Note: This is Part 2 of a 2 part article on Florida and its many different regions for retirement. Part 1 was “Florida Retirement 101: FL is Bigger and More Diverse Than You Might Have Thought“.
May 1, 2012 — In Part 1 we laid out the basic facts about the Sunshine State as well as descriptions of 8 different regions of Florida (our definitions):
- Northeast Atlantic
- Mid-Atlantic – The Space Coast
- Central Florida
- South Atlantic
- Middle Gulf – The Nature Coast
- South Gulf Coast
- The Keys
In this article which we will call Retirement 303, we provide our opinions about the pluses and minuses of these regions, and why certain ones might appeal more to different people. Please note this is not a scientific study, merely a collection of our opinions. These areas are quite large, so generalizing is definitely a hazard – there will be exceptions to everything. The state is so big that people who can warm up to the idea of living in Florida could be happy in many, if not all, parts of the state.
This area goes from Pensacola in the west to Tallahassee (Florida’s Capital) and the Big Bend Area. Much of the population is situated along the coast in the west, while the coast is almost totally unpopulated for a huge distance between Carrabelle and Homasassa Springs to the south. The non-coastal region is similar in terrain and feel to southern Georgia.
Moderate Home Prices
Coldest winter weather in Florida (but not that cold)
Not so great airline travel options
Who Might like living in the Panhandle
The area around Pensacola and Panama City has many military bases, so it is obviously very attractive to military retirees.
People who like beaches and boating will have plenty to do in the Panhandle.
2. Northeast Atlantic
Butting up against southeastern Georgia, this part of the state has the huge Jacksonville Metro and then goes down the coast with quite a variety of different towns – from posh Ponte Vedra to rough and tumble Daytona Beach. Jacksonville is like many other fast-growing American cities, although it is in Florida it could fit in anywhere.
Big city with major sports and culture
Beaches and barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean
History around St. Augustine
Many developments to choose from
Reasonable home prices in many communities
Crime and traffic in Jacksonville
Snowbirds might be disappointed with cooler winter temps
Who might living in the North Atlantic part of Florida:
Jacksonville area multi-generational communities offers a way to live near children/grandchildren
Golfers will find plenty of courses including some very high end ones in Ponte Vedra.
St. Augustine offers history
3. Mid-Atlantic – The Space Coast
The central coast of Florida might offer the least traffic and congestion of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. It has beautiful barrier islands, plenty of birds to watch, and a lower key way of life.
Less traffic and congestion
Access to nature
Affordable real estate prices
No big towns nearby
Winter ocean is cold
Who might enjoy living on the Space Coast:
People who are looking for a less congested, slower way of life away from big towns and cities but close to beaches might enjoy a Space Coast retirement.
4. Central Florida
The region we define as Central Florida goes from Gainesville in the north all the way through Orlando and down to Sebring. It is a relatively flat interior region with many lakes, along with the giant Ocala National Forest.
Some of the most inexpensive real estate in the U.S.
A choice of hundreds of 55+ communities, some of them very big
Opportunity to live on a lake
Places designed to retirement towns, like Winter Haven
Quieter than along the coast
It’s a drive to the beach
The Orlando area has some high crime and traffic
Quieter than along the coast
Who might like living in Central Florida
People who want a very big active community like On Top of the World or The Villages.
Bargain hunters will find the best deals in Florida.
Folks who prefer the country to the coast, including horse lovers who might gravitate to the Ocala area.
5. South Atlantic Florida
The region we are talking about is the Atlantic coast of Florida beginning in about Stuart and going south to Miami. This part of the coast certainly has the warmest winters. It is also the most congested, and offers the greatest variety of towns to live in. From the poor cousin Pompano Beach to Rolls Royce-afflicted Palm Beach, there are many towns to choose from. Miami is one of the most unusual and complex cities in the world. It has an Art Deco tourist section on the beach, super-affluent islands, ethnic neighborhoods and culture, a thriving international business community, and quiet neighborhoods for retirees.
Great variety of towns and communities
Mass transit, big airports, cruise ship departures
Higher real estate costs
Who might like living in the South Atlantic part of Florida
Originally, and this is still somewhat true, the east coast of Florida attracted snowbirds from the Northeast – New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey. If you are used to a fast-paced lifestyle, attention to status, and a strong interest in things cultural, this might be the place for you.
6. Middle Gulf – The Nature Coast
Starting below Tallahassee the west coast of Florida is sparsely populated and eventually ends in the bustling Metro of St. Pete/Clearwater/Tampa. The beaches aren’t generally as well developed or populated as elsewhere in the state.
Less populated and developed
Nature is less disturbed
It is not generally not that exciting
Fewer choices in towns and communities
Who might like living on the Nature Coast
People who like less development and more access to nature (like the Suwanee River or an an undeveloped coast) will enjoy this area. So it appeals to those who are looking for a quiet, as well as inexpensive, place to live.
7. South Gulf Coast
For our purposes this region starts with St. Petersburg and eventually ends in Marco Island, just above the Everglades. It includes the huge St.Pete/Tampa/Clearwater Metro, sophisticated Sarasota, sprawling Ft. Myers, and chi-chi Naples. The beaches are fantastic, such as those on Sanibel or the Keys off Sarasota. There are also dozens of little towns with a low profile.
Tremendous choice of towns and active communities
Wide range of where to live – from big to small
Like most of Florida, great boating, fishing, golf
A history of hurricanes
Traffic and congestion
Who might like living on the South Gulf Coast
As the East Coast of FL was traditionally populated with northeasterners, so is the West Coast home more often to midwesterners. Lots of retirees here followed their friends down here from western Pennsylvania, the Midwest, Canada, and West Virginia. As a result many communities have a more laid back, less frenetic pace. As just about everywhere in Florida, if you like golf, fishing, going to the beach, and shopping, you will have found your retirement heaven.
Our final district starts in the Everglades below Miami and ends in Key West, the Bohemian center 90 miles from Cuba that locals refer to as Paradise. Along the way are many narrow keys, some of which host small towns and bigger ones that are home to Islamorada and Marathon. This area is about as different from Florida (and the rest of the U.S.) as it could be.
Warmest winters of all
Arguably the best fishing in U.S.
A boating paradise
The Keys and Key West are unique in many ways
Some of highest real estate prices in FL
A hassle to drive to the mainland
Mandatory hurricane evacuations
Sophisticated medical care is a long ways away
Who might like living in the Keys
A lot of people who live here are escaping from somewhere else. Or they are obsessed with fishing, boating, or an artistic lifestyle. They might be gay and live in gay-friendly Key West. Or they want a very relaxed lifestyle where shoes and shirts are optional, or where you spend more time on your bike than you do your car.
Florida has just about something for everybody, except for cold winters and mountains. Its different regions are diverse and worth exploring to find which one offers you the best fit. There is no substitute for getting out and exploring different areas and towns to see what you like and don’t like firsthand.
Part 1: Florida Retirement 101: The Sunshine State is More Diverse Than You Think
Directory of Florida Towns and Active Communities
Comments: We hope you have enjoyed our rundown of Florida by region. We would love to hear your reactions, agreements, and disagreements with our assessments. Please let us know in the Comments section below.
Post-Publication: Given that we often get very valuable comments from our members about articles like these, we will try to use this section to mention changes to the article made after publication from those comments:
- Added reference to Ocala National Forest to Central Florida.
- Provided a bit more depth to discussion of Miami.
- Agree with David Lane that getting out and seeing it for yourself is the best option.