The 12 Best Cities to Live in Northern Florida (2022 Update)

We evaluated the best places to live in Northern Florida with several key elements in mind to make sure you get a detailed and unbiased review of these Sunshine State cities.

The southern part of Florida usually gets all the attention, but there are numerous top quality towns and cities in the north that are just as fun and affordable with easy access to some of the best beaches in the world.

For this article, we used the latest data on each city’s affordability, which is based on housing costs and overall cost of living, education systems, and crime levels.

We also made sure to find cities that were actually desirable to live in with many things to do and that are close by to amenities like the beach or parks.

To round off our research, we made sure to double-check each choice with other data and rankings from large magazines and online databases like Wallethub, Niche.com and the U.S. News & World Report.

That’s enough talk about the methodology. Let’s see the results of the best places to live in Northern Florida.

Please note that some links below are affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you make a purchase through our links, but at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support!

The 12 Best Places to Live in Northern Florida

12. Tallahassee

Best places to live in northern florida - Tallahssee

Pros and Cons:
+ Strong education system
+ Lots of outdoor activities
+ Light traffic and low commute times
Rising housing costs
Far from major beaches

Location: Check on Google Maps

Coming in at #7 on our list of the best places to live in Northern Florida is the state capital of Tallahassee. It is quite small for a state capital, with a population of less than 200,000, but it still offers all the amenities and benefits of a large city.

Livability.com ranked Tallahassee on its top 100 places to live in the U.S. as the 81st best city. It ranked high on its infrastructure, economy, and education system.

Tallahassee is known for its homey feel with a nice blend of urban living downtown and slower, suburban areas just outside the core.

There is also a good mixture of ethnic, economic, and demographic diversity within Tallahassee. It is home to both Florida State University and Florida A&M University, so you can expect to find many students and young professionals as well as a lively atmosphere and energy around downtown and the campuses.

There is also a strong job market, with many opportunities with employers like the universities, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Inc., the Leon County School district, and large retailers like Publix, Chick-fil-A, and Bank of America. Check out this list of the largest employers in Tallahassee from the official chamber of commerce.

Finally, there are tons of parks and outdoor space in and around Tallahassee. Don’t miss big parks like Leon County Geological Sinks, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, and Apalachicola State Park.

11. Melrose

Pros and Cons:
+ Excellent affordability
+ Small town living
+ Easy access to lake and parks
A bit too small for some

Location: Check on Google Maps

Melrose, Florida is a quaint little town that is located about 20 minutes east of Gainesville. It was deliberately planned to be built within four different counties – Alachua, Bradford, Clay, and Putnam.

Melrose is also the smallest town on this list of the best places to live in Northern Florida. With just roughly 3,500 residents, it is a great place for folks looking for a quiet and more relaxed experience compared to the bigger cities that we mention here.

Although it is small, Melrose still offers a lot of amenities and things to do for its residents.

For example, nature lovers can enjoy taking a dip in Lake Santa Fe or taking a stroll in one of the several parks around town, including Melrose Heritage Park, Santa Fe Park, and Melrose Bay Park on the water.

Meanwhile, there are a handful of local eateries and bars in Melrose, certainly more than you would expect for such a small place.

Additionally, the town features many secluded, tree-lined neighborhoods that are also affordable, making it an excellent choice for young families.

10. Lake City

Pros and Cons:
+ Surrounded by fresh water springs
+ Central location
+ Affordable housing options
A bit secluded

Location: Check on Google Maps

Lake City is a place that usually flies under the radar. But, its central location within the northern part of the Sunshine State, strong school system, and excellent affordability make it a community that you should consider.

This city of 12,300 residents is located about one hour by car from both Jacksonville and Gainesville, and another hour and a half from Tallahassee, making it a great spot that is close enough to the major cities, yet small enough to feel more at home.

Since it is known as “The Gateway to Florida” as I-75 and I-10 pass right through the city, many residents here have easy access to the big cities and can secure a higher paying job while living a lower cost of life.     

The average cost of living in Lake City is roughly 13% lower than the rest of the US. Even better, housing costs are almost 40% lower here than the national average.

Meanwhile, the city offers many things to do as well. The revitalized downtown of Lake City is now a charming district filled with local boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and even a brewery.

In addition, there are always many events being held throughout the year in and around the city.

