When asked to describe the town, Jim Pfief, a visitor from Ohio, said, “It’s the quiet side of Volusia County.” That sums it up nicely.
It the kind of place that loves its sea turtles, and doesn't mind moving a little slower.
The community beckons not only vacationers like Pfief, but day-trippers from metropolitan Orlando, just an hour to the west. Weekenders and locals playing hooky are a large part of the scene.
“You come over and rent a bike for $7 and it’s a no-brainer,” said Nichols Surf Shop and Chuckeyta Cafe owner Chuck Carter, citing inland escapees he knows who leave their own bicycles at home and hit Nichols for that trusty, returnable transportation.
When at New Smyrna Beach, you surf, or at least try.
It’s an East Coast hot spot. Everywhere, you see surf shops featuring the lingo and brand name stock.
“You always get some kind of wave,” said Carter, a New Smyrna Beach native. “Everybody in New Smyrna has a couple of boards in their garage — every friend of a friend. Every doctor I know has one. The ocean is their playground.”
Here’s why: soft, then hard-packed silvery sand yields to the dark green and blue Atlantic. During low tide, the real estate expands, and shells — cockles, clams and whelks — are not uncommon.
Three Volusia County parks are great gateways for a New Smyrna Beach day. All provide the requisite facilities and are close to other resources. Smyrna Dunes Park sits at the north tip of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula; Flagler Avenue Park is in the heart of its shoreline business district.
The third, 27th Avenue Park, lies 2.5 miles south and forms the no-drive demarcation zone.
Cruise as you please north of 27th Avenue; use your feet or cycle to the south. A playground here entertains youngsters.
Only Smyrna Dunes Park requires a fee ($5 per vehicle) as of this writing, but is dog friendly, offers sweeping views of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse across the water and a two-mile elevated boardwalk that protects dunes and vegetation.
Whether you pick a park, or stroll from your house, hotel, or bed and breakfast, the lack of bedlam is available even during summer’s peak.
In winter and shoulder seasons, New Smyrna Beach’s warmth and quietness seem irresistible. A recent attack of afternoon cloudiness proved no deterrent at Flagler Avenue Park, where surfers in wet suits sprinted to the water, and hopeful sunbathers and cyclists shared space.
Book-club organizers, take note: readers parked in chairs beside their vehicles seemed the dominant beachgoers, engrossed as surf roiled and birds soared.
Jim Pfief, and his wife, Debbie, were among them.
Residents of North Canton, Ohio, the couple visits in November, near their wedding anniversary date. It dovetails with a stopover for children and grandchildren in Jacksonville, and, they discovered New Smyrna Beach during a time-share stay 12 years ago.
“It’s nice and quiet, not crowded like Daytona Beach, and the beach is very wide,” Pfief said, his lap full of automotive magazines.
Loyal to the Coconut Palms Beach Resort, the Pfiefs enjoy shelling and walking but both appeared to be content readers on this afternoon.
“We don’t ramp up the entertainment too much,” Jim Pfief said.
If you do, stroll Flagler Avenue and pick your watering hole. Or, make real use of that beach bag; stuffing it with purchases from a plant nursery, jewelry and clothing boutiques; even tiny art galleries.
You can discover beautiful treasures in those galleries; New Smyrna Beach boasts a vibrant arts community.
They offer sculptures, pottery, paintings and more.
Shopping is available to the west, across the North Causeway, as well along New Smyrna Beach’s historic riverfront business district — Canal Street. Antique shops (New Smyrna Antique Mall and The Palms Collectables are fun) and the newly renovated New Smyrna Museum of History on Sams Avenue, just north of Canal, are two options.
There's another alternative. You can overeat very well in this town. In fact, drinking and dining vie with beaching and surfing for most popular New Smyrna Beach activities.
Visit Flagler Avenue’s Chuckeyta Cafe for morning java and Chuck Carter’s mother’s homemade banana bread. Bagel World, south on South Atlantic Avenue, (A1A), is can’t-miss with its varieties and spreads. Back on Flagler Avenue, the Beacon offers consistent diner fare. Locals swear by the Breakers’ choice of 17 fresh burgers.
The view at Breakers isn't bad, either.
One of Florida’s best-known fish camps — JB’s — lies several miles south on A1A. Expect fresh, no-frills seafood and a deck and dock for creek-side sunsets.
Come on down.
If You Go...
A complete list of New Smyrna Beach restaurants, shops and accommodations can be found at nsbfla.com
Directions from Interstate 95: Take Exit 249 east on SR 44. After approximately two miles, look for signs to the Canal Street historic district, or continue on SR 44 toward the beach. After crossing the South Causeway, look for signs to the Flagler Avenue historic district. A turn to the west on Flagler Avenue leads to the North Causeway, and an alternate route back to Canal Street and SR 44.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA