Please Tell Me About Florida

We are thinking–just thinking–about relocating to Florida. (We are in Denver, Colorado now. ) I miss the ocean dreadfully, and we are looking for warmer weather. Spouse is a landscape architect.

The areas we are interested in are the Northeast, perhaps the Panhandle, or the Southwest Coast. We are late 40’s, have a teen who will be entering high school in the fall. (He is not unwilling to relocate, but obviously the timing is a bit tricky.)

Spouse has already been to the Northeast. Jacksonville had some nice areas but is awfully sprawling…he peeked in at Amelia Island, thought it was pretty small-town (we are very low key folks, but do not want to be comatose.)

Can anyone offer opinions/insight/advice about what we could or should look for? We are interested in a town smaller than Denver, but with a decent public school,and some life and activity for a teenager. A town that is relaxed yet has a bit of culture, is near the water,a place with lots of character but not a lot of high rises.
Are we out of line? Does such a place exist? We have been reading about Sarasota and Ft Myers in the southwest. Is it all retirees? Also have read about some towns on the other side, Vero Beach and Sebastian.
Would be grateful for any guidance in our search.

Well, I’ve lived in the panhandle and here in Tallahassee, and been all over the state for business and personal reasons. As far as your specifications for being a small town, near the water, etc. you will probably love the Destin / Ft. Walton area.

I lived in Ft. Walton for 3 years. Admittedly, it is a bit of a small town, but the surrounding area is beautiful. I started high school there, and would spend most days after class at the beach. I miss it so much.

Destin is a bit larger area, and most of the retirees are in South Florida so there’s not as much of that to contend with. There are many beautiful places to live along the emerald coast. You can find some information here:

Destin, FL
Ft. Walton Beach, FL
Seaside, FL Incidentally, Seaside is where The Truman Show was filmed
Pensacola, FL

Tallahassee itself is beautiful, and has both the culture and business of a large city but somehow manages to keep a small-town feel, however it’s about a 30 min. drive to the beach, and I miss seeing the water. I’ve been to all of the locations listed above and by far my favorite is Destin. Hopefully others can give you some great tips as well.

Good luck!

Former Orlando resident—
Florida school systems uniformly suck.

Crime is very high.

Let’s talk—Palmetto Bugs. :eek:

Florida is a great place to visit, but not to live.

Avoid Jacksonville if education is important to you. I live just south of Duval county and people are leaving there in droves to get better schools in St Johns and Clay counties. My daughter is in Clay, and I’m not all that impressed with the schools here either, but they’re better than Jax.

Former and near-future inhabitant of rural Central Florida–the palmetto bugs aren’t as bad as Bosda implies. But the snakes…

Where I lived/will soon live again, violent crime was almost nonexsistent. The biggest deal in years was a pair of arsons in close temporal proximity to one another. Generally, you only get things like vandalism and burglary. Occasionally, a rape, but no murders or kidnappings in the ridiculously small town in which I lived/will soon live.

People were fairly intolerant of overt nonconformity–plenty of, err, lower-class ethnic Confederates. But if you hang out with the right crowd, you can be as outwardly odd as you want and not get too much flak for it. But I wouldn’t recommend walking near a public road. Teenage ethnic Confederates tend to yell from their oversized trucks and on occassion, do things like run people off the road (if you’re on a bike) or throw things (if you’re anywhere near the road and not in a car). And they brag about it, too.

So I’m not overjoyed to be returning.

Florida is chock full of talentless boy bands, ethnic Confederates, the politicians who pander to them and people like me, who plan to go to college out-of-state and never return to the most cursed peninsula in America.

The education system isn’t that bad, in that there’s actual learning to be done in the honors classes. The school I went to–South Sumter High, in Bushnell, Florida–was a pretty good school, as far as schools go. But I still want to go to college out-of-state.

If you’re looking to live in Florida and my glowing review hasn’t deterred you, I suggest you stay away from Tampa/St. Petersburg. Lots of crime. Good night life, though. I’d say you should live in the northern half of the state. Lots more stuff. I hear Tallahassee’s pretty nice.

