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New Smyrna Beach: The best little beach town

Last updated on May 9th, 2022 at 06:01 pm

Travel and Leisure magazine calls New Smyrna Beach “Florida’s most underrated seaside city”.  It’s hard to disagree. But we’d kick it up a notch as one of Florida’s best little beach towns.

New Smyrna Beach is a mix of Old Florida surfer’s haven, family vacation destination, funky beachfront bars, homes on stilts, low-rise condos, ice cream parlors and quaint art galleries with a wide, 13-mile-long beach joined at the hip to Canaveral National Seashore.

There’s more.

Boating and fishing in Mosquito Lagoon, camping on spoil islands in the Halifax River, paddle Spruce Creek, hike the boardwalk across the rolling dunes in Smyrna Dunes Park, and when your timing is right, a front row seat to rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center.

The beach is walkable, drivable, great for surfing and surf fishing, family friendly, ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Drive to your spot on the beach, pop up the canopy and umbrellas, break out the beach chairs and coolers.

Today is your day in the sun in “Florida’s most underrated seaside city.”


Flagler Avenue

new smyrna beach flagler avenue
The iconic arch at the Flagler Avenue beach access ramp. Beach access fee $20.

New Smyrna’s beach town vibe oozes from the Flagler Avenue district with its galleries, surf shops, boutiques, souvenir stands, ice cream kiosks, restaurants and bars, almost all housed in traditional Old Florida beach cottages and historic Victorian homes.

Architecturally, not much has changed on Flagler in the 40 years I’ve been visiting, even as businesses come and go.

At the east end of Flagler, drive under its iconic arch onto the beach, or save $20 and park for free in the beachfront lot — if you can find a space.


The beaches of New Smyrna

New Smyrna Beach is a magnet for surfers.

Surfers congregate at the north end of the beach near the Ponce Inlet south jetty, a long walk from Flagler Avenue but a scenic drive in a vehicle.

With the exception of extremely high tides, the hard-packed beach sand is suitable for most cars and bicycles. While four-wheel drive is not necessary, all vehicles should exercise caution and avoid the soft sand, particularly an issue when you reach the jetty.

Along most of the beach, there are posts to mark the beginning of softer sand, but not at the jetty.

Rambler Tip: It’s easy for your car to bog down in the sand if you go all the way to the jetty. Usually, there’s a contingent of good Samaritans standing by to assist. Locals bring shovels and recovery boards. Park well before the jetty and walk.


New Smyrna Beach

‘Shark Capital’

The shark threat to swimmers is overstated. But it is real.
From a shark’s perspective, New Smyrna Beach is a great place to dine, particularly near Ponce Inlet, where tidal flows pull tasty gamefish out of the productive nurseries of Strickland Bay, Rose Bay and the estuaries that feed the Indian and Halifax rivers.
The sharks hang out at the inlet. Surfers hang out there, too, and sometimes a surfer’s foot is mistaken for a meal.
In 2021, 17 shark bites were reported, twice the annual average nine for all of Volusia County, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.
None were fatal.
Personally, I’m perfectly comfortable swimming anywhere except near the jetty.


The main beach

The main beach from Flagler Avenue south to 27th Avenue is the busiest stretch, dense with cars, food trucks and beach rental trailers that feature umbrellas, chairs, boogie boards, canopies, beach-wheel bicycles and even all-terrain vehicles for cruising the surf line.

Lifeguards stations are positioned in some of the busiest areas, and rescue teams patrol the rest of the beach in Jeeps and ATVs.

It’s in this stretch that you’ll also find the beachfront bars (Toni and Joe’s Patio, the Sea Vista Tiki Bar and Chases).

Typical scene on the main section of beach from Flagler north to 27th Avenue. (Photo by Allen Rice)

The beach is open to vehicles from 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. or sundown, whichever is earlier, from May 1 through October 31, and sunrise to sunset from November 1 to April 30, tides permitting. There is a $20 per day vehicle access fee to drive and park on the beach, including one same-day re-entry. 

Besides Flagler Avenue, there are 4 vehicle access ramps to the beach:

  • Beachway Avenue — Northernmost ramp
  • Crawford Road — North of Flagler
  • 3rd Avenue — Just off A1A, behind the Walgreens at the big curve
  • 27th Avenue — Southernmost beach ramp. Beyond this point (south), the beach is vehicle free.

Note: On our most recent visit (April 2022), the 27th Avenue Park and Ramp were closed, undergoing reconstruction.

