We love getting off the interstate highways and taking the two-lane roads whenever we can. As I have said many times before, a Denny’s or a chain hotel at an interstate exit in Kansas is no different than one in Michigan or California. But the two-lane roads will take you to the real America. Small towns where you can sit in a diner on Main Street, where the waitress will call you honey or dear, and by the time you finish your lunch, you will know who is cheating on who, who just bought a new pickup truck, and who’s out of work. You will meet friendly people, see things you never imagined, and learn a lot about history in these small town gems scattered from border to border and coast to coast.
When we decided to hang up the keys and quit the fulltime RV lifestyle, we spent a lot of time deciding between the Pacific Northwest coast or somewhere on the Florida coast. Both had things we liked a lot about them, but Florida won out because our arthritic old bones couldn’t handle the cold and dampness of the Pacific Northwest winters. That decision made, we spent a long time researching different areas in Florida before we settled on the area around New Smyrna Beach. After five years, we still believe it was the right choice for us.
The first Europeans came to the area in 1768 and recruited about 1,300 settlers from the Mediterranean island of Menorca to work a massive plantation that grew sugarcane, hemp, and indigo. The original colony failed due to bad management, insect-borne diseases, and Indian attacks. Many of the settlers moved north to what is now St. Augustine. Fierce battles between whites and Indians occurred in the area during the Seminole Wars. Today, the beautiful and haunting Sugar Mill Ruins are a reminder of those early days.
During the Civil War, Union gunboats shelled the wharves at New Smyrna to prevent Confederate blockade runners and smugglers from using them, but the smugglers were back during the Prohibition years of the 1920s, bringing in rum from the Bahamas.
All of this is preserved at the New Smyrna Museum of History, located at 120 Sams Avenue. Here you will find displays of Native American artifacts, exhibits on England’s largest colonial plantation, railroad memorabilia, surfing, and even a lifeguard flag stolen by college pranksters and returned by a guilty conscience after 50 years.
These days New Smyrna Beach is a resort town of over 20,000 permanent residents and a large population of tourists who come to enjoy the beach and all that the small town has to offer.
And it definitely has a lot to offer! The Canal Street Historic District, with its small mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, will have you thinking you went back in time to the days before chain stores and mega-malls. It’s a great place for window shopping, and the few short blocks are often closed for arts and crafts fairs, classic car shows, and other special events.
Of course, the beach is the biggest attraction here, with miles of white sand you can drive on, look for seashells, surf, fish, or just enjoy the sun. Surfing is popular here, even though New Smyrna Beach is known as the Shark Bite Capital of the World. Fortunately, the sharks doing the biting are relatively small and are searching for baitfish. The bites are seldom very serious, though they do require medical attention.
The nearby Canaveral National Seashore and Apollo Beach Visitor Center are great places to get away from the crowds and enjoy unspoiled beachscapes and see native wildlife, from armadillos to foxes and manatees.
New Smyrna Beach is home to the Indian River Lagoon, where you can find more than 4,000 diverse species. Programs at the Marine Discovery Center are designed for all ages and offer “hands-on, feet-wet” learning opportunities that include lectures, boat and kayak eco-tours.
The Atlantic Center for the Arts is a non-profit artist facility located with programs that include a popular Children’s Art Camp, artist Lectures, exhibitions, and other events.
Millions of television viewers loved artist Bob Ross, and the Bob Ross Art Workshop & Gallery, opened by Ross in 1993, can be found at its original location at 757 E. 3rd Avenue. The workshop hosts a large collection of the artist’s original oil paintings visitors will recognize from his Public Television series, The Joy of Painting. The workshop offers classes in the Bob Ross unique style of oil painting taught by Ross Certified Teacher Trainer Nicholas Hankins.
Whether you prefer flying kites or sunbathing on the beach, kayaking or paddleboarding in Mosquito Lagoon, angling for the lagoon’s trophy redfish, or a relaxing day browsing small shops and galleries, New Smyrna Beach has so much to offer, as well as restaurants serving first-class seafood, nightlife, and laid back RV parks. Come visit our special place on Florida’s Atlantic coast. I think you will quickly understand why we decided to call it home.
Congratulations Jeannine Sheridan, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of The Islet of the Virgin, book 4 in my friend Ken Rossignol’s – Famous Murderous Pirates book series. We had 23 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – I enjoy taking long romantic walks to the kitchen.