St Pete Beach

What’s the Best Place To Live in Florida in 2024? Here Are Our Top Picks!

Florida Jacksonville Orlando Sarasota St. Petersburg FL

by Shannon Jacobs Posted on December 13, 2023

No doubt about it, there are definitely some preconceived notions about Florida. Take its rep as a rest area for retirees, for instance. Or the stereotype that everyone is obsessed with a mouse named Mickey. But with a booming economy and almost year-round beautiful weather, the Sunshine State has the last laugh, welcoming about 840 new residents every day in search of the best place to live in Florida for warm gulf breezes and mangrove sunsets.

Planning a move to Florida? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

What’s more, recent data indicates these new Floridians know what they’re doing: Statewide unemployment is at 2.8 percent, as of November 2023, which is healthier than the national labor picture, and the workforce is growing. Florida is also the No. 1 state people are moving to, with hotspots Sarasota, Orlando, Ocala, Jacksonville, and the Tampa Bay area dominating the list of top 10 most moved-to cities in 2023. 

All of this simply adds to Florida’s allure as an attractive option for people looking to ditch icy winters and head south toward the sun. If you’re one of those fresh-start seekers, read on for a look at six of the best places to live in Florida. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but a good place to begin. First, a few Sunshine State FAQs: 

An illustrated graphic of the best cities to live in Florida, with Jacksonville, Orlando, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Melbourne, and Gainesville

What’s the Best Part of Florida To Live In?

Are you a beach fan or more of a lush-woods-and-rivers type? Do you love the nightlife? Horse country? Theme parks? As the third-most populous state in the U.S., Florida is really more like six states in one. From the panhandle’s Gulf Coast beaches all the way to the glamorous hotspots of Palm Beach and Miami 500 miles to the south, the state features diverse cultures and a rich variety of flora, fauna, and flavor. The best part? That depends on your specific preferences — but there’s no shortage of good places to live in Florida.

Kissimmee is one of the best places to live in Florida.
Kissimmee, Florida.

Where’s the Most Affordable Place To Live in Florida?

Surprisingly, perhaps, given the elegant horse farms that dot its lush rolling hills, Ocala tops the list of affordable cities in Florida, with an average home value of around $270,000 as of November 2023. This town is nestled a bit north of the center of the state, with Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic beaches about an hour’s drive to the west and east, respectively, and the theme parks of Orlando about an hour and a half to the south. And the state’s main highway arteries criss-cross in Ocala, including the Florida Turnpike and I-75, making it relatively easy to get out of town in any direction (if traffic is agreeable, that is). 

What City in Florida Has the Highest Cost of Living? 

Fort Lauderdale, situated just north of Miami on Florida’s Atlantic coast, holds the title of the highest cost of living in the Sunshine State. The housing market is a notable contributor, with a hefty average home value of around $520,000 in November 2023, up more than 4 percent from last year (in contrast to the slowing market in much of the rest of the state) and rentals averaging $2,650 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Energy costs are high, too, at more than $200 monthly — because air conditioning and swimming pool filters don’t come cheap, you know.  

What’s the Best Beach in Florida? 

You can’t talk about Florida without mentioning the beaches; it’s a rule. And the list of best places to live in Florida by the beach is practically endless. Among the many awards the state’s sugar-soft sands won in 2023, Siesta Key took second-place honors and Henderson Beach State Park in Destin came in at No. 6 in the Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for America’s Best Beach. Clearwater Beach earned a spot in Travel + Leisure’s “25 Best Beaches in the USA.” And on Dr. Beach’s coveted 2023 Top 10 Beaches in America list, Clearwater/Caladesi Island hit No. 4 and St. George Island State Park, a Florida panhandle jewel, captured the No. 1 spot. 

What’s the Best Place to Live in Florida, Weather-Wise?

