New Smyrna Beach
Surfing and sun-worshiping are popular pastimes in NSB, which is cheaper and less crowded than its neighbor beaches.
- Largely hidden from the crowds (most of the time).
- Great surfing destination.
- Broad range of dining, shopping, history and more.
- Limited beach access options once you get off Flagler Avenue.
- Those great surfing conditions make for occasionally rough swimming.
With Daytona Beach to the north and the Space Coast to the south, New Smyrna Beach can seem hidden from most tourists — which is just fine with the locals and the out-of-towners who do know about it.
At the confluence of the Halifax and Indian rivers at Ponce de Leon Inlet, New Smyrna Beach (widely referred to simply as NSB) boasts an offbeat mix of busy beachfront and secluded spots. Popular with Orlando weekenders and snowbirds, NSB still offers some respite from visitors who throng other East Coast beaches.
Speaking of tides, NSB’s steady beach break has earned it a reputation as a surfing destination. Surfer magazine called it “Florida's most surf-centric town” in 2009, a badge NSB wears with pride.
The area was populated first by Native American tribes, but they were pushed out, enslaved or killed by European settlers. The city itself was first formed after a Scotsman named Dr. Andrew Turnbull and two business associates won land grants from the British Empire in 1766 and 1767 in what was then called East Florida.
Turnbull entered Ponce de Leon Inlet (then Mosquito Inlet) and chose the site for a colony, naming it after his Greek wife’s hometown. Turnbull brought over a largely Mediterranean workforce of Greeks, Italians and Minorcans, promising them a plot of their own in return for years of working the land.
Despite early success clearing the land and growing crops, Native American raids, crop diseases and poor working conditions pushed the workers to the brink. By 1777, laborers left New Smyrna and Turnbull’s plantation for St. Augustine. Turnbull left for Charleston, S.C., in 1783, when the Spanish regained control of Florida.
The region had only a few white settlers through the following century, during which the Seminole tribe fought to regain territory. When New Smyrna was incorporated in 1887, about 150 people lived there. When Henry Flagler ran his Florida East Coast Railway through town five years later, the population grew quickly.
The town was known for fishing and citrus, and then tourism. It was a popular rum smuggling destination during Prohibition. The city changed its name to New Smyrna beach in 1947, when it annexed Coronado Beach on the barrier island.
These days NSB, with a population of about 25,000, can be a destination of its own, but also act as a base if you’re headed to Orlando. The hourlong drive can stretch to two or three times that in traffic, but it definitely provides an escape from the strip mall expanses surrounding the Mouse House.
South Atlantic Avenue turns into A1A to run through the barrier island, which has parks on the northern and southern ends. If you’re looking for a break from the flattop, you can drive your car on the beach, same as Daytona, as long as the tide is cooperating.
Flagler Avenue is the main drag for tourists, but people looking for local flavor can also head to Canal Street, the downtown quarter on the mainland. The north and south causeways offer plenty of shopping, dining and drinking options, especially for people looking to avoid the monoculture of chain restaurants and discount stores.
New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport (EVB), also known as Jack Bolt Field, is a public airport that largely offers charter services, including trips to the Bahamas, and tourist flights. Hertz does rent cars from EVB.
Commercial flights come into Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB) to the north and Orlando International Airport (MCO) to the west. Rental cars and shuttle services are available, as are Uber and Lyft. We’ll note that on our visit, Uber worked fine, but rides from Lyft kept getting dropped by the app.
The city is east of I-95. Take Exit 249 for State Road 44, the main traffic artery that intersects with U.S. Hwy 1 (South Dixie Freeway) in downtown NSB. S.R. 44 is called Lytle Road west of U.S. 1, and becomes A1A east of it, crossing the South Causeway over the Indian River.
South Causeway turns into East Third Avenue once you reach the barrier island, continuing south as A1A. The other bridge between the island and the mainland, is North Causeway, and is obviously to the north. This bridge connects Flagler Avenue on the island to Washington Street on the mainland.
These are the only two bridges to and from the beach, and walking is inadvisable. Votran, Volusia County’s public transit system, offers service in NSB, including a “call first” service referred to as FLEX. More details are available here.
