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6 Secret Florida Towns to Visit This Winter

For idyllic sands and pristine trails, head to these under-the-radar escapes. 

U.S. News & World Report

6 Secret Florida Towns to Visit This Winter

USA, Florida, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Santa Rosa Island

These lesser-known towns are often passed over for popular spots like Orlando and Miami, but with antebellum architecture, scenic national parks and lots of charm, they're worth a visit.(Getty Images)

When you think of Florida, images of cities like Orlando, Miami and Tampa may come to mind. And while these cities offer enticing reasons to plan a trip and are exciting in their own right, there is much more to the Sunshine State than South Beach and Walt Disney World. Florida is home to less popular, but equally beautiful beachside neighborhoods with Southern charm, inlet cities home to breathtaking national parks and wildlife; and moss-draped bayous and low country towns. On your next venture down South, skip the big cities and visit one of these lesser-known gems instead.

Seaside, Florida

A visit to Seaside is like a vacation back in time. The cozy town square is flanked by picture-perfect beaches, bike racks and brightly painted cottages. You'll find just one market, Modica Market, which has been owned by the same family for more than 30 years. Next to the market sits a vintage record store and old bookstore, both seemingly untouched over the years. A few restaurants, boutiques, food trucks and a small post office make up the rest of the enchanting square. Although most visitors come for the white-sand beaches and emerald colored waters, Seaside's warm Southern hospitality and Norman Rockwell charm keep travelers returning each year.

St. Augustine, Florida

Situated on the banks of the Matanzas River, St. Augustine is draped in history. The 144-block historic district features Renaissance Revival architecture with terra-cotta roofs, narrow balconies and lots of moss. And the slender roads are paved in cobblestone and decorated with a mix of locally operated bistros, shops and museums, like the Lightner Museum and the Castillo de San Marcos fort. Though St. Augustine does have its share of tourist traps, beyond the main tourist area you'll find plenty of charming bed and breakfasts, lamp-lit pubs and pristine beaches.

Apalachicola, Florida

Located along the Florida Panhandle sits Apalachicola, one of the best-kept secrets in the state. Known locally as "Apalach," the area is home to mouthwatering seafood, stylish inns and an impressive selection of art galleries and antique shops housed in old cotton warehouses. Whether you choose to glide along uncrowded waters on a kayak, watch the sunset on the bay from lovely Lafayette Park or stroll past the restored Queen Anne-style homes on Bay Avenue, it's easy to swoon over the town's relaxed vibes and Southern charm.

Everglades City, Florida

Near Florida's Southern tip sits Everglades City, home to Everglades National Park and the official gateway to the state's Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangroves and water. An ideal getaway for those craving an active vacation, the city is well-suited for nature lovers. From hiking through Big Cypress National Park to fishing off the coast or canoeing through mangrove tunnels and air boating through the Everglades' untamed swampland, there are ample ways to satisfy your inner adventurer. Plus, Everglades City is home to delicious seafood, laid-back festivals and plenty of family fun.

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

It's easy to fall head over heels for Santa Rosa Beach's 26-mile swath of white-sand beaches and turquoise waters along Florida's northwestern coast. And though the picturesque coastline is tempting for sun-seekers, there's even more charm to be found off the beaches. Around the area, you'll find quirky artist shops housed in pastel-hued cottages, a 15,000-acre national forest filled with walking trails, high-end inns including the WaterColor Inn & Resort, crowd-pleasing pubs like the Red Bar and beloved eateries like Stinky's Fish Camp. Choose from an array of activities, like kayaking the Dune Lakes or picnicking on Topsail Hill Preserve State Park's secluded beach, or simply unwind beneath an umbrella with a good book.

Fernandina Beach, Florida

An unpretentious seaside escape, Fernandina Beach sits on the picturesque Amelia Island on Florida's northeast border. Famous among food lovers for its annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, Fernandina Beach is also renowned for its fairways, boutiques and scenic coastline. Plus, the historic downtown, lined with Victorian buildings, boasts more than 50 blocks featured on the National Register of Historic Places. Best of all, Fernandina Beach's low-key atmosphere is laid-back and calm, much like the waters that surround it. 

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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