The Best Places to Live in Florida

Last updated on April 23rd, 2021.

Is Florida a good place to live? Yes, and no.

It’s got many good selling points:

  • Low taxes
  • Year-round warm weather
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Incredible nature
  • Endless attractions

New people move to Florida every day. They come from around the U.S., Canada, and countries around the world.

When they get here, many new Florida residents learn that living in Florida isn’t the paradise they imagined. Florida’s tourism and PR departments doesn’t like to talk about this, but the numbers of those “moving out” of Florida are about equal to inbound residents.

There are definitely downsides:

  • Hurricanes
  • Unsustainable growth
  • Political corruption
  • Unpleasant culture

Cost of Living in Florida

When compared to some expensive areas of the U.S, Florida’s cost of living is low. But, as any grumpy old person will tell you, things aren’t like they used to be.

Prices are rising, especially the cost of housing. Rent prices are rising at a double-digit pace, and new housing supply is mostly aimed at high-end real estate.

The days of finding an affordable house in Florida are over.

Or, at least until the next real estate bust. It’s getting more expensive every year, and it’s pricing many residents out of the state.

Pro’s and Con’s of living in Florida

When most folks move to Florida, they imagine paradise. Beautiful white sand beaches, attractions, and an endless summer of warm, inviting weather.

Many of those things are true. But, living in Florida year-round is never the same experience as a brief, fun-filled vacation.

For anyone who’s thinking about moving to Florida, a giant question looms. Where is the best place to live in Florida?

Choosing a new home is not easy. It’s a huge decision, with countless variables and things to consider.

It’s even more difficult for folks who move to Florida from out of state. How are you supposed to choose after a lifetime of living in New York, Canada or other northern states?

Moving within one’s one region is difficult enough, but moving across a continent is much more complicated, and filled with uncertainty.

It’s not easy to choose a place where you might end up living in for decades. What if you don’t like it? How do you choose a neighborhood, when you’ve never even visited a place? Many people don’t even know what to wear in Florida. Should you bring a winter jacket?

Things to Consider

There are many factors to consider, among others:

  • Cost of living
  • How safe a place is
  • Job opportunities
  • Housing Costs
  • Quality of life

Finding a perfect balance is difficult; especially in Florida. But, it is possible. And, there are several great cities and regions to choose from.

Where to live in Florida?

When confronted with an impossibly difficult decision, it’s often useful and helpful to narrow one’s options. These questions can help you find the best place to live in Florida for your family’s personal situation.

  • Do you want to live near the water? If yes, you can further narrow your choices down. Would a canal be OK? Or, is a beach-front location non-negotiable? Do you prefer freshwater for fishing? Or, maybe a saltwater bay?
  • Is boating important to you? If so, there are many things to consider as a boat owner.
  • Do you prefer a crowded, city environment with lots of culture? Or, a sleepy farming community with beautiful Spanish moss draped across majestic liveoaks?
  • Is it important that you live in a politically progrssive community? If so, there are definitely parts of the state you will want to avoid!
  • Do you have children? If so, you should pay close attention to the public school situation. Florida has one of the poorest-rated public education systems in the country.
  • Do you have eldery parents? Or, are you elderly yourself? If so, it might be important to consider proximity to medical facilities and a deep pool of doctors to choose from.
  • Are you employed, or will you be job-searching? The employment situation in Florida varies wildly by region. Wages do, too.
  • Are you afraid of hurricanes? If so, you might want to avoid hurricane-prone areas like South East Florida.

Tampa Bay

According to many resident surveys, the greater Tampa Bay region ranks as one of the best cities in Florida. This MSA, or metropolitan statistical area, includes many cities, which together form the area known as “Tampa Bay”.

  • Tampa
  • Clearwater
  • Saint Petersburg
  • Sarasota
  • Brandon
  • Bradenton
  • Apollo Beach
  • Many smaller communities

Positives of Tampa Bay

  • Tampa offers a cosmopolitan environment with diverse cultural opportunities
  • Relatively affordable cost of living, when compared to other waterfront locations.
  • The beaches in Tampa are world-class.
  • Tampa Bay offers great sailing, boating and watersports activities

Negatives of Tampa Bay

  • The Tampa Bay area is increasingly unaffordable. Wages are well below the national average, and there is a falling number of large employers in the area.
  • Vulnerable to hurricanes: The central gulf coast of Florida has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921. Due to weather and geography, the Tampa Bay area is less vulnerable to hurricanes than other parts of Florida. But, it is only a matter of time until the next major hurricane hits. When it does, it will cause devastating damage because the region is unprepared.

The average annual pay in Tampa is $53,679. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it had a low unemployment rate of 3.4%, which is respectable for its rather large population of 2.4 million residents.

The region is home to attractive institutions like the University of Southern Florida (USF), the University of Tampa, and other prestigious universities. In the greater Tampa Bay area, there are even more choices; including Stetson Law School, and others.

Employment Opportunities in Tampa

Tampa is in central Florida, on the gulf of Mexico.

Tampa has a lot going for it. It has a deep and well-rounded economy. It’s a burgeoning destination for technology entrepreneurs and has many established employers. If you’re looking for a job in the tech industry, Tampa may be worth investigating.

You should be aware, though, that even in the relatively higher-paying technology sector, wages in Tampa are significantly below the rest of the country. When compared to technology-focused regions like California’s Bay Area, Tampa’s wages are laughably low.

Tampa is one of the fastest growing cities in Florida, and the U.S. The Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater metropolitan areas checks many boxes. It’s not surprising that many agree it’s one of the best places to live in Florida.

Southwest Florida

The next step along Florida’s gulf coast is southwest Florida. This region contains some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches and top-rated communities.

Naples and Marco Island are routinely ranked as some of the best places to live. They offer a very posh, manicured style. Some people like the orderliness and cookie-cutter precision. Others dislike it and feel that it’s too fake.

Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are known as especially good places to live. They offer a laid back and natural, family-oriented backdrop.

My friends who were raised on Sanibel say they can’t imagine growing up anywhere else. I think that, if you can afford it, these places would be excellent places to live; especially if you are a remote worker and can earn your wage from a high-earning source.

They offer great schools, a strong sense of community and amazing nature.

There are downsides to this entire region, though.

The cost of living is extraordinarily high in all of southwest Florida. It’s especially bad relative to local employment opportunities.

The region is very wealthy and there is very little economic mobility. There is very little diversity or inclusion.

The beaches are beautiful, but the area lacks some of the variety and dynamism that other regions have. Young people often complain that it’s a bad place to live as a young person.

Central Florida

Central Florida is a large population center, and it’s growing all the time.

It used to be heavily reliant on the citrus industry, but has modernized somewhat and now has a much more diverse economy. The local and regional governments have tried to lure high-tech firms and support innovation.

As global tourism ground to a halt in 2020, it seems obvious that central Florida would have struggled during the pandemic. But, against all odds, the region seems to be staying afloat. It continues to attract people from around the country, and even internationally.

I do not recommend moving to central Florida right now, though. It is currently struggling with a shortage of houses for sale. Both existing home sales and new construction are experiencing unprecedented, and crazy, conditions.

If you’re looking for a good place to live near Orlando, there are many options. There are communities and suburbs sprinkled all around the Orlando area. Each has their own costs and benefits, but many people love the area in general.

Areas on the outskirts of Orlando, like Kissimmee, Windermere and others.

The region is attractive to many folks who seek Florida’s warm year-round weather, but without Miami’s high cost of living, or as much direct hurricane risk.

If you don’t necessarily need to live on the beach, central Florida communities can be nice places to live. There are even waterfront options, they’re just on lakes.