Lake City and the surrounding region is also a haven for nature lovers. Of course, there are lakes to enjoy, such as Lake De Soto and Lake Montgomery in the heart of town.

But, there are also tons of naturally-occurring fresh water springs in the area. Here, you can go swimming or tubing while enjoying some beautiful scenery.

9. Gainesville

Best-places-to-live-in-northern-florida-Gainesville

Pros and Cons:
+ Collegetown energy and activities
+ Low cost of living
+ Central location
Student-centered housing market
Hot and humid

Location: Check on Google Maps

Gainesville is located right in the middle of northern Florida and is perfectly situated between many of Florida’s big cities. In under 2 hours, you can reach Jacksonville, Orlando, or the pristine beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

Gainesville itself is home to the University of Florida and contains all the charming buzz and activities of a youthful collegetown. The university offers many things to do, such as attending a Florida Gators game throughout the year.

Meanwhile, Downtown Gainesville has a whole collection of shops, restaurants, bars, and live theater. Check out the Downtown Gainesville website for more details.

Livability.com also ranked Gainesville on its top 100 list as the 72nd best city to live in America.

But, there are some cons to be aware of. The weather in Gainesville is hot and humid almost year round. Afterall, its nickname is “The Swamp,” so you should be prepared for frequent rain showers and humidity.

Also, while the cost of living in Gainesville is 10% cheaper than the rest of the U.S., the housing market has been steadily increasing with stronger competition from student renters.

Finally, there are great job opportunities with the university and within the healthcare system, but there are not many large companies in Gainesville. But, in recent years, it has become an emerging hub for tech startups and research firms, so the future may see further job growth.

8. Live Oak

Pros and Cons:
+ Low cost of living
+ Great for families
+ Green spaces
Limited job market
Too quiet for young professionals

Location: Check on Google Maps

Live Oak is one of the smallest city on our list of the best places to live in northern Florida, with only 6,850 residents, and it is considered a great choice for families. It is located an hour away from both Tallahassee and Gainesville and is a small town with tree-lined streets where everybody knows and looks out for each other.

But, don’t worry that it is too small as there is still a Publix and many restaurants in town. There is even Suwannee County Airport only 5 minutes from downtown.

The best part about Live Oak is its affordability. Live Oak’s cost of living is almost 18% lower than the national average.  Meanwhile, Zillow indicates that the average home price is only about $140,000, making it extremely affordable for young families as well as fixed-income retirees.

To keep you engaged with society, there are also many community events that maintain the tight-knit nature of the town. Additionally, there are tons of green spaces for hiking and biking in and around Live Oak. There is Heritage Park and Gardens right in the center of town as well as Woods Ferry Conservation Area and Twins Rivers State Forest only 15 minutes away.

However, there may not be many job opportunities directly in the city and you may need to commute a bit further.

7. Palatka

Pros and Cons:
+ Many affordable home options
+ Bustling commercial districts
+ Many things to do outdoors
A little isolated

Location: Check on Google Maps

Palatka is an active city of roughly 10,400 residents that is located about an hour east of Gainesville by car.

It is probably best known for its downtown that continues to be rejuvenated and sits alongside multiple historic districts.

So, what is there to do in Palatka?

Residents can enjoy the thriving arts and culture scene in Palatka, including the Larimer Arts Center.

Additionally, there are numerous locally-owned restaurants and cafes around town that offer a wide-range of options, including Angel’s Dining Car, which is Florida’s oldest diner.

You can enjoy a lot of things to do outdoors here, too. Palatka’s prime location right on the St. Johns River makes it an excellent place for paddling. Meanwhile, you can hike through the beautiful and rustic Ravine Gardens State Park.

Best of all, life in Palatka is quite affordable. The overall cost of living is 17% lower than the US average, while home prices are 53% lower than the rest of the nation on average.

6. Jacksonville

Best places to live in northern florida - Jacksonville

Pros and Cons:
+ Affordable, big city living
+ Tons of things to do
+ Growing job market
Some areas of crime
Heavy traffic and longer commutes

Location: Check on Google Maps

Jacksonville is the largest city on our list as is the commercial and financial center of Florida. It has a well-established and thriving downtown with many quiet suburban neighborhoods in the surrounding area. There is also easy access to the outdoors, as it was ranked as one of the best big cities for outdoor activities in the U.S.

