Homes on white sandy beach with crystal clear water.

Best Southern beach towns to live in

Written by:
June 15, 2022
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Best Southern beach towns to live in

The Southern United States is loved by many for its charm, hospitality, and mouthwatering foods. Every year, adorable Southern towns and beautiful beaches attract visitors from across the country. Southern beach towns aren’t only lovely vacation spots, but great places to call home. From the shores of the Carolinas to the idyllic white-sand beaches of Florida, there are many options to choose from.

Stacker collected data from WalletHub, released on June 16, 2021, comparing U.S. beach and lake towns in six categories: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. All cities had to have at least one local beach listed on TripAdvisor.

Rankings are based on comparisons of 191 cities across 62 key indicators of livability. Many of these destinations are in Florida, which means the “snowbird” phenomenon is likely a factor for these locales. A snowbird is someone who flocks to a warmer climate during the winter months, generally people who are retired. 

Continue reading to discover the 25 best Southern beach towns to live in. 

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Aerial view of Fort Walton Beach homes and condos on the water.
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#25. Fort Walton Beach, Florida

- National rank: #62
- Total score: 52.5
- Affordability rank: #29
- Weather rank: #103
- Safety rank: #82
- Economy rank: #29
- Education & health rank: #121
- Quality of life rank: #33

Fort Walton Beach offers the picturesque beach setting that many yearn for, while boasting plenty of outdoor activities. Fishing, golfing, and surfing are just a few activities in this area popular with U.S. military retirees.

Aerial view of St. Augustine, Florida.
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#24. St. Augustine, Florida

- National rank: #60
- Total score: 52.8
- Affordability rank: #86
- Weather rank: #35
- Safety rank: #125
- Economy rank: #86
- Education & health rank: #53
- Quality of life rank: #14

St. Augustine is known to boast an upscale and charming environment, which is what makes it such a popular vacation spot. The town is additionally very rich in history, as it is known to be the oldest European settlement in the U.S.

Aerial view of rows of homes on the water.
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#23. Key Biscayne, Florida

- National rank: #56
- Total score: 53.3
- Affordability rank: #12
- Weather rank: #75
- Safety rank: #130
- Economy rank: #12
- Education & health rank: #11
- Quality of life rank: #61

Key Biscayne may just have some of the most picturesque white sand beaches in all of Florida. It is home to some of the country’s best scuba diving and fishing, following an endless list of outdoor activities. You can find Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area on the southernmost part of Key Biscayne.

Aerial view of turquoise water and white sandy beach covered in beach umbrellas.
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#22. Clearwater, Florida

- National rank: #52
- Total score: 53.7
- Affordability rank: #66
- Weather rank: #42
- Safety rank: #107
- Economy rank: #66
- Education & health rank: #94
- Quality of life rank: #27

Clearwater lives up to its name, quite literally. Visit beautiful beaches with crystal-clear water while avoiding crowds or extreme spring break tourism, as you would in places like Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. To best describe Clearwater, it is tranquil and family oriented.

Rocky beach and blue water with buildings on the horizon.
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#21. Dunedin, Florida

- National rank: #51
- Total score: 53.7
- Affordability rank: #54
- Weather rank: #104
- Safety rank: #88
- Economy rank: #54
- Education & health rank: #35
- Quality of life rank: #47

Dunedin is one of the oldest towns on the West Coast of Florida and is known for its annual Scottish celebrations. The charming downtown area and relaxed waterfront environment make it an attractive place to reside or visit.

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View of the beach and condos from the sand dunes.
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#20. Cocoa Beach, Florida

- National rank: #49
- Total score: 53.9
- Affordability rank: #8
- Weather rank: #100
- Safety rank: #115
- Economy rank: #8
- Education & health rank: #28
- Quality of life rank: #31

Cocoa Beach is one of the most popular in all of Florida, given that it is the closest beach to Orlando. It is a beautiful place to relax while remaining a short commute to Orlando attractions. It is also the home of Port Canaveral, a well-known departure area for Caribbean cruises.

Aerial view of pastel houses on stilts on a peninsula.
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#19. Stuart, Florida

- National rank: #45
- Total score: 54.7
- Affordability rank: #25
- Weather rank: #40
- Safety rank: #128
- Economy rank: #25
- Education & health rank: #117
- Quality of life rank: #13

Stuart is known to be the “Sailfish Capital of the World.” It is adored for amazing fishing and water activities and has a pedestrian-friendly downtown.

