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Top 10 Cheapest Places to Live in Florida, 2021

By: Susan Finch
July 13, 2021

Despite being a haven for beachfront homes, celebrities, and year-round tourism, Florida is still an affordable place to live. If you have some flexibility when moving to the Sunshine State, you can still find an affordable cost of living in Florida that boasts beaches, culture, and a strong job market. As if that wasn't enough, Florida residents are off the hook for personal state income taxes.

Ready to become a year-round snowbird on a budget? Discover some of the cheapest places to live in Florida.

1. Daytona Beach

  • Population: 69,186
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,059
  • Median Household Income: $35,893

Daytona Beach was once a citrus and sugar cane plantation and home to a hotel and town. It flourished during the arrival of the St. Johns & Halifax River Railway. The smooth sand of Daytona attracted automobile and motorcycle racers starting in 1902, and inventors also turned up to test their inventions. By 1936, Daytona Beach Road Course held the first stock car race. Today, Daytona Beach is known as "The World's Best Beach" and attracts scores of tourists and newcomers.

Residents settle into Daytona for a lifestyle filled with sunshine, waterfront fun, and high-rise condominiums. Despite the upscale touches, Daytona Beach is among the cheapest places to live in Florida. The median age in Dayton is 40.6, making it an ideal location for professionals looking to grow into their careers or remote workers looking to relocate to the surfside. College students also flock to the city to study, work, and play at Daytona State College, Daytona College, Bethune-Cooking University, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Locals have their choice of working at NASCAR racing at Daytona International Speedway or businesses focused on advanced manufacturing, aviation and aerospace, and logistics. This laid-back town welcomes entrepreneurs as well, emphasizing innovation. Of course, with 23-miles of sandy beachfront, hospitality jobs are also available in area hotels and restaurants.

There's plenty to do around Daytona other than top-rated beaches in the world. Of course, getting caught up in the adrenaline at the Daytona International Speedway is a must. For something calmer, the Museum of Arts & Sciences attracts visitors to its global art, artifacts, and exhibits on Florida history. The Boardwalk is the perfect place for rides, games, and shoreside attractions. However, beyond the waterfront and Main Street Pier, you can camp or stroll through Tonka State Park to get in touch with nature.

2. Fort Myers

  • Population: 7,094
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,120
  • Median Household Income: $74,357

Fort Myers is synonymous with the tourism industry and acts as a gateway to Southwest Florida. After the Civil War, the area grew to prominence, and light bulb inventor Thomas A. Edison built his home, laboratory, and botanic gardens along McGregor Boulevard. Edison was also responsible for persuading Henry Ford to purchase the house next door, and today they're historical museums and sites.

Newcomers arrive in Fort Myers for year-round recreation, scenic waterfront views, and job opportunities, though it is most famous as a shelling destination. Like Daytona Beach, the median age around Fort Myers is just over 40, and many residents come for new job opportunities. Fort Myers is family-friendly and laid-back but is also home to its share of nightlife. Area colleges include Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SoutWestern State College.

The future job market in Fort Myers looks promising with industries like healthcare, retail, and construction. Job growth here is outpacing the U.S. job growth. Like most beach towns around Florida, Fort Myers also has a booming hospitality industry. Whether you want to tend a bar on the beachfront or start your own shelling and tour business, you can find new opportunities in Fort Myers.

Many celebrate Fort Myers for its plentiful shelling opportunities. Visiting Fort Myers Beach is a must, including the lively Times Square with al fresco dining, surf shops, and street performers entertaining the crowds. Its historic downtown boasts 1920s Art Deco buildings. History buffs can also catch up on fascinating local insights at the Edison Ford Estate. Nature is the main draw around Fort Myers, with J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Lovers Key State Park.

3. Tallahassee

  • Population: 194,500
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,137
  • Median Household Income: $45,734

As the capital of Florida, Tallahassee is home to Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the state capitol, the Supreme Court of Florida, and Florida Governor's Mansion. Tallahassee was named for the Muskogean Indian word, meaning "Old Fields" or "Old Towns," and is the hilliest Florida region. Although Tallahassee is a booming city, it's still a Southern town with a genteel feel lined with oak trees and plantation homes.

Tallahassee attracts 80,000 college students to its higher education institutions, as well as government workers and young professionals looking to flex their ambitions. You're never more than about 10 miles to area attractions and apartments and a close drive to vacation destinations like Orlando. The city is steadily growing, and there's always construction working on new projects and apartment complexes.

The unemployment in Tallahassee is currently lower than in the rest of the U.S., with promising job growth. Industries in Tallahassee include government, trade and transportation, utilities, education, health services, and leisure. Plus, with so much construction going on, you're bound to find work at construction sites and new apartment complexes.

