Last updated on May 10, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Florida, Keys & Miami

15 Best Places to stay in Florida: top Islands & Cities

I know, it is very difficult to understand where to stay in Florida, and what are the best islands and cities to explore. This state has so much to experience!

I just finished an incredible 6 weeks road trip through the state, visiting and staying in many towns, cities and islands each with its own unique atmosphere and attractions.

I experienced unreal beaches, amazing theme parks and historic towns too.

In this post, I talk about the 15 best places to stay in Florida, and I quickly summarize them in a very handy comparison table that you can use to plan your perfect trip.

But let’s dive into it.

Map of where to stay in Florida
Map of the best places to stay in Florida

Best places to stay in Florida – In a nutshell with a table

The table below compares the major destinations based on average cost ($-$$$$$), bars/restaurants, nature/beach, and other factors (1-5 with 1 being the lowest score).

Click on the area name to read much more information about it, with an extended list of pros and cons of booking there.

City/AreaProsConsAvg. CostAirport SizeBeachCharacter/
History
NightlifeBusyness
MiamiBeach, Nightlife, CultureExpensive$$$$International555Very busy
OrlandoTheme Parks, Family-FriendlyTouristy$$$InternationalWater
parks
33Busy
Fort LauderdaleBeach, Water Sports, NightlifeTouristy$$$International444Busy
Florida KeysScenic Drive, Beaches, NatureExpensive$$$$Small543Busy
Palm Beach/West Palm BeachUpscale, Golf Courses, ShoppingExpensive, Not Budget-Friendly$$$$International444Busy
St. AugustineHistoric Charm, ArchitectureTouristy$$$Small352Busy
Marco IslandBeautiful Beaches, QuietExpensive$$$$Small521Laid back
NaplesUpscale, Golf Courses, BeachesExpensive, Limited Nightlife$$$$Small542Laid back
Sanibel IslandBeautiful Beaches, NatureReconstruction
(hurricane Ian)
$$$$Small531Laid back
Siesta KeyWhite Sand Beaches, RelaxationLimited restaurants/bars$$$Small532Laid back
Anna Maria IslandBeautiful Beaches, PeacefulLimited restaurants/bars$$$Small531Laid back
ClearwaterBeaches, Water Sports, Family-FriendlyTouristy$$$International423Very busy
Cedar KeyQuiet, Nature, FishingLimited Activities$$Small341Laid back
Panama City BeachBeaches, NightlifeNoisy on Spring Break$$$International424Busy
PensacolaBeaches, Historic SitesTraffic$$$International433Busy
Best places to visit in Florida – Top islands,cities and areas to explore

Where to stay in Florida on the beach

How can I not mention Miami Beach in this section? It’s actually quite incredible how amazing are the beaches and the water, so clean and turquoise, especially considering Miami City is next door (Miami Beach and Miami City are two municipalities).

The great advantage of staying in Miami is that there are so many things to do and experience that even on a bad weather day, you can always find something to do, for both couples and families.

Did you know that the best-rated beach in USA and Top-10 in the world is actually in Florida? Yes, it is in Siesta Key, it is long and wide, with amazing white powdery sand, turquoise water and no condo on the beach

It is a laid-back island, the perfect spot to relax and chill out, with a village and a small selection of restaurants and bars. Really all you need for some time off.

It is really hard not to mention other destinations in this section. They all have amazing beaches:

Where to stay in Florida with family

That is easy, a trip to Florida is not complete if you have not been to Orlando.

This is the world capital for themes park with over 12 of them, 5 of which are run by Walt Disney. You can easily spend 2-3 weeks here without getting bored if it wouldn’t be for the hefty price of the park entrance.

And on warm days, you can also visit one of the water parks, full of slides and rides.

Most of the parks are southwest of the city and that is where you want to book your stay.

Clearwater is the other destination I would suggest for a family stay, especially if traveling with grown-ups.

You will have a beautiful beach, plenty of water sports possibilities, it’s well priced and you will be only 90 miles from the Orland Walt Disney Parks, so you can visit them on a day trip. You get the lot in Clearwater.

