"I live in Florida, and when people ask how close to the beach I am, I say, "Twelve minutes or twelve hours. Depends on which beach you want to go to." - Jarod Kintz in "Who Moved My Choose?"
Florida is a loooong peninsula - 447 miles long from north to south. It has a lot of geography to offer, except mountains. This is one flat state. The highest point is Britton Hill, which is a majestic 354 feet above sea level. The hills are definitely not alive with the sound of music because there are no hills. There are lots of beaches though - over 1,300 miles of coastline. The beaches are on the east coast where you can sunbathe while pensively gazing at the Atlantic Ocean as if thinking deep thoughts instead of which outdoor patio you'll be sitting on tonight. There are beaches on the west coast also, offering a view of the calmer Gulf Coast. The Sunshine State has more than sand and water though. There's the Everglades National Park and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for starters. It's safe to say that this is one of the more fun and interesting states in the union.
So you want to be a Floridian? Get ready to take some important steps. First, make sure your shorts fit. Second, start mussing up your hair like it's perpetually windblown because no one has combed hair in Florida. Third, decide if you can stand not having to rake tons of leaves in the fall or shoveling snow in the winter. Fourth, pick a location (you're on your own with this one). Finally, start looking for property rentals in Florida right away. This is one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., which means nice rentals in preferred places go fast. You can get help with this one by using a professional house and apartment locator.
Schedule your mover as soon as possible, unless you're loading up your own stuff. The snowbirds (winter visitors) and university students are coming and going, and they need movers too. Florida is so darn long that the professional movers traveling up and down the state need extra time scheduling to-and-fro loads.
You must also get some documents together and put out some money to rent. With so many people coming and going, landlords don't play around. Most renters will need a proof of income, valid identification, references and the ability to pay an application fee, security deposit, a month's rent in advance and utility deposit. Some Florida condos and apartments may include trash pickup and cable or maybe water. Generally speaking, take your rent and double it to figure basic monthly living expenses.
Do you want to live near a beach? Do you want to live by Disney World? Do you want to avoid crowded areas? Here is a quick rundown going from the panhandle in the north to Miami in the south:
Tallahassee: Tallahassee is a college town -- home to Florida State University (FSU) and Florida A&M University. Renters can choose to live close to the campuses or move out. Southwood is "out" and has lots of apts for rent, as well as houses and townhouses. Another "out" area is around the Thomasville-Miccosukee-Centerville Roads. "In" neighborhoods closer to FSU and downtown include Los Robles and Midtown. This is Florida's capital city, so you get the government workers for neighbors as a bonus.
Jacksonville: Jacksonville is the "River City by the Sea" because it has miles of beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, intracoastal waterways and the St. Johns River. There's plenty of sun here because it shines 270 days out of the year. That must be why the city has over 80,000 acres of park. People have to play somewhere! They have to live somewhere too, and there's a fine choice of neighborhoods with rental properties. Choose a funky neighborhood like Riverside and find a studio apartment for rent; rent an apartment in the Jacksonville Beach area; or pick one of the southside apartment complexes.
Daytona Beach: The city of Daytona Beach may be a casual Atlantic coastal town, but it feels a need for speed as the home of the Daytona International Speedway. This city combines beachcombers and high-rise condominiums. Renters can find a two-bedroom apartment for rent with a view of the ocean or move inland to rent a bungalow or house.
Orlando/Kissimmee: Orlando is famous for being the home of Walt Disney World, but it also has numerous revitalized historic areas. Places like Thornton Park bring back the "neighbor" in neighborhood, offering a variety of property rentals that include bungalows and condominiums. If walkability is your idea of the perfect neighborhood feature, check out South Eola. Any direction you go in Orlando or neighboring Kissimmee, there are unique residential areas, whether choosing to live close to downtown in College Park or the suburbs in Lake Nona.
Tampa: Rent an apartment month-to-month in Florida before deciding where to live long term. There is a dizzying array of neighborhood options in Tampa alone, including a renovated historic area with condos, master planned communities with apartment complexes and subdivisions outside the central area. There are areas to accommodate your bad habits too. Like to shop too much in popular stores? Check out Carrollwood. Enjoy taking road trips? Rent in the Brandon community close to I-75.
Fort Myers: Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast side of the state has some interesting areas to offer. It's located on the Caloosahatchee River and I-75 runs through its middle. College Parkway stretches across the river. Renters can live close to the river or close to the interstate or move further out to get away from it all. The Fort Myers River District has two-bedroom apartments and condos available to rent to party animals who want to live close to where city events are held. Across Old Tampa Bay is St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, dishing up another range of rental opportunities.
Miami: No way can all the neighborhoods in Miami be summed up in a few sentences. The best advice you can take is to use an apartments locator. It could save a whole lot of headaches. This city is stuffed with condominiums, apartment buildings and choices. You can live close to or on the wateror not. You can live near downtownor not.
Everyone loves Florida, as long as they don't mind just one or two seasons a year. Life is decidedly more laid-back in this state. Maybe that's because it's hard to take life too seriously when everyone is wearing cellulite-showcasing shorts and tight T-shirts. From top to bottom there are so many fun things to do and many of them cater to the residents. Just think of all the beaches and all the sun. Floridians spend a lot of time on their decks, eating seafood and wondering when some of the tourists will go home. Here's a news flash. With places like The Villages expanding outside of Orlando, they might just stay, too.