The Best Cities to Live in Florida 96 comments

If you’re moving to Florida and like the the energy that larger cities provide, then you probably have best cities to live in floridabeen searching the web for the best cities to live in Florida. If so, you probably have been disappointed because Florida cities have not appeared anywhere other than the bottom of the best places to live lists for years.

Forget Looking for Best Cities to Live in Florida for another 2-3 years.

The last recession hit Florida harder than just about any other state in the U.S. It’s hard for a city to make a best places list when it has the among highest unemployment, foreclosure and crime rates in the country. In fact, Florida cities have made it to the top of a few lists and even dominated the top spots, unfortunately they were not the kind of lists you want to be on.

Florida Tops Most Miserable Places to Live in the US List

Forbes Magazine, a well respected business related publication named Miami as the most miserable place to live in the US in 2012. This year, thanks to Michigan cities like Detroit (#1 most miserable US city 2013) and Flint (#2) and multiple cities in California and Illinois, Florida Cities that dominated the list last year have been dethroned from the worst of the worst.

High Crime Miami Florida and Police Refusing to Take Emergency Calls While on Duty

Most large cities have a crime problem, but Miami has consistently ranked among the worst or the worst city. This video could help explain part of the problem.

Miami, named the #1 worst place to live in the US last year dropped all the way down to 20th worst place this year. That’s nothing to brag about and it still has the 7th highest crime rate of anywhere in the US. But it was given points for continuing to attract new residents (suckers?) and the unemployment rate has improved from the worst to just about average for the country. Florida is still the king of foreclosures but housing values have climbed back from the 60% drop in values at the beginning of the recession.

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Florida Cities the most “depressed” in the US

Men’s Health Magazine did a study to see where the most depressing places to live in the US were. They used criteria such as anti-depressant use, high divorce, unemployment, and foreclosure rates among other factors that signal a less than ideal life. St. Petersburg and Tampa topped that list. The article explaining the results said that people living in Florida cities in particular were more depressed than in any other state. Could it be because a millions of people spent a fortune to move to Florida for paradise, but after living in Florida for a few years determine that it was just a mirage? Over 10 million people have moved to Florida only to move back out. The study from Florida’s own “University of Florida” where that data came from is the subject of other posts on this blog.

So Where are the Best Cities to Live in Florida?

UPDATE! Here’s our UPDATED Best Cities to Live in Florida!

If you are lucky enough to be in the top 5% of the wealthiest households in the US, you can find pockets of true paradise in any of Florida’s Major Cities. These areas are extremely expensive to buy or rent in, but they offer the best waterfront and or beaches, shops and restaurants all in a bubble of relative safety.

For the other 95%, my pick would be Jacksonville, Florida. In my opinion, it’s nowhere near the best place to live in the US, but I picked it for three main reasons. First, it’s the “least worst” city based upon my own observation from stays in each of Florida’s largest cities, and it suffers less from the ills that caused the other Cities to top the worst places lists.

Jacksonville is the northern most major Florida City. Although summer still last far longer than in the rest of the county, In Jacksonville you won’t be worn down by 9 months of heat and humidity every year like in south Florida. You could say it has 4 seasons but winter isn’t cold, just refreshingly cool in my opinion.

Because it’s just across the Florida border, it’s a shorter drive to visit the smarter people who still live back home. If you ever drove from the northeast US to anywhere south or west of Orlando Florida multiple times, or were unable to fly anywhere after the attacks on September 11th years ago, you’d appreciate how much easier the drive is from north Florida. Every year there seems to be more traffic and therefore more accidents and frustrating traffic jams.

The Best Places to Live in Florida in 2015 if You Still Need to Generate Income

Another place that I would suggest you consider is Gainesville Florida, home of the University of Florida. It is not a major city but because it’s home to the largest college age population in Florida, you’ll find most of the great things you wanted a city for, and a lot less of the crime and things you don’t want. Gainesville is also discussed in other posts on this blog.

