river, where the highlight comes in dragging a net behind the boat and pulling in all sorts of fascinating creatures that might include shrimp, calamari and other marine life (catch and release). For a break from the oceanside beaches, you can spread a towel out where the St. Mary’s River spills into the Atlantic at beautiful Fort Clinch Park, another wonderful place to pedal a bike. And your options for hotels here range from affordable options like the SpringHill Suites Amelia Island, with its lively pool scene and suite-style rooms, to the venerable and longstanding oceanfront queen, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
INSIDER TIP: Locals go crazy for the wild-caught Florida shrimp and fish tacos at Timoti’s Seafood Shak, which has an onsite playground for keeping the kids busy while you go for round two.
Hutchinson Island, Florida, weather averages:
Base yourself on this barrier island between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean to experience one of the best small beach towns in Florida. The most scenic place to stay on the beach itself in Hutchinson Island is Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa, a luxurious boutique hotel overlooking the breakers in Jensen Beach. Closer to downtown Ft. Pierce’s breweries and famed Florida seafood restaurants like Chuck’s Seafood, the more affordable Hutchinson Plaza Hotel & Suites has a private fishing pier right on Fort Pierce Inlet with colorful Adirondack chairs where you can settle in to watch the sunset. There’s even a private riverfront beach at the hotel to enjoy. If you’re looking for an old-school Florida vacation with salty ocean breezes, classic seafood restaurants, riverfront bars, and a lack of all pretensions, it’s impossible to beat this stretch of Florida’s coastline that’s often overlooked in favor of buzzier locales.
INSIDER TIPFor an epic day on the Indian River Lagoon from Fort Pierce, head out with Happy Pineapple Tours to explore undeveloped spoil islands covered with pine trees and scrub brush in the river where you can stop to swim, barbecue, fish, and just lounge on pristine beaches.