Row of pastel houses with balconies and palms.
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#18. Key West, Florida

- National rank: #38
- Total score: 56.2
- Affordability rank: #87
- Weather rank: #137
- Safety rank: #80
- Economy rank: #87
- Education & health rank: #125
- Quality of life rank: #6

Key West offers a tropical and relaxed environment, yet with great nightlife. The iconic conch-style architecture is distinctive to this beach town, which started as early as the 19th century. It is also widely known as the southernmost and closest point to Cuba in the U.S.

Aerial view of Gulf Shores homes and one tall building along the coast.
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#17. Gulf Shores, Alabama

- National rank: #37
- Total score: 56.3
- Affordability rank: #19
- Weather rank: #139
- Safety rank: #71
- Economy rank: #19
- Education & health rank: #30
- Quality of life rank: #30

Gulf Shores is known to be a family-friendly resort community with warm-water beaches. Gulf State Park and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo are popular locations among visitors.

Historic buildings in downtown Pensacola, Florida.
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#16. Pensacola, Florida

- National rank: #35
- Total score: 56.5
- Affordability rank: #51
- Weather rank: #66
- Safety rank: #46
- Economy rank: #51
- Education & health rank: #134
- Quality of life rank: #15

The beaches of Pensacola boast sparkling white sand and enamoring waters. This town is also an aviation staple, home to the National Naval Aviation Museum and the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatics team.

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Clear waters on the beach.
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#15. North Palm Beach, Florida

- National rank: #33
- Total score: 56.6
- Affordability rank: #5
- Weather rank: #39
- Safety rank: #104
- Economy rank: #5
- Education & health rank: #4
- Quality of life rank: #115

North Palm Beach is one of 39 palm beach villages in Florida. It contains the only state park in all of Palm Beaches, John D. Macarthur Beach State Park. The beaches are best described as clean and relaxed.

Aerial view of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.
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#14. Wilmington, North Carolina

- National rank: #32
- Total score: 56.8
- Affordability rank: #102
- Weather rank: #46
- Safety rank: #69
- Economy rank: #102
- Education & health rank: #80
- Quality of life rank: #20

Wilmington, North Carolina, is a vibrant city with a quick commute to three island beaches. Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach are scenic, family-friendly, and packed with fun activities.

Beach and boardwalk lined with greenery.
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#13. Satellite Beach, Florida

- National rank: #28
- Total score: 57.3
- Affordability rank: #1
- Weather rank: #59
- Safety rank: #102
- Economy rank: #1
- Education & health rank: #9
- Quality of life rank: #91

Satellite Beach is home to some of the best beaches, such as Pelican Beach Park andrHightower Beach Park. Hightower Beach Park is loved for its accessibility, with boardwalks and a ramp to get there.

Aerial view of Panama City Beach downtown at night.
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#12. Panama City Beach, Florida

- National rank: #27
- Total score: 57.3
- Affordability rank: #9
- Weather rank: #90
- Safety rank: #111
- Economy rank: #9
- Education & health rank: #139
- Quality of life rank: #9

Panama City Beach offers 27 miles of white sand beaches alongside crystal clear waters and residents enjoy on average 320 days of sunshine yearly. The Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay meet each other in Panama City Beach.

Aerial view of downtown Fernandina Beach.
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#11. Fernandina Beach, Florida

- National rank: #25
- Total score: 57.4
- Affordability rank: #37
- Weather rank: #43
- Safety rank: #63
- Economy rank: #37
- Education & health rank: #91
- Quality of life rank: #26

Fernandina Beach is located off the Atlantic Coast of Florida, on Amelia Island. It is home to Peters Point Beachfront Park, where you can enjoy long walks on a peaceful beach.

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Aerial view of Jacksonville Beach homes on the coast.
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#10. Jacksonville Beach, Florida

- National rank: #24
- Total score: 57.6
- Affordability rank: #13
- Weather rank: #48
- Safety rank: #124
- Economy rank: #13
- Education & health rank: #5
- Quality of life rank: #51

Jacksonville offers the best of both worlds: an upbeat urban setting and Duval County’s beautiful beaches with other outdoor activities to choose from. Warm, soothing waters and soft sands offer superb kayaking, swimming, and surfing.