In the late 1990’s Florida dominated best places to live lists. The sunshine state was the default place to move to for retirement. Things have changed. People are now moving to places that they perceive offer a more active lifestyle. Colorado and North Carolina make the top spots on on many of today’s list. More retirees are retiring in place. My own observation from spending a lot of time in Florida as well as the northeast US is that the winters in the north are getting milder (much to the dismay of ski slope operators) with the exception of this past winter, and Florida is getting hotter.

I do believe that Florida will rank higher on these lists within the next few years until the state experiences ugly hurricane seasons, similar to 2004 and 2005. Florida has gone eight hurricane seasons without a landfall by a major hurricane. That hasn’t happened since they’ve been keeping records of storm activity. That no major hurricane hit is going to end. That’s when I think that hurricane loss and sea level rise will combine to make homeowners insurance a real nightmare again. Florida already has the highest rates in the US. I don’t think it will be the default place to live or retire in the future.

Florida may or may not be for you, but if I was looking for the best city in Florida to live in 2014, Jacksonville and Gainesville would be on my short list. Actually, I would just chose Gainesville, but I’m not really a big city fan. In case you were wondering, I do not live in, nor do I actively show homes in either of these cities.

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96 thoughts on “The Best Cities to Live in Florida

  • Jamie

    I hadn’t realized unemployment was so high in Florida. That always takes a big toll.

    I also am a big fan of university towns and will be reading some of your other posts on Gainesville. I love Boulder, CO and Eugene, OR–both are smaller cities but great places for art, movies, and great/affordable food because of the university presence.

    Will also look into Jacksonville more closely. The climate you describe sounds very appealing. I want some sunny weather, but I don’t want to swelter all year long!

  • deb broos

    I lived in Lake City, Fl for 10 years. It has a laid-back country charm, no state taxes, and the ability to homestead ($25,000. tax relief) after the first year of home ownership. The property taxes are quite slim. That is one reason I hope to leave Ohio and head back to the Land of Dixie!!!

    • India

      I live in Ohio also and I want to move out too I hate the cold winters it hurts my bones. I want to move to Florida but I want to make sure I move into a good neighborhood.

      • Ron Post author

        My experience has been that most people who move to Florida just to escape cold winters end up up moving back home or to a third state. Moving to a state that has 9 humid months can be worse than a state with 3 cold months and 3 humid ones. However, I’ve also noticed that long term satisfaction with Florida’s tropical climate is higher for people older than 75, or people under 75 if they have joint damage, bad arthritis because of certain long term employment, disease or just genetics or other ailments that worsen with the cold.

        Many older women (and men too) that suffer from osteoporosis may be right for Florida too. If you wear a sweater or jacket to the grocery store in the middle of summer, you may be an ideal candidate for Florida. The key to a successful move is to make sure that you won’t likely encounter more negatives in the other reasons folks move out of Florida, that will outweigh the perceived temperature advantage. The temperature in the grocery stores, malls, homes, cars, etc. in Florida are the same as they are in any other state. Don’t throw your coats away.

  • Alex

    Lol you picked Jacksonville. The city with the highest crime rate, highest rate of depression and suicide, and least amount of stuff to do for a major area in this state. Its ok, Im sure it will be worth it to be 4 hours closer to the Northeast and all the “smart” people there.

    • Ron Post author

      Check your facts Alex. Miami has the highest rate of crime in the state St. Petersbug and Tampa the highest rate of depression, suicide, etc (although all of Florida’s major cities rank high on the depressed chart compared to the rest of the US). Read more here

      Jacksonville has golf courses, beaches and everything else the rest of Florida has except theme parks, but they become boring to Florida residents after about the 6th visit in a year. Being 4 hours closer to the northeast saves on time and money visiting the people back home. Moving to and from Jacksonville (because most will move back eventually) from the northeast (where the “smart” people who only vacation in Florida live) costs less than moving from Tampa or Miami.