Off beach parking

  • Smyrna Dunes — $10 fee — Access to dog beach and the boardwalk across the dunes. The parking lot is at the north end of Peninsula Avenue.
  • Flagler Avenue — Free parking but it fills up fast.
  • 27th Avenue — Free park when it’s open.
  • Matthews Avenue — Free parking with access to vehicle-free beach
  • Bethune Beach Park — Free parking with access to vehicle-free beach

Smyrna Dunes Park is a 184-acre park along the southern shoreline of Ponce de Leon Inlet, accessible from a parking lot at the north end of North Peninsula Avenue, next to the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The park has a dog-friendly beach and more than two miles of handicapped accessible boardwalk. Multiple scenic overlooks offer views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River and Ponce de Leon Inlet. 

Bonfires are permitted in designated areas

Outside of turtle season, bonfires are allowed on the beach.

The city will even provide a fire ring if you need one, first come, first serve, but you can also bring your own. The city’s stationary fire rings must be reserved in advance, and reservations are only accepted from October 28 until April 26.

Turtle-nesting season, starting in May and continuing until November, is off-limits to all.

Reservable fire rings are located at:

  • Sapphire Walkway, 1080 N. Atlantic Ave, New Smyrna Beach
  • Ester Park, 551 Esther St, New Smyrna Beach
  • 27th Ave Park, 3701 S. Atlantic Ave, New Smyrna Beach
  • Hiles Beach Ramp, 700 Hiles Blvd, New Smyrna Beach

Beach visitors can bring their own fire rings without a permit, but they still must comply with the rules. Grilling is also permitted on the beach, as long as you clean up after yourself and leave no trace.

I never knew about this until I stumbled across a drum circle one night a few years ago at the 27th Avenue Beach. There were about 30 people bundled up around the fire on a chilly winter evening, waves rolling ashore with a steady cadence on the evening breeze. On another night, a guitar circle entertained a small crowd.

This park is a popular spot on any evening.

Bonfires on the beach: Fire ring reservations and Rules for bonfires on the beach.

Bethune Beach

Bethune Beach is a small residential enclave of single-family on the southern border of New Smyrna Beach and serves as gateway to Canaveral National Seashore and Apollo Beach.

Historically, Bethune Beach was a black community and site of the only beach in Volusia County where blacks could swim in the early 20th Century. This community is named after African-American educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College.

The beach park here has free parking in a sandy lot atop the beach seawall, a peaceful escape from the grid without the crowds of New Smyrna.

Adding to the charm and the peace is the lack of hotels and motels, and there are only a handful of vacation home rentals on VRBO.

Rambler tip: There is a bait and tackle shop in Bethune Beach posing as a convenience store called “Needful Things.” This small, family-owned shop has gone through changes over the years, but it is an essential stop for live or frozen bait if you plan to fish in Canaveral National Seashore.


Canaveral National Seashore / Apollo Beach

Apollo Beach. All 5 dune crossovers are handicap accessible with ramps to the beach.

Continuing south on South Atlantic / SR A1A / Turtlemound Road, you’ll come to the entrance gate to Canaveral National Seashore, end of one road and the beginning of another, gateway to another 8-mile park road and 24 miles of pristine beaches protected by sand dunes and armadillos.

The park entry pass is $20 for cars, $15 for motorcycles and $10 for bicycles, and is good for the next seven days.

Just inside the entrance gate is a boat ramp and paved parking lot offering boaters access to Mosquito Lagoon on the inland waterway side. This is an excellent spot for kayakers to launch and explore the islands and backwater channels in the lagoon.

Lots of wildlife to be found here, and no shortage of fish in and around the oyster bars and clam beds. Leaseholds are marked with stakes, so avoid harvesting shellfish from those areas.

There’s another kayak launch — and kayak rentals — at the Visitors Center, a short distance from the park entrance.

There are five beach parking lots along the eight miles of park road. The first is close to the entrance with 89 spots. The remaining lots have 25 each. Lot No. 1 is also the preferred beach for surf fishing because it has a basin and runout that attracts anglers, especially in the early morning on an outgoing tide.

The last parking area, No. 5, provides access to a legal clothing-optional beach. Sunbathers trek a few hundred yards south of the lot, putting a little distance between themselves and other beach-goers.

Historic Eldora

The Eldora Loop Road takes you back through subtropical tree hammocks to Eldora, a ghost town on the Indian River Lagoon where orange groves once thrived.

Only two of the town’s original buildings remain, including a home known as the “State House” that has been restored to serve as a museum showcasing the history of the area. The museum is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Rambler note: Canaveral National Seashore acts as a buffer around the Kennedy Space Center. During launches, the park will likely be closed.

