Our family is a flock of snowbirds. It’s how we survive the cold winters up north – by looking forward to some respite down south. Mom goes down all winter, so each year, we drive to Florida to see her, catch a tan, and remember how good it feels to walk around outside with a tank top and flip-flops on.
But this year, things have been a little different. Traveling is much more difficult with the COVID-19 pandemic. And all the things we are used to doing are not so easy anymore. Since we have my sister’s kids to entertain, we usually make a stop at the theme parks in Orlando, but that’s not happening this year. Nor will the water parks, the pools, or the crowded happy hours at the surf bars.
After brainstorming for a minute, though, we realized that there is so much that Florida has to offer that fits into social distancing protocols. So we decided to go with the flow and drive straight to one of our favorite little beach towns, New Smyrna Beach. It’s just 20 minutes south of Daytona Beach and about an hour-drive from Orlando, without the busyness of other beaches like Miami or Clearwater.
New Smyrna Beach has so much incredible nature to explore, offering the perfect pandemic-safe outdoor activities. We had all been so tired of being cooped up in the house for months, that I think a dose of nature was exactly what we needed. It’s funny how things work out that way.
As you might guess, there are white sandy beaches and epic sunrise views over the Atlantic Ocean that never get old. Walks down the beach towards the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse always do the trick for me too. And then there’s also the Smyrna Dunes Park, which is the perfect place to take the dogs. It’s the part of the beach that is more natural with dunes and long grass blowing in the wind. All of the beaches are spread out and don’t seem to get too crowded, which we appreciated.
The best part about New Smyrna is all of the wildlife you are able to see in the area. It’s home to the Indian River Lagoon, which we learned is the most biologically diverse estuary in the country. It’s a magical place where streams and rivers flow between islands, marshes and the mainland. Freshwater mixes with the ocean saltwater, creating a very unique habitat for many different species to thrive in.
Our tour guide on the river pontoon boat gave us all the ins and outs. We saw some bottlenose dolphins, which always give me a good smile. And we were shocked at how close they swam up to the boat! The kids just loved it.
Egrets, blue herons, and many other beautifully winged birds are all over the place. Our guide took us to a rookery – a small island that we learned birds come to lay their eggs and raise their chicks. It’s a safe nursery since many inland predators are not on the island. What a special sight to see.
There’s plenty of fishing to do around here too, since the area is so full of quality seafood. The boys were catching redfish and spotted sea trout without any trouble. While they did that, we kayaked and watched the birds catch their lunch in the lagoon.
Though we didn’t do too much eating out, many businesses are taking the pandemic very seriously by practicing social distancing and enforcing masks when appropriate. And there is a plethora of options for outdoor dining, which made us feel so much better about eating out when we did.
As hard as this year has been, it’s amazing to remember what can happen when you think outside the box a little bit. So what if we can’t go to Disneyworld this year – there’s a whole world outside to explore.