Where is the cheapest place to stay in Florida

Yes, Florida is not the cheapest state but you can still find some little gems off the beaten path that are absolutely great values.

Cedar Key is the best example. Indeed, it does not have a long white beach, or any nightlife to talk of, or any posh resort or restaurant, however, you will find the warm Florida welcome of the old days.

In fact, many people compare Cedar Key to the Florida Keys as they used to be.

The local beach is small but nice enough to spend a few days. Rent a SUP to explore one of the many tiny nearby islands.

Where to stay in Florida for Disney Parks

As I already mentioned in the Family section above, Orlando is the place to be.

On my last trip, I stayed just 5km from Disney’s Hollywood Studios and it was the best choice. Being located in that area means that you erase the commuting and you spend your valuable time at the parks. There are so many parks in that area, 5 of which are run by Walt Disney.

By the way, it’s not going to be a cheap experience but with multi-day tickets, you will save quite a bit.

Where to stay in Florida in February and winter

As a rule of thumb, the southern the better if you are after a warm climate.

You will be surprised to know that the north of Florida can be quite cold in winter, with a few very cold days (min below 30°F or 0°C). In fact, I was once in Panama City Beach in November and I woke up for some jogging to discover that the outside temperature was only 42°F, or around 5°C.

The Florida Keys are, of course, the best bet for nice warm weather. Usually, this is also the time of the year when you don’t need to worry about hurricanes, which is great.

There are 5 macro islands where you can book your stay, and, based on practical experience, the closer you get to Key West the higher the price of accommodations, food and drinks.

Miami

Miami is one of the most popular destinations in Florida, if not the most popular one. Why? It has something for everyone.

Add also the fact that there are two international airports serving the city, Miami Airport and Fort Lauderdale Airport, which is very close to Miami, although transportation to the Beach side is poor, to say the least. Book a taxi and save plenty of time.

On my last trip, I booked in Miami Mid Beach, in a very cozy hotel, good value for money, called Tradewinds. I was 200 yards (~200 meters) from the water, next to bars and restaurants, still in a very quiet spot with a lovely pool too.

I had my morning swim and then off exploring Miami with the beautiful art deco buildings of South Beach, the Street Art of Wynwood, the museums of Downtown and of course some shopping in Brickell.

Miami Beach is famous for its white sand and clear turquoise water. The beach is wide and long, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and playing any kind of sport. It’s a place to see and be seen.

Miami Beach is divided into 3 sections: South, Mid and North Beach.

It’s hard to suggest where to stay in Miami Beach because these 3 areas are so different.

South Beach is the heart of the city’s nightlife, with many clubs, bars, and restaurants. They do not come cheap, but, hey, this is one of the trendiest areas in the USA and the world.

I loved my walks admiring the architecture all around, with art deco buildings in pastel colors buildings. There is also a museum of Art Deco and a few organized tours running around the area.

I also highly suggest spending a day (or at least half a day) in Wynwood, a must-visit destination for any street art lover.

It’s like walking in an outdoor museum, with colorful and bold murals. Get closer to the University for more 3D street art.

Downtown Miami is probably not my favorite place to stay, although the waterfront is truly beautiful, and it must be said it has so many interesting museums.

The Pérez Art Museum and the Frost Science Museum are two must-visit destinations. Both museums work well also for the children thanks to the interactive installations that engage even the little ones.

Are you up for some shopping? Head to Brickell, a vibrant neighborhood with high-end stores, luxury boutiques, a great shopping center, and trendy restaurants.

Lastly, if you’re into nature, I highly suggest taking a day tour to the Everglades famous for alligators spotting, but honestly, the entire ecosystem is just so unique.

I took an airboat tour and saw alligators, birds, and turtles. Really an unforgettable experience.

Really, there is something for everyone, impossible to get bored, you either travel as a couple, single or with kids.

Where to stay in Miami
Where to stay in Miami
Best neighborhood to stay in Miami
Best neighborhood to stay in Miami

Orlando

Orlando is the absolute dream destination for families, and, having just been there, I can assure you it lives up to the hype.