Backcountry camping

There are several islands in the Mosquito Lagoon portion of Canaveral Seashore, and the park has developed 14 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. They are only accessible by boat from either the boat ramps in the park or on the mainland in Edgewater or Oak Hill.

To camp on these islands, you must obtain a backcountry permit online from Recreation.gov. The permit fee is $20 per night. You can also obtain a permit if you go to the Visitor Center.

It’s worth noting, though, that there are dozens of spoil islands north of the Canaveral Seashore boundaries where camping is free. These are undeveloped sites, not managed and very primitive.


Historic Downtown

New Smyrna’s downtown area on the mainland is just starting to get its legs.

Among the current attractions is the Arts on Douglas gallery, which is affiliated with the Atlantic Center for the Arts, a longtime cultural center promoting the creative arts in South Volusia County.

A peak into Arts on Douglas from the sidewalk! (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Originally, the 1920’s era building was an automobile showroom that now houses a 3,500 square foot exhibit space, presenting 18 exhibitions per year. At night, the gallery is a strong visual presence at 123 Douglas Street, downtown, a block east of Riverside Park.

Another gallery worth visiting is the Ring Gallery at the Funky Flamingo Gift Shop, 217 Canal Street. Mike Ring chronicles life in New Smyrna Beach through photography with a particular focus on coastal landscapes.

Unfortunately, iconic downtown landmark Little’s Drug Store, soda fountain and lunch counter fell victim to the pandemic and closed. You can still see the building at 412 Canal Street. I didn’t peak inside around the window coverings, so I have no idea if you can still see the classic lunch counter from the sidewalk. Check it out and let us know!

Across and down Canal Street, though, you’ll find a number of small boutiques, gift shops and curiosity shops in historic buildings, as well as restaurants and bars, including the New Smyrna Beach Brewing Company at 143 Canal Street.

My favorite downtown restaurant, Jason’s Corner at 135 Canal Street, has sadly cut dinner service and is now open only for breakfast and lunch. But you can be sure they have stayed true to their home-cooked meals.

Worth mentioning is the River Deck Tiki Bar and Restaurant at 107 North Riverside Drive, a short walk from Canal Street. Formerly known as Sea Harvest, this popular eatery has expanded its menu beyond traditional seafood specials, and its dockside seating has also been expanded.


More to explore

New Smyrna waterways
Mosquito Lagoon and Callalisa Creek. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

Callalisa Creek is calling: Paddle New Smyrna waterways for backcountry adventure


Spruce Creek at Strickland Bay
Spruce Creek at Strickland Bay

Paddle a threatened estuary while you still can. Spruce Creek paddle: A diamond in the rough


View from Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.

Adventure awaits on the north side of Ponce Inlet. A delightful outdoor oasis between New Smyrna and Daytona Beach


Places to Eat & Drink

Restaurants

The Garlic, 556 E 3rd Ave on the South Causeway. Long one of our favorites for Italian cuisine, we were a little disappointed on our most recent visit (Spring 2022). Our dinners were just not up to par. One thing that never disappoints, though, is the romantic garden atmosphere with mood lighting. Reservations are not accepted, and you may have to wait on their outdoor patio before being seated.

Norwood’s Restaurant and Treehouse Bar, 400 E 2nd Ave. on the South Causeway. Norwood’s never disappoints, at least it hasn’t in the 40-plus years I’ve been visiting this town. Norwood’s specialty is seafood, and they do it right. Wine pairings are a specialty. The recently added Treehouse Bar is really in a big old oak tree, a nice touch for cocktails and entertainment.

Limoncello South, 737 E 3rd Ave, Indian River Village, back in the corner next to Beall’s. Italian cuisiine. We haven’t tried Limoncello South yet, but locals give it rave reviews and the restaurant previously at this location (Spanish River Grille) was fabulous. Tell us what you think in Comments below.

Crabby’s Bar & Grill, 203 South Atlantic Ave., but facing the other way for the beach view. This was our first visit to this recent addition to New Smyrna’s beach scene! We gathered family and old friends at Crabby’s upstairs bar and dining area. The food was moderately priced and prepared well. Everyone in our party of eight was impressed.

Touch of Italy, 4198 South Atlantic Ave. An old standby with consistently good Italian food at reasonable prices. Not always my first choice but always a reliable one when I do choose it. Nothing out of the ordinary, just your standard Italian pizza and pasta menu served with garlic rolls and salad, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want. No dinner more than $20. I do enjoy eating here. TripAdvisor

J.B.’s Fish Camp, State Road A1A, Bethune Beach. The rap on J.B.’s these days are the crowds. We skipped our usual visit this time because the parking overflowed onto A1A. An iconic dive bar and rustic seafood restaurant with a deck overlooking Mosquito Lagoon, near the entrance to Canaveral National Seashore. Freshly harvested clams, oysters, rock shrimp and J.B.’s Famous crab cakes.