      • Ryann

        I was born in Gainesville and I still live here.

        However,I have also lived in Jacksonville and worked there. The crime rate is high and unless you plan on buying home starting at $300,000, you will be living in the more unfortunate areas. There are beaches but they are definitely not the nicest and the traffic is terrible. Some places like the San Marco area near the river are nice but very expensive.

        I love Gainesville. The homes are overpriced for the area, but overall it has everything you need. We are two hours from the beach, and we have multiple springs and rivers for kayaking. We also have a nice camping area and all of this in a 10 mile radius. Just like any other place there are “bad areas” but the majority is safe and nice. Our biggest crimes here are bicycle theft…

    • Ron Post author

      All of my picks in the “Best places to Retire Florida 2014” are small towns or small cities (just big towns really), so you may want to start there. Please be aware that because they were chosen as a place to retire, they were chosen without regard to school district rating or the availability of employment. A planned February 2014 post on the “Best Places to live Florida 2014” will include schools and jobs as a main consideration.

    • mm

      Ocala is a good place to retire. Rent is still ok and you can buy many houses for a great prize. Country feel with everything close around to have fun.

  • Laurel

    We are looking for a place to move, near the beach and near a big city for things to do like theater, shopping, ball games, concerts. We need to be near several big hospitals for my work so that I have options for jobs. Any suggestions?

    • Ron Post author

      Laurel, the Jacksonville, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami areas may be places to consider based on the criteria you mentioned. Jacksonville will be noticeably cooler in the winter (but rarely cold) but will have fewer months of oppressive humidity. The Gulf of Mexico water off of the beaches in the St. Pete/Tampa are will be clearer, warmer and with calmer waves than the east coast beaches, although west coast beaches may be more susceptible to oil problems (rare but can lower property values with oil washing up on the beach) like the BP disaster. Cuba also now has a Chinese oil rig closer to Miami than what the U.S. will allow our own oil companies to drill.

      You may also want to look at Sarasota. It’s known as the cultural capital of Florida and has some of the best beaches in the world. It’s a very tolerable commute to Tampa/St Pete normally. Tampa is also home to Busch Gardens, one of the best theme parks in Florida. You can see a list of Florida hospitals here

      • silvia

        I was just here in Jacksonville I loved it! Love the weather, but how are the jobs for nails technitians there? Do you know?I live in vVirginia bit I’m so done with the cold weather.

        • Ron Post author

          Hello Silvia,
          You may want to visit in May, just one of the months when the weather in Virginia will likely be better than in Florida. I can’t help you with specific job availability, but nail salons seem to be everywhere in Florida. I can also tell you that Florida is adding jobs faster than most other states right now. This is part of a pattern. When times are good, Florida adds jobs faster than most states, when times are bad more people become unemployed faster than most other states. It’s the same as in other transient (former?) high growth states like Nevada. In the mean time, people complain that wages paid for most jobs are lower in FL than in other states. Because of low wages, business owners can do well during the good times. Most people move to Florida when they’re done with the cold weather, then move out after they’re done with the hot humid weather and other issues unique to the most southerly US state.
          Thanks for commenting and good luck.

    • Ron Post author

      St. Augustine was my #1 pick here. It is a smaller town, but anywhere worth living (for most people) in Florida may not qualify as quiet, especially near the beaches and during season aka the winter months, because of tourists/snowbirds. Not all tourist are alike though. Many visitors to St Augustine are attracted by the historic sites and downtown and they’re different from “spring breakers” for instance. I’ve known longer term Floridians to vacation in St Augustine, even though they already live near beach towns, so that says something. I will be posting a “best places to live in Florida in 2014” in a few days. It may be a little different than the list for retirees because of differing priorities.

      • Ryann

        St. Augustine is my absolute favorite spot In Florida. We have been trying to move there for years. Unfortunately because it is a tourist area and smaller town, there aren’t many job opportunities.

