Plan a Florida Beach Vacation

by dustytoes

Pictures of the New Smyrna Beach area of Florida which offers many places to stay, and lots to do on vacation.

Florida is a warm weather vacationers paradise. With it's miles of pristine beaches, the seaside accommodations abound. Planning a vacation in Florida is what many people do after dealing with a long, snowy winter. If you've done Disney to death, or don't have kids who are begging to go to a theme park, staying near the water is the next logical vacation destination here. Besides it's miles of beaches, Florida has rivers to explore, and the famous Intracoastal Waterway which is fun to cruise and great for sport fishing.

The Gulf Coast is well known for it's calmer waters than on the Atlantic side, but the east coast of Florida also offers a lot of beauty and diversity. I lived in central Florida for twenty-seven years and I want you to know what's available so you can get the most out of your tropical beach vacation.

(All photos on this page - except the flamingo- are my personal property and are not to be "borrowed" without permission.)

A Little About Florida

The east coast of Florida offers some unique and gorgeous places to stay, and it's close to the big attractions.

pink flamingo floridaFlorida is a very large state with a somewhat diverse climate.  Mileage from the northernmost tip of the Panhandle to southernmost Key West is roughly 832 miles.  It would take over twelve hours to drive from one end of Florida to the other.  It can be daunting to find the perfect place to spend a long-awaited vacation.

The Gulf of Mexico is well known for it's beautiful beaches and calm, warm waters, but don't dismiss the east coast.  The eastern areas also offer some unique beauty all their own.  And the eastern, central area offers close proximity to the big theme parks in Orlando and Kissimmee, as well as the Daytona International Speedway and the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.


Fun fact: Flamingos get their bright coloring from the shrimp and other food they eat.

Photo credit: Meredith Lamb | Dreamstime

Where to Stay on Vacation in Florida?

Rental properties can be found all over Florida and especially at the beaches, or close by.

florida beachAnyone who lives in a climate that includes a long, cold, and often snowy, winter will often plan to vacation someplace on a southern beach.  Beaches are often the choice for vacationing families and honeymooning couples.

There are lots of gorgeous places to play in the sand, but this page will focus on the coastal area that I am most familiar with.

The types of rentals you will find available along the east coast of Florida are private homes, hotels, Inns, Bed and Breakfasts, and condominiums.  On this page I have advice for you concerning condos and homes for rent in the New Smyrna area, but if you are looking for a quaint Bed and Breakfast, there is a nice looking one right on the Indian River (part of the Intracoastal Waterway) very close to the south causeway called the Night Swan.

(My photo: New Smyrna Beach)

Driving Beach vs. Non-Driving Beach

Some of the central, east coast beaches allow cars to drive on the beach during the daytime.

non-driving beachThe New Smyrna and Daytona beaches allow cars to drive onto the beach during the day.  It's a convenient way bring everything you need right to the sand for the day. 

Most people drive on and find a place to park and spend a few hours, or all day, then leave.  Others like to cruise the beach.  In the summer, drive-on beaches can be packed with people, cars and bicycles, but the beach closes around 7:00pm.

I have stayed a few times at a condo on the drive-on beach.  It really didn't bother me that there was traffic in front of the condo all day long.  It can be entertaining watching the people and cars pass by.  Cars are required to crawl along the sand due to posted very low speed limits.  But some people prefer the non-driving beach as it is safer for children and less crowded and more quiet (sometimes).

Beach Traffic Pros and cons:

  1. Drive-on beaches are in the heart of the busy areas.  With people on the beach from the condos combined with people visiting in cars, the beaches can be crowded - especially at high tide, when the sand area is smaller. (At extreme high tides, the on-ramps to the beach are closed.)
  2. The non-driving beaches are further down the road (south) from the center of the city and therefore further from shopping and some restaurants, but generally not that far.
  3. Some of the areas near the non-driving beaches have parking lots so you'll seldom have the place to yourself no matter where you are.
  4. Lifeguards dot the driving beach during the day, and Turtle Mound / Bethune Beach has one as well (one of the non-driving beaches), but renting a home or condo on a non-driving beach may mean there will be no lifeguards.
  5. Renting beach equipment such as umbrellas, boogie boards, bikes and such is done from the trucks and trailers that pull onto the beach and set up their business.  Also food and drink can be purchased from vendors on the drive-on beaches.  You are on your own on a non-driving beach.
  6. Cars must leave the beach at the end of the day, so no matter where you stay, the beach will be clear of traffic in the evening.

