15 Best Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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It’s easy to fall in love with this historic seaside city on Florida’s central east coast. One of New Smyrna Beach’s draws is the Atlantic shoreline, with 17 miles of perfect white sands. 

Some beaches, like at Canaveral National Seashore, are wild and remote. For something more social, the lively town beach is right on historic Flagler Avenue, one of New Smyrna Beach’s two downtown areas.

There you can dive into an effervescent cultural scene, with galleries and communities of artists collaborating, putting on shows and giving workshops.

Another thing I have to mention is the natural majesty of the area. New Smyrna Beach is divided by the Indian River Lagoon, which has an absurd diversity of wildlife. 

Down the coast are the dunes, coastal hammocks and lagoons of the Canaveral National Seashore. Meanwhile, head north and you’ll arrive at the Smyrna Dunes Park, where you can view nesting seabirds from the boardwalk.

To go with all this there’s exciting history to discover, from huge prehistoric Native American remnants to stories from the short-lived settlement of Smyrnea, established here in 1768.

1. Hit the Beaches

Canaveral National SeashoreSource: Michael Rickard / shutterstock
Canaveral National Seashore

Ask me what I love most about New Smyrna Beach, and the sandy shore springs to mind first of all. Incredibly, there are 17 miles of publicly accessible beaches in the city. 

It goes without saying that the sunrises are out of this world. Also, like the beaches in Daytona, the fine, hard-packed sand is mostly suitable for beach driving. 

Each beach has a different crowd and character. For example, for amenities and some bustle, there’s the New Smyrna Town Beach, in the heart of the action on Flagler Avenue. 

If you’re in town with a pup, there’s a dog beach at New Smyrna Dunes. If it’s solitude you need, then you can leave the crowds behind at the Canaveral National Seashore. In the summer this is a critical nesting site for sea turtles.

Finally, there are beach breaks up and down the shore. But the best place for surfers to go is the Ponce Inlet, considered the most consistent surf break in the state.

2. Canal Street and Flagler Avenue

New Smyrna Beach’s culture, shopping, and dining is packed onto two streets either side of the Indian River Lagoon.

Inland is Canal Street, an anchor for a beguiling historic district. Lined with palms this walkable district offers free parking, and has a roster of restaurants for all tastes.

My perfect time to be here is on a Saturday morning, when the farmers’ market is up and running.

By the beach is Flagler Avenue. This street shoots eastwards like an arrow, so the view at sunrise is something else. 

Along five pedestrian-friendly blocks, this strip has an artsy ambience, with galleries, alluring specialty shops, and yet more places to eat and drink. 

Any given week there will be something going on here, from wine walks to events like the Shrimp and Seafood Festival in August.

3. Smyrna Dunes Park

Smyrna Dunes ParkSource: SR Productions / shutterstock
Smyrna Dunes Park

With magnificent views of the Indian River, Ponce de Leon Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean, I can’t get enough of Smyrna Dunes Park.

A 1.5-mile, ADA-accessible boardwalk circles this space. As well as serving both the Atlantic and the Indian River shoreline, the boardwalk also lifts you over a protected habitat for shorebirds.

There’s a fishing pier on the Indian River, and wherever you go you’re sure to see wildlife. When I was here I saw a snowy egret perched on the boardwalk, as well as several gopher tortoises. 

Thanks to the hard-packed sand, cars are permitted on New Smyrna Beach as far north as the jetty. Dogs are allowed on the beach on the north side, facing the Indian River.

4. Sugar Mill Ruins

Sugar Mill RuinsSource: kellyv / Flickr
Sugar Mill Ruins

On the grounds of an historic former plantation stand the mysterious ruins of a 19th-century Sugar Mill. At that time this part of Florida was on the frontier, and an enterprise like this one was always risky.

I learned that the plantation operated for less than three years, before it was raided and burned by the Seminole Native Americans during the Second Seminole War.

Now ensconced in almost 20 acres of palms and live oaks, the coquina stone walls of the sugar mill are a compelling scrap of local history. 

