Study: Happiest Cities in Florida

Read more about Can Money Buy Happiness

You would think it would be easy to rank the cities in a state that hosts the "happiest place on earth." But the fact is Florida has so many happy places that the ones you would think would land in the top 10 – Miami and Orlando – were squeezed out. We'll explain more at the end, but for now the CreditDonkey team is focusing on the cities where you truly will find the brightest smiles in the Sunshine State.

Study Methodology

Florida has its fair share of small towns, but for this study, we decided to focus on larger cities with a population of 100,000 or higher. We used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and FBI Uniform Crime Reports to assign each of them a rank in seven categories. The cities that made our final 10 are the ones that had the best cumulative ranking based on the following:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Crime rate
  3. Commute
  4. Departure time
  5. Income
  6. Divorce rate
  7. Housing

Good company can usually put even the grumpiest of folks in a better mood. If you're the type of person who likes to catch up with friends over a cocktail or a leisurely meal, take a look at how each city ranks based on the number of restaurants per capita.

Knowing that you'll be safe at home and in the community plays an important part in how you perceive where you live. We looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime to see where residents have the least cause for worry.

Living in the big city has its advantages, especially if you're trying to launch your career. The downside is that you usually have to deal with heavier traffic. To see where getting to work takes the least amount of time, we looked at the average commute for each city.

If you prefer an early morning routine, you may unconsciously be upping your happiness level. Studies have suggested getting up earlier leads to an enhanced sense of satisfaction. To test that theory, we considered what percentage of residents leave for work before 5 a.m.

Making more money doesn't guarantee that you'll feel more fulfilled, but it can definitely help if it relieves your financial stress. To see if there's any link between happiness and the size of your paycheck, we looked at each city's median household income.

Having someone else to face life's challenges with is definitely a comfort, but unfortunately, not every couple is able to clear the obstacles. We looked at the divorce rate for men and women in each city to gauge how satisfied husbands and wives are.

Finally, we ranked our cities based on the percentage of income residents spend on housing. Our reasoning is that the less you pay for a home, the more positive your outlook will be.

10 Happiest Cities in Florida

10. Fort Lauderdale

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 300 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 110.7
  • Average commute time: 24.2 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.3%
  • Median household income: $50,191
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 14.9% of males, 16.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 29.4%

Fort Lauderdale has a reputation for being a spring break haven, but it's more than that to the 170,000 people who live here. The median pay is right around $50,000, and a little less than a third of it goes to housing. That may seem like a lot but home prices are quite a bit lower compared to Miami, which is about 30 miles down the road. Fort Lauderdale scored the best rating for restaurants per capita on our list, with over 500 eateries to choose from.

Did You Know: Fort Lauderdale has an extensive system of waterways that earned it the nickname "The Venice of America."

9. West Palm Beach

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 380 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 124.8
  • Average commute time: 23 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.9%
  • Median household income: $45,060
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.4% of males, 16.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 30.4%

Further up Florida's Atlantic Coast is the city of West Palm Beach. Why do over 100,000 people give it the thumbs up? Aside from the fantastic oceanfront views, home prices here are much lower compared to some of its neighbors to the south. The median income is a little lower, at just over $45,000, but it's offset by a fairly short commute. There are tons of great hangout spots, including Havana, where you can nosh on some of the best Cuban food in town.

Did You Know: West Palm Beach is the oldest municipality in Palm Beach County.

8. Clearwater

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 360 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 150.3
  • Average commute time: 21.9 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.9%
  • Median household income: $42,427
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.9% of males, 17.9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 28.6%

Just in case you were starting to think we forgot about Florida's Gulf Coast, here comes Clearwater at number eight on our list. There are about 108,000 residents who live here full-time, and thousands more come to visit each year. We think overall people are pretty glad to call the city home, based on how short the drive to work is and the average percentage of income that's spent on housing.

Did You Know: Condé Nast Traveler once deemed the sand on Clearwater's beaches the best on the East Coast.

7. Pembroke Pines

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 573 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 671.2
  • Average commute time: 29.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.5%
  • Median household income: $62,133
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.5% of males, 14.2% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 30%

Pembroke Pines sits just west of Hollywood, right next to the Everglades Wildlife Management Area. It climbed to number seven on our list because workers here pull in the second highest median income in our study, at more than $62,000. It also has the second best violent crime rate, and housing prices are relatively moderate. The local restaurants serve up everything from Cuban to Japanese, but the Brimstone Woodfire Grill is the place to go for contemporary American cuisine.

Did You Know: The Everglades is the largest subtropical ecosystem in North America.