I’d suggest looking into Sarasota, Fort Meyers or Naples. All not too big, not too terribly small. They tend to be wealthier cities so in theory the education system should be above average for the state.

The state is not all retirees anymore, which might account for an education initiative actually passing in the last statewide election (which limits classroom size to something manageable; now they just have to figure out how to pay for it). Remember that a Bush is governor, whether that works for you or not is a matter of your choice, he seems even more born-again Christian than his brother the Prez. And that in general the schools are just not as good as many northern states, although if your son is motivated then he can get a decent education. Also, the summers can last from 7-11 months, depending on how far south you get. That’s not always a good thing.

In full disclosure the education thing is what would most likely keep me from relocating my family back to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The crime is high in parts of Tampa and St. Pete, but not unavoidable.

Tallahassee area is nice, specifically the east side.

The east side schools are top notch (all of them except for one are less than 30 years old), crime isn’t bad, and there’s lots and lots of trees. The school system offers AP, dual enrolment classes through the local Community College (one of the nicer ones around… better facilities than many universities) and the IB (International Bacceloriate) program is offered. If your son is interested in sports, the programs at all the high schools are great, specifically football (Lincoln High has had a player in the All-American team for as long as I can remember (caring).

Population is officially 133,000, but it varies through the year due to the colleges (Florida State and Florida A&M, as well as Tallahassee Comm. College) and the legislative sessions. Football is big (FSU Seminoles), there are some small professional teams (hockey and indoor football) and there are tons of parks, springs, and camping areas around (Caves in Marianna, St. George Island beach, Wakulla Springs)

The area has a fairly low density for a city, so there are lots of green areas. Shopping is convenient (two decent sized malls) and there are TONS of restaurants. The area has a reputation of being a sorta backwoods area within florida, and in some areas of the panhandle definately apply, but for the most part, Tally is pretty nice.

Housing costs are pretty low compared to many other areas. A nice 3br house can be had for less than 150k, with a spacious lot and lots of trees.

Biggest drawback to the area is the traffic. The city has a strange layout, and it can be hard to get from one side to anothre at times. There is no freeway system save for a 4 lane interstate that grazes the north side.

On the other hand, it’s ungodly hot in the summer. AC is second only to oxygen.

Email me if you have any questions. I know the place like the back of my hand, and hopefully I could help.

Crime isn’t so awful everywhere in Florida. Honestly, it varies greatly from city to city, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. Example: West Palm Beach has extremely high crime rates, in fact some of the highest in the nation, while just over the Intracoastal, Palm Beach is close to crime free.

I can’t say much in support of the educational system. Go private if you can.

Specific cities in Florida that I recommend: Sarasota (Southwest) and Jupiter (Southeast).

The weather gets nicer as you move away from the beach (cooler and less humid), so try to live on the inland side of town.

One last thing–I recommend you don’t move here. Florida just doesn’t have that much going for it.

…And what’s a palmetto bug? :confused:

I live within two miles of Madeira Beach—nice beach access and not overly developed. Quite a few private houses along the beach but I would guess better than one hundred yards set-back from the highwater line. Although I don’t have kids in school, I understand that the Seminole school system is very well regarded. I know several people who moved to Seminole from surrounding areas just to get their kids into our school system. Property is not overpriced, but isn’t low scale, either. There isn’t a lot going on in the job market here but if you are contemplating being self employed, you might have a good shot. The cities of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park are doing a lot of landscaping at the moment, so there might be a chance there.

I lived for several years in Fort Myers and I can tell you that trips to the beach are real bummers. Beach access, once you get there, is severely limited, parking is a major problem, petty crime abounds and major crime is not all that uncommon. I hate to say it because I love Fort Myers, but I would think twice about relocating there. Naples, on the other hand, is a great place but very upscale–at one time, Naples had more millionaires per capita than any spot in the States. I don’t know if that is true anymore. Housing there is expensive, but the schools are good and shopping opportunities are first class.

