Best places to live in Florida in 2021

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Before 2020, plenty of people were already relocating to Florida to take advantage of an abundance of sunshine and no state income taxes. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to rethink where they called home, interest in moving closer to the beach reached new heights. Single-family home sales in the state were up roughly 27 percent as of October 2020, with the median sale price rising by more than 15 percent, according to the Florida Realtors organization.

Many may pick Florida as a retirement spot, but the state has a range of cities that stand out for more than golf courses, beaches and post-career relaxation. Are you looking for a new home where the literal sun will shine on your skin and the figurative sun will shine on your personal and professional life? Here are the best places to consider.

Best places to live in Florida in 2021

We looked at data from the 25 biggest cities in Florida — all above 100,000 residents — to get a clear picture of which places offer the best balance of affordability and all-around awesome living. While what makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, there are common factors that everyone seeks when searching for a new place to settle. Here’s a rundown of the key factors that shaped our research:

  • Affordability – Buying or renting a home is typically the No. 1 expense on anyone’s list. We analyzed each city’s cost of living compared with its average salary per worker. When available, we also considered data on median home prices from real estate brokerage Redfin to get a sense of what it costs to stop renting and buy.
  • Safety – We analyzed per capita statistics on violent crime and property crime incidents in the biggest cities in The Sunshine State to determine where you’ll feel most secure.
  • Job market – We looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics city-level unemployment data from the fall of 2020 to get a sense of how each of these cities has recovered from the initial shockwaves of the pandemic in early 2020. It’s important to note that many places in Florida are heavily dependent on tourists, so some of these cities have faced hurdles with unemployment. Looking ahead to 2021 and the promise of a vaccine, there is hope on the horizon (and a really beautiful sunset, too).
  • Educational attainment – Education translates to achievement, so we looked at Census data on the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees in each of these areas.
  • Culture – Everyone has unique preferences about what to do outside of work hours, so our cultural metrics are a subjective evaluation of opportunities to see, do and experience these cities. We considered a range of information from convention and visitors bureaus, chamber of commerce listings and the state tourism agency to understand what people do outside of work.

1. Tampa

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: A welcoming city with relatively low housing costs and low crime
Biggest downside: The cultural scene is still developing and can’t quite compete with the energy of its neighbors further south

Tampa isn’t just a great place to live in Florida; the city also makes an appearance on our nationwide best places to live list this year thanks to its affordability and employers like USAA, Citigroup and Raymond James. The city is also welcoming and diverse: Tampa — along with neighbor St. Petersburg — earned a perfect 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign for its support of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Expect the city to continue to welcome newcomers of all kinds in 2021, as well. According to projections from the Urban Land Institute and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Tampa metro area is the sixth most attractive region in the country for job growth and land development.

2. Jacksonville

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordable housing and a strong job market
Biggest downside: Safety

Fidelity Investments, Aetna, Johnson & Johnson and Mayo Clinic are a few of the big names that make up a thriving business community in Jacksonville. That community is faring relatively well, too, as the city’s unemployment is a low 5 percent.

In terms of what you’ll do in Jacksonville, this is a city steeped in nature. With more than 80,000 acres of marshes, wetlands and woods, Jacksonville makes New York City’s Central Park look like a children’s playground. This is also one of the best cities on our list for your wallet, with a low cost of living and a median home sale price of $235,000 as of early December 2020, according to real estate brokerage Redfin. Bottom line: You’ll pay less and be able to do more, with a strong food scene and an impressive collection of cultural institutions.

3. Cape Coral

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 4 out of 10
Culture: 5 out of 10

Biggest upside: More people are moving here, and they’re finding more job opportunities and a safe place to call home
Biggest downside: Low educational achievement and a limited set of cultural options

At first glance, Cape Coral might seem like a retirement destination. While the city does have a large senior population — 20 percent of residents are in the 65-and-over demographic — Cape Coral is becoming a place for anyone searching for career opportunities, particularly in healthcare and light manufacturing. In fact, a 2019 report from business insurance resource AdvisorSmith ranked Cape Coral as one of the fastest-growing job markets in the country.

That activity has helped the city weather the pandemic storm, with a 5.5 percent unemployment rate. If you crave a spring-break pace all year long, the beaches and happy hours here are a good fit, too. If you’re looking for a wide range of arts and culture, though, you may need to aim for a more urban center.

4. Orlando

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 5 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 6 out of 10

Biggest upside: A steady growth trajectory before the pandemic and a relatively low cost of living
Biggest downside: The city relies on tourism, which has spelled trouble with higher-than-average unemployment and a potentially bumpy road to recovery

Orlando’s economy took a major hit in 2020 with big layoffs at Disney and a tourist season that came to a standstill. While the city’s unemployment rate was still high as of the end of 2020, Orlando is poised for a serious rebound. Pre-pandemic, Orlando had been the leader in job growth among metro areas in the U.S. for four straight years, Labor Department data shows.

Looking ahead and outside the travel industry, major employers like Lockheed Martin, the University of Central Florida, Publix and a number of hospitals help diversify the city’s business landscape. In terms of culture, you’ll need to do your best to live like a local, which means steering clear of theme parks and exploring the city’s neighborhoods instead.

5. Miami

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 5 out of 10
Education: 5 out of 10
Culture: 10 out of 10

Biggest upside: The culture here deserves a 15 out of 10 — this is a vibrant community with no shortage of things to do, restaurants to try and beaches to enjoy
Biggest downside: High unemployment numbers and exorbitant housing costs for any real estate close to the water

When Miami comes to mind, many people immediately think of the beaches, clubs and trendsetters on South Beach. While those features are certainly a draw for some, the area is much more than a vacation spot. From savoring Caribbean flavors in Little Havana and Little Haiti to touring world-renowned art deco architecture, Miami offers cosmopolitan flair combined with coastal beauty and, of course, picture-perfect weather.

Healthcare is a major industry in Miami-Dade County, with employers such as Baptist Health South Florida and Mount Sinai Medical Center. The city may face challenges in its recovery from COVID-19, though, since tourism is an essential piece of its economic success. Unemployment numbers here are the highest among all the cities on our list.

6. Gainesville

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Job market: 9 out of 10
Education: 8 out of 10
Culture: 6 out of 10

Biggest upside: The lowest unemployment numbers on our list
Biggest downside: Safety and a smaller-city culture without access to the beach

Gainesville lands a spot on our list this year because the city’s unemployment rate is at a very low 4.3 percent. Gainesville’s middle-of-the-state location doesn’t offer the big waves of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, but the city offers a different kind of beauty with seven nearby state parks.

This is also one of the youngest cities on our list: Only 10 percent of Gainesville residents are 65 years or older. The University of Florida is the biggest employer in the area, and there are numerous opportunities in healthcare, as well.

Next steps

COVID-19 has made buying a home more challenging and more rewarding at the same time. On one hand, the hot housing market is creating higher prices, and on the other, record-low mortgage rates can make buying a home a smart move. If the complexities of homebuying feel overwhelming, count on Bankrate’s homebuying guide to help prepare you for your homebuying journey.

Learn more:

Written by
David McMillin
Contributing writer
David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David's goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Edited by
Mortgage editor