Where to find and ride a wave on the Atlantic Coast
Anyone who says Florida’s just not a surfing kind of place hasn’t been to the right beaches. When the swell is in, the boards come out at sites all along the state’s eastern shore. And in addition to waves ranging from often mellow to occasionally gnarly, you’ll find beach towns with a laid-back, surf-centric vibe, where board wax, beach cruisers and flip-flops are a way of life.
St. Augustine Beach
A throwback to the beach towns of a simpler time, this mile-long stretch of coast may be just a few miles from the tourism bustle of St. Augustine, but it’s a world apart. Follow Scenic Highway A1A as it jumps the Intracoastal Waterway to travel along Florida’s northeast coast and pull into the parking lot at St. Augustine Beach’s fishing pier. This is the focal point of local surfing action, and it’s surprisingly family friendly. Rentals and surf lessons are readily available for all ages and experience levels. Local riders tend to favor breaks a bit farther south, but they often congregate at the pier as well, lending an antithetic vibe to the scene.
The pier is also the focal point for concerts and surf contests, and there’s no shortage of beach bars along the highway, so once you’ve tried your hand at wave riding, plan on stopping for beer and fried oysters at Mango Mango’s Caribbean Grill & Bar or a cup of orange creamsicle at Rita’s ice cream stand.
Where to Stay: The Castillo Real sits a block or so off the beach. A boutique hotel, it has a Mediterranean vibe that sets it apart from the other beach properties. You can spoil yourself and book a room with a Jacuzzi and enjoy extra touches like marble and granite furnishings and pillow-top mattresses. BOOK NOW
About half way down Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and just an hour’s drive from Orlando, New Smyrna is another family-friendly beach town where surfers of all ages can find wave action. This 13-mile expanse of sand is open to cars, and firm enough to drive on. You have to pay a fee to get on the shore, but it’s worth it if you’re transporting surfboards. Set up home base, with a canopy, chairs and cooler. The best waves are near New Smyrna Inlet. Here, an exposed beach and jetty break delivers consistent surf action almost year-round. The town has its share of surf shops around Flagler Street in the quaint center, so renting anything from a surfboard to a skim or body board is possible here. And if surf lessons are in your plans, Surfin’ NSB offers them for individuals and groups.
Nichols Surf Shop, a cute bungalow that also houses Nichols Café, is a good spot to rent gear, grab a sandwich and compare notes with other surfers. Another favorite gathering place is the Gnarly Surf Bar and Grill; it’s decorated in a surfing theme and even has a cocktail named in honor of the area’s favorite sport: Surfin’ NSB Upside Down. Those craving cheeseburgers will find them at the Breakers Restaurant; enjoy with a beer on the patio bar where you can watch the beach traffic along with surfers in the distance. And if you find yourself down on the southern end of New Smyrna, there’s always JB Fish Camp. Tucked between Mosquito Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s popular with families for its manatee and dolphin sightings from the dock. Platters of fried fish and shrimp score big here.
Where to Stay: Best Western New Smyrna Beach Hotel & Suites is a practical choice if proximity to the beach is what you’re looking for. And the views of the long stretch of sky and ocean from the tower rooms are a bonus. BOOK NOW
Highway A1A, with its surf-centric shops, runs parallel to the wave action in Cocoa Beach, part of the 72-mile stretch called the Space Coast. The dress code here is board shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, and pedestrians and bicyclists dressed accordingly are plentiful. You’ll want to stop at the two-story surfer emporium Ron Jon Surf Shop, where boards, gear and every other accessory to beach culture line the shelves at this store-turned-attraction. In surfers’ eyes, the town’s claim to fame is being the home of 11-time ASP World Tour champion Kelly Slater. You can even have your photo taken with a bronze statue of Slater.
Cocoa Beach appeals to both beginner and experienced surfers. A few spots to consider are where the sands meet 2nd, 13th, 14th and 16th streets or around the Cocoa Beach Pier, which has breaks on almost every type of swell. The pier is also a good spot to savor a cold one and watch the experts, especially when surfing competitions are held in these waters. Advanced surfers looking for more challenging waves hang at the 2nd Light (Patrick Air Force Base). If you’re not sure which spot is right for you, pop into the Café Surfanista to chat with local surfers sipping smoothies. The health-food restaurant with its surfer- centric art on the walls is a local hangout. And don’t leave town without visiting the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum to learn more about the sport’s history and culture.
Where to Stay: On the south end of Cocoa Beach, the Dolphin Inn has a funky appeal that surfers love. Think wooden decks, carved tiki gods, resident macaws and five-star sunset views over the Indian River. It sits on a narrow section of the barrier island making it a quick trip to the ocean side. If no-frills accommodations suit you just find, then check into the family-owned Sea Aire Motel on Cocoa Beach. An old school kind of place, this laid-back spot is popular with surfers for its proximity to the waves and surfing schools; surf events are also held here. All rooms are on the ground floor, so it’s a quick and easy stroll to the water. BOOK NOW