The Sarasota/Bradenton areas seem to be thriving at the moment, but I have no specifics to relate. Sarasota is, though, a lovely place, particularly around st. Armands Circle.

For my money, the Gulf Coast is the only place to be. I understand that people like the East Coast, but I don’t know why.

I’ve lived in Florida (specifically the Tampa Bay area) for almost twenty five years. While there are exceptions, the educational system around here sucks. The crime rate is higher than most people will admit. My house in Apollo Beach was burglarized five times in ten years. There are still plenty of places to move to. When it’s time to retire I’ll be looking further inland and south.


Interesting you should say so about the schools – as I grew up in Orange Park and went to the schools there. I thought Orange Park High School was quite good when I went there (this was class of 1988, though, a good while back). They had good programs and lots of AP classes. However, according to my parents (who still live in OP), OPHS has gone a bit downhill, and a high school more on the southern area of the city is the better one.

As for Tallahassee, that’s where I still live (and have since 1992), and can vouch for most of GuyBud5’s comments (except the hockey team – Tallahassee Tiger Sharks – is no longer here). The east side of Tally has most of the better places to live, inside the city area. North of the interstate (specifically NE of the city proper) is the Killearn area, which is the nicest residential area of the city, and a little more well-to-do.

As for the mention of traffic – I honestly don’t think it’s so bad in Tallahassee. In fact, when I visit my folks in Orange Park – which I always thought of as a smaller town – I’m amazed at how bad the OP traffic has gotten, especially on the northwest side (it’s adjacent to Jax, however). In comparison, I tend to find Tally traffic pretty light. And some of the worst traffic trouble spots in Tallahassee have recently gotten some road expansions. (GuyBud – are you in Tally? or did you used to live here?) Capital Circle east was widened to three lanes on a side for much of the trouble area. Miccosukee Rd. is getting a little widening too. And Stadium Drive near the college is finally open again, with extra lanes (and replacing the Pensacola St. flyover). Just to name a few (mostly for GuyBud’s benefit, in case he’s not in Tally) :slight_smile:

Before you move to Florida, please consider a visit to Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. They are less than a hundred miles from each other. Savannah is the prettiest city I have ever seen and Charleston is utterly charming!

I have nothing against Florida. I love the sugar white beaches in Pensicola and the way Daytona’s beach gradually meets the sea.

My daughter’s bf is a student at OPHS - he was telling me about how overcrowded it is and about fights in the school - apparently there’s a fair amount of racial tension there, too. My daughter attends Ridgeview, which is the only county school with the IB program. Up until 5 or 6 years ago, it was a middle school, but now it’s 9-12. It’s becoming overcrowded also, and frankly, I’m not all that impressed with the academics. Even tho she’s in Honors and AP classes, she hardly does any homework and she’s ranked #5 or #12 in her class (depending on if they include the IB kids) Not to take anything away from her, because she is a smart kid, but if she can maintain such a grade point without much effort, then she’s not being challenged. I fear college is going to be a bit of a shock for her. But she wants to go to Univ of Central Fl, so maybe it won’t be such a shock.

Still, I stand my my original assertion - avoid Jacksonville. The airport is pretty nice, but that’s about it.

Thank you very much, everyone, you have given me plenty to chew on so far. Am not worried about bugs or snakes. Humidity sounds daunting, but have lived in it before, and after 30 dry years in the high desert, could deal with a change.

When looking at Amelia Island, we were indeed intrigued by the charming cities you mentioned. Just not sure if spouse would be ready to immerse himself that suddenly in such new surroundings, nor are we sure how much work is there. Florida is a bit more familiar and we know there is work there.

