True to its name, this understated city is right on the Indian River Lagoon, just south of New Smyrna Beach. Though not a major destination in its own right, Edgewater is within striking distance of a lot of exciting places.
First off, the Mosquito Lagoon section of the Indian River is right there. This shallow estuary has a degree of biodiversity almost unrivaled in the northern hemisphere.
I could spend days paddling these waters, fishing, or simply hanging out by the shore. Hundreds of species of birds, as well as bottlenose dolphins and manatees can be seen from waterfront parks.
Travel a little and you can get to spectacular Atlantic beaches, with the kind of sands suitable to drive on. There are remnants of the Timucua Native Americans up and down the coast here, while New Smyrna Beach is a hotbed for contemporary culture.
1. Indian River
Edgewater is on the shores of the remarkable Indian River Lagoon, making up the Intracoastal Waterway for more than 150 miles. This shallow and highly biodiverse estuary begins a few miles away at the Ponce de Leon Inlet.
The section next to Edgewater is the Mosquito Lagoon, running from the inlet to a spot just north of Cape Canaveral.
With mangroves, tidal flats, and marshes to explore, the lagoon deserves as much time as you can afford. Locally you can rent a kayak, take an ecotour, or hike in the parks and preserves along the banks.
Incredibly, some 2,200 animal species reside in the lagoon. I’ve seen plenty of bottlenose dolphins, as well as manatees in the winter months, and a multitude of birds.
2. Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum
Florida’s tallest lighthouse looms over the northernmost extent of Indian River Lagoon, a few miles from Edgeater
This striking red tower rises to 175 feet, and once employed a team of three keepers. There has been a lighthouse here since at least 1835, but the current tower dates to 1887.
After 200+ steps you’ll be compensated with views you won’t soon forget. These reach out over the Atlantic, along the inlet and down Indian River Lagoon for many miles.
At the base of the tower, the old keepers’ residences now contain museum exhibits. Something that really caught my imagination here was the world-class collection of Fresnel lenses.
3. New Smyrna Beach
Just a 10-minute drive along the Indian River, the city of New Smyrna Beach makes for a great day trip from Edgewater.
This is a great place to hit the beach, as you can find some excellent stretches of sand across from downtown. The sand here is hard-packed, and for a fee you can drive on beaches in the area.
New Smyrna Beach is also a famed surfing destination, renowned for its consistent breaks. You’ll find surf shops and surf schools all along the coast.
As well as outdoor activities, I’d allow plenty of time to explore the vibrant downtown areas along Canal Street and Flagler Avenue.
4. Menard-May Park
My favorite local spot to appreciate the joys of the Indian River Lagoon is a public park on a nub of land by the water.
Menard-May Park is wonderful at any time of day, but takes on a rare beauty at dawn. This is a great place to launch a kayak or paddleboard, and there’s a fishing pier at the point.
If you spend a few minutes scanning the water you stand a good chance of seeing bottlenose dolphins, or manatees in winter.
The sandy beach is just right for families with smaller children, and there’s a play area and picnic tables a few steps away.
5. Canaveral National Seashore
Head south along the barrier island opposite Edgewater and things start to get very remote. Before long you’ll be in an immense National Seashore, spanning almost 90 square miles.
There’s an astounding variety of habitats to discover on the island, from untouched hammocks to beaches, dunes, salt marsh, lagoon, pine flatlands, and the ocean.
More than 300 bird species have been documented at the Canaveral National Seashore, while in summer loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles nest on the beaches.
Further south you can sit on Playalinda Beach and watch rockets taking off from the Kennedy Space Center. There’s also enthralling history further north at sites like Turtle Mound, and the deserted town of Eldora.
6. Smyrna Dunes Park
Covering almost 190 acres on the southern side of the Ponce de Leon Inlet is the beautiful Smyrna Dunes Park. This Volusia County property safeguards an important coastal landscape, with nesting shorebirds.
There are multiple observation platforms where you can take in sweeping views over the Atlantic, inlet and Indian River Lagoon. The dunes here are crossed by an accessible, two-mile boardwalk loop, which is a joy to stroll along.
You’ll find beaches on all three sides of the barrier island. If you’re in town with your dog, I’d say that Smyrna Dunes Park has the best dog beach for miles. This can be found on the inlet side.
7. Bethune Beach
South of New Smyrna Beach, this remote community is a northern Gateway to the Canaveral National Seashore.
To get to Bethune Beach, you need to go all the way around the lagoon from Edgewater. Even though as the crow flies, the beach is just a couple of miles away, the journey will take 15 minutes or so.
I’m intrigued by the history of this place. At one time it was the only beach in Volusia County open to African Americans. The community is named for the renowned civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) who organized a wade-in to fight against segregation.
