My high school English teacher always said a book’s setting–its time and place–should be treated like another character in the book. In our travels, I love settings that exude life. It’s why I’m equally happy at a bustling city street festival and the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.
It took me a while to understand why I didn’t love New Smyrna Beach, FL. Why being in the area unsettled something inside me. Picture a region where it seems all the buildings were erected, coated in pastel pink paint, then left to bleach in the sun for a few decades. New Smyrna Beach feels tired.
I suppose that’s the appeal for some who have earned their repose and want to find rest that meets their needs. While it isn’t a setting where I thrive, the wonderful thing about fulltime travel is that each of us can understand ourselves better as our context changes. And even when we find ourselves in a place we don’t prefer, we can learn to appreciate the people and their culture there.
When we originally planned our 2017 travels, we had this exciting open month on the schedule for exploring north eastern Florida. We were hoping to bounce around different state parks and find small charming towns we’d never heard of. Plans had to change due to Hurricane Irma. Quite literally all the RV parks in the state closed, and many were slow to open. We ended up in New Smyrna Beach because we had no other choice at the time.
You might love New Smyrna Beach. Southern Living insists you will. I did like parts of it, and there are some interesting and worthwhile attractions in the area. In fact, the town ended up being the perfect launch point for exploring Florida’s north Atlantic coast.
Bottom line: make your own evaluation. We all have our own perspective.
We stayed in New Smyrna Beach, FL from Sept. 30-Nov. 4, 2017.
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Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Canal Street and Flagler Avenue are two streets you can wander up and down. Canal Street has a few antique and clothing shops, plus restaurants. You can walk down to the waterfront, where people fish and visit Riverside Park’s playground.
Flagler Avenue was my favorite stretch of New Smyrna Beach. It has more of that Florida beachy feel, with surf shops and The Breakers, a popular oceanview bar and grill. Third Wave, which became my local hangout, is also on Flagler (more on Third Wave below).
New Smyrna Beach Regional Library
New Smyrna Beach Regional Library has a large children’s section, complete with puzzles and a small puppet stage. We visited a few times, and even met up with @rv.usa.broghamers there. Kevin and Kristi are all over the place with baby Anna. You can follow their adventures on Instagram!
1001 S. Dixie Fwy
Halloween Parade to Remember
Since it was Caspian’s first Autumn, I wanted photos of my baby in a pumpkin patch. We went to the one on Peninsula Avenue at Flagler Avenue. I think it’s sponsored by Coronado Community United Methodist Church, which is across the street. The volunteers took tons of photos for us, and we bought a tiny pumpkin as a thank you.
Halloween in New Smyrna Beach reminded me of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls. I wish you could’ve been there. We went down to Canal Street for the 4 p.m. parade. Caspian in his costume, we excitedly sat on the sidewalk with everyone else.
A police officer went by on a motorcycle.
A fire truck passed next.
And then, a throng of somewhat-costumed, normal looking children and adults. Why?
Because the parade was over after the fire truck. Evidently, it’s New Smyrna Beach norm for the spectators to become the parade.
So we joined in.
It got better, though. A few blocks later, a small stage was set up with bleachers for the audience. An unwieldy mass of children milled around. Age group by age group, each child was led/pushed onto the stage and interviewed about their costume.
We went around the corner to a church festival for a while, came back later, and the costume contest was still going on. These people take their costume contest seriously. Stars Hollow, amirite?
Day Trip to Canaveral National Seashore
The north end of Canaveral National Seashore is only about 20 minutes from New Smyrna Beach. We watched the film at the visitor’s center and walked out to Eldora State House. There’s more to do there, like hike or take a guided canoe tour. I was under the weather, so we closed our low-key visit with admiration for the raging surf.
Looking at the website today, I see there are some Night Sky Exploration events on the calendar. Definitely see whether they have anything special scheduled if you’re in the area.
S. Washington Ave., Titusville, FL – Website
Day Trip to Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort Matanzas is the other national park site in the area besides Castillo de San Marcos. This Spanish fort once guarded the important southern river approach to St. Augustine. It’s unassuming and off on its own, an hour north of New Smyrna Beach, so it doesn’t get a ton of visitors. But the colonial-era history is quite fascinating. A brief film in the visitor’s center and self-guided walking tour are worth the time, if you’re interested.
Unfortunately, damage from Hurricane Irma resulted in the ferry to the fort being shut down. It was shut down in October when we visited and is still closed four months later.
