Chain-free shops in vintage brick buildings, bright art, people and music pouring out of sidewalk cafes, pedestrian-only streets that lead past front porches to town center: Florida rocks the cradle of a ground-breaking movement where carefully designed, walkable shopping areas create a sense of place with must-browse stores and specialty eateries.
The invention of new, pedestrian-friendly town centers and the well-planned renewal of historic downtowns began in Florida in the 1980s with the vision of Seaside developer Robert Davis and architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (co-founders of the Congress for New Urbanism), who designed the idyllic Northwest Florida resort town of Seaside.
Today, residents and visitors benefit from this vision as they discover delightful new-fashioned shopping centers rooted in the nostalgia of eras gone by.
• The Vibe: After Seaside, this new community gets named among the stars of New Urbanism. It builds on the Seaside front-porch premise but fits into its own local setting with a downtown that, like nearby historic Kissimmee and St. Cloud, crops up at lake’s edge. Developed by Disney, it has a hometown feel with a resort flair.
• The Intersection: Market Street and Front Street
• The Town: Take a seat in a front-row bench or rocking chair along the lake for people- and nature-watching. Stroll brick-paved streets and browse shops filled with books about Florida, dolls, stuffed bears, resort wear, palm tree Christmas ornaments and doggy treats.
• The Restaurant: For human treats, dine alfresco on burgers and soda fountain drinks at Market Street Café.
• The Overnight: Bohemian Hotel grandly looms lakeside.
• The Vibe: At the doorstep of the venerable Stetson College campus, downtown DeLand feels like a nostalgic step back to yesteryear, but with a youthful spring in its step.
• The Intersection: Woodland Boulevard (Highway 17) and New York Avenue
• The Structure: The historic courthouse’s domed tower punctuates downtown’s crop of late-1800s brick buildings. Historic plaques tell how the town rebuilt after a fire in 1855.
• The Town: DeLand offers shoppers everything from vintage comic books and while-you-wait shoe repairs, to goldsmith jewelry, New Age paraphernalia and fine art – all in about 10 blocks. Sit for a spell and absorb it all
beneath a historic mural, crepe myrtles and market umbrellas in Pioneer Park.
• The Restaurant: Restaurants come in every flavor and include coffee houses and a Greek restaurant. If you’re looking for a great luncheon salad, pick Main Street Grill.
• The Vibe: When the completion of Interstate 75 bypassed the city’s downtown heart off Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail), it nearly stopped beating altogether. Balancing residential components with commercial endeavors created a vibrant streetscape where young, old, locals and tourists find common ground.
• The Intersection: Ninth Street (Tamiami Trail) and Fifth Avenue South
• The Structure: Historic Naples Mercantile is home to Campiello Ristorante and Bar.
• The Town: Feed your curiosity at a number of acclaimed sidewalk cafes on Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Especially known for their galleries, the two sculpture-adorned streets also excel in designer and one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing stores. Enjoy live music on the second Thursday of the month on Fifth Avenue South, and live music on the third Thursday of the month on Third Street South.
• The Restaurant: Handsome Harry’s, located in the Third Street Shopping district, is a local sidewalk favorite.
• The Overnight: Inn on Fifth overlooks “The Ave’s” bustle while fortressing you for quiet intimacy.
• The Vibe: Waterfront downtown Stuart lies at the core of a bustling metropolis. To revive its vigor, Duany and Plater-Zyberk and Company redesigned it to embrace the quirks of its tricky navigation.
• The Intersection: A jumble of streets, including major thoroughfare Flagler Avenue, merge at Confusion
Corner, stubbornly preserved by town planners
• The Structure: Circa-1901, Stuart Feed Supply holds the local history museum.
• The Town: Chocolate shops, galleries, a cigar seller, a theater, restaurants and jewelers occupy historic buildings.
• The Restaurant: The Gafford is a top pick for fine food and martinis.
• The Overnight: Inn Shepard’s Park B&B resides in a historic cottage within walking distance of downtown.
West Palm Beach
• The Vibe:Mainland West Palm Beach was overwhelmed and quickly declining in the shadow of showier, islandy Palm Beach. Now the Clematis District and CityPlace flourish by day and night. Walkability plus free trolley service keep the flow in and out of downtown continuous and easy.
• The Intersection: Clematis Street and Rosemary Avenue, which runs through CityPlace
• The Structure: Brand-new City Center holds Palm Beach Photographic Centre, the West Palm Beach City Hall and a library.
• The Town: Local business folk, downtown residents, shoppers and young clubbers swarm more than 40 shops and galleries, theaters, nightclubs and dining destinations. Find everything from antiques and French provincial home accessories to shoes and baby clothes. Hit weekly happy-hour celebrations and Thursday’s Clematis by Night street festival for people-watching.
• The Restaurant:Locals love E.R. Bradley’s Saloon for its superlative food and water views. Plus, it offers open air and outside dining.