Florida may be best known for its popular tourism destinations like Orlando, Miami, and the Florida Keys, but venturing off the beaten path reveals a slower-paced, nostalgic side of the Sunshine State. Quaint small towns dotted with antique shops, cozy cafes, and historic architecture hark back to simpler times, while historic forts, mansions, and other landmarks offer a window into Florida’s past. From the Panhandle to the Atlantic Coast, Old Florida charm and culture thrives across the state.
Nestled along the Emerald Coast in Florida’s Panhandle region, Seaside is often considered one of the first examples of a New Urbanist town built with walkability and a sense of community in mind. Its pastel-hued cottages, boutiques, and cafes have an undeniable charm, appearing plucked straight from a movie set. Nearby Grayton Beach also tops lists of under-the-radar beach towns thanks to its sugar-white sand, rolling dunes, and beach bungalows.
Inland, quaint railroad towns like Chipley and DeFuniak Springs move at a pace that feels long gone. In Chipley, stop for a cold glass of sweet tea downtown before browsing the collection of vintage train cars at the Chipley Railroad Museum. DeFuniak Springs boasts a lovely circular lake dotted with Victorian-style houses and a charming downtown historic district filled with cafes, galleries, and shops.
History in the Heartland
Central Florida has no shortage of historic small towns where you can glimpse the state’s early pioneer history. Pack a picnic lunch before heading to Ybor City near Tampa, a former cigar manufacturing center with a strong Cuban influence in its cuisine, culture, and architecture. The brick-lined streets are now home to hip bars, breweries, bakeries, and eateries.
Further inland, quaint mountain towns like Mount Dora and Lake Wales transport visitors back in time with antique shops, farmers markets, and historic architecture. Mount Dora is famed for its annual arts festivals held throughout the year, while Lake Wales boasts a charming downtown on picturesque Lake Wailes. For a dose of history, tour one of the many grand estates in the area like Bok Tower Gardens or Cypress Gardens.
Florida’s Second City
Though often overlooked in favor of Miami or Orlando, Jacksonville offers visitors a mix of small-town charm, historic neighborhoods, and cultural attractions. Five Points and San Marco both fueled development as early streetcar suburbs and still retain pedestrian-friendly vibes today with indie boutiques and eateries. For history lovers, the Kingsley Plantation provides an immersive look at plantation life in the 1800s.
Nature and nostalgia blend seamlessly at Big Talbot Island, where you can explore windswept Blackrock Beach before stopping for a seafood feast. For a unique perspective on Jacksonville, take in scenic views on a kayaking tour along the peaceful Timucuan water trails.
Slice of Paradise on the Atlantic Coast
Idyllic seaside towns pepper Florida’s Atlantic coastline, each with its own unique heritage and charm. If you want to book a weekend trip to the Miami area to see them for yourself, you can find cheap flights on going.com. From Palm Beach to Daytona Beach, grand hotels, Gilded Age mansions, and other artifacts provide a glimpse into these resort towns’ glamorous pasts. Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco architectures stand out, like at Whitehall Mansion in Palm Beach.
Whether you seek sun-washed beaches, cozy small towns, or a journey into history, Old Florida delivers quintessential charm. As world-famous resorts and theme parks fuel so much of Florida’s present-day identity, remembering its past through preserved landmarks and nostalgic towns only adds more dimension to the Sunshine State’s enduring allure and charisma through the years.