8635 A1A S, St. Augustine, FL – Website
Day Trip to Kennedy Space Center
We couldn’t get so close without going to Kennedy Space Center. Because Eric is a military veteran, we were able to purchase discounted tickets at Shades of Green. It’s still an investment, but it’s well worth it.
Honestly, I could write an entire article about our day at Kennedy Space Center. We’re still telling people about the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, which is one of the most memorable experiences we’ve had in our four years of fulltime travel.
Caspian hung in there the whole day without any issues, though he got a little antsy on the bus tour. The driver was particular about him sitting on my lap and not standing (even though I had quite a grip on his little body). He really was not interested in sitting. But that was a small blip in an otherwise sweet day for our whole family.
If you’re hungry before or after, go to Kelly’s Smokin’ BBQ in Cocoa. We met Kelly Hopkins and he’s a great guy. Plus, his barbecue is epic. Oh, and the sauce is my favorite we found in the area. Don’t skip the yellow mustard sauce. It may sound weird for a barbecue sauce, but trust it.
We went back to Cocoa Oct. 30 to see the SpaceX launch. It was so surreal to soak in the fact that this rocket was blasting off into outer space to take things to a space station. 2018, people.
You can see dates of future launches on SpaceX’s Launch Manifest. Look for “Cape Canaveral” locations, which you can watch from the waterfront in Cocoa. You’ll see people parking and gathering in different places.
Day Trips to St. Augustine
St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States, is one of my favorite places in the nation. We stayed there in 2014 and liked it so much that we visited again later that year. We made the hour drive north three times while we in New Smyrna Beach.
Mostly we just walked around the town, with its old streets and beautiful architecture. But we also went back to Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument, and Ice Plant, a restaurant and vintage bar that’s co-located with a distillery.
Our new St. Augustine discovery was Mojo BBQ. Being from Central Texas, we’re obsessed with good barbecue. This is way up there. Our go-to meal was an appetizer of Kansas City Burnt Ends, plus the Brisket Plate with a salad and green beans. Part of the fun is the expansive flight of barbecue sauces to choose from.
Day Trip up A1A
If you head north on A1A, you’ll get to St. Augustine eventually. But it takes about two hours, versus one hour up I-95, so we never went oceanside. However, we did drive up A1A one Saturday because it is a beautiful route. Our destination was Captains BBQ in Palm Coast because an RV Wanderlust follower told us about it. And because, well, barbecue.
On the way back, we stopped when things caught our attention. Flagler Beach had its own Stars Hollow-esque event going on. Some kind of nonprofit fundraiser that involved teenagers pushing each other around on beds with wheels. It was as awesome as it sounds.
There was also a surf competition we stopped to watch for a while.
Day Trip to Disney Springs in Orlando
When we went to Disney World’s Shades of Green to buy our Kennedy Space Center tickets, we stayed in the area to walk around Disney Springs.
If you’ve never heard of it, Disney Springs is a large outdoor complex with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Some of the stores have the same Disney merchandise you’d find in the parks. Disney Springs used to be called Downtown Disney, but it’s been renamed and expanded with more upscale shopping.
It’s just over an hour to get there from New Smyrna Beach. I got my Disney fix, since I could hardly wait to get back to Disney World the next month. We had another yummy barbecue meal at The Polite Pig, which also appeared to have some nice craft cocktails.
Things to Eat in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Alright. More than a month in one place; we had figured out Eric’s keto thing; and we started eating out more again. We got around…
- Yellow Dog Eats – Located on Canal Street, Yellow Dog Eats has an extensive menu of items that creatively feature in-house barbecue. I had What the Fig? Salad: pulled pork on greens with grape tomatoes, red onions, scallions, and carrots, with fried onions, pecan-smoked bacon, goat cheese, and jalapeno-fig sauce. Yes. Please. They have a lot of beer, if you like that.
- Thai Mango – I got solid take-out from Thai Mango on Canal Street. Panang curry. I wish Eric could still eat Thai because the restaurant was really pretty inside.
- The Breakers – If you want a place to enjoy a cocktail and look out at the ocean, I think pretty much every local would recommend The Breakers. It’s at the beach end of Flagler Avenue. We were underwhelmed with our meal, but would return for drinks and appetizers.