Looks like it would be much easier to relocate if we didn’t still have a kid in the house (older kid is at college so is more out of the loop.) Younger kid is a very good student, is actually not being all that highly challenged at his present school, but we do what we can at home.
I am not sure of where our niche might be.
Tallahassee does look nice, but I am a bit leery of the crime statistics I’ve been reading. They may be low in comparison to other Florida cities, but compared to Denver, they are high. Guess that’s the price of a warmer climate.
We could probably afford
a nice house in a nice area, but I don’t see us as being fancy-pants Naples types (more into scuba than golf), and we don’t want to live where we’d be completely surrounded by folks thirty years older than we are. (Seminole sounds interesting, but I read that the median age there is 63.) Of course, moving now would give us a sort of head start into our eventual retirement.
Well, if anyone else has some advice to offer, I would appreciate it.

The public schools are excellent if the parents and children do their part.

The weather is fantastic – it was 40 degrees F and raining yesterday, and that is just about as bad as it gets in Central/South Florida.

I can’t speak on the crime situation. I imagine that it is just as bad here as anywhere else.

If you like “rednecks,” then Florida is full of 'em. We also have oxygen in our air.

I left Laramie Wyoming years ago to escape the winters. After lots of moves, I settled in Pensacola. Reasonable weather, GREAT fishing. Destin is getting pretty crazy - all condos and traffic. If you want the big city scene, tho, Tampa is good. If you want real quit, rural, check Apalachicola, Port St. Joe - there’s a big new development starting there.

I spent some time in SW Florida a few months ago. Before that, I visited Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve also been to Orlando. I recently turned down a job offer in Naples, because the impression I got of that place is that it’s just golf courses and alligators. I have an interview in Sarasota on Monday, and I understand that’s a really nice place, but I’ve never actually been there.

I don’t have a wife or children, so I take different things into consideration than you do when deciding on a place to live. The West Coast seems really nice. I also liked Broward County. Miami-Dade to me seems like your basic big city, a perpetually hot version of New York. Orlando is nice, but I’d rather be closer to the beach.

Good luck in whatever you decide.

I have nothing orignial to add to the posters who have recommended Tallahassee. I highly suggest you narrow down your list to maybe three possible cities. Then contact their Chambers of Commerce and request a relocation package. Everything said here and much much more will be mailed to you. Also: here’s a great site from which you can learn more.

Major drawback about Tally-town: jobs could be difficult to find. The Big Gorilla employer happens to be the State of Florida. The Shrub! wants to empty the state offices, privatize most gov’t. functions and may render 60% of the city’s population jobless. If you decide on Tally, start looking for work here now. There are very few private employers who can pay anything worth a damn. (I happen to work for one of them.) The cost of living here is basically inexpensive compared to the rest of FL, and IMHO, the quality of life is much, much better.

I did exactly what you are doing: I was living up north (SC), did a hard-target market search to determine the best city in Florida to fit my needs. Then I looked for a job in Tally for six months before I landed one and moved here. No regrets either. I’m home!

Fort Myers, Naples, and Sarasota are all allright, but not as many things to do as Denver… Probably lower crime rate though. Decent communities, good theater, etc.

Port Charlotte/Charlotte county has the second lowest crime rate in the United States, but also the highest percentage of people over 80 on Earth. (P.C. is directly between Sarasota and Ft. Myers).

Tampa (about as north in the SW FL you can go) has a lot of great things to do, and is one of my favorite cities. However the crime rate there is hideous. If you like the city life but dont like the crime I would suggest Clearwater or Spring Hill… just a small commute into the city.

Whatever you do stay out of central FL.

Unless you like tourists, then go to O-Town (Orlando).

The school systems in FL are really what you and your children make of them. There really is no “middle ground”. Kids are either H.S. drop outs or score perfect SAT’s.

I lived in Florida for 2 1/2 years as a child, in the West Palm Beach area (on the southeastern coast). We lived in Jupiter, and it’s really nice there. I don’t know much about the high schools in the area, since I only went to elementary school there (they do have a good gifted program at Lighthouse elementary, and I assume they have gifted programs in high school too). Jupiter is next to the ocean, the weather is wonderful, and the neighborhoods are nice. I was in Jupiter a few weeks ago (for my grandmother’s funeral, unfortunately), and it’s a great town.