(Photo:  27th Ave. park and walk on beach area.)

New Smyrna Beach is My Favorite Spot

Just south of busy and touristy Daytona Beach, this town is extremely popular.

boating on the ICWNew Smyrna Beach is a located on the central, east coast of Florida.  It is a beautiful place, with a small town, friendly feel.  Famous Daytona Beach is to the north and the Canaveral Seashore is to the south.  It's the perfect place to live or vacation.  With two main roads that dump visitors onto the drive-on beaches in New Smyrna, it's also a very busy area.

Two causeways cross the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to get over to "beachside" from the mainland and they are known simply as the "north causeway" and "south causeway".  The north one has a drawbridge.  There are, of course, numerous hotels and condos all along the shore and the river.

Water is always close by in Florida.  You may rent a pontoon or fishing boat at the Fishin' Cove Marina, and get out on the ICW and see some of the real Florida.  Fishermen are drawn to this area because of Mosquito Lagoon, just to the south, which is a very popular spot for catching redfish and lots more.  (The rentals are not allowed to go as far south as Mosquito Lagoon.)

(Photo: That's my son driving our center console rental boat.)

There is no shortage of beautiful homes along the water of the ICW

We also saw lots of dolphins and the occasional manatee.
Beautiful homes along the shore of the Intracoastal Waterway
Beautiful homes along the shore of the Intracoastal Waterway
P. Carter

Busy Flagler Avenue

Breaker's restaurant serves up a delicious meal and offers a view of the ocean.

breakers restaurant seatingFlagler Ave., in New Smyrna is a popular area for tourists with restaurants, a surf shops and places to pick up souvenirs, not to mention beach access.   Head over the north causeway and Flagler Ave will dump you onto the drive-on beach.  If you head north, you'll eventually end up at the jetty at Ponce Inlet.

There's also a big parking lot (that has bathroom accommodations) where Flagler Ave. ends, so you can stroll the beach or sidewalks and do some shopping.   A favorite spot right at the beach is Breakers restaurant where you can sit and watch the beach traffic (the image below was our view).  Sit at the windows to eat a yummy meal while watching the beach-goers run for cover from an impending storm!

(Shortly after I took the picture below, the lifeguards and beach patrol cleared the beach because of lightning.)

The Beach Ramp at Flagler Ave

Beach View From Inside Breakers Restaurant
Beach View From Inside Breakers Restaurant

Get Your Surf Boards Here!

That's me renting a surfboard - just kidding! But I did do some boogie-boarding.
Rent surfboards, buy food, or shop for gifts, along Flagler Ave.
Rent surfboards, buy food, or shop for gifts, along Flagler Ave.

Would you prefer to stay on a beach with or without car traffic?

Southern beaches in this area do not allow cars to drive on.

Condos Near Ponce Inlet

Northern tip of New Smyrna beach area showing traffic lanes on the sand.
High Rise Condos and Beach Traffic
High Rise Condos and Beach Traffic

Carefully Compare Hotels and Condos For The Amenities They Provide

Read descriptions carefully and look for reviews written by past tennants.

Recently I was searching for a place to rent for my Florida week-long vacation.  Of course the first place I thought of was on the beach.  It can be overwhelming when trying to choose the perfect place to rent as there are just so many to choose from.  While they all may seem quite similar, certain amenities can add comfort to your stay.  Read descriptions carefully, and ask the renter questions to make sure items will be provided.