 

View of lighthouse and inlet facing blue water with speeding boats and jetskis.
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#9. Jupiter, Florida

- National rank: #22
- Total score: 58.0
- Affordability rank: #3
- Weather rank: #21
- Safety rank: #108
- Economy rank: #3
- Education & health rank: #43
- Quality of life rank: #63

Jupiter is one of those towns that captures the hearts of visitors and ultimately brings home buyers. Many celebrities have purchased homes in Jupiter, such as Celine Dion and Burt Reynolds. Jupiter Beach Park, Blowing Rocks Beach, and Juno Beach Park are destined to sway any beach lover.

White sandy beach and condos.
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#8. Venice, Florida

- National rank: #14
- Total score: 60.2
- Affordability rank: #28
- Weather rank: #7
- Safety rank: #83
- Economy rank: #28
- Education & health rank: #26
- Quality of life rank: #28

Venice, also referred to as the shark tooth capital of the world, captivates visitors with its breathtaking shoreline. Shark teeth are commonly found washed up on Venice Beach, which is another draw for tourists.

Aerial view of Vero Beach, Florida.
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#7. Vero Beach, Florida

- National rank: #12
- Total score: 60.2
- Affordability rank: #49
- Weather rank: #34
- Safety rank: #68
- Economy rank: #49
- Education & health rank: #93
- Quality of life rank: #8

Are you in love with beach towns, but not the noisy tourism? Vero Beach is the perfect spot, with a small town beachy aura. There are lovely shorelines with little to no tourism or crowds.

Night view of ferris wheel in downtown Myrtle Beach.
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#6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- National rank: #11
- Total score: 60.6
- Affordability rank: #50
- Weather rank: #8
- Safety rank: #112
- Economy rank: #50
- Education & health rank: #58
- Quality of life rank: #4

Myrtle Beach is a classic spot for all crowds: spring breakers, tourists, families, you name it. The beaches feature classic boardwalks full of attractions, and beautiful waters.

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Panoramic view of Destin downtown and beach.
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#5. Destin, Florida

- National rank: #9
- Total score: 61.6
- Affordability rank: #6
- Weather rank: #109
- Safety rank: #98
- Economy rank: #6
- Education & health rank: #15
- Quality of life rank: #11

Florida’s Emerald Coast receives its name from the enamoring green waters that accompany it. Destin is located in this area and is known for its distinctly soft, fine sand on the beaches.

Overhead view of Boca Raton historic district on the water.
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#4. Boca Raton, Florida

- National rank: #8
- Total score: 62.1
- Affordability rank: #11
- Weather rank: #4
- Safety rank: #109
- Economy rank: #11
- Education & health rank: #18
- Quality of life rank: #21

Boca Raton has four miles of beaches and offers great snorkeling, swimming, and leisure. There are also over 1,500 miles of parks and hiking paths.

Aerial view of downtown Sarasota buildings and palm trees.
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#3. Sarasota, Florida

- National rank: #6
- Total score: 62.8
- Affordability rank: #38
- Weather rank: #16
- Safety rank: #110
- Economy rank: #38
- Education & health rank: #70
- Quality of life rank: #2

Sarasota offers emmaculate beaches, fishing piers, parks, and museums. It is home to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, named for the founders of America’s most famous circus.

Beach busy with people having fun.
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#2. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- National rank: #5
- Total score: 62.9
- Affordability rank: #20
- Weather rank: #9
- Safety rank: #92
- Economy rank: #20
- Education & health rank: #10
- Quality of life rank: #18

North Myrtle Beach isn’t only loved for its beautiful Carolina shores and family-friendly resort feel, but its subtropical climate. Golf and fishing are also common activities in the area.

Naples homes and buildings lit up on the water at dusk.
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#1. Naples, Florida

- National rank: #1
- Total score: 64.9
- Affordability rank: #16
- Weather rank: #96
- Safety rank: #103
- Economy rank: #16
- Education & health rank: #68
- Quality of life rank: #1

For those that admire the beach but also prefer a level of sophistication catering to affluent retirees, Naples is the answer. It is well known for stunning beaches, high-end shopping, and dining.

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