It is hard to believe I was in cold, rainy London a day ago.

But thanks to its almost year-round good weather, visitors never struggle to get close to Florida’s marine life.

Although best known for Disney World, it is clear the Sunshine State has a lot more to offer than just “the Mouse”.

After touching down in Orlando I head to New Smyrna Beach, an hour south of the airport.

The 17 miles of sandy beaches are impressive and New Smyrna’s main street, Flagler Avenue, is packed with bars and restaurants.

The pastel-painted Twenties buildings are home to shops and businesses and I’m spoilt for choice on where to eat.

At Third Wave, a restaurant with a top coffee shop, I enjoy fresh seafood in the gently lit courtyard before heading back to my room — one of seven at Inn On The Avenue.

The homely B&B’s owner, Tami, cooks breakfast to order and it sets me up for a day on the water. An inlet means New Smyrna Beach is part of an island of land with the Atlantic on one side, and the Intracoastal Waterway and Indian River on the other.

The area is full of family-friendly watersports.

Kirsten, from Paddleboard New Smyrna, takes me out for my first attempt. Despite my nerves and dodgy balance, soon I’m standing up and paddling out.

As we pass waterfront houses with pontoons and wave to passing kayakers, Kirsten points out a river dolphin just a few feet away.

We edge closer and watch with delight as the dolphin and its mate jump out of the water and play next to us.

After lunch at the CorkScrew Bar & Grille, I wander into New Smyrna’s downtown and take in The Hub, a group of art and photography workshops, and grab a drink.

Becky and David Reichenberg have set up a tearoom just off the central Canal Street.

Thanks to many years living in the UK while David was in the US Air Force, there is no problem getting a proper cuppa and British visitors are especially welcome. On Saturday night, everyone recommends I head to the New Smyrna Brewery Company.

What started as a hobby in brewmaster Chris Coyle’s garage in 2006 is now a thriving microbrewery, complete with the warmest of welcomes.

Everything is made on site, in barrels and tanks you can see from the bar, and it’s not long before I am chatting to regulars.

The brewery is next to Yellow Dog Eats, where I grab a signature pulled pork sandwich and a root beer.

With the beach vibe from restaurants such as seafood specialist JB’s Fish Camp, New Smyrna has a feel of a “California on the East Coast” and it is regularly voted one of the top five surf towns in the States.

After my paddleboard success I decide to book a lesson with pro Devon Thresher, who helps me ace my stance. And unlike in chilly UK waters, my teeth aren’t chattering by the time I head back to the beach.

Go: Florida

GETTING THERE: Virgin Atlantic flies from Gatwick and Manchester to Orlando with return fares from £389pp, including complimentary food, drink and inflight entertainment. Visit or call 0344 8747 747.

STAYING THERE: Rooms at the Inn On The Avenue from £100 per night, including breakfast. See

OUT & ABOUT: See;;


World-class fishing is also on offer. Fishing guide Captain David Brown will take you for a day on Mosquito Lagoon.
Half an hour up the coast is Daytona International Speedway. With events all through the year and the chance to get behind the wheel of a NASCAR race car, it would be a shame to pass through Florida without a visit. New Smyrna is the second oldest city in Florida and the site of the largest single attempt at British colonisation in the new world. The Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse just further up the coast is evidence of that history.

The lighthouse keepers’ house is now a museum. For those who manage the 203 steps to the top of the 175ft tower, views of the beach and waterway are the reward.

This year New Smyrna Beach will celebrate its 250th anniversary with events and openings, including an ocean-front hotel, SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

Thankfully, there is no chance New Smyrna will lose its small-town, beachside feel.

I could spend another week here soaking up the sun and heading back out into the waves.

But I leave feeling like I have found the best beach town you have never heard of.

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