This post may contain compensated links. Refer to my disclaimer for more info.
I’d never heard of New Smyrna Beach and when a local told me it was a fun, historic beach town with a surf hub and hipster-artsy scene that was still flying under-the-radar, I had to investigate the best things to do in New Smyrna Beach for families! NSB (what the locals call it) is sandwiched between Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, Florida and that may be why it has been somewhat overlooked. I’m sharing all of the details of our long weekend getaway and what we thought about our rental, the New Smyrna Beach restaurants, and if this new-to-me beach town was truly a family friendly vacation destination.
THINGS TO DO IN NEW SMYRNA BEACH
About a year ago, an online acquaintance named Melanie commented on a travel post of mine that New Smyrna Beach, Florida was a fabulous beach town that she visited throughout her childhood. Then she said those magical words, “the masses haven’t found out about it yet!”
Little did Melanie know that her Aunt would buy a historic home with a dream to convert it into a gorgeous Airbnb and that she would move there as an adult to run it. When Melanie took it over recently and offered to host us so that I could give an honest travel review, I was thrilled. A turn-of-the-century home in the middle of a thriving Florida town?
Yes, please! As always, my southern opinions are my own
Here are the 4 things to do in New Smyrna Beach, Florida that we suggest before the masses find out about this special place (helpful links at the end):
#1 CHOOSE AN ADORABLE AIRBNB
Honestly, this Airbnb added so much value and happiness to our vacay that we had to pry ourselves away from it to explore the town! If you followed along on Instagram during our Florida road trip, then you know that we fell head-over-heels in love with this historic beauty that’s been lovingly restored. The entire upstairs of the home is called “The Loft” and has its own outdoor stairway that can be accessed from the porch.
Built in 1913, The Loft at Crimson House is incredible because of its 100-year-old cozy charm while still providing all the modern comforts. Not typically a lover of history, my youngest even fell in love with the special touches like built-in cabinets, wood floors, decorative tin ceiling tiles, and a petite kitchen reminiscent of the past. The sitting room, located on one side of the large master bedroom, was my fave with the large, wraparound porch in second place.
A turn-of-the-century home in the middle of a thriving Florida town? Yes, please!
Not only were toiletries, linens, and extras included in the bedrooms and bath, the kitchen was fully stocked with necessities and bonuses like coffee and condiments. When we arrived, our gracious hostess had a sweet note, hot spot brochures, and a beach bag of towels waiting for us to use.
#2 EXPERIENCE NEW SMYRNA BEACHES
We were so curious about the beaches that we went straight to the sand after checking in to our Airbnb. The intense waves are mesmerizing and they draw surfers from all over the country. NSB has been named on several publication lists as the best surf town over the years and the American Professional Surfing Association holds one of its top competitions here in the summertime.
The biggest choice to make when choosing from the New Smyrna beaches is whether you want to drive on the beach or not. I wasn’t brave enough to tackle driving on the beach in our small car so we chose traffic-free areas at both the north and south ends. Here’s the list below of the best ones – depending on your preference:
With over seventeen miles of beach, there are drive on beaches, traffic-free beaches, and beautiful parks. Most of the drive on beaches charge a daily fee of $10 to $20.
Drive on beaches ~
- 27th Avenue Beach
- 3rd Avenue Beach
- Beachway Avenue Beach
- Flagler Avenue Beach
Traffic free beaches ~
- Bethune Beach
- Hiles Blvd.
- Smyrna Dune Park
- Esther Street Beachfront Park
- Grayce Kenemer Barck North Beach Community Park
- Canaveral National Seashore
- Marianne Clancy Park
When we visited the southern end, we found that the designated parking was at capacity (24th Avenue), but we stumbled upon a little gem… it’s now a little travel secret we’ll use every time we visit – free, grass parking between Castle Reef and Hacienda Del Sol Condos on South Atlantic Avenue. This secret parking area is captured on the “beaches” video above. This low-key parking area is literally steps from a wonderful beach access that’s less crowded.
When we visited the north end the first time, parking for the Smyrna Dunes Park was at capacity as well. It’s not a huge parking area and when they are full, they are full. The next morning we arrived earlier at 10 a.m. and had no problem finding a spot. It was $10 for an all-day pass and you could come and go as you please.
Don’t miss the fabulously clean and helpful pavilion at Smyrna Dunes Park and the mile and a half boardwalk (with a pet-friendly side) that gives you a full circular stroll around the area! On this boardwalk, you can access several areas and view the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the state, across the dunes. It’s about a thirty minute drive to access the the lighthouse tours and museum.
