10 Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle – 2022 Update

We looked through all the data and reviews to find the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle that are safe and are also filled with things to do. The northwestern part of Florida is commonly known as the Panhandle area and it offers many charming small beach towns, thriving coastal cities, and is also home to the state capital of Tallahassee.

There are many reasons why people have been eager to move to one of the Florida Panhandle cities. Generally, it offers a more affordable cost of living compared to the rest of Florida while still being close to some of the best beaches in the world. The weather is also a bit cooler and more comfortable than the rest of the state.

In terms of things to do, there is also the possibility to drive down scenic State Road 30A and visit all of the cute towns and Florida Panhandle cities along the Gulf.

We broke our analysis down into 3 categories. We chose the best large Florida Panhandle cities, the best mid-sized cities, and the best Florida Panhandle towns to live so that you can get a flavor of all the different sizes of places that the Panhandle has to offer.

While considering the best choices, we took into account the overall livability of each place, which includes its cost of living, job prospects, and safety. We also made sure to find places that genuinely offer interesting things to do and have easy access to fun activities, like the beach or a buzzing downtown area.

So, without further ado, here are the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle.

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Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle – Large Cities

Tallahassee

Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle - Tallahassee

Location: Check on Google Maps

The state capital is one of the best big Florida Panhandle cities to live in (as well as all of northern Florida). Although it is quite small for a state capital with its population of under 200,000, it still qualifies as a large city and also offers all the amenities and things to do of a larger city.

In fact, Tallahassee even made it onto Livability.com’s top 100 places to live in America, coming in at 81st.

So, what makes Tallahassee so great? Mainly, it’s the city’s affordability combined with strong job prospects and its abundance of things to do. Also, Florida A&M University and Florida State University are both located in Tallahassee and positively add to the overall atmosphere of the city.

Downtown Tallahassee’s motto is to “Live, Work, Play,” and there are many things to do there that support this slogan. There is the Downtown Farmers Market as well as tons of bars, restaurants, and boutique shops. Check out all the places to eat and shop on the official Downtown Tallahassee website.

There are also many outdoor spaces around Tallahassee, including several state parks, lakes, and the Leon County Geological Sinks. This picture of Tallahassee, for example, was taken at the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park.

Pensacola

Location: Check on Google Maps

Pensacola is home to 59,975 residents, so it’s not exactly a huge metropolis, but it is large relative to the other cities on our list. It is located all the way out west on the Florida Panhandle, bordering neighboring Alabama.

We chose Pensacola due to its reputation as having a laid-back, beachtown mentality, but with all the sights and sounds of a larger city. It is probably best known for its proximity to all the pristine, white and sandy beaches along the Gulf Coast.

Pensacola Beach is only 15 minutes from downtown Pensacola, while Destin, which is the #1 beach in all of Florida, is just a 1 hour drive away.

There are also many things to do and see in Pensacola. Don’t miss the Pensacola Historic District, which is home to the earliest known European settlement in North America in 1559.
There are also many nice bars and restaurants on the tree-lined streets of downtown.

Meanwhile, Pensacola is quite affordable. The total cost of living is 13% lower than the rest of the U.S., while housing costs are 27% cheaper on average.
The average price of a home on Zillow is currently about $170,000, which is quite reasonable given all the amenities that this large Florida Panhandle city has to offer.

Finally, Pensacola’s job market is also expected to expand, with a forecasted growth of 42% over the next 10 years, which is higher than the national average of 33%.

Navarre

Location: Check on Google Maps

Navarre is another great community that is located deep in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. Located just 35 minutes east of Pensacola, Navarre sits right on the warm waters of the Gulf and offers a unique blend of suburban life and tranquil beach living.

It is also one of the fastest growing cities in the Florida Panhandle region and has seen its population increase by 34% over the last 10 years to 42,000 residents.

Money Magazine even recently named Navarre as one of the best places to live in the entire US.

So, what can you expect if you choose to relocate to this beach oasis?

The main attraction has to be the white sandy shores of Navarre Beach, which is just 10 minutes from the heart of the city.

Here, you can also find the 1,545 foot long Navarre Beach Pier, which is the longest pier in all of Florida.

It is also home to several nature conservatories and sanctuaries that are popular with families, such as The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center and Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary.

Of course, the city itself offers plenty of amenities as well. Foodies can feast on the numerous seafood restaurants located in Navarre and Navarre Beach as well as the local favorite Navarre Seafood Market.

Meanwhile, the cost of living in Navarre is quite reasonable for such an amenity-filled city. The total cost for all goods and services is only 3% above the national average.

Additionally, it has earned the reputation of being a great place for families, as its school system routinely receives top ratings and even earned an A+ grade from AreaVibes.

Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle – Mid-Sized Cities

Destin

Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle - Destin

Location: Check on Google Maps

Destin is a quintessential beach town with a population of 14,000 that sits right on the Gulf Coast on the Florida Panhandle. While it is not as accessible compared to Florida’s big cities, Destin’s location is perfect for beach lovers, as it is right between Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach.

