Have You Visited the South's Ultimate Surf Town?
If you can’t have fun in New Smyrna Beach, there’s a very good chance that you’re a mountain person. Gidget would love this surf’s-up little burg, but you can easily choose how much or how little beach time you want. Stay right in the thick of things on the beachfront, or opt for a hotel or a BYOB (bring you own boat) property on the Indian River, where you can enjoy a serene stay and take a short drive to the big surf whenever you like. Either way, you’ll discover a sandy little town that’s so chill it’s practically napping in a hammock, yet it’s also as lively as all get-out. And it has a sense of humor. There’s even a historic district a short drive from all the beach action. How one town manages to deliver all that is anybody’s guess, so instead of trying to figure it out, just enjoy it.
Drive Up to the Beach
To reach surf central, jump on the North Causeway, and follow it until it becomes Flagler Avenue. Stop when your wheels hit the sand. Actually, that’s not entirely true—Flagler dead-ends into a popular beach-access point, where you can pay 10 bucks and park yourself right on the sand.
Enjoy Every Minute
Not only is beach driving fun, but it’s also convenient because you can pack all your coolers, chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards into your trunk and drive your gear to a great spot. This gives you more lodging options, because even if you stay several blocks from the waves, you won’t have to do that condo-to-beach slog, carrying your gear to and fro throughout your stay.
Colorful and Funky
New Smyrna is authentic Florida at its colorful, funky best, with tons of fun concentrated along a few blocks of Flagler Avenue nearest the beach. It’s the kind of place where you might see a statue of Santa carrying a surfboard; a bikini-clad skateboarder zooming by; or maybe a dog wearing sunglasses. So park yourself at a table on one of the decks at Flagler Tavern, order a cold libation and some conch chowder, and take it all in.
Get a different view of the beach action at boardwalk-esque Flagler Avenue Beachfront Park. (By the way, check out the lifeguard station next to the park. The tower is as big as a condo, which might attest to the wave action they can see down here.)
When you’re ready to get settled in, choose a mainstream, vintage, or riverside stay. If you prefer popular chains, there’s the cottagey Hampton Inn New Smyrna Beach, which is just an easy walk from the beachfront. Or for a historic-inn experience, try The Riverview Hotel & Spa on the Indian River, a short drive from the beach. Both the sleek, Mediterranean Black Dolphin Inn and the more traditional Night Swan Intracoastal Bed & Breakfast have their own boat docks right on the Indian River
Retro Beach Hotel
But if you really want to get into the retro spirit of New Smyrna, book one of just a handful of suites at The Salty Mermaid Oceanfront Hotel, an authentic, stylishly renovated motor court. Each unit has a front and back door, the latter leading onto a grassy lawn with lounge chairs and umbrellas overlooking the Atlantic. (There’s no pool, but you won’t care.) If you stay at The Salty Mermaid, you’ll be able to walk to all the action on Flagler Avenue. Bonus points: The hotel rents bikes and golf carts right there on-site. You’ll also find plenty of outfitters in the area to set you up with other gear like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
Looking to explore the great indoors? Flagler Avenue has enough cute shops to keep your credit cards busy for an afternoon, from handmade earrings at Jewelry of Joy and home accessories and decor at Robin’s Nest Gifts to surf shops like Quiet Flight Surfboards and Rip Curl. Then find girl stuff galore at Janie’s Elegant Clothing & Accessories.
While New Smyrna fans will point you to eateries all over town (The Garlic, JB’s Fish Camp, and SoNapa Grille, to name a few), there are plenty of spots on and around the main beach drag if you don’t feel like dusting the sand off your flip-flops and driving. Start with beachfront landmark The Breakers Restaurant, which is pink on the outside and packed on the inside. It has barstools facing an open-air counter fronting the Atlantic. At The Beacon, enjoy a down-home breakfast for around $5. A popular spot for “beach-inspired Tex-Mex” is Clancy’s Cantina. No visit to the beach is complete without the requisite ice-cream cone, so be sure to stop by Treats on the Beach or Beachside Candy Co. to cure your sweet tooth.
Head to Third Wave Café & Wine Bar, and ask if the Tennessee Truck Stop is available. It features Benton’s bacon and a sunny-side up egg. The ever-changing menu can include other dishes like prawns and caviar or ahi tuna and mint pesto, along with handcrafter pizzas.