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Moving to Florida? West Coast vs. East Coast

Learn about the differences between the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of Florida

This page has been created to help give you a top-level overview of the Florida coasts to aid you in your research of selecting a Florida destination to call home. We will overview the most popular and fastest-growing Florida cities that people are currently moving to, compare and contrast the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast beaches, and provide you with a breakdown of real estate prices around the state to show you how much house you can obtain for your budget on each side of the state.

Which Florida Cities are People Moving To?

As the 3rd largest state by population size in the entire country, Florida has long been a popular retirement destination for many with its mild winters, beautiful beaches and affordable housing prices, but what exactly are the most popular and fastest growing cities in the state? To best answer this question, we reviewed U-Haul’s recent annual surveys (2019, 2020) which comprised more than 2-million truck-sharing transactions that occured annually, to see the Florida cities and the coasts that trucks were most being driven to. We additionally reviewed Wallet Hub's national list of Fast-Growing Cities in America (2020), which was based upon a 7-year study of 515 cities nationwide looking at growth/decline rates, and quickly noticed that many of the fastest-growing cities in Florida were many of the same destinations that U-Haul listed in their annual surveys. As such, below is a listing of these cities by Florida coast.

Gulf Coast

  • Pensacola
  • Tampa Bay (St Petersburg, Town-N-Country)
  • Lakewood Ranch
  • Sarasota
  • North Port
  • Fort Myers (Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres)

Central Florida

  • Ocala
  • Orlando (Kissimmee)

Atlantic Coast

  • Jacksonville
  • Melbourne
  • Port Saint Lucie
  • West Palm Beach
  • Boca Raton
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Miami
Sources:
U-Haul Top Growth States (2019)
U-Haul Top Growth Cities (2020)
WalletHub Fastest Growing Cities in America (2020)

Fastest Growing Florida Cities that People are Moving To

Gulf Coast vs Atlantic Coast Beaches

While Florida is home to many of the nation's top beaches, which commonly receive top reviews and accoldates by TripAdvisor and other popular review sites each year, let's take a look at the actual differences between the two Florida coasts and how beaches are different. Florida's Gulf Coast, which is famous for its powder-like, white-sand beaches and emerald-hued waters, offers beachgoers a slightly warmer water temp (up to 5° more in the summer months) and calmer waters which is great for watersport activities such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. With its whiter, brighter sand, it doesn't retain the heat of the sun and will feel cool to the touch even on the hottest Florida day.

Florida's Atlantic Coast beaches, by contrast, have more of a light brown, golden tone to them and will feel warmer to the touch. Florida's east coast beaches are also usually windier due to the Atlantic Coast breeze. This creates larger waves and is much bettrer for surfing, especially in the areas of New Smyrna Beach, Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach. Another difference between the coasts is that beachgoers to the Atlantic beaches will often see large cruise and cargo ships in the distance as these are designated shipping channels.

Top Gulf Coast Beaches

  • Pensacola Beach
  • Destin Beach
  • Panama City Beach
  • Clearwater Beach
  • Saint Pete Beach
  • Siesta Key Beach
  • Sanibel Island Beaches

Top Atlantic Coast Beaches

  • Amelia Island Beaches
  • Daytona Beach
  • Fort Lauderdale Beach
  • Miami Beach
To view a complete listing of Florida's most popular beaches by coast, visit our Top Beaches of Florida page.

Siesta Key Beach

Siesta Key Beach, FL
Siesta Key Beach is Florida's top overall beach and as has consistently received more accolades and awards than any other beach in the sunshine state. With is powder-like, white sugar sand, Siesta Key Beach was mostly recently named as the #1 Best Beach in the entire US by TripAdvisor (2020, 2017).

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Fort Lauderdale Beach
Fort Lauderdale Beach, located in the heart of Florida's Gold Coast, has received many accolades in recent years as a Top Florida beach. It was named as the 9th best beach in Florida by TripAdvisor (2019) and a "Best Beach in Florida" by US News & World Report (2019).

Florida Real Estate Prices by Coast

While researching various Florida cities prior to your relocation to the sunshine state, it's important to understand how far your dollars will actually go. For your convenience, we have listed the average price per square foot (based upon 2021 prices) for popular destinations on each Florida coast to give you an approximate of how much house you can get for your budget. As a general overview, north Florida offers the best value per square foot while the Gold Coast region of Florida (Palm Beach south to Miami) offers some of the most expensive Florida real estate. While these numbers represent the average price per square foot per city, keep in mind that properties with waterfront and/or golf course views will likely be much higher.

Gulf Coast

  • Pensacola, FL
    $128 / Sq Ft
  • Panama City, FL
    $141 / Sq Ft
  • Tallahassee, FL
    $145 / Sq Ft
  • Tampa, FL
    $188 / Sq Ft
  • Sarasota, FL
    $209 / Sq Ft
  • Venice, FL
    $185 / Sq Ft
  • Fort Myers, FL
    $160 / Sq Ft
  • Naples, FL
    $228 / Sq Ft

Central

  • Gainesville, FL
    $149 / Sq Ft
  • Orlando, FL
    $168 / Sq Ft

Atlantic Coast

  • Jacksonville, FL
    $136 / Sq Ft
  • Daytona Beach, FL
    $147 / Sq Ft
  • Cocoa Beach, FL
    $264 / Sq Ft
  • Vero Beach, FL
    $160 / Sq Ft
  • Palm Beach, FL
    $835 / Sq Ft
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
    $306 / Sq Ft
  • Miami, FL
    $280 / Sq Ft
       Sq Ft prices above based upon 2021 real estate prices.

Price / Sq Ft of Florida Real Estate

Florida Hurricane Hits by Coast

Although most may not think about hurricane’s when relocating to Florida, it’s important to understand the possibility of one during hurricane season (Jun 1 – Nov 30) and to plan for it when purchasing your Florida home. For your convenience, we have listed the strong category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes which have made a Florida landfall in the past 100 years. Although a hurricane can hit anywhere along Florida’s coasts, history shows us that the Florida keys and the warmer, shallower waters of the Florida panhandle are more prone to receiving a direct landfall. Ever since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992, Florida building codes have greatly increased to handle the strong winds of these powerful storms. Also important to consider is the land elevation of your new Florida home as often the water surge, vs the strong winds, can be what causes damage should a direct landfall occur.

Gulf Coast

  • Michael
    Cat 5
    Mexico Beach
    2018
  • Charley
    Cat 4
    Captiva Island
    2004
  • Dennis
    Cat 3
    Santa Rosa
    2005
  • Wilma
    Cat 3
    Cape Romano
    2005
  • Ivan
    Cat 3
    Gulf Shores
    2005
  • Eloise
    Cat 3
    Destin
    1975

Atlantic Coast

  • Andrew
    Cat 5
    Homestead
    1992
  • Labor Day
    Cat 5
    Craig Key
    1935
  • Irma
    Cat 4
    Cudjoe Key
    2017
  • Donna
    Cat 4
    Conch Key
    1960
  • King
    Cat 4
    Miami
    1950
  • Okeechobee
    Cat 4
    Palm Beach
    1928
  • Great Miami
    Cat 4
    Palmetto Bay
    1926
  • Jeanne
    Cat 3
    Hutchinson Island
    2004

      Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

  • Cat 5
    > 157 mph
  • Cat 4
    130 - 156 mph
  • Cat 3
    111 - 129 mph
  • Cat 2
    96 - 110 mph
  • Cat 1
    74 - 95 mph

Landfall Locations of Florida Hurricanes (Cat 3, 4 & 5)