Of course, the best beach is actually in Destin, as it has been consistently ranked as the best beach in Florida. Its sugar white beaches contain pure Appalachian quartz, which actually stays cool in the sun.

Meanwhile, there is the fun and lively Destin Harbor Boardwalk right on the shores that offers tons of bars, restaurants, and shops for the whole family to enjoy. However, the nice beaches and fun attractions are actually one of the potential downsides of Destin, as the crowds of tourists can overrun the city during the summer months.

But, who can blame them? Destin is one of the great beach towns in America and it is also very safe – crime rates are over 50% lower than the national average, making it one of the safest Florida Panhandle cities to live in.

However, all of these benefits come at a cost. Destin’s cost of living is almost 20% higher than the rest of the U.S. There are also not so many job opportunities outside of hospitality and retail.

Gulf Breeze

Location: Check on Google Maps

Gulf Breeze has the distinction of being the only city that is located directly between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach. That makes this community of 7,400 residents a great compromise between the big city life and a laid-back beach town atmosphere.

The city itself is quite residential, with multiple family-friendly neighborhoods across its peninsula.

The water is also never more than a mile away for virtually all residents of Gulf Breeze. Meanwhile, a 15 minute drive north will get you into downtown Pensacola and a 5 minute drive south can get you right onto the sandy shores of Pensacola Beach.

Residents here can also enjoy the unspoiled lands of the Naval Live Oaks Nature Preserve, a 100+ acre oasis that features miles of hiking and biking trails right along the water.

All of these amenities provide residents of Gulf Breeze with a high standard of living. In fact, the city scored higher than the national average in every quality-of-life category in the 2022 National Community Survey, including #1 as a place to live, raise children, and to retire and #1 for its sense of community.

It is also known as a great place for families, as witnessed by its A+ grade for both safety and education in AreaVibes’ latest assessment.

Milton

Location: Check on Google Maps

Milton is located in between Pensacola and Destin in the western end of the Panhandle. It offers its 10,000 residents a handful of quiet suburban neighborhoods alongside a bustling downtown with a classic main street right on the Blackwater River.

The historic downtown features a nice selection of locally-owned restaurants, bars, and breweries as well as several spots for entertainment, including live music venues and the historic Imogene Theater.

On the other side of town, you can find the Clyde L. Gracey Community Center, a well-managed indoor and outdoor space that offers a wide selection of activities to engage in, such as baseball fields, tennis courts, a skate park, and numerous community events.

Nature lovers will also appreciate the fact that Milton is the “Canoe Capital of Florida,” with several rivers that flow through the town, which are perfect for paddling and tubing.

Milton is also an extremely livable town, too. The cost of living here is about 9% lower than the national average, with housing costs that are almost 30% lower than the rest of the US.

Meanwhile, crime rates are an impressive 46% lower than the national average, making Milton one of the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle for families looking for an affordable and secure community to relocate to.

Lynn Haven

Location: Check on Google Maps

If Destin and Milton are a bit too expensive for you, then consider Lynn Haven, Florida, a 20,000 resident suburb of Panama City. It made our list of the 12 cheapest and desirable places to live in Florida, as its cost of living and home prices are about 5-10% lower than the rest of the nation.

That is a great value considering that Lynn Haven is just a 10 minute drive from Panama City and only 20 minutes away from Panama City Beach. Additionally, Lynn Haven’s low crime rates (38% lower than the national average) makes it one of the safest places to live in the Florida Panhandle and its location right on the water also adds to its appeal.

While it offers a very relaxed and quiet lifestyle along its tree-lined streets, Lynn Haven still provides its residents with all the amenities you would expect.

There is a Publix, Walmart and the Lynn Haven Shopping Center in the center of town. Meanwhile, there are many parks and golf courses nearby, making it one of the best valued Florida Panhandle cities.

Best Florida Panhandle Towns to Live In

Seaside

Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle - Seaside

Seaside Post Office by Paigeh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Location: Check on Google Maps

If you are looking for a slower pace of life where it feels like you are on a permanent vacation, then look no further than the picturesque beach town of Seaside, Florida.

It was originally founded in 1985 as one of the first master-planned communities in America that was designed under the New Urbanism movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods through mixed-use developments.

Seaside’s beautiful architecture and location right on the Gulf of Mexico has been well-received by residents and vacationers alike and is one of the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle. It was even where The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey was filmed.

So, what does Seaside and its 10,816 residents have to offer? They do a great job of offering opportunities to live, work, and play all within a walkable area. There is a large amphitheater lawn in the center of town, where there are movies and concerts year round.

Around this hub, there are numerous stores and boutiques, quaint coffee shops, and a large variety of restaurants, ranging from simple southern cuisine to upscale, modern eateries. Also don’t miss “Airstream Row” , which is a line of food trucks serving food and drinks out of vintage Airstream trailers.

Seaside also offers access to some of the best beaches in Florida. You can walk to the beach from the town center, while other top beaches such as Grayton Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Miramar Beach are just a 20-30 minute drive away.

