Travel: Paradise Found Close to Home in New Smyrna Beach

From world-class beaches to fascinating history, art and culture, New Smyrna Beach has it all.

New Smyrna Beach boasts 17 miles of white sand beach and highly rated surfing. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF NEW SMYRNA BEACH AREA VISITORS BUREAU)

There is a great divide in Florida. Those who call the Sunshine State home fall into two distinct camps; separated by ideology, they stubbornly cling to their beliefs and traditions. It’s a fundamental, core preference that separates friends and family, much like the Hatfields and McCoys, the Montagues and Capulets, Meghan and Harry, or Kate and William. I’m talking about coastal preference and Floridians fall into two camps: the west coast or the east coast.

Full disclosure. My family has always been a die-hard west coast family, but I have experienced a transformation that goes by the name of New Smyrna Beach. This quaint, east coast beach village has changed me, but let’s make that our little secret.

New Smyrna Beach is a laid-back city with a casual vibe in Volusia County, tucked between Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral. With 20,000 residents, it’s neither a small town nor a big city, hitting that sweet spot of enough people for top-notch restaurants but not so big that one feels claustrophobic. Perfection.


History Lovers Delight

When we think of the significant historical places in Florida, one place springs to mind: St. Augustine, New Smyrna Beach is a close second to historical significance and holds the distinction of being the second oldest settled city in Florida.

While most of Florida came to life in the late 1800s, Andrew Turnbull, a physician from Scotland, found New Smyrna Beach in 1768. Most people bring along clothes, essential household items and family when they move to a new country. Turnbull brought 1,500 of his nearest and dearest of Mediterranean descent, many from the islands of Minorca and Majorca off the coast of Spain. They were promised land if they could endure seven years of indenture.

Things didn’t go well for Turnbull and his crew. After trying to make a go of it by farming indigo, hemp, rum and sugar cane, Turnbull went back on his promise of land to his indentured servants.

Many newly freed settlers traveled on foot to St. Augustine (MapQuested at 73.2 miles), where the governor promised them protection. The year was 1777, just before St. Augustine was handed from the British to the Spanish. An interesting side note: both St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach have the distinction of living under four flags: Spanish, British, American and the Confederate States of America.

Splurge on the delicious Landlocked Lavendar Drop at the Bounty Speakeasy. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF NEW SMYRNA BEACH AREA VISITORS BUREAU/DOUG POWELSON)

Relax. Stay. Play.

Speaking of history, you can’t get any better than the Salty Mermaid. It’s a step back in time for those who yearn for the old-fashioned beach cottages circa 1920s Florida. For those who refuse to sacrifice upscale luxury, they beautifully updated the rooms with the latest amenities, tastefully modern décor and wait for it, a full-on, stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Golf carts and bikes are available for a fun mode of travel. Once you’ve arrived at your cottage, tuck your keys in your luggage because you’ll never have to get back into your car. Flagler Avenue, the action center of town, is less than a block from your door. And for those who plan to spend every minute on the beach, it’s 22 steps.

Orlando magazine Traveler Tip: Check the launch schedule and try to book your stay during a night launch. We were staying when they launched SpaceX, and the view from the beach was awe-inspiring.

Third Wave Café & Wine Bar features romantic ambiance for the perfect date night. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF NEW SMYRNA BEACH AREA VISITORS BUREAU/DOUG POWELSON)

Food Glorious Food

No vacation is complete without fabulous food, and New Smyrna Beach does not disappoint. The culinary scene goes above and beyond your typical beach bars and national chains with fried, rubbery scallops. The only problem is there are too many excellent choices for one stay.

A surefire start would be Third Wave Café & Wine Bar. Choosing to dine in the garden, which is tucked back along a verdant path on Flagler Avenue, we knew we were in for a unique experience once we passed through the lush garden gates.

The patio is the best place to dine in the evening, with enchanting lights strung overhead and decorating old trees. Romantic chandeliers adorn the garden arbors and a distinctive serpentine bar, constructed of cypress by one of the family owners, adds to the charm. The garden’s centerpiece is the original fire feature, an octopus ball perched over a fountain springing from a clear pool designed by another owner; it’s a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Members of the esteemed James Beard Foundation and Smart Catch Program, Third Wave Café is certified in offering sustainable sourced fish, scallops, shrimp and octopus. The menu is refined with a local Florida flair. The quality is apparent in every delicious bite.