- Third Wave – When Eric gave me a night out, I took a chance on Third Wave, based on Yelp reviews. Not sure where to go, I wandered to the back of the restaurant, where I found a beautifully landscaped, lamp-lit patio. I pulled up by the fire pit for a drink and some crazy good Brussels sprouts. Super romantic, yet casual, atmosphere. Eric, Caspian, and I went multiple times during afternoon happy hour. Caspian and I also went a couple times in the morning for coffee–the indoor area has a hip coffee shop atmosphere. I was at Third Wave a lot.
- Norwood’s Eatery & Treehouse Bar – Norwood’s was also recommended to us by locals. Our food was quite good. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy the treehouse because it’s 21+. But it’s a cool feature–literally a treehouse-style bar above the restaurant.
- Fiesta Maya Mexican Restaurant – Mexican food is always reliable for Eric’s keto diet (just have to avoid the beans and rice, and bring low-carb tortillas from home). Fiesta Maya was our Mexican spot in New Smyrna Beach. Probably skip the margaritas, though.
- McKenna’s Place – Just across the street from Fiesta Maya, McKenna’s has a down and dirty Irish pub ambiance, without actually being dirty. Happy hour is 2-7 p.m. every day and they have a ton of happy hour specials. They sometimes have 2-for-1 margaritas, which are really good. The menu has a ton of options and the service is top-notch.
- Gypsy Fresh Grill – Gypsy Fresh has beer, wine, and coffee drinks, in addition to a full menu. You won’t get a weird look if you ask for bunless here because Fresh Bunless Lettuce Wrap Burger is already on the menu. I really enjoyed my Gypsy Bowl, a combination of beans, rice, and protein.
- Blackbeards Inn – Our last meal in New Smyrna Beach, and it’s a good thing we didn’t find it sooner. We had wondered why the parking lot was always overflowing. Eating at Blackbeards is like eating inside the captain’s cabin on a pirate’s ship. Except you don’t have to worry about scurvy. People love the Early Bird menu, which runs 11:30-6 Monday through Friday, and 4-6 on Saturday and Sunday. Entree prices are lower, and all plates come with Manhattan-style fish chowder, salad bar, a hush puppy, rolls, a cinnamon roll, and a baked potato, sweet potato, French fries, rice, or steamed veggies. It’s a little out of control, but so much fun.
You know Florida; all the cities run together. We made our way around the area, visiting Port Orange, Daytona Beach, and Ormond Beach directly north of us. Crabby Joe’s in Daytona Beach was the eatery highlight. It’s located out on a long pier, so you dine with the water around and underneath you. Maui Nix is a huge local surf shop in Daytona Beach you can visit while you’re there. Both Eric and I got new swimsuits there.
Our New Smyrna Beach RV Park
New Smyrna Beach RV Park had a great monthly rate. Unfortunately, the sites don’t have concrete and haven’t hadn’t had gravel put down in a while. It was a very wet month with constant rain, resulting in mud and lots of grass inside our RV. But the staff were good to us, and our neighbors we met were nice, too.
We had major Internet connectivity issues here. So much so that we finally ordered a weBoost Drive 4G-M Booster Kit, Magnet-Mount Antenna, and Wilson Electronics power supply. Eric was able to mount the antenna to our roof and run the wire through a window to connect to the booster inside. It was the difference between usable Internet for work and having to find another campground (probably an impossibility, given the hurricane aftermath).
Locals recommended Coronado Animal Clinic, which we needed to get Blues up to speed. Dr. Leonard lived up to his reputation and took good care of kitty. Recommend if you’re looking for a veterinarian in the New Smyrna Beach area.
FirstNSB is the church we attended and everyone there was extremely welcoming. They also shared pictures of Caspian on social media, so they obviously have good taste in babies.
I’M CAUGHT UP WITH TRAVEL LOGS
I’m writing in caps at this point because there’s no way anyone has read the 2,500 words it took to get to this point. It was a huge goal of mine to catch up on 2017 travel logs before starting our 2018 trip and I’ve done it!
After New Smyrna Beach, we spent a week in Orlando at our timeshare. We did Disney World with a baby, which I’ll probably write about at some point. After Orlando, we made a straight shot back to Corpus Christi for time with my parents, while Meriwether had annual maintenance done. Dec. 1, we checked back into our Austin RV park, La Hacienda. We’ve been here ever since.
This Saturday, we leave Austin for the second annual RV Entrepreneur Summit in Fredericksburg, TX. We’ll be there for nine days before returning to Austin, so Caspian can have his 15-month doctor’s appointment. On March 3, we officially embark on our Mountain State Trip 2018.
➡ Keep reading: “Announcing RV Wanderlust Travel Plans for 2018”