Given the Sunshine State’s subtropical climate, with temperatures consistently in the 90s during the summer months — and have we mentioned the humidity? — prospective relocators might want to consider their tolerance for heat before heading south. Hurricane season adds another twist from June 1 to Nov. 30, when residents keep a wary eye on the tropics, ready to hunker down or evacuate, depending on the severity of an incoming storm and guidance from authorities. So where is the best place to live in Florida, weather-wise? Coastal areas are obviously more vulnerable, so inland cities or those located in the northern part of the state, like Gainesville (see No. 6 on our list!), might be more comfortable for people looking for the best places to live in Florida to avoid hurricanes. No location is entirely immune, of course, as tragic headlines prove year after year. But being away from the immediate coastline can reduce the direct impact of storm surges and high winds that come with hurricanes — and, for that matter, with Florida’s stormy summers.  

Now, on to six of our favorite Florida cities:

Jacksonville, Florida is one of the best places to live in Florida.
Ponte Vedra Beach in Jacksonville, Florida

1. Jacksonville, FL

True to its nickname as “The River City by the Sea,” Jacksonville is practically overflowing with waterfront attractions and recreation, between the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean. But like many thriving Florida cities, Jax (as it’s known to locals) has a lot to offer beyond its gorgeous beaches and outdoor lifestyle.

Jacksonville has the feel of a traditional southern city — it’s only 12 miles from the Florida-Georgia line, after all — but its demographics are shifting to a younger, more vibrant, and creative community. The arts scene in Jax is growing, with galleries and museums that range from contemporary art to children-specific interests. Jacksonville also provides live performance venues, such as the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

On the Riverwalk, a downtown promenade along the St. Johns, walkers, runners, and bicyclists enjoy a 1.2-mile paved path with views of cruising boats and the occasional manatee. Nearby attractions include EverBank Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a Sunday staple for local football fans. Participatory sports are big in Jax, too. The annual Gate River Run 15k, for instance, has grown since its inception in 1978 to attract more than 18,000 competitors. And Jacksonville has plenty of trails to explore, as well. In fact, the city holds the record for the largest urban park system in the country, totaling more than 80,000 acres.

As for real estate, the Jax market is cooling a bit after a few years of being on fire — which is good news for prospective home buyers. Dozens of distinctly different neighborhoods stretch from the beaches to the ‘burbs, with different price points, amenities, and lifestyles. The average home value in Jacksonville is around $293,900, as of November 2023, a 2.8 percent drop from last year. Renters can expect to pay around $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. 

Orlando, Florida is one of the best places to live in Florida.
Downtown Orlando, Florida

2. Orlando, FL

Yes, the Magic Kingdom and its family of theme parks are amazing wonderlands that draw millions of visitors annually to “The City Beautiful,” as Orlando is known. But this bustling Central Florida hub is home to 316,000 people who stay in town after Disney’s nightly fireworks. Tourists are the lifeblood of Orlando, for sure — and the cause of traffic headaches for locals — but not the sole source of economic growth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the generations of Orlando kids who’ve grown up surrounded by the latest in theme park animation and augmented reality, Orlando has emerged as one of the fastest-growing technology markets in the U.S. and, to some, as the best place to live in Florida. 

Creativity abounds in the Orlando arts community, as well. Traditional organizations, like the Orlando Ballet and Orlando Museum of Art, attract thousands of guests every year, while innovative, independent organizations, like Twelve21 and the University of Central Florida’s Center for Emerging Art, showcase contemporary works. At the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Opera Orlando, the Orlando Symphony Orchestra, and touring shows from Broadway to rock bands take the stage almost every night.

At the north end of the Ivanhoe Village Mainstreet District — a bustling neighborhood of restaurants, shops, and watering holes — Loch Haven Park's 45-acre complex is home to about 10 arts organizations. Known as the cultural heart of the city, the park includes the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, the Orlando Fire Museum, and the Orlando Science Center.