        • Ron Post author

          Actually tourism is responsible for much of the job growth in Florida the last few years. While many retirees will never be looking for a job again, some work just to get out of the house or for just a little extra cash to make ends meet, and will work for less. Since many such retirees are usually conscientious, dependable and don’t need a wage to fully support them, they are attractive candidates to employers. I agree that St Augustine Florida is one of the best places to live in Florida. St Augustine was named as our top pick to retire to in Florida for 2014 a few months back.

    • Julie

      Wade, it seems like you and I are in re same boat. I’m looking to relocate south, also in my early 40s and single. I like the idea of a small town but need to be close to places where I can work in an office environment.

  • Michelle

    St. Augustine is wonderful. This northerner would live there, but maybe I would also pick something a little further south since I love the heat/humidity. Vero beach? Port St. Lucie maybe? I’m learning more about these areas- real estate/ employment opportunites…

    • Ro

      Michelle, I relocated to Vero Beach in Sept. 2013. I love it. The beaches are gorgeous, never crowded and always free. The shopping is great as well (although I’m not a big shopper). A few really great organic farms, lots of culture and decent amount of people my age (50). I telecommute, So I am not aware of employment here. Property values are beginning to rise a bit, so If you’re looking to buy, now is the time. WE bought a great house for a little over 100k.

    • crabby in florida

      I loved living in florida too, the first couple of years. After about 3 years I could take or leave florida because I was getting tired of being burnt by the sun, tired of the constant sticky weather among other things. After about 5 years, I had enough. I never use the pool I had to have and have been to the beach so much I can’t stand it anymore. I called my realtor to sell but was informed the value dropped so much I owed twice as much as my home is worth. The value has slowly risen over the last couple of years but still not enough to break even. After talking with neighbors who’ve been here forever, they say home prices always go up but then crash every few years. I’m hoping I can sell and get out before the next crash or I’m leaving anyway, bad credit and all. I hardly see my neighbors because they are all hiding from the sun. New people all always out, in the pool but over time they hide in the house too. My neighbor says he hates Florida but is too old to go through another move. Everyone around here is crabby and I gotta get out before I’m old crabby and trapped like everyone else around here. Think long and hard before trading the things you don’t like about where you are now, for an even longer list of things you won’t like about florida. Scratch that, you’ll love Florida so come buy my overpriced home.

  • elizabeth

    My husband and i are wanting to move to florida but all we ever hear is that all of florida is extremely violent and super expensive, we dont make alot of money out here our rent here is 525.00 for a three bed house, is there any true safe affordable towns there to live in? Plus is it hard to find any work?

    • Ron Post author

      The truth is that almost every city has safer areas, even Miami, a city that is usually at or near the top of the FBI’s move violent city list every year. When Forbes business magazine named Miami the most miserable city in the US, they also noted that there were great areas to live in the city, if your income lands you in the top 1% of Americans. Florida’s job picture is better than the US’s as a whole at the moment, because Florida usually sheds jobs faster than any other state in bad times like the last recession when unemployment was the worst in the US, or adds them faster which is happening right now. Unless you have skills for select high paying occupations, the pay will be lower in Florida than in many other states.

      Is there a place in Florida that is real safe, real cheap with high paying jobs, fantastic schools and while were at it let’s throw in beautiful beaches and no humidity? Absolutely not. Why? One reason is Florida’s population count is about to overtake New York’s and 30,000 people a month or more move to Florida (more than replacing the 30,000 that leave every month). If there WERE a place that wonderful in Florida, everyone would move there and ruin it, in no time it would become another congested costly city with crime issues, EXCEPT in the more expensive areas.

      You said, “My husband and i are wanting to move to florida”, but you didn’t say why. If you don’t have a compelling reason, you may need to do more research because you may be a good candidate to join the millions of people who in the past moved to Florida for greener grass, didn’t find what they expected and moved out. The rate for people moving out is now about 30,000 a month. Look for my post on the cheapest places to live in Florida for 2014 in the “best places to live” menu choice, that will highlight the places closest to what you are looking for. Hope you make the right decision for you, whatever that is. To lighten things up, I hope you get a chuckle out of this video.