There are interpretive signs around the site. These dip into topics like early 19th-century sugar-making, and the Seminole Wars.

5. Marine Discovery Center

Marine Discovery CenterSource: Marine Discovery Center / Facebook
Marine Discovery Center

New Smyrna Beach is right on one of the most biodiverse estuarine habitats in the country. This wild melting pot has more than 4,000 species along 156 miles. 

So I wouldn’t miss the chance to find out more about this extraordinary environment. You can do this with the Marine Discovery Center, which has spent more than a quarter of a century educating people about the Indian River Lagoon.

There’s a wide range of experiences available, from pontoon tours to guided kayaking trips. Typically you’ll see manatees and bottlenose dolphins, along with a host of birds, from pelicans to roseate spoonbills.

The center itself is a delight, with marine aquariums, and interactive exhibits imparting facts about the lagoon and Florida’s coastal waters.

6. New Smyrna Museum of History

New Smyrna Museum of HistorySource: Ebyabe / Wikimedia
New Smyrna Museum Of History

If you want to get a handle on the area’s heritage, make time for this local history museum, In the city’s former office from 1923.

Inside, I was especially taken with the exhibit documenting the ill-fated Smyrnea Settlement in 1768. Artifacts, models, and videos explain this ambitious attempt to establish a plantation for hemp, sugarcane, and indigo. 

Around the edges is a bitesize timeline, beginning with prehistoric fossils and the earliest Native Americans, and bringing you up to the late 20th century.

Among the pieces in this display are 19th-century photographs, and intricate tapestries made by the WPA in the 1930s. 

7. Atlantic Center for the Arts

Atlantic Center for the ArtsSource: Ebyabe / Wikimedia
Atlantic Center For The Arts

New Smyrna Beach’s Turnbull Bay is named after the man credited with originally settling the area. The Atlantic Center for the Arts is located on its scenic shores, giving guests access to some fantastic vistas.

In addition to its impressive collection, the center is unique in that it functions as both a temporary residence and creative incubator for artists from all over the world. The grounds are dotted with several studios where they live and work.

Part of the center’s allure, for me, is being able to watch the artists work and to interact with them. The center hosts a variety of art and culture-related events throughout the year as well.

8. Hub on Canal

Hub On Canal StreetSource: The Hub on Canal / Facebook
Hub On Canal

I’ve shown that downtown New Smyrna Beach is a unique mix of historic charm and contemporary culture. The Hub on Canal sums this up, as a creative community for more that 70 working artists. 

I defy anyone to step inside this spot and not feel a little inspired. The center is in a pair of historic buildings, with interiors that have been completely transformed.

Based locally, those artists specialize in everything from metalwork to mixed media. The Hub on Canal offers gallery space to show off their work, but also hosts live performances, public talks, classes and workshops.

9. Festival of the Arts

Festival Of The Arts, New Smyrna BeachSource: Images: A Festival of the Arts / Facebook
Festival Of The Arts, New Smyrna Beach

There are some reccurring themes when talking about things to do in New Smyrna Beach, and festivals are a big one.

My favorite is the New Smyrna Beach’s Festival of the Arts, held over three days in January at Riverside Park. Staged by the Atlantic Center for the Arts, it was recently ranked in the top 20 events of its kind in the country 

Considering the competition, that’s an impressive ranking. There are 230+ artists from across the country participating, and the festival attracts more than 50,000 people each year. 

Also in store is live music, great food, and free art projects for creative and energetic little ones.

10. Turtle Mound National Historic Site

The prehistoric Timucua native Americans inhabited a big tranche of north-central Florida up to the turn of the 18th century.

Sites like Turtle Mound are all that survive of these semi-agricultural people. Found a little way into Canaveral National Seashore, Turtle Mound is a shell midden of spectacular proportions.

Rising to nearly 50 feet, this structure is made up of 33,000 cubic yards of oyster shells, discarded over hundreds of years. Such is the size of Turtle Mound that it was even used as a seamark during the Age of Sail.