It is easy to see why, since there are numerous parks around the city and several state forests just a short drive away. Of course, there is also the legendary Florida coastline and beaches that are just a 30 minute drive away from downtown Jacksonville. Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and Jacksonville Beach are all reachable and offer miles and miles of interrupted paradise.

That is what makes Jacksonville so attractive – you can enjoy the big city life for an affordable price while having quick access to the beaches and nature. The cost of living in Jacksonville is 6.5% cheaper than the rest of the U.S., which is pretty good considering it is a large city.

If that is not enough, there are always things to do around the city as well. You can watch the Jacksonville Jaguars play football during the fall or indulge yourself in the tasty foodie scene as well.

Additionally, there are many trendy neighborhoods within Jacksonville that are worth visiting and living in. The hip San Marco neighborhood is right across the river from downtown, while the thriving Five Points and Riverside communities are only a 10 minute drive from downtown.

Also, don’t miss the historic Springfield neighborhood, which is growing with new eateries and breweries just 5 minutes from downtown.

But, its popularity does have some downfalls – there is a lot of traffic that may impact your daily commute as well as some areas of crime to look out for.

Still, Jacksonville continues to attract new residents and the job market is expected to grow by 44.4% over the next 10 years, which is much higher than the national average of 33.5%.

Some of Jacksonville’s top employers include big names like Bank of America, JPMorgan and Chase, Amazon, and healthcare providers like Baptist Health and the Mayo Clinic. Check out this full list of top employers for more details.

 

5. Yulee

Pros and Cons:
+ Close to the big city & the beach
+ Wide range of affordable home choices
+ Lots of outdoor amenities
Growing in popularity

Location: Check on Google Maps

Just north of Jacksonville is the small community of Yulee. This city of 14,100 residents offers an ideal blend of easy suburban living and close proximity to Florida’s financial hub of Jacksonville, all at an affordable rate.

Yulee is also just 20 minutes from the beach front of the stunning Amelia Island, which is also one of the best beach towns to live in the area.

So, why did we rank Yulee so high on this list of the best cities in Northern Florida?

For starters, it offers a well-rounded way of life for virtually every age range. Outdoor lovers can enjoy the John Muir Ecological Park or the expansive Yulee Sports Complex and Gymnasium, which features baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, and a playground for kids.

Meanwhile, the city features ten different neighborhoods that can offer a good fit for everyone from young professionals to retirees.

Housing costs are also quite reasonable in Yulee. The latest figures show average home prices are 2% lower here than the Florida state average, which is pretty good considering its proximity to both Jacksonville and the beach.

Additionally, its school system is often regarded as one of the best in the region. In AreaVibe’s latest rating, Yulee received an “A” grade for the quality of its education. 

4. Orange Park

Pros and Cons:
+ Strong sense of community 
+ Great mix of outdoor fun
+ Affordable with many amenities
A bit further from the beach than other Jacksonville suburbs

Location: Check on Google Maps

Going in the other direction, Orange Park is a thriving city of 9,000 residents that is located just 20 minutes south of Jacksonville by car.

Named after the hope that the founders had to grow oranges here (they were ultimately not successful), Orange Park has instead developed into one of the best places to live in Northern Florida.

It offers a well-rounded way of life with a high standard of living for all of its residents, including young professionals, families, and retirees.

Located right on the banks of the St Johns River and adjacent to Doctors Lake, residents of Orange Park can enjoy some paddling or boating out on the water.

Or, they can visit one of the many parks around town, including Clarke House Park, which features a big playground and basketball courts, and the OPAA Sports Complex that offers baseball fields, tennis courts, and a skateboarding park.

The city also sponsors numerous community events throughout the year that makes it easy for newcomers to feel welcomed. For instance, there is the Orange Park Fall Festival that has been held annually for over 40 years.

There is also the family-friendly Kids Fest as well as the Orange Park Farmers’ Market that is held every few weeks from September to June.

Meanwhile, Orange Park has remained an affordable place to settle in. The cost of living here is 5% lower than the rest of the state, while housing prices are also about 6% below the Florida state average.

3. Daytona Beach

Pros and Cons:
+ Very low cost of living
+ Majestic beachfront
Influx of tourists
Some areas of crime

Location: Check on Google Maps

Daytona Beach makes it as the third best place to live in northern Florida due to its mixture of affordability and strong job prospects, all in a relaxed, beachtown environment.

