You may not have heard about them, but small beach towns are out there, in every corner of Florida, brimming with personality. If you like your beaches served with a dose of genuine hometown charm, here's where to discover five of the best small towns in Florida near the beach.
Imagine Victorian houses, brick buildings, and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and you’ll have Fernandina Beach about right. This friendly village is hidden in the northeast corner of Florida on Amelia Island, unique because eight different flags flew over it during its tumultuous past. Today, it offers miles of peaceful Atlantic beaches and historic landmarks that include the Palace Saloon — Florida’s oldest continuously operating bar -- and the Amelia Island Lighthouse, the state’s oldest working lighthouse. Make sure to visit Fort Clinch State Park, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, surf fishing and biking, as well as the aptly named Fantastic Fudge shop on Centre Street.
As soon as you pull into WaterColor, you know you’re in one of the special small towns in Florida by the beach. Pines perfume the breeze, and the scenery makes the eye rejoice. The buildings are nostalgic and colorful. Palms, pebbled footpaths, parks and gardens adorn the enclave. Snuggled between the Gulf of Mexico and a rare coastal dune lake in northwest Florida, this 499-acre destination resort boasts a cozy boutique inn as well as lavish beach houses and charming cottages. It also offers a boathouse, tennis, spa, shops, restaurants, a fitness center and – naturally — a private sugar-sand beach. Your whole gang will love it, but the adult-only pool is perfect for some grown-up time. Don’t miss the Saturday evening Beach Bonfire, complete with music and s`mores. Exploring Western Lake via kayak or canoe is another must-do.
Folks say Madeira Beach is two miles long and a smile wide, and the description rings true. Just a splash south of Clearwater Beach, this small town is quintessential old-time Florida, and flip-flops are the only footwear you'll need. John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, modeled after a fishing village, is a hub for area fun: it’s perfect for grabbing a bite, browsing for treasures in the quaint shops, or enjoying live local entertainment. The Village also offers a steady stream of events and activities such as sunset and dolphin cruises, parasailing and jet skiing. You’ll want to allow plenty of beach time; the sand is white and soft, and the water tends to be clear and calm. When you visit, you'll see why it's one of the best small towns in Florida near the beach.
4. Jensen Beach
Jensen Beach, situated on Hutchinson Island in southeast Florida, is unassuming and relaxed, but it has a claim to fame: it was hailed as the “Pineapple Capital of the World” in 1895, shipping more than one million boxes of the fruit during June and July of each year. Nestled between the Atlantic and the Indian River Lagoon, it boasts a wide, golden-sand beach, unfettered by heavy development or high rises. It boasts cottages painted in Caribbean colors and framed by picket fences, plus art galleries, one-of-a-kind shops and eclectic sidewalk cafes. Outdoor activities such as surfing, sailing, fishing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle-boarding command center stage in this nature-lover’s paradise. Remember to explore the Indian River Lagoon, teeming with dolphins and manatees, and eat at least once at 11 Maple Street Restaurant, located in an old house, famed for its innovative meals. It's one of our favorite small towns in Florida by the beach.
Just west of Fort Myers Beach on Florida’s southwest Gulf coast, you’ll find Captiva Island, Sanibel’s smaller sister island. This tiny hamlet feels as if it’s been dusted with magic, and it’s apt to draw you under its spell. When you stroll through the town, you’ll discover a giant frog crouched in the garden of Jungle Drums Gallery, a giant’s chair that begs you to sit in it, and the Bubble Room, a restaurant where it’s Christmas all year long. Must-dos include searching for sea stars on the Island’s shell-strewn shores, and noshing on a grouper sandwich at RC Otters -- which is particularly tasty when enjoyed outside under the shade of an umbrella. The island embraces biking, birding, sailing, and water sports of all kinds.