Of all of Florida’s east coast resort towns, New Smyrna Beach holds a special place in the hearts of many surfers, not to mention those who shun the overdevelopment found in many nearby areas. Visitors appreciate the quaint and historic charm that have stubbornly refused to fade away.
Though it’s primarily known for its white beaches, New Smyrna Beach has undergone a renaissance in recent years, now offering guests a more impressive array of cultural attractions that keep many of them coming back year after year.
Like many first-time visitors, you may be overwhelmed with all the choices.
Below are 15 things to do in New Smyrna Beach.
1. Smyrna Dunes Park
Surrounded by magnificent views of the Indian River, Ponce de Leon Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean, there’s really nothing not to like about Smyrna Dunes Park.
The park is at the north end of one of the long spits of land that form the myriad of barrier islands just offshore. With such an influx of wind and water, the beaches can get blustery and wave-battered at times.
That means good surfing; though the waves aren’t always massive, there’s plenty of other things to do, like hiking the dunes or trying your luck at surf fishing.
The park’s entrance is on North Peninsula Avenue in New Smyrna Beach and admission is relatively inexpensive.
2. Sugar Mill Ruins
The New Smyrna Beach Sugar Mill Ruins are located on the grounds of a historic plantation and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The mill was built more than two centuries ago and offers visitors an interesting look into the past, when the area was stark, rough, and undeveloped.
According to historians, the mill ceased operation in the 1830s when the plantation was destroyed by a Seminole raiding party, who weren’t too thrilled that their ancestral lands had been yanked from beneath them.
You won’t find tons of amenities, but you’ll learn a few things about the area’s fascinating past.
3. Marine Discovery Center
Located on Barracuda Boulevard in New Smyrna Beach, the Marine Discovery Center isn’t just another look-but-don’t-touch facility. In fact, for those interested in getting a hands-on experience relating to the area’s unique animals and habitat, there’s no better place to do it.
Featuring thousands of species of local plants and animals that live in the area’s rivers, sea, and marshlands, the center is really part zoo, part aquarium, and part museum. It’s one of those attractions that shouldn’t be passed up, especially by those traveling with children.
Staff-led eco-tours are available, as are a variety of interactive exhibits and activities, so plan on spending more than just an hour.
4. New Smyrna Museum of History
For history-minded visitors interested in immersing themselves in the area’s interesting past, there’s no better place to do it than the New Smyrna Museum of History.
The museum’s exhibits begin in prehistory and work their way up through the ages, from when the Native Americans were the only human inhabitants into the era when the region was explored and settled by those of European descent.
Many guests find the Native American exhibits the most interesting. There are also a number of displays documenting the lives of the area’s first colonists, who were led by a doctor from Scotland.
5. New Smyrna Speedway
New Smyrna Beach is close enough to Daytona Beach to make day-trips an easy option for those who’d like to get a good look at the Daytona International Speedway. But for those who’d rather not spend valuable vacation time behind a windshield, there’s a more convenient option for race junkies.
Though the New Smyrna Speedway isn’t as well-known as its big brother to the north, it hosts many nationally recognized races and is famous for its steep bank and high average speeds.
The facility holds several throughout the year; since many of them are more regional in nature, it’s not always difficult to get tickets.
6. 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 studio for artists from all over the world. The grounds are dotted with several where they live and work.
Part of the center’s allure is being able to watch the artists work and interacting with them. The center hosts a variety of art and culture-related events throughout the year as well.
7. Hub on Canal Street
Downtown New Smyrna Beach is a unique mix of historic charm and contemporary culture that aren’t often found together, and the Hub on Canal Street is ground-zero for those who’d like to enjoy them both.
Shaded by majestic palms and historic buildings, Canal Street is full of shops, galleries, and small artist’s studios; it’s perfect for visitors looking to take an afternoon stroll or pick up a one of a kind piece to remind them of their trip.
