While planning our recent vacation to Orlando, I asked my friend Mark for a beach recommendation. After visiting him and other friends in the area, we wanted to spend a couple of days at the ocean without driving too far. Mark immediately suggested New Smyrna Beach on the Atlantic side, about an hour east of Orlando. LOVED IT! It’s kind of like …visiting Brookside at the beach!
I describe New Smyrna this way because it’s all locally owned stores and restaurants along Flagler Ave. You’ll find over 50 small retail shops along a two lane road, with plenty of cross walks and no tall, imposing buildings or big box stores (although if you must visit Wal-Mart, there is one nearby). We saw a few bars (similar to the Brooksider) with live music at night. Many places to eat, from burgers at Breakers overlooking the ocean to a small, family run Italian deli that also serves breakfast, plus a few gourmet type places but still, a very casual atmosphere. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, which opened in December, and it was an easy five block walk directly to the beach, peering in the shop windows along the way. There are some larger condo buildings near the beach–we would check those out for our next visit, but the Hampton Inn was a nice hotel with a good location and a friendly staff.
The really impressive feature of New Smyrna was the local shop owners and residents. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed as tourists. Several people asked where we were from, how did we like the town, thanked us for visiting, offered suggestions–and it was a very sincere type of interaction, not at all like the generic ‘hi’ you get walking into The Gap. They were genuinely interested in talking with us. We’ve been to Destin, Sea Side, Clearwater Beach–all attractive communities with excellent beaches. But New Smyrna is really something special…it has that strong, local community feel just like Brookside. And it wasn’t too crowded either, perhaps because we were there on a Sunday and Monday. The tourists mix in well with the locals.
If you are thinking of a visit to New Smyrna, know there are two main shopping strips–one is along Canal Street, which is not closer to the beach. We walked along Canal on our way out of town, but it started pouring down rain so we didn’t get to explore it as much as Flagler Ave. On Canal there is an old fashioned drug store, The Little Drugstore, with a soda fountain where we had a tasty lunch. There is also a museum that tells the history of the area. I suggest you stay near Flagler for the better location if you want easy access to the unique little shops, eateries and the beach.
Visiting the theme parks in Orlando is fun, but let’s face it–very tiring as well! Take a couple of days to unwind at New Smyrna Beach before you head back home..especially if you like small, family owned and operated stores and restaurants that appreciate your business. It’s a very special place.