Seaside also sits right between the large cities of Pensacola and Panama Beach, which are both only 1-1.5 hours away. Its crime rates are also the lowest on this list.

But, paradise does come at a price. Home listings on Zillow generally start at $500,000 and up, but that is the cost to live in one of the best towns in the Florida Panhandle. Still, it may be worth it to experience this great Florida Panhandle town.

St. George Island

Location: Check on Google Maps

St. George Island is one of the few remaining unspoiled beach fronts left in the state. This barrier island consists of 28 miles of pure serenity. Its population is just 641 full-time residents, which makes it the smallest town on our list of the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle.

Located about 25 minutes from Apalachicola on the mainland of the Panhandle, St. George Island is a beautiful natural oasis that is ideal for those who want to fully embrace the outdoors in a quiet and secluded area.

Here, you can enjoy the white sandy shores all across the island or take a hike through the verdant St. George Island State Park on the eastern part of town.

There is also the recently built St. George Island Lighthouse that stands almost 80 feet tall right in the heart of the island.

What’s it like living on the island?

Although it is quite small, St. George Island still offers a handful of locally-owned boutiques, restaurants, and cafes mostly in the center of town.

As you may have guessed, seafood is the specialty around the island. Don’t miss local favorites such as Paddy’s Raw Bar or The Blue Parrot, which is the only restaurant in St. George Island that is situated directly on its pristine white beachfront.

Meanwhile, the city has earned a reputation as being a great place for families to raise children. It earned an A+ grade for both its safety and education in AreaVibe’s latest ratings.

Port St. Joe

Location: Check on Google Maps

Port St. Joe is the second smallest town on our list of the best places to live in the Florida Panhandle. With only 3,567 residents, Port St. Joe offers a laid-back and quiet atmosphere that is a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of a big city.

It used to be an industrial town that had a large paper mill factory that was built in 1938. But, since it closed down in 1999, Port St. Joe has been experiencing a transformation into a true beach town, ideal for locals and tourists who want to get off the beaten track.

Today, Port St. Joe is known for its friendly people, tight-knit community, beautiful beaches and overall relaxed style of life. It is also very safe, with 47% less crime reported than the U.S. average, making it a top choice for

The cost of living is also very reasonable for a beach town, with total costs 6% less than the national average and housing 17% cheaper, too.

You will find many small, locally-owned restaurants and shops on the quaint “main street” through the center of Port St. Joe, while a large Piggly Wiggly supermarket is just up the street.

But, be aware that there may not be many jobs available outside of hospitality and retail, so Port St. Joe may be best suited for retirees or remote workers looking for an affordable place to live on the coast.

Summary – Best Places to Live in Florida Panhandle

Overall, the best cities and towns to live in the Florida Panhandle are:

  • Tallahassee
  • Pensacola
  • Navarre
  • Destin
  • Gulf Breeze
  • Milton
  • Lynn Haven
  • Seaside
  • St. George Island
  • Port St. Joe

There are many great Florida Panhandle towns and cities to choose from, ranging from large cities to perfect little beach towns. Wherever you go, you will be able to enjoy an affordable life that is near some of the best beaches in the world.

You really cannot go wrong, since all of these options are actually pretty close to each other, so you can live in a bigger city and drive to the beach or vice versa.

If you want to expand your overview for all of Florida, we have also reviewed the 16 best cities in Florida for 2022 in this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Safest Places to Live in Florida Panhandle?

The safest places to live in the Florida Panhandle from this list are Seaside, whose crime rate is 67% lower than the rest of Florida, and Destin, whose crime rates comes in at 58% lower than the state average.

What is the Best Place to Retire in Florida Panhandle?

The best place to retire in the Florida Panhandle from this list would probably be Port St. Joe for those who want a quiet lifestyle or Tallahassee for those who want access to more community events and cultural amenities.

What are the Pros and Cons of Living in Florida Panhandle?

Pros of Living in Florida Panhandle:

  • Many affordable cities and towns
  • Slightly milder climate compared to the rest of the state
  • Access to top notch beaches on the Gulf

Cons of Living in Florida Panhandle:

  • Far away from many large cities in Florida
  • Limited number of things to do compared to the rest of the state
  • Hurricane risk – in the direct path of many hurricanes

What are all of the Florida Panhandle Cities?

Here is a list of all of the major Florida Panhandle towns and cities:

  • Apalachicola
  • Bonifay
  • Callaway
  • Cedar Grove
  • Century
  • Chipley
  • Crawfordville
  • Crestview
  • Destin
  • Fort Walton Beach
  • Gulf Breeze
  • Lynn Haven
  • Marianna
  • Mexico Beach
  • Milton
  • Miramar Beach
  • Monticello
  • Panama City
  • Panama City Beach
  • Perry
  • Pensacola
  • Pensacola Beach
  • Ponce De Leon
  • Port St Joe
  • Rosemary Beach
  • Springfield
  • Tallahassee