Of course, all of those tech workers and artists need places to live, and Orlando area real estate offers plenty of options. From established suburbs like trendy Winter Park to urban-village hotspots like the North Quarter, the city and its vicinity are full of vibrant communities. Downtown alone has nearly 10 discrete neighborhoods, including the Lake Cherokee Historic District, where stately homes have held court under shady oaks since the 1800s, and Parramore, where a rich cultural heritage is experiencing an exciting renaissance after decades of economic decline. The average home value here is about $373,900, as of November 2023, which is up 2.4 percent from the previous year. And an average apartment will cost you around $1,900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Sarasota, Florida is one of the best places to live in Florida.
Downtown Sarasota, Florida

3. Sarasota, FL 

About two hours south of landlocked Orlando, Sarasota beckons from its perch on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The city is certainly one of the best places to live in Florida for retirement. However, families and young professionals have discovered the many charms of Sarasota, as well, so there’s a healthy mix of age groups among the 56,000 residents. There’s also a healthy dose of tourists, as is the case in most seaside Florida cities.

There are lots of reasons Sarasota makes best-of lists and draws new residents. Gorgeous beaches and plenty of greenspace are part of the appeal, particularly during the winter months when temperatures are moderate and skies are blue. Summers aren’t as pleasant for folks not fond of daily thunderstorms and oppressive heat and humidity. But when fall arrives with the first cold front sweeping down from the north, Sarasotans fall in love with their city all over again — and head to the beaches and scores of golf courses in every direction.

Homes in Sarasota neighborhoods range from super pricey on the beaches and in downtown luxury high rises to more affordable in suburban areas. The average home value for the city is about $456,700, as of November 2023, up 1 percent from last year. And average rent is around $2,125 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Bicyclists casually ride through Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, on a sunny summer day. Mature trees cast shade over a bench with a waterfront view.
Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, Florida

4. St. Petersburg, FL

To get a real feel for the city of St. Petersburg, hop on the Cross Bay Ferry in Tampa and set sail southwest for 25 miles. Fifty minutes later, you’ll disembark in the Port of St. Pete, adjacent to The Dali Museum and the University of South Florida satellite campus.

Just down the street, Vinoy Park curves around the edge of downtown for a beautiful two-mile stretch. Signature happenings including St. Pete Pridefest and Reggae Rise Up take place here, making it one of the most popular spots in the Bay area. But even when a special event isn’t on tap, you’ll find people running, cycling, and relaxing on blankets and benches with amazing views of the St. Pete Pier.

After decades with retirees at the top of the demographic chart, St. Pete has become known as one of the best places to live in Florida for families. In fact, today’s median age is 43, which is still a bit higher than the rest of Florida but skewing way younger than the old days when the over-65 crowd dominated. Memories of those times linger in the form of gorgeous art deco hotels, a historic shuffleboard court, and other historic sites that have been renovated for new generations — and are newly hip once again.

The job market in St. Petersburg is going gangbusters, as well, with a 3.2 percent unemployment rate as of October 2023 (below the nationwide rate of 3.9 percent at that time). Major employers with headquarters in the city include Jabil, Raymond James, HSN, and Tech Data. The real estate market has slowed a bit from the double-digit growth years of the early 2020s, with an average home value in November 2023 of just under $374,200 — up about 2 percent from the previous year. And average rent is around $2,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Pier in Melbourne, FL
Melbourne, Florida

5. Melbourne, FL

Mention the Space Coast and chances are, most Americans will know what you’re talking about. Cape Canaveral. Kennedy Space Center. Rocket ships and space shuttles. But it’s also likely that only locals can name the towns that make up that celebrated slice of Atlantic coast — other than Cocoa Beach, famously home to the OG Ron Jon Surf Shop and, for TV-watchers of a certain age, “I Dream of Jeannie.” Melbourne anchors the Space Coast halfway between Jacksonville and Miami, on the narrow strip of land between I-95 and the Indian River and, a bit farther east, the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of almost 86,500, Melbourne is considered part of the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville metro area.

Did you know? The area code for Melbourne and the Space Coast is a clever nod to Cape Canaveral countdowns — 321.