Nearly all the works you’ll see are original pieces created by local artists. The Hub on Canal Street hosts a number of shows and festivals throughout the year, most of which are in the cooler winter months.
8. Annual Seaside Fiesta
For three decades, New Smyrna Beach’s Annual Seaside Fiesta has been drawing crowds, and each year it features a different theme.
Taking place near downtown along Flagler Avenue, the event is produced by local civic and business development organizations focused on promoting the area’s history, culture, and natural splendor.
Though you may have missed the festival this year, rest assured it’ll be back in June next year. With its mix of live entertainment, carnival-style games, rides, and succulent street food, many previous guests noted that it was one of the most enjoyable events they experienced on their trip to New Smyrna Beach.
9. Festival of the Arts
There are some reoccurring themes when talking about popular things to do in New Smyrna Beach; art and festivals are two of them.
New Smyrna Beach’s Festival of the Arts is held over four days in January at Riverside Park and was recently voted as one of the top 50 outdoor art shows of its kind in the country.
Considering the competition, that’s an impressive ranking. In addition to the hundreds of artists from dozens of countries who participate, the festival is known as a hotspot for live music, great food, and the interactive activities for creative and energetic little ones.
10. 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 one of New Smyrna Beach’s most popular courses. At just 6,400 yards, it is slightly shorter than many of its contemporaries, making it perfect for those interested in getting in a world-class round without dedicating four or five hours to it.
The par-72 course’s 18 holes lead through a tranquil nature preserve. Though it’s only been open since the mid-‘90s, it’s already garnered a loyal following who appreciate it’s beauty and value.
11. Cool Beans and More
Whether it’s a steaming cup of caffeinated java or a tangy and sweet Italian ice you’re after, you’ll find it at Cool Beans and More.
Cool Beans is popular not only for its tasty drinks, but because it boasts a comfy courtyard full of shaded seating that’s the perfect place to relax after a long day on your feet.
Previous guests noted that the prices were reasonable, the staff friendly, and that they visited Cool Beans every day they were in the area – sometimes both in the morning and afternoon.
They also sell bags of a popular brand of locally-roasted coffee beans.
12. New Smyrna Brewing Company
From iced lattes and Italian ices to fresh orange juice and microbrews, there’s really no excuse for getting dehydrated while in New Smyrna Beach.
Though coffee and sweet, fruity drinks have their place, many visitors really long for a cold beer after a long day under the intense Florida sun.
Located on Canal Street in the historic downtown area, New Smyrna Brewing Company are known for their impressive variety of beers brewed onsite. One of the perennial favorites is their flagship Shark Attack IPA, which features a hoppy bite and even notes of grapefruit.
Though they don’t offer a full food menu, they do have flavored popcorn that’s the perfect complement to a cold brew.
13. Hit the Beaches
Though the entire Atlantic coast is full of popular resort towns with beautiful and unique beaches, the area around New Smyrna Beach is particularly well-known for its long stretches of beach that are whiter and more tropical in appearance than many of its neighbor’s.
That’s mainly due to the quartz content in the beach’s sand. In addition to abundant dining, lodging, and recreation options, the waves on New Smyrna Beaches are big draws for both experienced and beginner surfers.
27th Avenue Beach, Bethune Beach, and Canaveral National Seashore are all popular beaches, though there are many more to choose from.
14. Daytona International Speedway
Since its opening more than 60 years ago, Daytona International Speedway has been a global racing mecca that draws race fans from near and far.
The speedway’s namesake Daytona 500 takes place every February when the Florida weather is perfect. Though race tickets can be shockingly expensive and hard to come by, for those who’d rather not fight the crowds and spend an arm and leg, there are other ways to experience the speedway.
On days when there aren’t races of other events, it’s possible to walk along the track. There are several guided tour options as well for those who’d like a truly behind-the-scenes look.
15. Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
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. 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. It’s even possible to scale the 200 stairs to the top for unobstructed views of both land and sea.