Although the signature attraction is 13 miles of white-sand beaches, a visitor can be captivated in New Smyrna Beach without putting toes in the water.
Art galleries, museums, antiques shops, history and an array of laid-back bars and eateries compete for attention with the waves that have made this cozy destination a surfing mecca in southern Volusia County. Compared with the more publicized spring-break magnets of Daytona Beach to the north and Cocoa Beach to the south, New Smyrna Beach remains an unspoiled gem as quiet as the morning sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.
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New Smyrna Beach, FL, USA
Off the sand, the road to uncovering New Smyrna Beach's charms runs along the city's Waterfront Loop. A 6-mile rectangular route that encompasses historic business districts on Flagler Avenue and Canal Street, the Loop bends east again on State Road 44, over the South Causeway to the beachside.
On pedestrian-friendly Flagler Avenue, the diversions range from touristy souvenir shops to homegrown businesses that cater to the whimsical and the practical.
Inside the cramped confines of Nichols Surf Shop, a beachside fixture since 1969, the rows of fiberglass boards meld with the aroma of suntan lotion and surf wax to make the hidden surfer's soul emerge from even the most inept landlubber. How else would a middle-age journalist unable to keep his balance on a skateboard find himself considering the purchase of a $200 foam-topped longboard?
Not that such commitment is required.
Nichols rents surfboards, body boards, wet suits, kayaks, small sailboats, bikes and other sporting equipment and offers free delivery in the New Smyrna Beach area. Surfing lessons also are available.
No instruction is needed to lounge on the deck next door at Nichols Surf Cafe. Housed in a 1910 bungalow built from a Sears mail-order kit, the cafe is touted by the owners as "the best porch for people-watching" on Flagler Avenue. If all that observation sparks an appetite, the menu ranges from breakfast bagels to sandwiches, and there's also an espresso bar.
An array of independent galleries caters to those with an eye for art.
Fernandez Gallery, a block north of Flagler on Cooper Street, features the photography of Gabriel Fernandez, whose vibrant color images chronicle people and places from Costa Rica to the dunes of nearby Canaveral National Seashore. The tiny shop, where one of the owner's chocolate Labs helped with customer service, also features jewelry made of seeds, coconuts, bamboo, gourds, coffee beans, orange peels and butterfly wings.
A few blocks west on Flagler, the aptly named Jonah's Cat's Art Gallery showcases the fanciful work of painter Samuel Ruder. His colorful, almost Seussian drawings, often depict his life at home with his wife and nearly two dozen felines.
Head west on Flagler Avenue on the North Causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway to find the Canal Street Historic District, another pedestrian-friendly business district featuring historic architecture, tree-lined sidewalks and an assortment of less-beachy antiques shops, galleries and attractions, including the New Smyrna Museum of History.
The four-block business district serves as the backdrop for a busy schedule of events that includes a weekly farmers market, monthly Art Stroll/Gallery Walk and Car Show, and annual celebrations such as the seasonal Christmas on Canal Street and the Art Fiesta, an outdoor festival that has been a fixture for more than 50 years.
The New Smyrna Beach Antique Mall (newsmyrnaantiques.com) features roughly a dozen rooms laden with vintage toys, sports memorabilia, antique furniture, musical instruments and other treasures. Temptations range from a 1960s catcher's mitt, reasonably priced at $25, to an intricately hand-carved chess set from Chile, at more than 10 times that much.
The mainland also is home to the Atlantic Center for the Arts, a nonprofit, multidisciplinary artist residency center nestled in a 69-acre ecological preserve off U.S. Highway 1. The center presents a yearlong slate of performances, discussions and art exhibits by its visiting Master Artists, a roster that includes writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers and visual artists. Most of the events are free.
When the Loop turns toward the beachside again, the South Causeway leads to the scenic vistas and salty air of South Atlantic Avenue (State Road A1A). It's only 7 miles until the road dead-ends at the gates to Canaveral National Seashore and its unspoiled stretches of sand and surf at the southern tip of New Smyrna Beach.
The park has more than 1,000 plant species and 310 bird species, including Southern bald eagle and Florida scrub-jay. Loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles also have been spotted.