It offers fun for all ages, from young professionals who want to take advantage of its proximity to big cities like Jacksonville and Orlando, to retirees who just want to relax on the beach.

Speaking about beaches, Daytona Beach sits directly on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and offers some of the most beautiful white, sandy beaches in all of Florida. When you consider that housing costs are 17% lower than the national average, you can see why Daytona Beach ranked so high on our list.

Meanwhile, there are strong job prospects for the area as well. Daytona Beach’s job market is expected to grow 43% over the next 10 years, well ahead of the national pace of 33%.

Finally, the city itself offers many things to do. There is the Daytona International Speedway, which is home to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race. There is also Daytona Lagoon, a large waterpark with tons of slides as well as laser tag, go-karts, and mini golf.

Of course, there is also the famous Daytona Boardwalk and Main Street Pier in the Surfside Historic District that sits right on the ocean.

2. Pensacola

Pros and Cons:
+ Excellent school system
+ Growing job market
+ Low housing costs
Some pockets of crime

Location: Check on Google Maps

Pensacola captures the number 2 spot on our list and is the most northwestern city on this list. It sits all the way west on the Florida Panhandle as the last major city in Florida before Alabama.

Pensacola is best known for its easy living and proximity to some of the best beaches in the world. Pensacola Beach is just 15 minutes from downtown Pensacola, and Destin, which was rated the #1 beach in all of Florida (and oftentimes the world) is only an hour away.

Meanwhile, Pensacola as a city has a lot going on for itself. It is an excellent place for families and retirees alike, with many amenities and things to do around the downtown area and the surrounding outdoors. Pensacola was also named the 15th most desirable place to live in all of the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

The cost of living in Pensacola is also very attractive. Housing costs are 27% lower than the rest of the U.S. If you look on Zillow, you can find that the average price of a home is around $170,000.

The Pensacola job market is also expected to continue to grow, with an estimated increase of 42% over the next 10 years, which will outpace the national average of 33%.

1. St. Augustine

Best places to live in northern florida - St. Augustine

Pros and Cons:
+ Cultural haven
+ Charming downtown
+ Great beaches
Higher cost of living
Lots of Tourists

Location: Check on Google Maps

We’ve made it to the #1 city – St. Augustine tops our list of the best places to live in northern Florida. Not only did it come in first place for northern Florida, but it also took the top spot on our list of the best cities in all of Florida.

Let’s take a look at all the accolades that St. Augustine has collected over the past few years:

  • 2021: Travel + Leisure – one of 11 Best Small Towns in America
  • 2020: Country Living Magazine – one of the “20 Small Towns that Leave a Big Impression”
  • 2020: USA Today – “Best Historic Small Town”
  • 2019: MSN.com – #2 of “The 25 Most Charming Towns in America”
  • 2018: Conde Nast Traveler – one of the “Most Beautiful Towns in America”

It is truly a special city that is one of the most beautiful in all of America. In the charming historic downtown, there are 144 blocks filled with boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, cozy bars, and quaint coffee shops. There is also a rich arts, culture, and live music scene in St. Augustine, which makes it an ideal city for both families and retirees alike.

St. Augustine is situated right on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, so it has direct access to the beachfront. In fact, it was also named the #5 beach town out of 205 in the U.S. by Wallethub.

The job market in St. Augustine is also quite strong. It is expected to grow by 50% over the next 10 years, which is higher than the U.S. average of 33% and higher than another other city on this list.

Some top employers in the area include Fidelity Investments, Mayo Clinic, Bank of America, and Amazon. Check out Glassdoor for a full list of top employers.

So, what are the downsides of St. Augustine? Mainly the higher cost of living. For example, the average home price in St. Augustine is $315,000.

But, if you can afford it, you will be hard-pressed to find a more complete city than St. Augustine.

Summary – Best Places to Live in Northern Florida

As you can see, there are some truly great places to live in north Florida. We listed a mix of big cities and small towns to give you different choices to suit your needs.

These places provide a great standard of living and many have access to the beach, which is one of the reasons that makes Florida great.

If you want to see all of the best places in Florida, then check out our comprehensive review of the 16 best cities in Florida for 2022.