So, you are a retiring senior who wants to escape cold winters, and you think that Florida might be the answer. You’re not interested in living in a big city; however, you still want to live somewhere where you can have cultural experiences along with the charm of a smaller town. In other words, you would prefer to retire somewhere where it’s not only strip malls and tourist attractions. Well, you’re in luck because FirstLantic has put together a list of six towns in Florida that are known for their beauty, quality of life, and mild weather. Don’t be surprised if one of these towns captures your heart!
Just north of the tourist attractions in Orlando is a quaint town called Winter Park. While it’s only a 20-minute drive from Orlando, you will feel like you’re a million miles away. Built on a chain of lakes, Winter Park is home to Rollins College and museums like the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Art. Park Avenue, the pretty main street in downtown, has lots of great restaurants, shops, a beautiful park, and the historic Case Feliz Museum designed by acclaimed architect James Gamble Rogers II. Winter Park also offers lots of outdoor activities and cultural activities such as the Bach Festival Society, where you can hear acclaimed musical performances.
Located on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida, the city is known for its historic downtown, beautiful beaches, and tarpon fishing. It was also named one of the best coastal small towns by USA Today. Boca Grande means “Big Mouth” in Spanish and took its’ name from the mouth of the waterway, called Boca Grande Pass, which separates the southern tip of the island from Cayo Costa. One of the oldest historic structures in town is The Gasparilla Inn and Club, built in 1911, hosted such prominent guests as J.P. Morgan, Henry DuPont, and famous portrait painter John Singer Sargent. For more on the town’s history, The Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum runs a scenic tour that provides insight into the changes the city has experienced over the decades.
Delray Beach is a small city on Florida’s southeast coast. Known for the Pineapple Grove Arts District, dotted with outdoor sculptures and murals, the area is a favorite among locals. There are also several impressive museums such as the Old School Square Cornell Art Museum which displays contemporary works. The museum which is housed in the restored 1913 Delray Elementary School building was named in honor of Delray Beach residents Harriet W. and George D. Cornell. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is also a must-see destination dedicated to presenting Japanese cultural experiences that educate and inspire and to honor the history of the Japanese people in South Florida. In 1904, Jo Sakai, a recent graduate of New York University, returned to Japan, to organize a group of pioneering farmers and bring them back to settle in what is now northern Boca Raton. Although results of the farming experiment were disappointing, it began the area’s bond with Japan. The lakeside Morikami museum houses more than 7,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts, including a 500-piece collection of tea ceremony items, more than 200 textile pieces and fine art acquisitions. Delray Beach is also home to the 50-acre Wakodahatchee Wetlands featuring a raised boardwalk that allows visitors to easily view numerous types of birds, turtles, and alligators. And, finally we can’t forget the pristine beaches of Delray known for their white sand and natural beauty.
Located on Gertrude lake in Central Florida, Mount Dora was initially named for Dora Ann Drawdy, who homesteaded with her husband two miles south of Mount Dora. The town is known for its’ quaint downtown, preserved 19-century clapboard houses, antique shops, and annual festivals. The pretty main street is lined with cafés, gourmet restaurants, galleries, and wineries. Other notable spots in Mount Dora include the Lakeside Inn, which was established in 1883 and is the oldest continuously operated hotel in Florida, and two respected museums. The Modernism Museum displays modern furniture and the Mount Dora History Museum, housed in a 1923 fire station. Northwest of the town is Lake Eustis which has excellent bass fishing and waterside restaurants.
Located on Amelia Island on Florida’s eastern border, the downtown has many beautiful buildings in the heart of a 55 block historic zone listed in the National Register of Historic Places. You can hire a horse-drawn carriage to take you through Centre Street and finish with a cocktail at the Palace Saloon, which is Florida’s oldest continuously operating drinking establishment. The building, built in 1878, was originally a haberdashery until Louis G. Hirth bought it in 1903 and turned it into a gentlemen’s club with the assistance of his old friend Adolphus Bush, founder of Anheuser-Busch. The saloon still has many original elegant features such as inlaid mosaic floors, embossed tin ceilings, and walls painted with six different murals. In addition to the graceful architecture of Fernandina Beach, the town has lovely beaches and excellent golf courses.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. With brick-lined streets, centuries-old buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and hidden courtyards, St. Augustine has over 450 years of history to explore. Castillo de San Marcos, which is one of the most famous monuments, was designed to replace smaller wooden fortresses and guard the St. Augustine settlement for Spain. In 1672, Governor Manuel Cendoya marked the new stone fort’s lines, although the fort was not completed until 1695. The Castillo de San Marco now acts as a living museum with people in period costumes and reenactments of historical events. Since the city’s founding in 1565, St. Augustine has also been known for annual festivals celebrating various cultures, music, food, and art. The Festival of ART, which takes place on Thanksgiving weekend and features over 150 top national and regional artists, is best known. In addition to its’ history and culture, St. Augustine is home to lovingly restored hotels such as the Bayfront Marin House in the old town and over 40 miles of beaches that stretch from Vilano Beach in the north to Crescent Beach in the south.
In summary, while many people hear Florida and immediately think of party destinations like South Beach or tourist attractions like Disney World, there are still many places that represent “Old Florida.” The six towns that FirstLantic has described here will make you feel as if you have stepped back into a simpler time where the pace is slower, the towns are quaint, the beaches are mostly devoid of condos, and you can be sure to enjoy your retirement years sipping some fresh-squeezed orange juice.