NSB runs five beachfront parking lots along Atlantic Avenue, which turns into A1A on the southern end:
- Grayce Kenemer Barck North Beach Community Park
- Esther Street Beachfront Park
- Flagler Avenue Beachfront Park
- Marianne Clancy Park
- 27th Avenue Beachfront Park
The daily parking fee is $10, enforced from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In 2017 the city switched to digital annual parking passes based on license plate numbers instead of printed passes. These annual passes are free for Volusia County residents and $100 for visitors.
The only way to get a pass is through an online application, which takes up to five business days to process. Applicants will get an email verifying their license number has been approved. A separate application is required for each registered vehicle.
The pass is available for rental cars, but will take some planning. The application requires a copy of your rental agreement with the dates you’ll need the permit, plus the usual processing time.
Beach approaches appear at the end of most city blocks, so access is easy. Street parking, however, is tough to come by, as most of those approaches don’t allow beachgoers to leave their cars at the start of the approach. Be very wary of street signs in the area, as residents and businesses can be ruthless about calling in violators.
But street parking and surface lots aren’t entirely a concern when you can simply park your car right on the sand. NSB is one of Volusia County’s famed drivable beaches, along with Daytona Beach — there’s more on that below.
Finally, there is plenty of free parking available around Flagler Avenue, which can be packed during busy weekends. There’s a four-hour limit on the street, and several lots around the main drag, some of which are several blocks from the beach. The city provides a map here.
The north end of the island, with its main drag of Flagler Avenue, was once known as Coronado Beach before being annexed by New Smyrna in 1947 to become New Smyrna Beach. You will still see signs and hear locals referring to the area by its old name.
If you’re looking for less asphalt, Smyrna Dunes Park is a dog-friendly county park on the north end of the island (keep in mind that they still must be leashed). The park features nature trails, a fishing pier and an observation tower, which is great for spying the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum to the north. Volusia County provides lifeguards; hours will be posted on the lifeguard stands.
South of the main drag the number of beachgoers can lighten considerably, as single-family beach homes share water frontage with condos and hotels. Those sparsely populated stretches can draw just as many surfers taking advantage of the breakers as the inlet on the north end.
Driving south along the Mosquito Lagoon Aquatic Preserve brings you to the six-acre Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park. The park, named for the African-American educator who founded Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona, features a boardwalk, picnic pavilions and the odd manatee sighting. Bethune Beach, south of NSB, is an unincorporated community originally built on 189 acres she and others bought in 1939 in part to provide beachfront access for African Americans, who were not allowed to use beaches in Volusia County during the Jim Crow era.
CANAVERAL NATIONAL SEASHORE
Keep going south past all the housing and you’ll reach Canaveral National Seashore, a 24-mile protected stretch of shoreline between NSB and Titusville. Apollo, Klondike and Playalinda beaches serve as key sea turtle nesting grounds, and park exhibits document human settlements dating back to 2,000 B.C.E. (We’ll also note that Apollo and Playalinda feature clothing-optional areas; Playalinda stretches into Brevard County, where nudity is prohibited, so it’s best to stay on the Volusia side to avoid problems.)
The park features the 50-foot high, Native American shell midden called Turtle Mound, and the nearby Eldora State House, a turn of the century winter vacation home on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Entrance fees for cars and motorcycles are $10 per day. The National Park Service posts closure notices for high water, rocket launches from NASA facilities in Brevard County and more here.
DRIVING ON NEW SMYRNA BEACH
Crowds can pack the beach at the east end of Flagler Avenue. If the pay stations at the parking lot are too much hassle, you can pay $10 and drive your car straight onto the beach, depending on the time of day (annual passes are available).
This leads to a vibe peculiar to Volusia County. Instead of rows beach towels and canopies dotting the beach, visitors in the drivable zones often camp out next to their vehicles, parked along the dunes. Posted beach rules prohibit alcohol, glass, loud music and pets, but we saw plenty of each on our visit.
There are access ramps to drive on the sand at regular intervals along the length of the island. A portion of the beach is marked with auto lanes, so beware of setting up your umbrella where there are tire tracks. The speed limit is 10 mph, and yes, you can get a ticket. Fines start at $41. More information is here.
Cars are allowed to drive on the beach from sunrise to sunset as long as the tides allow it. Posted signs will indicate any special conditions when you approach the access ramps at the far east ends of:
- Beachway Avenue
- Crawford Road
- Flagler Avenue
- Third Avenue
- 27th Avenue
The Crawford Road ramp is only open on weekends in the off season, the Tuesday after Labor Day through January.