  • Do you want to be on the driving beach or non-driving? (See below for an explanation)
  • Want a large, highrise complex with many units, or would you prefer a smaller place?
  • Compare number of pools to size of units - how crowded will the pool be?
  • Is there a minimum number of weeks you must stay?  (Some places rent by the month only.)
  • Think about amenities you may want, such as washer and dryer, internet access, elevators, wheelchair access, covered parking, beach toys, towels and chairs.
The Jetty at Ponce Inlet
The Jetty at Ponce Inlet

Florida Beach Condos For Rent

Having the ocean in your front yard is a wonderful thing.  And all these condos also have great pools.  VRBO (Vacation rentals by owner) has an extensive list of New Smyrna Beach rentals, but these were my top finds:

Schooner Point (Non-driving beach)
Built in 1983, this is a nice looking, low-rise complex of condos directly on the beach. With only 40 total units, this place is not overly huge. Prices per week vary throughout the year, but I found this place to be on the more expensive side.

Chateau by the Sea (Driving beach, but at the cut-off, so close to non-driving)
With 53 units right on the ocean, what I liked about this complex was the location of the pool. At most condos, if your room is located close to the pool, it can be noisy. This place centered the pool in a grassy area with the "U" shaped building giving everyone a nice view. This was also one of the more affordable places I looked at.

The Watermark (Driving beach)
The Watermark is a great place to stay. It's right on the driving beach near popular Flagler Ave. (see my photos on this page), which means you can walk to shops and restaurants. This complex also offers a closed garage with each unit so your vehicle can be parked under cover. I have stayed here twice with my family and we all had great fun.

The Minorca and the Inlet are located at the northern tip of New Smyrna Beach near Ponce Inlet, which is a driving beach, but I believe this complex has access to the ICW side too (not sure). This place is relatively new, and huge.  The site says there is underground parking which is something I've never heard of in this area.

Florida Vacation Rental Homes

Beach house rentals tend to be pricey and most don't have a pool.

home rentalsI recently decided to rent a private home from Great Ocean Condos, and I suggest you DO NOT use them to find a rental in Florida.  Our place was a real dump, with bad water, which made it a total nightmare.  It was very disappointing, and the description of the place is still very deceiving, even after I pointed out the problems.  Use VRBO instead.

There are a few good reasons to find a beach house rental instead of a condo in a complex.  Privacy is probably the most common reason.  A nice, big house can be perfect if you have a big crowd staying together, or want to split the cost with relatives.

On the down side, homes tend to be more expensive, and from what I've found, many of the affordable ones on the beach do not have a pool, and a pool is great to have in Florida.

The VRBO site has a few private homes in the area for rent. 

This list features rentals that have been reviewed favorably by past renters:

The Fisherman's Dream with pool

Private Home on No-Driving Beach

Beautiful House with Garage at Bethune Beach

Pool Home Sleeps 11

My Florida

Boogie board fun!
Boogie board fun!

Vacation Photos

Sunrise on the River (Intracoastal)
Sunrise on the River (Intracoastal)

Good Sunscreen From L'Oreal

I used this on my face during my vacation and it worked very well.
L'Oreal Sublime Sun Face Lotion SPF 50+, 1.7 Fluid Ounce

Introducing new advanced broad-spectrum suncare protection infused with skin improving care. Protect skin with patented long lasting UVA/UVB protection. Beautify skin with multi...

View on Amazon

Updated: 05/27/2018, dustytoes
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Have you ever stayed on the east coast of Florida?

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dustytoes on 07/11/2013

They've made some changes to that drive on idea over the years also. It used to be okay to form 2 rows of parking, during low tide - one up at the dune area and one down closer to the water. But no more. I think too many people were getting hit by cars because of it.

ologsinquito on 07/11/2013

No, I never have and I've never heard of drive-on beaches. That's an interesting twist.

dustytoes on 07/11/2013

The Ponce Inlet area is so pretty. Did you ever visit disappearing island? We boated there but it was high tide and there wasn't much showing (hence the name).

fitzcharming on 07/10/2013

We used to have a condo on Ponce Inlet - the very south tip of Daytona and across the inlet from NSB. We shared it with 4 other couples and split out the weeks. Kind of like a private time share but we had LOTS of weeks. It was many years ago when my kids were young and property wasn't quite so expensive. Great place to spend the summers. Your photos bring back lots of fun memories.

kimbesa on 07/10/2013

Yes! It's beautiful and I'd go back to Florida's east coast any time.

MikeRobbers on 07/10/2013

Florida is a great place to visit and I enjoyed your tour to these amazing beaches!

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