I was impressed with the boardwalk circling the top of the mound, providing 360° views of the coastline for miles.

11. The Preserve at Turnbull Bay Golf Course

The Preserve At Turnbull Bay Golf CourseSource: thepreserveatturnbull.com
The Preserve At Turnbull Bay Golf Course

Diehard golfers visiting Florida’s central Atlantic coast could play two courses a day for weeks and not exhaust all the options.

The Preserve at Turnbull Bay Golf Course is the star when it comes to public courses around New Smyrna Beach. As the name tells you, the par-72 course’s 18 holes lead through a tranquil nature preserve. 

I’m sure you know that the Florida climate can have a big impact on golfing conditions. But here, the greens are planted with seashore paspalum, which ensures perfect smoothness in any season.

Something else that really appeals to me is the driving range. When I came, the bays had just been equipped with TopTracer technology, turning a hitting session into an interactive game.

12. Eldora State House

Another remarkable thing at Canaveral National Seashore is an uninhabited town whose last resident died in 2000.

Set by Mosquito Lagoon , Eldora was founded as an orange growing community in the late 19th century. A freeze put an end to that business, and the town became a resort. 

One building from the resort days is the Eldora State House, built in 1912. This was abandoned by the 1950s, and was left to decay until being restored throughout the 1990s. 

When I checked in, the house was open to the public in the afternoons, Tuesday through Sunday. 

On the first floor are exhibits recalling the history of Eldora, with newspaper clippings, archive photographs and old documents. You can also pore over some of the items excavated around the town’s site.

13. Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and MuseumSource: pisaphotography / shutterstock
Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse And Museum

At nearly 180 feet, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse towers over the Florida coast and is the tallest of all the state’s lighthouses.

The lighthouse has a fascinating history that dates back nearly two centuries. The current structure is from 1887, and once needed a team of three lighthouse keepers.

Though there were times when it ran out of the oil used to generate light and was structurally weakened by rough surf and erosion, it has stood the test of time.

Now, the lighthouse has been lovingly restored by a local preservation society. Be sure to scale the 200 stairs to the top for unobstructed views of both land and sea. I guarantee you won’t regret the workout.

14. New Smyrna Speedway

<yoastmark class=Source: New Smyrna Speedway / Facebook

New Smyrna Beach is close enough to Daytona International Raceway to make day-trips an easy option. But for those who’d rather not spend valuable vacation time behind a windshield, there’s an even more convenient option.

Dating back to the 1960s, New Smyrna Speedway is a ½-mile asphalt track for stock cars, from Super Late Models to Modifieds. What I love about this track is the homey atmosphere, although earplugs are a must.

There’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series racing on Saturday nights throughout the season, with quarter midgets on Fridays.

Everything builds up to the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, with nine consecutive nights of action in February.

15. Annual Seaside Fiesta

Annual Seaside FiestaSource: Frank DeMarchi / Facebook
Annual Seaside Fiesta

For almost 40 years, New Smyrna Beach’s Annual Seaside Fiesta has served as the kick-off event for the summer.

Taking place in mid-June along Flagler Avenue, the event is produced by local civic and business development organizations. Every year there’s a focus on the area’s history, culture, and natural splendor.

It’s all a perfect cocktail of live entertainment, craft booths, carnival-style games, rides, and tasty street food.

Each edition has a different theme, and several blocks of Flagler Avenue are closed to road traffic throughout the afternoon and evening.

15 Best Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach (FL):

  • Hit the Beaches
  • Canal Street and Flagler Avenue
  • Smyrna Dunes Park
  • Sugar Mill Ruins
  • Marine Discovery Center
  • New Smyrna Museum of History
  • Atlantic Center for the Arts
  • Hub on Canal
  • Festival of the Arts
  • Turtle Mound National Historic Site
  • The Preserve at Turnbull Bay Golf Course
  • Eldora State House
  • Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
  • New Smyrna Speedway
  • Annual Seaside Fiesta