An easygoing beach town vibe is the hallmark of Melbourne, known as the Harbor City. Quick access to the ocean means surfers, sailors, and shell collectors have abundant opportunities. Fishing and golf are popular here, too, and many neighborhoods are oriented around these recreational faves. 

The centerpiece of Melbourne is a lively, quaint downtown area of boutiques, restaurants, and bars, with lots of entertainment options. Established in the 1800s, the revitalized historic district serves as a retail and dining hub and host to annual local faves, including the Downtown Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Candlelight Shopping, and the Downtown Melbourne Botanical Fest.

A lively creative community also calls Melbourne home in the Eau Gallie Arts District. Once its own city, Eau Gallie, which means “rocky water,” merged with Melbourne in 1969. Performing arts lovers spend time at the King Center for the Performing Arts, part of Brevard Community College.

Melbourne real estate runs the gamut from beachside condos and cottages for vacationers, snowbirds, and empty-nesters to estate homes situated around Lake Washington about eight miles outside of town. In the northern part of Melbourne, the Suntree and Baytree communities offer master-planned living with resort-style amenities, including golf courses and lakeside or riverside homes. And in West Melbourne, a growth spurt has nearly doubled the number of homes since 2000, far outpacing other nearby suburbs. The average Melbourne home value is about $368,900, as of November 2023, up a little more than 1 percent in the past year after several years of incredible growth. And apartments are plentiful, with monthly rents at around $1,550 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Aerial view of Gainesville, Florida, featuring a community park in the foreground and city buildings interspersed with woodlands in the distance.

6. Gainesville, FL

About 125 miles north of Tampa, Gainesville is best known as the home of the University of Florida. And while its culture and daily life certainly centers a great deal on the fighting Florida Gators, there’s a lot more to this central Florida town than just sports (but don’t mention that during football season). Another bonus to Gainesville living: It’s one of the most affordable places to live in Florida. And nestled in north-central Florida, a healthy distance from both coasts, the town has a low chance of getting hit head-on by a hurricane — although some pretty robust thunderstorms are known to rock the rafters during the summertime rainy season.

Adjacent to the UF campus is a bustling downtown area, where the Hippodrome Theatre (“the Hipp,” to locals) and the Harn Museum of Art draw visitors to local and touring cultural offerings. And nature enthusiasts can explore Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, with eight walking and bicycling trails stretching over 23,000 acres of Florida’s first ecological preserve. Besides hikers, campers, and bird-watchers, herds of wild bison and horses roam this lush, diverse gem just south of the city.

Gainesville’s historic districts, including Duckpond and Pleasant Street, boast well-preserved Victorian-era homes, while the vibrant downtown is home to shops and restaurants, plus events including the Tom Petty Birthday Bash, the annual October weekend honoring Gainesville’s legendary, beloved local. 

The demographics of Gainesville reflect the university’s diverse makeup and skew younger, with a median age of about 27 — and lots of students stay on after graduation, convinced they’ve found the best place to live in Florida. The job market similarly mirrors growth centered around the research and innovation taking place on campus in sectors including healthcare, education, and technology. And the unemployment rate is holding steady, in line with the national picture, at about 3.4 percent.

As for real estate, the average home value is around $288,000, as of November 2023, up 3.3 percent from the previous year. And rentals average $1,675 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

A PODS moving and storage container outside of a Florida home.

Planning Your Move to Florida

It’s common knowledge that Florida weather can be hot, right? Especially in the summer. It’s also wet and steamy, at times, with near-daily thunderstorms that can knock your socks off. So how can you make your move with the least amount of hassle? Consider taking advantage of PODS moving and storage containers.

For starters, flexible scheduling means you can work around the sudden downpours. And the fact that your portable containers are literally in your driveway as long as you need them means you can take all the time you need unloading them. After all, you can’t let a little unpacking get in the way of visiting all those top-rated beach destinations, right?

Check out our PODS Blog to read more about living in some of Florida’s top destinations, from the well-known Tampa Bay area to hidden gem and family-friendly suburb Brandon.


Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Editor’s note: For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

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