Sure Miami is the flashy one, Tampa is all about the sunsets and there is nothing like chilling in the Florida Keys, but the North East coast of Florida is a treasure trove of smaller cities where it’s all about fun, sun and good times! Here are 3 towns you need to explore on the North East Coast of Florida.
Noted as the second oldest city in Florida, New Smyrna Beach has a relaxed and cosy feel and the speed moves at your own pace, allowing you and the family to experience unique and boutique local shops and restaurants. Canal Street is the historic district and the artsy part of town while Flagler Ave offers a beachside, funky surfer vibe.
Speaking of surfing, when I was fourteen-years-old I watched the movie Blue Crush, and ever since then I always wanted to learn how to surf. There’s something about trying to conquer a natural force with the irony of knowing you never will. But, that’s the life of a surfer. The mentality of someone who never wants to give up. And so, my journey of how to become one with the ocean began, in New Smyrna Beach.
For anyone who’s ever wanted to learn how to surf, NSB is known for having a great set of waves for a beginner. Nichols Surf Shop provides instructions on the basics and what to expect and then, the real fun begins. I’m not the best swimmer in the world, but the Pisces in me has always had a fascination with the ocean and trying to conquer it. The truth is, you can’t, and that’s what makes surfers so determined is knowing that every wave you take off on, every sweet spot you find, trying to rise and take control of the wave is an experience that can’t be explained. It requires the use of every part of your body: mind, body and soul. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Even with the countless times I wiped out, it just made me hungrier to come back to NSB and try again.
More of an on-land explorer? Canal St. houses some amazing museums and art installations that would please the whole family. The New Smyrna Museum of History is a free not-for-profit museum where you’ll learn about the beginning of the settlement in 1768 in the southeastern end of Florida, today known as Volusia County, and how 1,255 settlers found a home in new plantations developed by Dr Andrew Turnbull.
The Hub is a seven-year-old non-profit organization supporting more than 70 artists. Every second Sunday is Family Fun Day at The Hub where you can explore 2 galleries that change monthly and where you’ll find everything from contemporary art, to oil paintings, to hand-made shoes and jewellery.
The newly renovated Hampton Inn by Hilton resembles a modern yet warm home with white painted balconies and palm trees outlining the property. The serene garden is a wonderful place to sip coffee whilst enjoying the coastal breeze. Walking distance from Flagler Ave and a short trip to the beach where you can enjoy 13 miles of white sandy beach. The hotel amenities include free wi-fi, outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, and free hot breakfast so you and the kids can enjoy waffles, eggs and fresh fruit before hitting the town.
About an hour and a half drive north of New Smyrna Beach you’ll find Florida’s Historic Coast, also known as St. Augustine. The oldest city in America, St. Augustine’s history can be seen throughout the city steaming from Henry Flagler who played a key role in the development of Atlantic Coast Florida and was the founder of the East Coast Florida Railroad.
Your family will be immersed into all kinds of wondrous adventures like taking the Old Town Trolley Tours featuring over 20 stops to explore including the Old Jail, which was designed to resemble an upscale hotel from the outside but was in fact a real jail on the inside. Be sure to get off and visit Castillo de San Marcos, the 17th-century Spanish-fortress which takes you on a journey through three centuries of Spanish and British colonial life and don’t miss the cannon firing at the top of the Oldest City.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum explores the history of the oldest lighthouse from 1874. Climb 219 steps or 14 flights and stop along the 8 landings that tell old tales with your reward at the top being the stunning views of St. Augustine and the Atlantic Ocean. Your little ones will enjoy interactive exhibits which can be found in the Keepers House and take a stroll through the Maritime Hammock Trails.
Built in 1888 by Henry Flagler, St. Augustine’s Hotel Ponce de Leon was an extraordinary architectural wonder, where presidents stayed, and the wealthy played. Today, this incredible building stands as Flagler College, housing 2,500 students celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The tour runs adults $12 and kids 10 and under are free. You’ll be blown away by the stunning architecture, the Tiffany blue used throughout the rooms and of course, 79 pieces of Tiffany stained glass making it the largest collection in the world.
Across the street from Flagler College, you’ll find The Lightner Museum housing collections of 19th-century art from around the country.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park is an experience that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike! It’s the only place in the United States to house all 24 species of alligators including the Komodo dragon, king cobra and cassowaries. You’ll learn all about rare and exotic mammals, reptiles and birds, most of whom hang out at the Native Bird Rookery, featuring 8 species of birds like egrets, spoonbills, wood stork and herons.
Get up close and personal (from behind a glass window of course) with Maximo, a 1,250 pound and almost 16-foot-long alligator!
The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort exemplifies the term it feels like home, created by the architecturally stunning and bright spaces mixed with the warm hospitality of the staff.
Opening its doors in December 2018, The Embassy Suites features 175 room-suites inspired by coastal elegance. The hotel is situated right on the beach where you can take a nice stroll on the pier. Happy hour takes place every day from 4:30-630p in The Rum Bar, and the Harvest & Reel restaurant offers a surf and turf menu plus their pork chop coffee and molasses rub with salted caramel potatoes and a delicious buffet breakfast and omelette bar to start your day off right. You can do Yoga on the lawn, rent a bike or hang out by the heated pool. The spacious suites and oceanfront rooms give your family exactly what’s needed, some space to spread out and a place to come together.
The birthplace of the shrimping industry of Fernandina Beach is beautiful Amelia Island. One family favourite activity is the Amelia Island River Cruise, offering historic and wildlife sightseeing tours. You’ll sail by Cumberland Island, home to wild horses and learn about Fort Clinch, the fort that was never used for battle or that Amelia Island was the filming location for Pippi Longstocking.
Located in the maritime forest of Amelia Island’s State Park at the southernmost end of the island you’ll discover Kelly Seahorse Ranch. If there was ever a bucket list item activity, this is it. You and your family will enjoy a short trail ride from the ranch that reveals a breath-taking view directly out to the beach riding along the park’s pristine Atlantic shore.
From there, head to Egan’s Creek and enjoy an educational kayaking experience with Kayak Amelia, where if you’re lucky enough you’ll spot jellyfish and manatees.
The OMNI Amelia Island Plantation Resort encompasses 1,350-acres of property, some belonging to private residences. The property is surrounded by giant oak trees covered in Spanish moss and nestled right at the tip of a barrier island off the Northeast Florida coast surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Featuring 402 oceanfront rooms, the OMNI also features private one, two and three-bedroom vacation units, perfect for multi-generational family travellers. The amenities are endless: golf courses, 23 tennis courts, a spa and salon, North Florida’s largest pool deck with two fire-pits and two family-friendly pools and hot tubs. The little ones will enjoy picking up their Omni Kids Backpack upon check-in and taking part in Camp Amelia so the adults can sneak away for some alone time.
Shuttles are available throughout the property to take you where you need to go (be sure to put your call in at least 30min in advance) like grabbing some fresh pastries and sandwiches at Marche Burette Market and Deli.
For full details on more Floridian adventures check out: www.visitflorida.com