Tollbooths at each ramp collect the $10 daily parking fee for beach passes. County residents can buy annual beach passes for $25, and non-residents can buy them for $100. They are for sale online or by calling (866) 398-6352.
WHERE TO STAY
A quaint bed and breakfast for people who want to be in the middle of Flagler Avenue but don’t want a chain hotel or condo. Rates for the half-dozen Florida-themed guest rooms top out at $259 per night, depending on the time of year. Reservations include one parking space, and the B&B can potentially make room for boats or trailers given sufficient notice. No pets or children younger than 8 are allowed.
For a trendy boutique option, try one of the five suites at this converted motel on Buenos Aires Street. With rates up to about $269, it’s comparable to many other oceanfront offerings. Its location is both a plus and minus — you’re right in the heart of the action, but you’re also right in the middle of beachgoer traffic. The hotel offers golf cart and bicycle rentals, plus a sizable courtyard with a fire pit with its own beach approach. Kids are allowed, but pets are not.
Keep in mind that a SpringHill Suites location is at the east end of Flagler Avenue. It’s right next to the iconic Breakers restaurant, which is still home to some of the best water views in NSB, and worth stopping at to get a burger at the long, swaybacked bar.
Families may find the best option is to rent an entire house on Vacasa or Airbnb. The rental may cost more than a single hotel room, but large groups (especially ones with kids) will enjoy having a kitchen and beach access. Cheaper options are available off the waterfront.
New Smyrna Beach features a farmer’s market every week, rain or shine, both on the mainland at Old Fort Park and beachside at Norwood’s.
The Mary S. Herrell Black Heritage Museum hosts a historical festival each February (and a Sweet Corn Festival in June).
Daytona’s yearly motorcycle rally is usually the first full week in March, and spills over into New Smyrna Beach. More than 500,000 people flock to Volusia County for the 10-day event, which competes with the annual rally in Sturgis, S.D., as the largest motorcycle event in the country.
The Smyrna Yacht Club features big races twice a year — the Lipton Cup in April and the Brewer’s Cup in October. Smaller races are sprinkled throughout the calendar.
The town takes advantage of the stiff breezes coming off the Atlantic to fly kites in this June event. Along with demonstrations and decorating stations, seasoned kite fliers will give lessons to novices.
THINGS TO DO
About an hour south of NSB, near Titusville, the center will thrill would-be astronauts with actual rockets (including the enormous Saturn V), a bus tour of launch facilities and the actual Atlantis space shuttle. Dozens of films and interactive exhibits are strewn across the grounds, so keep an eye on the kids. There’s no way to see everything in one day, and tickets are pricey — $40 for kids 3-11 and $50 for adults. Check the launch schedule for viewing opportunities, or to avoid the crowds.
The conservation-focused educational center offers guided boat and kayak tours, some of which stretch into the moonlight evening hours. The facilities also feature eco-tours, nature trails, lectures and an archery range.
Scott Spencer opened the Shark Park in 2017 to educate people about sharks and how they live. Open on Saturdays and Sundays, the Shark Park’s 45-minute guided exhibit is $10 for adults, while a 2-hour “shark expedition” that involves heading into the waves for shark spotting and fishing is another $10. A combined ticket is $17.
For people looking to get out and see the natural wonders of the Indian River estuary, these boat tours operate off a dock next to JB’s Fish Camp, near Canaveral National Seashore. Bill Rostock offers two-hour public tours on a covered pontoon boat (with its own head) for $25 per person. Private tours are available for groups for $275 for the first 14 people, then $12.50 for each additional passenger.
A rare look at African-American history in Florida. The museum offers photographs and historical accounts in a former African-American church building built in 1899. Exhibits include a turn of the century shotgun house with period furnishings across Jefferson Street in Pettis Park. Admission is free.
An artists’ community and art education center on Turnbull Bay founded by local painter and sculptor Doris Leeper. The visitor center features several galleries, and the ACA is partners with Arts on Douglas, a 3,500-square-foot gallery on Douglas Street.
If you’re more into happy accidents, try taking a class using the The Joy of Painting host’s techniques, or just look at some of his works. (Ross was born in Daytona Beach and died of lymphoma in NSB in 1995.)
Race fans who don’t want to make the trek to Daytona International Speedway can go to this half-mile oval on SR 44. From March to November, the track features stock car racing on Saturdays, and a smaller oval for quarter midget racing on Fridays. Ticket information for upcoming events is here. If you’d like to give the kart racing a try, they’re available for a 10-lap rental for $10.
WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS
You won’t be enjoying an easygoing standup paddleboard journey in the churning Atlantic, but boat and paddling trips on the Indian River can be calm. If you’d rather go solo, boat, kayak and SUP rentals are available here.
This business also loans out bicycles and street-legal golf carts.
The statewide chain will help people looking for pontoon, fishing or power boats.
For people looking to see why the area is known as one of Florida’s best surfing stops, check in here to learn how to use a longboard. Private and group lessons are available. If you’re looking for kiteboarding lessons or equipment, you may try taking a trip north to Daytona Beach or Ormond Beach, or south to Melbourne or Cocoa Beach.
Most of the boating access begins on the mainland, where a bunch of marinas are clustered around the causeways on the Indian River. Slips and ramps are available at several locations, including the New Smyrna City Marina, the New Smyrna Marina and the Smyrna Yacht Club.
If you only want to get your boat in the water, there's also the Swoope public boat ramp off Dixie Highway across from the municipal airport, the North causeway boat ramps (split into East and West sides) and the Hiles Boulevard boat ramp on the island. Canoe and kayak put-ins are sprinkled throughout.
PLACE TO EAT AND DRINK
The two-story party hut that looms over Flagler Avenue is the happening spot on the main drag. In addition to food and drink specials, this is the place for nightly live music and a dance floor, too.
A Mexican restaurant in Florida started by an Irish family from Texas, Clancy’s is a true oddity that features skateboard-sized burritos and margarita specials. The restaurant claims to have invented Tex-Mex queso dip, pointing to documentary evidence at CheeseDip.net.
Hidden away about a mile north of Canaveral National Seashore park entrance is the recently renovated, no-frills bar and grill with parking for both cars and boats. The expansive menu features a simple but memorable sandwich called the Crabulous, essentially a mound of lump crab meat with a dab of mayo. Want more? Order the Crabtastic, which adds a whole softshell crab on top. Turtle Mound boat tours are available out back.
For a fancier dinner try this rambling Italian restaurant, which features a watering hole called the Blu Bar. The labyrinthine collection of festive rooms toe the line between indoors and alfresco, anchored by a gift shop. Save room after the bread and roasted garlic cloves, because the menu is as large as the space. Wine specials pair up with seafood cannelloni, lamb chops or even a gut-busting 32-ounce ribeye steak for $50.
An upscale joint offering seafood and plenty of other proteins. Its most notable feature, however, is its treehouse bar. The second story, built around a small stand of oaks, is a stellar sports bar. A bridge leads to a quieter spot, still elevated and shaded by the canopy. Check to see the different specials between the treehouse and the 1946 bar inside the restaurant.
Rich Collison has run his pottery shop on Flagler Avenue for more than 30 years, relying on customers who want more than just the usual bowls and plates. His oblong cookie dunker cups allow full-sized cookies to make it to the moo juice, and his chicken baker is a more refined way to cook that beer can chicken.
You don’t have to wait for June’s kite festival to take advantage of the beach’s wind. Kite Stop offers a full range of kites and accessories for beachgoers. There’s another location in Titusville.
On the mainland, this Canal Street shop opts for kitschy over tacky in its souvenirs. In addition to trendy home goods, the store sells NSB-centric prints from Jelly Press. And yes, the trio of parakeets at the front of the store are real.
The marketplace here stands out among several Canal Street antiquing options, with a wide selection spread among multiple seller stalls.
If you’re looking for a more refined headwear option, search for a Panama or straw hat here.
The only craft brewery in town is right next door to the Miami Hat Company. There are several pales on tap at the bare-bones location, but an especially potent double brown appears regularly.
The bulk of Volusia County’s nearby brewing options are up north: Tomoka Brewing Company in Port Orange, Daytona Beach Brewing Company in Daytona Beach and Ormond Brewing Company in Ormond Beach. You’ll have to drive west for the rest.
TIPS FROM TOWNIES
Our Uber driver recommended local institution Toni and Joe’s Patio for a night out. The oceanfront restaurant has been open since 1958, when Antoinette and Joseph Granieri moved down from Pennsylvania. It’s a one-stop shop for an entire evening, with a restaurant, cocktail bar (featuring Toni and Joe’s Koolaid), outdoor seating and live entertainment.