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The Best Places to Live in South Florida

aerial view of downtown miami from a plane

Once you decide to move to South Florida, the next big decision is exactly where you want to live. You can find rural enclaves, urban hipster hot spots, laid-back beach towns, family-friendly subdivisions and other kinds of environments in many South Florida cities.

Where will you fit? We embarked on some research to help you find the best places to live in South Florida.

Miami-Dade County has 34 cities, Broward County has 24 and Palm Beach County has 39, plus each county has unincorporated areas. The larger cities also have many different neighborhoods, making it even more challenging to find the right place to live.

In Florida, each county is a school district. But the actual schools your children will attend to vary by neighborhood, so it's important to understand where the school boundaries are.

Best Big-City Experience

downtown miami at night with buildings lit up
Image via Thibault H./Flickr

If you wish you'd never left New York, we have just the neighborhood for you. In recent years, downtown Miami has blossomed with culture, new condos, restaurants and stores and a lively pedestrian life.

With the best public transportation options in South Florida, downtown Miami has a definite big-city atmosphere. If you live downtown, you can watch the Miami Heat play at the American Airlines Arena, see Broadway shows and musical acts at the Adrienne Arsht Center (or the Olympic Theater or the John L. Knight Center) and catch a cruise from the Port of Miami, all without getting in your car.

Other options for urban living: South Beach, downtown Fort Lauderdale, downtown West Palm Beach.

Rural Living

View of historic town hall building in Homestead, Florida
Image via City of Homestead Government/Facebook

Perhaps you want to get as far away from the city as possible. You can do that in South Florida, too. People who want a slower, more rural lifestyle can find their dream homes in Homestead, 30 miles south of Miami.

Homestead has an annual rodeo, an old-timey downtown and a lot of farms nearby, some of which grow tropical fruit and vegetables. Everglades National Park is on one side and Biscayne National Park is on the other, adding a Florida vibe to the southern rural atmosphere. The city has a fledgling arts scene, and it is the jumping-off point for the Florida Keys.

Other options for rural living: Davie (known for its horse culture), Southwest Ranches and Okeechobee.

Family-Friendly Suburbs

three images of seniors working out, a view of a park, and children swimming at a pool
Image via City of Plantation

If you're looking for the safest places to live in Florida with good schools to raise children, a number of South Florida neighborhoods will fit the bill. A perennial favorite is Plantation in Broward County. You can find homes with big lots on tree-lined streets or apartment complexes with pools and all the amenities. Plus, Plantation is convenient to stores and restaurants and a short drive to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Coral Springs is another Broward County city for its top schools and family-friendly environment. The city has a cultural arts center and lots of stores and restaurants. It adjoins Parkland in the northwest corner of Broward County.

Other options for families: Wellington, Weston, Kendall, Doral, Cooper City, Parkland.

Retiree Meccas

people shopping at a farmers market in Tamarac, Florida
Image via City of Tamarac

People have been retiring to South Florida for years, though the top retirement spots have all moved north of Miami-Dade County. You can find 55-plus communities of both condos and single-family homes throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties.

For decades, the town that has been synonymous with retirees is Tamarac, which was developed in the late 1960s specifically as a retirement community for snowbirds from the North. The original developments were single-family homes on small lots, with a clubhouse and pool for each community of about 250 homes. Those communities have been joined by condominium communities. The City of Tamarac operates a transit system and a social program for retirees as well.

Other options: Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Boynton Beach, Hallandale Beach.

Beach Towns

panoramic view of Pompano, FL
Image via City of Pompano Beach/Facebook

Yes, you can indeed find a great place to live where you can walk to the beach, and you don't have to be a millionaire to live there. Pompano Beach is a Broward County city of about 110,000, with a variety of neighborhoods, including single-family homes and condos within walking distance to the beach.

Redevelopment plans have people even more excited about Pompano Beach as an up-and-coming small city. But the small-town beach vibe is already there, with waterfront restaurants and a pier.

Other options: Deerfield Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Jupiter, Delray Beach.

Gay Life

people waving on a float during a parade in Wilton Manors, Florida
Image via City of Wilton Manors/Facebook

Wilton Manors is known as the epicenter of gay life in South Florida. All the members of its City Commission, as well as its mayor, are gay. Wilton Drive is a key location for gay and lesbian nightlife, and the good restaurants draw a substantial straight crowd as well.

The city also benefits from a great location, near downtown Fort Lauderdale and the beach.

Other options: South Beach, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach.

Cosmopolitan Charm

large palm trees in downtown Coral Gables, Florida
Image via City of Coral Gables – Government/Facebook

George Merrick built Coral Gables in the 1920s as one of the first planned communities in the United States. He chose the Spanish style of architecture as best suited to South Florida's climate and lifestyle. The city retains its beauty, with tree-lined streets, parks and wide boulevards.

Coral Gables boasts a pedestrian-friendly and lively downtown, with some of South Florida's best restaurants. It is home to the University of Miami and a number of international corporations, so expect to hear Spanish, Portuguese and other languages as well as English as you wander.

The city is popular with families, international executives, university professors and nature lovers.

About the author

Teresa Mears

Teresa Mears is a website publisher, writer, blogger and editor in South Florida who was raised to be frugal. After working as a newspaper reporter and editor, she moved her career online. In addition to running Miami On The Cheap, Florida On The Cheap, Fort Lauderdale On The Cheap, Palm Beach On The Cheap, Living on the Cheap and other websites, she writes about personal finance for U.S. News & World Report and other publications.

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