The question I get asked at book signings, more than any other question, is, “What’s the best Florida small town to live in?” And I always try to answer, first, by explaining that my book is a guide to visiting small towns in Florida, not a guide to moving to them. It’s actually written with big-city dwellers in mind, those who have had more than enough traffic jams, noise, and rude people during the week and just want to stay someplace 180 degrees different for a weekend. Then I explain to them that I actually live in a big city, so I’m probably not really qualified to evaluate small towns for their livability. I’m just the visiting guy. Besides, every person has different needs and, therefore, different criteria for deciding where to live.
Then, after my explanation, the next question they invariably ask is, “So, what’s the best Florida small town to live in?”
After several years of this I finally gave in and started telling them: “OK. If I were going to move to a Florida small town, here’s what I would look for. Mind you, these are just on my personal criteria for my own small-town livability needs. As the standard disclaimer goes: Your results may vary. It would have to be a town that understands the importance of, and embraces, its history. It would also have to be one that encourages the maintenance and restoration of its historic structures and neighborhoods. It would have to be a town that promotes itself as a destination for visitors interested in a historic place—that is the economic life-blood of nearly every successful Florida small town. It would have to be a vital, enthusiastic, friendly community of people who work hard to keep it that way. And one more thing—gotta have good restaurants! Here are four that ring all those bells: Apalachicola, up in the panhandle where the Apalachicola River spills into the Gulf; Fernandina Beach on the northern tip of Amelia Island; Mount Dora, in central Florida’s hills-and-lakes country; and Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island on the southwest coast.”
Bruce Hunt is the author of Visiting Small Town Florida, the third edition of which is due to be released in April. Visit his website at www.brucehuntimages.com