After all, Orlando is the Theme Parks Capital of the world with over 12 theme parks of which 5 are Disney parks.

You can choose between the enchanting Magic Kingdom, the thrilling Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the unique Epcot. And I could keep going

True, it is not going to be a budget experience with tickets running between $150 to $220, parking between $25 and $50, priority queues at $45, and food/drinks more expensive than usual, but this is a unique place to be in the world!

To save some money, buy a multi-day/multi-park Disney ticket. There is so much variety in the park’s experiences.

One of my personal favorites is Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I loved the thrilling rides like the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which we ended up doing it twice, my kid (and myself) loved it so much.

Ops, I forgot to mention the second drawback of these parks, besides the price, the huge queue at most rides, with most running into 75-100 minutes and a few going into 3-4 hours.

If you consider how much you are actually going to spend, it makes sense to add a priority ticket (~$45) that will make you skip most long queues (you still have to do some queueing though). Just be aware that the 3-4 hours queues (usually for the most popular rides) can be skipped only if you sleep in the Disney Hotels.

Of course, there’s more to Orlando than just Disney. There are so many other theme parks to explore, from Universal Studios to SeaWorld, including also a few amazing water parks like Wet ‘n Wild and Typhoon Lagoon.

If you can, allocate half-day to the city itself, possibly on Sunday when you will find the Farmers Market around the lovely Lake Eola, and if you’re a sports fan, make sure to book a ticket for an NBA game at the Amway Center.

One thing I would recommend is to book your hotel as close to the parks as possible. This will reduce your commuting time, moreover, a few hotels in the area offer complimentary shuttle service to the parks, which can be a huge time and money saver.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale is just a few miles north of Miami and it has its own International Airport used by many low-cost airlines.

As you probably expect, the beach is one of the main reasons to visit Fort Lauderdale, although it is not as stunning as the one in Miami.

It is a great destination to visit with grown-up kids for the many watersports on offer and of course if you are planning some beach and nightlife time. Fort Lauderdale is so famous with the young crowd, especially on Spring Break.

Besides the beach, a must activity is joining one of the many tours through the canals to the Millionaire’s Row (which soon should be renamed Billionaire Row LOL), with so many lavish mansions to admire.

For some culture and history, head to the Sailboat Bend area to visit the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, the Museum of Discovery and Science (beloved by families) and Broward County’s oldest standing hotel.

If you plan to stay a few days then it makes sense to book at the beach, otherwise, you may think to stay closer to the Airport if you have a late/early flight. On my last visit, I had an early flight to Costa Rica and I booked a great hotel just a stone away from the Airport.

Florida Keys

One of my favorite destinations of this state, without any doubt, most definitely a must-experience on any trip to Florida.

The variety of things that you can do, beaches that you can experience, and natural parks that you can enjoy are just overwhelming.

The Florida Key is over 120 miles long after all, and it’s best to be visited from Miami with a road trip stopping for a stay in 2 or 3 islands.

It’s really hard to suggest where to stay in the Florida Keys because it really depends on what you are planning to do.

If you are after scuba diving then stop straight away in Key Largo, where the many diving centers along the canals dock their own boats to leave in the early morning to explore shipwrecks and unique diving sites.

Islamorada and Marathon Island come next with the many parks, attractions, and possibly a bike ride along the old 7 miles bridge.

Make a point to stop at Sombrero Beach and Bahia Honda State Park for the amazing turquoise water and white sands.

Then head to Big Pine Key to spotting one of the famous wild deer on the back of Long Beach. I had one of my most memorable experiences in the Florida Keys on my last trip. The local deers must be very used to the people, I was even able to pat one.

Finally, drive to Key West, one of the best places to stay in the Florida Keys, not only for its beautiful old village but also for the many beaches around.

Finding where to stay in Key West can be challenging, especially if you are on a budget, however, you can certainly dig up some good value options on the island.

I personally suggest an itinerary of 4 or 5 days in the Florida Keys, or even longer, making a point to stay 2-3 days in Key West.

Where to stay in Florida Keys
Where to stay in the Florida Keys
Best islands to stay in Florida Keys
Best islands to stay in Florida Keys

Palm Beach & West Palm Beach

Are you ready for a taste of high life? Palm Beach and West Palm Beach have got you covered!

