Did New Smyrna Beach get the jump on St. Augustine?
Historians have long debated whether the seaside town is the actually the original St. Augustine-- the Spanish-colonized spot known as the nations‘ oldest city. Why? Overlooking the Intracoastal waterway stands a stunning 40 x 80 foot coquina ruin. A limestone consisting almost entirely of shelly fossils, coquina was the only material resembling stone on Florida's sandy coast that explorers used to build structures in the late 1600s. Coquina is the primary building material of the famed masonry fort Castillo de San Marcus in St. Augustine. Still, other historians give credit for the structure to a Scottish physician named Andrew Turnbull who colonized the area for England in 1768.
Today, the ruins are part of the larger Old Fort Park. Nestled among the moss-draped trees along the shores of the scenic Indian Rive, New Smyrna Beach is surrounded totally by bodies of water. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east, the Intracoastal Waterway to the west and Mosquito Lagoon is between the two.
Located just south of its well-known neighbor Daytona Beach, NSB as locals refer to it, has that old Florida feel. It's a laid-back coastal community free from the rattle-n-hum that overruns most Florida destinations. Beaches are far from crowded. A small town feel abounds. Visitors will find a vibrant historic downtown, beachside shopping boutiques, a multitude of parks and outdoor recreation possibilities. And, bring your dog. There are 22 restaurants that welcome dogs at their outdoor tables. Bone appetit!
A slice of ocean off NSB's coast is recognized as one of the best surfing spots in the Sunshine State. Rock ledges 4-5 miles offshore not only promote excellent wave breaks but also protect swimmers from dangerous undertows. While there is a definite pecking order for accomplished surfers that rip up the waves, beginners can learn to surf here at the same time. Every summer the American Professional Surfing Association stages one of its premier contests here. Surfers roll into town from all over the country to compete.
An angler's heaven, surf fishing can be quite productive. Pompano, whiting, flounder, redfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and others swim just off the beach. Mosquito Lagoon is touted as the redfish capital of the world and spans the Indian River from New Smyrna Beach to Titusville, overlapping both the Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. With over 167,000 acres between them, Mosquito Lagoon represents one of the greatest fisheries in North America and where some of the best guides call home. Redfish and spotted trout are the primary targets, but tarpon, snook, grouper, sheepshead, black drum mangrove snapper, ladyfish, and the occasional shark are also available.
The 124-acre Lake Ashby Park boasts camp sites, sports courts, hiking and horse trails, a fishing pier and boat ramp. Perched on 250 acres of beautiful land on the northern tip of the NSB peninsula, Dunes Park is surrounded by the Indian River in the west, the Ponce de Leon Inlet in the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The park contains five ecosystems: ocean, river, sand dunes, scrub and saltwater marsh. Birds, reptiles and marine creatures make their home in the mangroves along the shoreline, the rolling dunes and sand flats. Take a guided nature walk and learn more about the native animals and vegetation from local experts.
Across the inlet stands the bright-red Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Florida which soars to 175 feet. More than 125 years old, it is one of only 12 lighthouses in the United States to have been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The grounds are well maintained and the museum is quite informative, even for the kids. Scale the 203 stairs for more to see and learn.
A walk through NSB's downtown historic district brings visitors to Canal Street with its boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries housed in turn of the 20th century buildings. Don't miss the Little Drug Company. Its white face and blue lettering bring to mind storefronts from the 1950s. This old timey soda fountain pharmacy creates milkshakes the old-fashioned way: thick, creamy, and rich with malt. You'll also find penny candy and ice cream floats. The burgers are perennially voted best in town.
Overlooking the Indian River in historical district, the Black Dolphin Inn is a former 1947 Spanish-style home with a chic beachy feel. The owners, brothers Brett and Scott Smith, are third-generation hoteliers from New Jersey who discovered the riverfront residence and pulled off a superb renovation.
The inn offers sweeping views from most of the guest rooms that feature classic Old Florida woods and materials. Eclectic ceiling fans, vintage art, and tropical spa-inspired baths create a unique oasis. Most rooms have a balcony and even come with a pair of binoculars to scan the water for the dolphins that glide through these waters. A complimentary continental breakfast is served daily with a full Southern style breakfast on weekends.
You are within walking distance of a nice selection of eateries. In a circa 1920s home, the Third Wave Cafe features locally roasted coffee, breakfast specialties and fresh baked pastries each morning. Wine and local craft beers are served on the enchanting garden patio with choices such as Tennessee Truck Stop pizza and savory crepes or fresh vegetables and gluten free options. The back patio features live music, twinkling white lights wrapped through trees, an outdoor fire pit and cypress tree tables.
Tucked into a courtyard off Flagler Avenue, Hemingway's Hideout celebrates the iconic American novelist and outdoorsman Ernest Hemingway. Check out the buck's head on the wall and the old rifle for a door handle. Can't go wrong with the daily specials such as a bacon-wrapped filet stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and crab meat. Try the poke (po-kay) bowl, fresh, raw ahi tuna marinated in various combinations of Asian sauces seaweed, roe, onions and seasoning or the traditional Cuban sandwich on the coconut pineapple bun. Yum!
The CorkScrew Bar & Grille features a tropical outdoor patio at or a cozy, brick-lined dining room when those Florida thundershowers pop up. Start with gator bites or shrimp corn chowder. Favorites entrees include the Southern smothered chicken, swamp pasta or the lightly blackened shrimp served over whole grain oats, topped with strawberry salsa. The mahi with baked brussel sprouts and risotto is another winner. CorkScrew is located further inland from the ocean, west of the Indian River North, but the seafood is daily caught and locally sourced.
Those delightful seafood specials pay tribute to New Smyrna Beach's fishing heritage dating back to the prehistoric nomadic bands of Timucuan Indians that trawled the waterways. As for the mysterious ruins and being oldest city in America, it's a discussion that won't be settled anytime soon. Better to pay a visit to NSB and enjoy the bounty of its surrounding waters.