Something special about the beach park here is almost 800 feet of beachfront sidewalk, with breathtaking vistas. Among the amenities are large picnic pavilions, showers, a playground, fishing pier, and restrooms.
8. Turtle Mound
Continue south along the coastal road from Bethune Beach and you’ll soon reach Turtle Mound. Left behind by the Timucua Native Americans, this vast midden is one of the most captivating historical sites in the area
Composed of oyster shells and other refuse, discarded over 2,000+ years between around 1000 BCE and 1400 CE, the mound is 600 feet long and 50 feet high.
What blows me away about Turtle Mound is that there has never been a full archeological survey. So as you stroll the interpretive boardwalk you can ponder the secrets that lie beneath your feet.
9. Cruger dePeyster Plantation Sugar Mill Ruins
Moments away, you can explore the remains of a steam-powered crushing house on an ill-fated sugarcane plantation.
These coquina stone structures date to the 1830s, but the mill was destroyed during the Seminole War a few years later.
Remarkably, despite the partial destruction of the buildings, the machinery inside was left untouched. This was salvaged, and installed at the Dunlawton Plantation and Sugar Mill in Port Orange.
The remains were listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Complete with interpretive info, the walls are in a picturesque setting, among palms and grand live oaks.
10. 27th Avenue Beachfront Park
A slightly calmer alternative to New Smyrna Beach Park is the great public access point a couple of miles to the south.
Beloved by tourists and locals, 27th Avenue Beachfront Park has a charming promenade above the shore. With a line of benches and picnic tables, I could spend hours here watching the surf.
The beach is composed of the hard-packed white sand typical of Volusia County, and there’s room for everyone to find an empty patch of sand to relax.
For a summary of the amenities in the space above the beach you’ve got a playground, a basketball court, a pavilion, and restrooms.
11. George R. Kennedy Memorial Park
Edgewater’s main off-ramp for the Indian River Lagoon is a scenic public park opposite the City Hall.
Not long before I last visited, George R. Kennedy Memorial Park had been given an update with the help of the Florida Inland Navigation District.
If you’re here to hang out on land, there’s a fishing pier, picnic tables and a pavilion by the water. A lot of people meanwhile pass through, and use the park for its boat ramp.
Now, if you don’t have your own boat, this spot is a springboard for fishing charters. A few local fishing businesses serving this spot are Right In Sight Charters, Caught Slackin, Playin’ Hooky, and Edgewater River Guide.
12. Seminole Rest
Ten minutes south of Edgewater, this tranquil lagoon-front park is part of the Canaveral National Seashore.
Crowning Seminole Rest is the Snyder Mound, one of several ancient Timucua mounds in the park. Archeological surveys have revealed that these middens are made up of oysters, conchs, and whelk shells, but also the remains of fish like sea trout, bass, and sharks.
I recommend taking some time to read the interpretive signs along the path at Seminole Rest. These tackle subjects like the lifestyle of the Timucua, and the first impressions of 16th-century French explorers.
You’ll also learn about the Snyder family, who built their home atop the largest mound and safeguarded this unique site for decades.
13. Peter Wolf Toth Art Gallery and Museum
Something I don’t think anyone should miss in Edgewater is the chaotic but inspiring outdoor studio of the sculptor Peter Wolf Toth.
He has spent years carving scores of monumental sculptures to honor the country’s Native Americans. Known as Whispering Giants, these works are created pro bono and donated to the town in which they’re carved.
To raise money from the project, Toth produces smaller carvings and paintings, which he sells at his studio. For a closer look you can get in contact with him to arrange a tour.
14. River Breeze Park
The main feature of this nearby park on the Indian River Lagoon is a long fishing dock. With several benches, this structure has a T-configuration, and is one of the best local vantage points for some casual wildlife watching.
From the tip you can see right along the lagoon for miles. On a winter’s day I’ve watched whole herds of manatees floating by, along with dolphins and turtles.
Wherever you get fishing folk, pelicans are never far away, and this is true at River Breeze Park. Lastly, you can launch a kayak here for a trip along the Mosquito Lagoon Paddling Trail, blending nature with Timucua archeological sites.
15. AMC Classic New Smyrna 12
Catch a super hot or rainy day, and you could do a lot worse than this nearby AMC multiplex. This theater goes back to the mid-1990s but was given a total makeover in the 2010s and became part of the AMC chain in 2017.
This is a modest theater, and didn’t have modern perks like power reclining seats when I visited.
Still, you’ve got stadium seating, a Coke freestyle machine, and you can order food and drinks with your phone. Even better, there are also daily discounts on matinees, and specials all day on Tuesdays.