These glamorous cities are located on the east coast of Florida, just north of Miami.

Palm Beach is a small barrier island packed with luxurious resorts, fancy shops, and beautiful beaches.

You can rent a bike and cruise along the palm tree-lined streets, or hit up Worth Avenue for some high-end shopping. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two!

West Palm Beach, on the other side of the Lake Worth Lagoon, is a bit more laid back but still as interesting, with my highlight being the Northwood neighborhood, famous for its street art.

St. Augustine

Tracing its roots to the 16th century, St. Augustine takes the crown as the “oldest continuously occupied European Settlement”, making it the nation’s oldest city.

It was established in 1565 by the Spanish, 4 decades before the English colonized Jamestown, and over half a century before the Pilgrims themselves first landed at Plymouth Rock.

Taking a walk through the streets here shows you evidence of its rich history.

Start your visit from the Old City Gate and the popular St. George Street, in the heart of St. Augustine, packed with boutiques and historic homes characteristic of the Ancient City.

Keep strolling to the beaten-down Aviles Street that’s technically the oldest street in the US.

Then have a break from the historic sites and head down to the beautiful white sandy beach, you really have it all in St. Augustine

Best places to stay in St Augustine Florida
Best places to stay in St Augustine Florida
Best areas to stay in St Augustine
Best areas to stay in St Augustine

Marco Island

Marco Island is the southernmost island on the west coast of Florida.

It’s easily reachable from Miami (around 100 miles) and it can get quite popular with people from the city, especially during the school holidays.

In saying that, the island is actually quite big, with a main amazing white beach long around 6 miles.

The southern side of the beach is built up with mostly condos and it is probably the best place to stay if you are looking for a great view of the Gulf of Mexico.

In the central area of the beach, you can find some beautiful resorts, ideal for an unforgettable exclusive time right in front of the water.

Stay north of the beach if you prefer more of a natural environment close to the lovely Tigertail Beach. You will be also close to the main and only town on the island, with restaurants, bars, and shops around. Really all you need for a vacation.

The interior of the island is mostly residential, built around beautiful canals. This is where you will find lovely villas hosting big families or groups of friends.

Marco Island is a beautiful laid-back destination, ideal if you want to relax by the beach and forget about the busy life back at home.

Best places to stay in Marco Island Florida
Best places to stay in Marco Island Florida
Best places to stay in Marco Island
Best places to stay in Marco Island

Naples

Naples is one of the most interesting destinations on the West Coast of Florida.

It is in fact one of my favorite places to stay in Florida, and for many reasons.

Let’s start with the beach, with palm trees, a lovely pier, fantastic white sand, and turquoise water. A real heaven.

Then, the town is developed around two areas. There is the Old Centre with beautiful colonial buildings and exclusive bars and restaurants. On my last trip there, the most unassuming car parked on the street was a Porsche.

The Downtown area is developed along the main street, 5th Avenue South, with plenty of shopping, cafes, restaurants, bars, and galleries. It’s the best spot for an evening walk. I enjoyed my daily strolls so much, including the ice cream at Gelato & Co. 😉

Accommodations are on the expensive side, however, you can still find good value for money in one of the many hotels along Highway 41/Tamiami Trail.

Best places to stay in Naples Florida
Best places to stay in Naples Florida
Map of the best places to stay in Naples Florida
Map of the best places to stay in Naples Florida

Sanibel Island

Unfortunately, the island was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian in November 2022.

I actually planned to visit it and I drove to the island to find it closed. Work was underway to rebuild the entire infrastructure of the island, completely destroyed by the hurricane, the worst in the last 100 years.

I will update this section once things will be back to almost normal.

The guide below refers to the island before the hurricane (it will also be updated in due course)

Best places to stay in Sanibel Island Florida (1)
Best places to stay in Sanibel Island Florida

Siesta Key

A vacation in Florida must include a trip to Siesta Key, where you will find the best beach in the USA, and number 11 in the world.

Or at least it was voted in that way by TripAdvisor users for many years in a row.