      • Ms. Grier

        Love it! I think I’ve been there. The allure of the warm and sunny weather lead me to move to AZ. I indeed enjoyed the warmth, but ended up moving. The cultural and economic environment at the time was very different. Anyway, I really like the video.


  • Noelia

    I am currently living in Germantown MD. My husband and I wish to move next year to Florida. We were thinking Sarasota or ST Petersburg, but we don’t know anything about those cities.. We are on ours high 30ths. we have our jobs in MD but here is nothing to do. any suggestions? do you know if can we find a job there? housing? crimes? thanks Noelia

    • Ron Post author

      Hello Noelia,
      Lets take this point by point.
      “We were thinking Sarasota or ST Petersburg, but we don’t know anything about those cities”
      Sarasota has been a steady pick of ours as a best place to live in Florida, year after year. St Petersburg was named as the MOST depressing place to live of all cities in the US in a study done by Men’s Health Magazine based on high rates of divorce, suicide, anti-depressant pill use, etc.

      “we have our jobs in MD”
      Quitting jobs during a time of historically high unemployment in the US is risky. If you get hired in FL first, less risky. But getting a job in FL while not already living there can be next to impossible, unless you qualify for a position that is in demand. Just moving to Florida to look for jobs presents it’s own problems. You’ll be competing with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people already in Florida looking for work and Florida landlords don’t like renting to unemployed tenants because they’ve been burnt too many times in the past. Unemployed tenants eventually can’t afford to pay rent, and can’t afford to move. So they must be evicted, and the place gets torn up before the eviction happens leaving the landlord with hefty repair bills. I’m not saying this would be you, but this is why it would be tough just to find a place without verifiable employment references. You may see ads on craigslist claiming they’ll rent to anybody, “no job, no credit OK”. The problem is often there is no apartment or home because it’s a scam by people preying on people who’ve been turned away from legitimate landlords. Sometimes the property is in foreclosure, so they’ll take your money, let you move in and collect the rent without paying their mortgage. At some point the foreclosure is final and the bank evicts you and any security deposit or prepaid rent could be gone. In Florida, just like almost everywhere, the lowest rent areas are usually the ones with the highest crime rates.

      “but here is nothing to do”
      There is nothing that you can do in Florida, that you can’t do in Maryland, except the things that should be kept special by only doing them on vacation. I remember having a great time at the shore in Maryland as well as one of the best soft-shell crab sandwiches in my life. I have relatives who recently went to Inner Harbor, again, and loved it. Having lived in Florida as well as the northeast for long periods of time, I can talk about the differences for days (believe me you don’t want that) so I’ll just mention a few. Maryland has four seasons, and you learn that’s refreshing. Florida has three seasons. Three months of glorious warm non-humid weather during the winter, nine months of oppressive humidity making almost any temperature difficult to enjoy doing anything outdoors (unless you’re a big fan of constant perspiration) and six months of hurricane season. There have been a record 8 years without a major hurricane leveling Florida cities. What do you think the odds are that the next eight years will even things out?

      Too many people assume that just moving to Florida will improve their lives. The numbers prove that’s not the case. If you have a compelling reason like a big job promotion, or your doctor suggested your asthma could improve by moving out of a landlocked valley where air pollution just hangs to a coastal town on the ocean, etc., that’s compelling reason. Quitting jobs to move to Florida without new employment, because a belief “there’s more to do” I’m afraid would just lead to disappointment while burning up your cash. After weighing all the options, if you do decide to go, take a look at the posts on this website about places in Florida where the unemployment rates are the lowest in 2014 so your chances of becoming employed may be higher. Quit your job and move to Key West? Good luck no matter what you decide.