The menu, created by Executive Chef David Moscoso, is what takes the prize at Third Wave Café. We started with Char-Roasted Brussels, prepared with local honey, Pecorino Romano cheese and chilis with a note of mint, a tasty start to an unforgettable dining experience. Our entrée was Pan Seared Northern cold-water scallops, cheddar heirloom grits, charred tattered Brussel sprouts and cherry pepper vinaigrette, topped with a Black Mangrove honey drizzle. The scallops were flawless.

If you like a little history with your meal, look no further than The Flagler Tavern, which features a Tavern Main Bar with entertainment, the Blue Pillar Bar with a cool blue vibe to unwind and scenic outdoor decks to soak in the beachy local flavor.

Tucked away up a flight of stairs is the Bounty Speakeasy, a trip back when libations were prohibited. Featuring an eclectic mix of vintage, nautical-inspired décor, The Bounty is an intimate setting, perfect for a romantic escape from the noise and bustle. The moment you hit the stairs ensconced in red, you feel like you’re stepping back to the 1920s.

We couldn’t resist starting with the Crispy Fried Pickles, hand-breaded dill pickle slices with their delicious house-made tigger sauce.

We shared the Tavern Steamer Tower, featuring a tower of freshly steamed seafood. Everything was impeccable, from oysters, middle neck clams, shrimp, a ten-ounce snow crab cluster, and half-pound Caribbean lobster tail, served with cocktail sauce, horseradish, drawn butter, and, of course, lemons.

Don’t forget the libations. Our favorite was the Espresso Martini with Smirnoff whipped vodka, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Grind Espresso Liqueur, and freshly brewed espresso with three balanced beans on top of the foam. I have been craving another one ever since and have found nothing to compare. We also enjoyed the Landlocked Lavender Drop, with Russian Standard Gold Vodka, house-made lavender honey syrup, and fresh lemon, beautifully presented in a chilled martini glass rimmed with honey and lavender sugar.


If it’s good enough for Clooney

If you enjoy a touch of an Italian villa with your beach travels, look no further than the luxury boutique hotel, The Black Dolphin. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood overlooking the Indian River Lagoon, The Black Dolphin boasts endless water views, cool coastal breezes, and a charming European ambiance that makes you feel you’re on the Amalfi coast.

It’s no surprise that the one-and-only George Clooney stayed at The Black Dolphin when he was in Florida filming his sci-fi adventure flick, “Tomorrowland” back in 2015. When the owner, Brett Smith, was asked about the famous customer, he was the model of discretion, but admitted that around 50 women turned up looking for the handsome heartthrob.

This slice of paradise features expansive king-sized beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, a spa-inspired en suite bathroom, flat-screen televisions, and balconies with a delicious view of the lagoon. The décor is a comfortable blend of vintage chic, an elegant modern flair, and Florida-themed art, making you feel pampered, yet at home.

Whether you stay on the beach or the lagoon, New Smyrna Beach is a charming seaside escape with fine dining, shops, and activities to satisfy every traveler. From honeymooners, families with children, and everything in between, New Smyrna Beach has forever changed me from a west coast to an east coast Floridian. Just don’t tell my mom and dad.


Top Spots in New Smyrna Beach

There are so many places and activities to choose from while visiting New Smyrna Beach that it can feel overwhelming. Here are just a few additional options for your bucket list:


  • The Beacon Restaurant, 416 Flagler Ave.
  • Norwood’s Restaurant and Treehouse Bar, 400 East 2nd Avenue
  • Outriggers Tiki Bar & Grille, 200 Boatyard Street
  • Cool Beans and More, 320 Jessamine Ave.
  • New Smyrna Brewing Company, 143 Canal Street

The Art and History Scene

  • Hub on Canal Street-Art Gallery, 132 Canal Street
  • Sugar Mill Ruins and the Distillery Tour and Tasting, 600 Mission Drive
  • New Smyrna Museum of History, 120 Sams Ave.
  • Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1414 Art Center Ave.

Outdoor Activities

  • Dolphin Tour at the Marine Discovery Center, 520 Barracuda Blvd.
  • Smyrna Dunes Park, 2995 N Peninsula Ave.
  • New Smyrna Speedway, 3939 FL-44