This Beach Destination Is Florida's Most Underrated Seaside City
From the tangled depths of the Everglades to the sandy shores of the Panhandle, Florida has earned a reputation as one of the country's top destinations for natural beauty. But in spite of its abundant popularity, there are still a couple of hidden gems to be found across the state. Just one hour northeast of Orlando, the idyllic seaside city of New Smyrna Beach is largely off the radar for tourists, providing newcomers with a wealth of drinking, dining, and ecotourism opportunities without having to compete with the crowds found in Florida's more frequented cities.
Blessed with balmy weather and a sprawling shoreline, New Smyrna Beach is a veritable treasure trove for outdoor adventurers and wildlife aficionados alike. While native fauna spans all walks of life, one of the city's most beloved creatures — the bottlenose dolphin — can be found in abundance just off the shore. And when it comes to spotting this iconic marine mammal up close, it's tough to beat the Marine Discovery Center. Upon arrival, visitors are welcome to stroll through the property's main hall, coming face-to-shell with local Sunshine State creatures like the horseshoe crab, gopher tortoise, and marine hermit crab, then head out on a two-hour boat tour that offers ample opportunities for spotting bottlenose dolphins and a wealth of Floridian shorebirds.
Speaking of birds, the city is a paradise for avian enthusiasts, with no shortage of fascinating waders gracing the area. And while birds abound throughout the Indian River, there's no need to travel far to see them. There's a wealth of hotels located across Atlantic Avenue, offering premium wildlife viewing just a few steps past the lobby door. Though birds can be found at all hours of the day, the ambitious soul should be sure to head out at sunrise to spot sanderlings, royal terns, snowy egrets, and — if you're lucky — flocks of black skimmers along the shoreline.
If you're hoping to complete the ecotourism trifecta of land, sea, and air, Smyrna Dunes Park is a can't-miss. In addition to sloping sandy hills and long stretches of pristine beach, this 184-acre park is perfect for spotting the gopher tortoise, a keystone species that's found only in the southeastern United States. While this park comes equipped with more than two miles of elevated boardwalk and a whole host of observation towers, these iconic reptiles aren't particularly shy of humans and can be found poking their heads out of their burrows to gaze at onlookers.
While New Smyrna Beach is certainly a haven for native Floridian fauna, the city's human inhabitants have their fair share of fascinating stories as well. Case in point: the New Smyrna Museum of History, a prestigious institution formed in 2003. Artifacts abound here, ranging from Indigenous-crafted arrowheads to Civil War-era artillery, but for even more interesting insight into the city, be sure to spend some time soaking in the story of the Smyrnea Settlement.
Founded in 1768, this colony was home to roughly 1,400 immigrants from Menorca and southern Greece, though rampant disease and incompetent leadership soon forced them to flee north to St. Augustine. After exploring the museum, head next door to explore Old Fort Park — a crumbling stone formation that was abandoned centuries ago — then head south to Sugar Mill Ruins for a look into Florida's once-mighty sugar industry.
Plenty of outdoor exploration tends to work up an appetite, and fortunately, New Smyrna Beach is loaded with top-tier restaurants. For the serious seafood connoisseur, options include Outriggers Tiki Bar & Grille, a casual spot offering coconut shrimp, mai tais, and gorgeous Indian River vistas, and Corkscrew Bar & Grille, a laid-back downtown venue that's earned local acclaim for its decadent dishes and complex cocktails. If you're in the mood for a sophisticated night out, Norwood's Eatery & Treehouse Bar offers top-quality American fare served in a massive open-air tree house, providing diners with a unique experience that's tough to find elsewhere.
In addition to succulent seafood dining, New Smyrna Beach is also home to a robust drinks scene — and for the spirits-forward individual, Sugar Works Distillery is a must-visit destination. In honor of the area's lengthy history with sugar cane, rum reigns supreme here, with spiced, vanilla, and silver varieties all up for grabs. But there's more. Whiskey lovers should be sure to spring for a bottle of fragrant Callalisa Creek Whiskey, while the New Smyrna Shine offers the chance to sample peppery white dog from the still. For the best results, book a tour for an up-close view of the production floor paired with a flight of perfectly crafted liquor.
New Smyrna Beach may not be Florida's most well-known destination, but the city's rich biodiversity and fascinating history makes it well worth a visit. Whether you're hoping to spot your first wild dolphin, catch a glimpse of an elusive Floridian shorebird, or just kick back with a margarita in hand, this shoreside gem offers a world of opportunity for every type of traveler.