Florida East Coast vs. West Coast
Whether you’re looking to buy a second home or are relocating to Florida from another state, you may be trying to decide which region is right for you—a choice that may involve deciding whether to live on the state’s East Coast or West Coast.
The two coasts have many similarities including warm and sunny weather through much of the year, although both are susceptible to hurricanes—even the stretches of the coast farthest to the north. But there are some notable differences between the coasts and, unless you’re relocating to a specific area due to a job or other factor, choosing between them may be difficult.
Historically, that choice was predicated on proximity to major interstate highways. So, people from the Northeast tended to travel on I-95 (which stretches as far north as Maine) and settle on the East Coast while people in the Midwest traveled along I-75 (which stretches as far north as Michigan) and settled on the West Coast. In recent times, however, that hasn’t necessarily been the case, with people basing their decisions on a host of factors. Here are some.
Florida is home to some of the best beaches in the United States, but the beaches are decidedly different on the two coasts. The West Coast is located on the Gulf of Mexico, with beaches that have white, powdery sand that doesn’t get nearly as hot during the summer as the sand on the East Coast. And the generally flat, calm waters make for ideal swimming conditions.
Clearwater Beach, St. Petersburg Beach, and Siesta Key often top lists of the best beaches in the state, but you’ll find great beaches all along the coast—stretching all the way from Pensacola in the north to Naples in the south.
On the East Coast, located on the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll tend to find beaches with stronger surf, although it varies among individual beaches and weather conditions. However, the surf is good enough to attract surfers, who flock to beaches, such as Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Jupiter Beach.
Read more: What It's Like Living in Naples, Florida
Another reason many people move to Florida is for boating, and the two coasts offer different experiences for boaters. The Atlantic Ocean has larger swells and waves whereas the Gulf of Mexico is usually calm and flat, so it’s much easier to anchor off the West Coast. In terms of water temperature, the East Coast tends to be warmer and more consistent, with temperatures ranging from 70 degrees in the winter to the mid-80s in the summer. On the West Coast, the water temps are more variable and will fall to the 50s during the winter and, in the summer, reach approximately 90 degrees.
The water clarity on both coasts is outstanding, although strong winds and rough seas will impact visibility. Generally speaking, the water on the East Coast, south of Fort Pierce, is great with the best clarity occurring in Jupiter to the Palm Beach area (the result of the gulf stream coming the closest to land). On the West Coast, the water clarity is best during the spring and fall, with the best clarity occurring in the areas from Tampa to Naples and Panama City Beach to Pensacola Beach.
Those looking to move to more metropolitan areas have their choice of Jacksonville and Miami on the East Coast and Tampa on the West Coast. And the differences between these cities is substantial. Those looking for a more cosmopolitan, 24-hour “vibe” are generally attracted to Miami where you’ll find glitzy nightlife, trendy beaches, and yes, celebrities. It used to be that just people from the Northeast, particularly New York City, were drawn to Miami, but now it attracts people from all over the country, if not the world.
By contrast, Jacksonville, located not far from the Georgia border, offers a quieter atmosphere that many families find preferable. The weather is also a plus for those looking for cooler temperatures during the winter months, as is the cheaper cost of housing.
On the West Coast, Tampa is the largest city. Although it may not have the glitz and glamor of Miami, it has its fair share of cultural offerings, including museums, an aquarium, and an arena that hosts major concerts and events. Some people may be surprised to learn that the Salvador Dali Museum is located in St. Petersburg, which is southwest of Tampa. And, on average, housing in Tampa and its surrounding areas is cheaper than Miami and its surrounding areas.
Professional sports teams can be found in all three cities, although the Miami teams, especially the Miami Dolphins, tend to have a longer history and a deeper fan base. In recent years, however, Tampa Bay teams have been drawing fans due to the success of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team and the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team (which won the Stanley Cup in 2020).
The most expensive zip codes in the state can be found on both coasts, where you’ll find multi-million-dollar homes with expansive waterfront views and exquisite surroundings. Most people’s home searches, however, involve properties that sell for far less. In fact, bargain hunters who are willing to cast a wide net while home searching will find prices far lower than many of the metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Midwest.
You can even find waterfront property selling for reasonable prices if you’re flexible in terms of geography. Buyers will also find a wide range of home styles on both coasts, including single-family, townhomes, villas, and condominiums at a variety of price levels. So, it’s best to select the geographical area that’s right for you, then whittle down your choices from there.