Photos by Susan Young
Just an hour’s drive east of Orlando lies the relaxing, funky town of New Smyrna Beach. Travel & Leisure Magazine placed this city on its list of the Top 15 “World’s Coolest Surf Towns,” the only one on the U.S. east coast to be included. A mere fifteen miles south of its more famous cousin, Daytona Beach, this sleepy, seaside community might be just what a vacationer needs to escape the frenetic pace of the theme parks.
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The Black Dolphin Inn
This jewel of a bed and breakfast lies on the Intracoastal waterway, close to the north bridge, on the mainland. Not your grandma’s B&B, the Black Dolphin exudes mid-century modern class along with touches of old Florida artifacts. The Inn is the only AAA 4-Diamond rated lodging in the area and was just awarded Trivago’s number two spot in the country of Alternative Lodging for 2017.
Identical twins, Brett and Scott Smith, took an old, Mediterranean-style home in the historic district of town, turning it into a stunning, 14-room boutique B&B. Using their lifetime of experience in the hospitality industry (Scott still owns and operates the Chateau Inn & Suites in Spring Lake, New Jersey), they designed a gorgeous Inn taking advantage of the original building’s ambiance and riverside location.
Enjoying a glass of wine on their dock, watching dolphin frolic in the river or spotting a lazy manatee, you might never want to leave. The gourmet breakfasts provided by the welcoming hosts will also convince you that this is a special place, worthy of a return visit.
Park your car on the beach
New Smyrna and Daytona are but a few beaches left in the country where you can actually drive your car and park directly on the ocean’s hard-packed sand. For $10 per day, you can kick off your shoes and step onto the sandy shore. Just be careful of soft sand and rising tides, drive slow and leave your alcoholic beverages behind, as they are not allowed on the beach.
On your way, pick up one of Mon Delice French Bakery’s famous subs to share as a picnic. This favorite of locals will prepare one of their French bread delicacies as well as tempt you with their famous eclairs. Just try not to get sand in your sandwich!
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Across the street from Mon Delice, you’ll find The Garlic & Blu Bar, an Italian culinary adventure with hints of the Tuscan countryside. You will forget you are in Florida when walking through the lush garden area or beautifully tiled ristorante.
Flagler Avenue is the main street which runs a half mile, east to west, from the ocean to the river. Chocked full of restaurants, you might want to start at The Breakers, located directly on the beach. No need to kick the sand off your feet at this place. Having been rebuilt after being washed out to sea during a hurricane, several years ago, The Breakers withstood the recent Hurricane Matthew and is still in business. Known for their burgers, fish sandwiches and beer, this is another local favorite, especially during the off-season.
If you’re not tempted by the Mexican, Italian, Sushi or Vietnamese offerings along the Avenue, and looking for something a bit more upscale, you might try Grille at Riverview, located on the river, adjacent to the Riverview Hotel, a “coastal, Victorian getaway,” established in 1885.
Canal Street, on the mainland, is also lined with restaurants and bars to please any taste. Yellow Dog Eats Kitchen & Bar offers craft beer along with their signature BBQ and pulled pork sandwiches. Check out their Smoochy Poochy or What the Fig? Salad.
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Both Flagler Avenue and Canal Street are lined with independently-owned shops offering everything from kitschy Florida tchotchkes to fine wines. On beachside a favorite is Gyftz for the shopper looking to buy quality gifts and holiday items, as well as the aforementioned wine. They have a varied selection of spirits along with gourmet gifts. For something a bit more organic, cross the street to Gifts With Humanity, benefitting crafters all over the world through environmentally sustainable fair trade.
Shark-bite capital of the world
OK, don’t cancel your plans yet! Yes, New Smyrna Beach is officially the Shark-Bite Capital of the World according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. However, the sharks are small and most of the bite incidents take place in a small area about a mile north of the most popular swimming areas off the Flagler Avenue ramp.
The area around the jetties, a formation of rocks forming an inlet, invite a plethora of bait fish, which, in turn, attract the sharks. The waves formed by the inlet attract surfers whose dangling feet are mistaken for food and sometimes result in nips requiring stitches. There has never been a fatal attack documented so no need to worry.
Plan a visit to New Smyrna Beach as part of your Orlando sojourn. The ocean air is invigorating and the variety of activity choices won’t disappoint. Just remember the sunscreen!