Despite its urban center, there are plenty of nature stops in the metro area. Locals bike and explore Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park and the St. Marks Lighthouse at the namesake wildlife refuge. The city is also home to the Downtown Market with local produce, cheese, and treats. Locals also take their guests to stop by Florida State University and ogle over the cars at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.

4. Winter Haven

  • Population: 44,955
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,145
  • Median Household Income: $46,669

The railroad's arrival grew Winter Haven, Florida, during the 1860s and was soon the home to citrus groves and a canning factory. The city was also the birthplace of Publix supermarkets. Winter Haven also landed on the map for its famous Cypress Gardens that opened during the 1950s and featured a botanical garden, water skiing shows, and southern charm. The park eventually closed and became the home of Legoland’s Florida theme park in 2011.

Winter Haven is situated 46 miles outside of Orlando and draws visitors to Legoland. The city is also home to Polk State College and nearby Southeastern University and Florida Southern College. Families also settle into Winter Haven for its canal-linked Chain of Lakes, waterfront amenities, and a mix of quality charter and public schools.

Winter Haven is home to critical industries, including logistics and distribution, tourism, and software and information technology. You’ll also find the BayCare Health System within Winter Haven, which provides opportunities in healthcare and medicine. Although Florida is synonymous with beaches, Winter Haven is home to lakes and agribusiness. Winter Haven is a leader in agri-research, agribusiness technology, and food processing.

Legoland Florida is the primary attraction in Winter Haven with rides, a water park, and all things Lego-fun. However, you can also enjoy Bok Tower Gardens and part of the original Cypress Gardens with a botanical garden and native plants. At Lake Eloise, locals enjoy lakeside fun for fishing and water skiing. For cultural exploration, Theatre Winter Haven has been called one of the best community theatres in America.

5. Sanford

  • Population: 61,448
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,161
  • Median Household Income: $47,217

Sanford is among the cheapest places to live in Florida and is known as the "Historic Waterfront Gateway City." Sanford was among the oldest incorporated cities in Florida and boasts brick-lined streets, gorgeous oak trees, and nineteenth-century Victorian homes. After a fire, yellow fever epidemic, and the Great Freeze of 1894 and 1895 ruined the local citrus industry, the city diversified to include vegetables and other produce. In 1942, the Naval Air Station Sanford was established, and the nearby Walt Disney World Resort opened in 1972 ushered in mass tourism.

Business is booming in Sanford and tourism brings in visitors and newcomers looking for opportunities at area theme parks, the nearby University of Central Florida, and Deloitte. College students also settle in Sanford for the Seminole State College of Florida. Sanford is also centrally located and is home to the Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Of course, there’s more to see and do around Sanford besides Disney World. Sanford RiverWalk park stretches a mile long past a yacht basin and restaurants. Locals and visitors also explore historic Downtown Sanford and the beloved Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. If you’re looking for a nature fix, The Black Bear Wilderness area loops around a 7.2-mile trail and there are plenty of waterfront activities like Katie's Wekiva River Landing.

6. Jacksonville

  • Population: 911,507
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,183
  • Median Household Income: $54,701

Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. The town held a prominent role during the Civil War as a critical supply point for hogs and cattle shipped to Confederate forces in Florida. By the Reconstruction and Gilded age, Jacksonville was blossoming into a resort town for the rich and famous, where visitors arrived by steamboat and railroad.

Jacksonville attracts business executives, entrepreneurs, and families thanks to its affordable cost of living and urban amenities. Of course, the proximity to the beach provides the perfect backdrop for Florida living. Jacksonville is also home to several military bases and the University of North Florida that attracts military personnel and students.

The city attracts a range of businesses and industry including advanced manufacturing, aviation and aerospace, finance and insurance, Information Technologies, Life Sciences, and Logistics and Distribution. Jacksonville is also the home base for several military bases, including the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport, and Blount Island Command. Military personnel also work at the Florida Air National Guard and U.S. Coast Guard.

Jacksonville is expansive and home to world-class attractions, like the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Outdoor stops include Big Talbot Island with wetlands, bike paths, and beaches. But, perhaps most impressive, Jacksonville is known for its most extensive urban park system in the nation, with 80,000 acres of parks, seven state parks, two national parks, and city greenspace.

7. Lakeland

  • Population: 112,136
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,207
  • Median Household Income: $47,511

Lakeland was incorporated in 1885when Abraham Munn purchased 80 acres of land in the area now known as Downtown. As railroad lines arrived during the 1870s, the site grew and development grew. Today, Lakeland is home to the most extensive one-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world and the legendary Historic and Antiques district.

Lakeland's location between Tampa and Orlando provides outdoor beauty, a stable job market, and a tight-knit community spirit. Business is going strong in Lakeland, and families settle in to take advantage of one of the cheapest places to live in Florida. Lakeland's affordability and the laid-back vibe are also ideal for college students attending Florida Southern College and Southeastern University.

Beyond the antique scene and stunning architecture, employment in Lakeland includes manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and nearby tourism. Some of the largest employers around Lakeland include Publix, Lakeland Regional Health, Geico, and the City of Lakeland.

True to its name, Lakeland is home to 38 lakes in the city limits and nature spots like the Circle B Bar Reserve. However, Lakeland isn't all lakes. The city includes other nature stops, such as the Hollis Garden and Safari Wilderness. The Polk Museum offers a culture stop with pre-Columbian artifacts, modern paintings, and more.

8. Gainesville

  • Population: 133,997
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,211
  • Median Household Income: $37,264

Gainesville was established in 1854 and is best known as the home to the University of Florida, the state's largest and oldest university. Beyond higher education, Gainesville boasts culture, state parks, and 100-miles of trails for biking and hiking. The vibe around Gainesville is all about being a college town with craft breweries and live music. Fine dining and cocktail lounges are never far.

The University of Florida, one of the state’s premier colleges, attracts college students and faculty. Like any booming college town, service businesses pop up to cater to the student body and visitors. Beyond the university, Gainesville is also appealing to families for quality schools, green space, and a lively town that still retains a laid-back vibe.

The University of Florida is also a significant employer around Gainesville, though there are plenty of options that provide Gainesville with a diverse job market. Agriculture, oil and gas, construction, and manufacturing are also booming industries in Gainesville. There's also a hospitality job market that attracts visitors to Gainesville's beautiful nature, museums, and parks.

Gainesville's hallmarks include Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, and Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum. Cultural stops include the Florida Museum of Natural History Exhibits and the Harn Museum of Art. However, being a college town, some of the main draws are eateries and pubs like Mother's Pub and Grill.

9. Cape Coral

  • Population: 194,495
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,230
  • Median Household Income: $61,599

Despite Florida's long history, Cape Coral didn’t pop up until 1957, when Leonard and Jack Rosen flew over the Redfish Point peninsula near Fort Myers. The Rosens were also real estate developers and began developing the area as a master-planned, pre-planned community. The community took off, and celebrities and well-heeled Floridians came to "The Cape" for its public yacht club, golf course, shopping, and 400-miles of canals.

Cape Coral has expanded since its founding and has turned into a multicultural city. The demographic skews young, with the largest age group between 25 and 44 years old. The area attracts educated newcomers looking for new job opportunities and amenities in one of the cheapest places to live in Florida.

Cape Coral boasts industries ranging from healthcare & social assistance, retail trade, and construction. Real estate and rentals thrive in this charming waterfront town, while entrepreneurs and side hustlers eye the area for multi-family homes, duplexes, and waterfront retreats. Despite the young demographic, seasonal snowbirds and retirees often find their way to Cape Coral.

In an affordable place to live like Cape Coral, there's free and cheap recreation. For next to nothing, you can enjoy a spectacular sunset, walk on the beach, or go fishing. Locals order up drinks at the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery or take a walk through historic Cape Coral along the piers and boardwalks. There are also cultural stops like the Harbour View Gallery. Families cool off at the Sun Splash Family Waterpark and the Yacht Club Public Beach for a scenic walk or quick dip.

10. Pensacola

  • Population: 52,975
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,252
  • Median Household Income: $50,493

The historic city of Pensacola was the site of the first Spanish settlement within the continental United States in 1559. The city earned a unique moniker, "The City of Five Flags," for its five governments that ruled during its history, including Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Confederate States of America. The city is also known as "The Cradle of Naval Aviation," where the Naval Air Station Pensacola was the first station commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1914.

A diverse range of residents are moving to Florida. Pensacola draws military newcomers and job seekers looking for new opportunities. The coastal city is also a win for families who want a laid-back way of life, decent schools, and a beach on the weekend lifestyle.

Pensacola's major economic drivers include military and related defense businesses. The sparkling beachfront city also consists of booming healthcare, education, and construction job markets. The military bases include Pensacola Naval Air Station, Naval Training Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Corry Station Naval, Naval Technical Training Center, and the Air Station Whiting Field. In a city with so much waterfront, the tourism market is going strong along the eight miles of the 40-mile-long Santa Rosa barrier island.

Waterfront and sandy beaches are the main draws to visitors and locals in Pensacola. The Gulf Islands National Seashores encompasses beachfront, campsites, diverse wildlife, and coastal marshes. Perdido Key is a tucked-away option for award-winning beaches and protected dunes. There's plenty of beaches for every day of the week, including Navarre Beach and Naval Live Oaks Nature Preserve. For a walkthrough history, Pensacola residents enjoy the namesake Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and Naval Air Station.

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Move to in Florida?

From coastal gems to modern cities, these are the cheapest places to live in Florida. The best places to live in the state are steeped in history, Southern charm, and a promising job market. Ready to make a move to the Sunshine State? Sign up for Apartment List to find an affordable apartment in Florida.

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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