Rambler Tip: If you are looking for a tasty, yet affordable meal after a day at the beach, drive south on A1A to Mi Mexico, housed in an old 7-11 at 4600 South Atlantic Blvd next to the Hiles Avenue beach parking lot. Popular with locals for take-out, or dine in until 10 p.m. The beach here is vehicle-free and uncrowded. The parking lot is rarely full.

Breakfast and Lunch

Jason’s Corner, 135 Canal Street in the historic downtown. Fine home cookin’.

The Bakers Table, 4154 South Atlantic. He’s the chef, she’s the baker. Fri-Sun brunch.

C’s Waffles Beachside, 4166 South Atlantic. Small, family-owned. Great waffles!

The Beacon, 416 Flagler Avenue. American diner food. Reliably OK.

Beach bars

Toni and Joe’s Patio, a New Smyrna Beach beachfront bar.

Toni & Joe’s, 309 Buenos Aires Street. Breakfast or lunch on the patio. Legendary beach bar since 1958. Our favorite despite lousy parking. (Park on the beach out front.) Entertainment on weekends.

The Breakers, on Flagler Avenue at the beach. The Breakers’ porch overlooks the beach at the busy Flagler Beach ramp. Long known for its hamburgers and cocktails, it’s worth trying.

Flagler Tavern, 414 Flagler Ave. A gentlemanly hangout where guests sit on the front porch and people watdh. Less frantic pace, not actually on the beach. Real busy on festival weekends.

Tayton O’Brians Irish Pub, 410 Flagler Ave. As party bars go, Tayton O’Brians carries the flag for Irish pubs. Friendly staff, traditional pub. Off beach. For unbiased reviews, check out TripAdvisor.

Chases on the Beach, 3401 South Atlantic Ave. Chase’s has a swimming pool and two bars facing the beach. Not my first choice for dinner, but great for cocktails. On the beach. Mixed reviews TripAdvisor.

Sea Vista Tiki Bar, 1701 S Atlantic Ave. If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there. Hidden behind namesake motel, the funky Sea Vista Tiki Bar has a great view of the beach.


Places to Stay

Riverview Hotel in New Smyrna Beach
Riverview Hotel on Flagler Avenue.

Riverview Hotel and Spa, 103 Flagler Ave. The grand dame of New Smyrna Beach, the Riverview Hotel and Spa overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway at the foot of the North Causeway bridge. A few years ago, my cousin Martha Weithorn stayed here and wrote this review for Florida Rambler. Little has changed. $200 and up.

Hampton Inn, 214 Flagler Ave. A recent addition to the Flagler Avenue scene, this smart-looking Hilton-managed hotel has been scoring some good reviews on TripAdvisor. I’ve never been inside, but it’s in a great location and sure looks good from the street. Walk to the beach, restaurants and bars. $180 and up.

Black Dolphin Inn, 916 South Riverside Drive, on the mainland below the South Causeway. Named after the black dolphin often seen from its dock, this B&B is in a class all of its own. I’ve never stayed here, but I have toured it from top to bottom and wrote about it for FloridaRambler. Ranked No. 1 with 5 stars out of 16 hotels rated in New Smyrna Beach, the reviewers on TripAdvisor agree. $200 and up.

Vacation Home Rentals are big in New Smyrna Beach, from beachfront condos and apartments to small single-family homes near the beach. A recent glance (Spring 2022) showed 300+ properties on VRBO . Rates vary.

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Campgrounds

New Smyrna Beach RV Park and Campground, 1300 Old Mission Road, New Smyrna Beach. We drove through and liked what we saw. Sites were comfortably spaced. Full hookups. $69/per night.

Sugar Mill Ruins Travel Park, 1050 Old Mission Road, New Smyrna Beach. Short-term campers destined to be docked in extremely cramped sites. Friendly staff. Full hookups. $45 per night.

Rose Bay RV Campground, 5200 South Nova Road, Port Orange. Nothing fancy but sites are plentiful and roomy. There’s a dock on Rose Bay where you can launch a boat. Full hookups. $xx per night.

Lake Ashby County Park (Tents only), 4150 Boy Scout Camp Rd, New Smyrna Beach. 18 miles west of the beach but a beautiful, shady park on a lake. Former scout camp. Tents only. $15 per night.

Read more: Best campgrounds near Daytona — plus some awesome secrets


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thomas

Friday 29th of April 2022

NSB lost it's soul about 20 years ago .

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