Also Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen Leatherman (PhD in marine botany), voted it number 1 in 2017, and Stephen surely knows a few things about beaches.

On my last trip there, I enjoyed both the beach and the village, very unassuming and low-key. It is one of my favorite places in Florida to just relax, have a meal out, and have a nice walk along the white sandy beach.

Best places to stay in Siesta Key Island Florida
Best places to stay in Siesta Key Island Florida
Best places to stay in Siesta Key
Best places to stay in Siesta Key

Anna Maria Island

Maria Island is one of the few places in Florida that has escaped the massive condos that define most of the east coast and a few islands on the west coast of the state.

It is a real paradise, made of white sand beaches, crystal clear water, limited building height (30-37 feet) beautiful sunny weather all year around, and a unique chilled-out vibe

This is the perfect heaven for a secluded vacation.

Best places to stay in Anna Maria Island Florida
Best places to stay in Anna Maria Island Florida
Best areas to stay in Anna Maria Island
Best areas to stay in Anna Maria Island

Clearwater

Clearwater is one of the best places to stay in Florida for families with grown-up kids.

And there are a few reasons for that, the first one being of course the amazing white beach, but that is common to most of the islands on the west coast of Florida must be said.

The second justification is the myriad of water activities available in Clearwater, be it parasailing, jet skiing, paddleboarding, SUP or simply relaxing on the soft, white beach.

The location of Clearwater works also very well, being around 1.5-2 hours from the Walt Disney Parks off Orlando, so you can plan a day trip there for a fun day.

Finally, you should not miss the fantastic pier for a lovely sunset. There is a $2 entrance fee and you can also acquire some fishing equipment to catch some fish.

You can also head with the children to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see the animal rehabilitation center and have a behind-the-doors tour.

Overall a great family vacation.

Best places to stay in Clearwater Florida
Best places to stay in Clearwater Florida
Map of the best places to stay in Clearwater
Map of the best places to stay in Clearwater

Cedar Key

Having a vacation in Cedar Key is like stepping back in time and experiencing the old Florida.

This is one of the most secluded places in the state and possibly the USA, a little gem still to fully discover.

It is often compared to the Florida Key as it used to be.

Certainly it is one of the most secluded destinations in Florida where you can still find great value for money, perfect for a relaxing vintage stay.

Best places to stay in Cedar Key Florida
Best places to stay in Cedar Key Florida
Best areas to stay in Cedar Key
Best areas to stay in Cedar Key

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach has a split personality, extremely relaxed and chilled out during the off-season, with an amazing long white beach, and energetic and lively during the Spring Break, with plenty of students inundating the coastal town.

Last year I was there in November and also early December, and it was an absolute heaven, with warm sunny days, beautiful turquoise calm water, and a relaxed atmosphere overall.

If this is what you are looking for, then just avoid Spring Break and you will be safe.

Are you looking for one of the best party towns in Florida for the break, well you know now where to go.

The town is developed along the coast without a real center but more of a sequence of hotels, bars, and restaurants facing the beach.

Stay west to enjoy the Pier Park area, one of the biggest outdoor shopping and restaurant areas on this side of the state.

Best places to stay in Panama City Beach - Florida
Best places to stay in Panama City Beach – Florida
Best areas to stay in Panama City Beach
Best areas to stay in Panama City Beach

Pensacola

This city was the busiest port on the Gulf of Mexico between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Downtown Pensacola, with its rich history, may be the best place to stay if you want to step back in time.

A few of the buildings are, in fact, over 250 years old, with the St. Michael’s Cemetery, now an open-air museum, the oldest one, from the 18th century.

Of course, Pensacola, in line with all the destinations in this guide on the west coast, has an amazing white sand beach, literally to die for.

If the old downtown suffers some car traffic, the beach side is very sleepy and relaxed

I personally suggest staying close to the sea and enjoy a daytrip to Downtown to experience the historic part of this lovely destination.

Best places to stay in Pensacola Florida
Best places to stay in Pensacola Florida
Best places to stay in Pensacola Florida
Best places to stay in Pensacola Florida
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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