#3 TAKE A STROLL DOWNTOWN
I have an emotional attachment to small, historic downtown districts in the south. Canal Street Historic District is a beautiful one with lots of open Florida breezes along the palm-lined and shaded sidewalks. You’ll find many specialty shops, quirky restaurants, and lots of funky art galleries to put a little pep in your step.
Don’t miss the Little Drug Co. store that’ll serve you up the best malt in town using the same soda fountain and technique they used back in the 1950s. Actually in business since the twenties, you step back in time whether you hang out in the diner for breakfast or lunch or for a unique collectible from the gift shop.
One of the best things about staying at the Loft at Crimson House Airbnb is that the historic New Smyrna Beach downtown shopping district is two streets over and literally only two minutes away. Plan a couple hours to stroll along and feel that welcoming hipster vibe while shopping, eating, or taking an art class with some of the friendliest locals anywhere.
#4 TASTE THE BEST NEW SMYRNA RESTAURANTS
One of our favorite things to do anywhere we travel is to sniff out the best food! After asking a few locals about what to eat in the NSB, I feel like we spent 75% of our time chowing down – and I didn’t hate it.
Donnie’s Donuts may be in a tiny little white building, but the fresh donuts that came out of that drive-through window blew us away. I’m not sure what all the differences were between the vintage and modern donuts, but they all tasted incredible! This adorable little place is only one mile away from “The Loft!”
Finger Lickin’ BBQ & Wings is located across a tiny two-lane street from the Airbnb and literally about ten steps away. The moment I walked in the door of this barbecue joint, the family welcomed me with open arms (so friendly) and a free sampling of their ribs and secret sauce.
Oh my goodness!
In our family, we think of ourselves as barbecue connoisseurs that have tried more BBQ joints than you can shake a stick at. We thought this restaurant’s ribs, pulled pork, and all three BBQ sauces were incredible!
Lunch spent at Yellow Dog Eats was a unique but tasty experience. This quirky-cool restaurant right in the heart of Canal Street Historic District had a fun menu and eclectic flavors mixed together that had me a little nervous, but my pulled pork nachos were amazing!
Wake Up Cafe North was our breakfast spot on the way to the beach one morning. I found out that the owner from Argentina grew up helping his dad serve his famous Lomito sandwich and watching his mother delicately form homemade empanadas.
No wonder it was so wonderful.
A fabulous menu was full of made-to-order fresh ingredients and the tunes and decor had delightful Argentine flair.
We passed Izzy’s Island Tacos & Ice Cream restaurant after leaving the beach one day and we had to check it out.
I mean, tacos and ice cream?!
We started with nachos and cheese and then had cheese quesadillas as a simple lunch choices. Since the place is so tiny but busy, we had to wait quite a while for just those two simple items and both turned out pretty bland and generic. However, what was exceptional was the hand-dipped ice cream we ordered. I suggest stopping just for the the white/chocolate swirl on beach days!
THE REAL TRUTH
Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t know whether or not if NSB would be especially family friendly?
It absolutely was.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida is one of those places that make you feel welcome and wanted. It’s a beach town that doesn’t feel commercialized and tourist-y. Whether we were at restaurants, stores, or even at the beach, folks we encountered were sweet and hospitable.
I knew from experience of staying in historic hotels that outside noise is hard to muffle. We knew ahead of time that The Loft at Crimson House was an old home AND in the middle of town, so we came prepared with our nighttime air purifiers (they are like dual purpose noise machines) to cancel out the traffic sounds while we slept. We also knew that there would not be a washer and dryer, so we planned accordingly and brought plenty of clothing.
My daughter and I had several conversations of how we would love to take some of this home’s charm back to our own house, and I secretly fantasized about living there permanently. Every whim and need was taken care of during our lovely stay at “The Loft” and I would highly recommend it. You can find out even more details at the link below.
Other points of interest that family friendly fun things to do (that we didn’t have time to check out) would be the Marine Discovery Center, Turtle Mound National Historic Site, and Sugar Mill Ruins.
THINGS TO DO IN NEW SMYRNA BEACH FAQ
Where’s the closest place to fly into New Smyrna Beach?
Daytona Beach International Airport is a twenty-mile drive from NSB. Orlando International Airport is a seventy-mile drive to NSB.
Can you drive on New Smyrna Beach?
Yes, as referenced above, there are many places to drive or be traffic-free in New Smyrna.
Is New Smyrna Beach the shark bite capital?
I found out during our vacation that there is a certain area where the conditions are favorable for sharks and it also happens to be where there is a huge concentration of surfers. What’s funny is that these shark breeds typically only give lacerations and not fatalities. It’s as if they legitimately are mistaking a person’s calf muscle as a fish and only “bite” and let go, not attack.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida is one of those places that make you feel welcome and wanted.