6. Gainesville

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 411 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 149.3
  • Average commute time: 16.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.6%
  • Median household income: $32,145
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 7.2% of males, 8.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 33.1%

We head a little farther north to reach the next destination on our list. Although median incomes tend to be on the lower end of the scale, Gainesville still cracked our top 10 because it scored the best overall in terms of the commute and the combined divorce rate. Home prices aren't outrageous whether you're renting or buying, and on average, residents fork over about 33% of their pay for housing.

Did You Know: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers formed in Gainesville in 1976.

5. Tampa

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 397 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 162.2
  • Average commute time: 22.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.2%
  • Median household income: $43,514
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.3% of males, 15.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 28.7%

Directly east of Clearwater is the much larger city of Tampa, which has close to 350,000 residents. Workers here seem to be pretty happy, considering how many of them are up and on their way before 5 a.m. And the average car ride to work takes only about 22 minutes. You won't lack for places to enjoy a delicious meal; Gino's Restaurant & Bar is the hands-down local favorite for Italian fare.

Did You Know: Florida's first brewery was founded in Tampa in 1896.

4. Cape Coral

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 911 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 697.1
  • Average commute time: 26.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.4%
  • Median household income: $50,214
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.7% of males, 13.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 27.8%

If an enhanced sense of safety gives you the warm fuzzies, Cape Coral is the place for you. It landed in our top five for having the best violent crime rate on our list as well as high showings in other ranking categories. Cape Coral has the second highest percentage of early birds and the median salary is a respectable $50,000. If you're in the market to buy a home, you'll find that properties tend to be a little less expensive compared to neighboring Fort Myers.

Did You Know: Cape Coral is the location of The Mangoes and Seminole Lodge, the winter estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

3. Tallahassee

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 393 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 117.2
  • Average commute time: 17.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.9%
  • Median household income: $39,649
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 6.9% of males, 11.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 29.7%

Tallahassee's 187,000 residents are pretty cheerful for the most part, but you may see a few long faces if the 'Noles don't get a win on game day. Some of the things that pushed this city so high in our rankings include a decent average commute of under 18 minutes and an affordably priced housing market. If you're looking for a place to cheer on your team, check out the action on the big screen at the 4th Quarter Bar & Grill.

Did You Know: The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University features the world's strongest magnet.

2. Jacksonville

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 543 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 162
  • Average commute time: 23.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 3.7%
  • Median household income: $48,143
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.5% of males, 15.7% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 25.6%

Jacksonville is the most populous city on our list and in the state, with more than 836,000 residents. A mecca for job seekers, one of its most appealing qualities is the fact that the drive into work isn't a major time drain. Jacksonville also takes top honors when it comes to housing and the percentage of workers who get up with the sun. Moreover, you won't have to part with a mountain of cash to buy a home, and rental prices aren't too far above the national average.

Did You Know: Jacksonville hosts the "World's Largest Cocktail Party" each year when the Florida Gators face off against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field.

1. Coral Springs

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 478 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 545.9
  • Average commute time: 26.8 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.4%
  • Median household income: $68,255
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 7.8 of males, 14.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 28.2%

Coral Springs began as a planned community and this city of 125,000 residents has really taken off as a hotspot for people of all ages. At just over $68,000, the median income is the highest of any city in our study and housing costs don't take too big of a bite out of your wallet. Coral Springs ranks well based on the violent crime rate, with several safe neighborhoods to choose from. If you're planning a get-together with friends, the Big Bear Brewing Company offers a casual atmosphere and an unusual twist on beer cheese soup.

Did You Know: Chartered in 1963, Coral Springs is one of Florida's youngest larger cities.


You probably noticed that neither Miami nor Orlando made our list. If you're wondering why, it all comes down to the numbers. While both cities have a number of qualities that recommend them as good places to live, our top 10 had the edge based on all the data we considered.

The Top 10 Happiest Cities in Florida

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Coral Springs478.21 in 545.926.82.4%$68,2557.8%14.1%28.2%
2Jacksonville543.21 in 162.023.53.7%$48,14311.5%15.7%25.6%
3Tallahassee392.81 in 117.217.81.9%$39,6496.9%11.3%29.7%
4Cape Coral911.01 in 697.126.83.4%$50,21411.7%13.4%27.8%
5Tampa397.31 in 162.222.43.2%$43,51411.3%15.4%28.7%
6Gainesville410.61 in 149.316.51.6%$32,1457.2%8.4%33.1%
7Pembroke Pines572.51 in 671.229.52.5%$62,1339.5%14.2%30%
8Clearwater360.01 in 150.321.92.9%$42,42712.9%17.9%28.6%
9West Palm Beach380.21 in 124.8232.9%$45,06011.4%16.6%30.4%
10Fort Lauderdale300.11 in 110.724.23.3%$50,19114.9%16.9%29.4%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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