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POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Beach trip: A dandy tradition

Jim Abbott on Florida Travel

Postcards from Florida

January 4, 2010

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At first blush, it might not seem that Florida is as rich in holiday traditions as, say, New England, what with all the temperate weather and beaches here in the Sunshine State.

Not so, all you smug Northern hot-chocolate sippers! Take it from this Florida native, our state's natural attributes make a dandy backdrop for annual rituals with family and friends.

When my two sons were younger, our post-presents Christmas Day routine revolved around a trip to New Smyrna Beach (or occasionally nearby Ponce Inlet) for a game of touch football on the beach. The sand is pretty much unpopulated at midday on Christmas, which offered the old man a chance to stare out at the water in quiet contemplation – until one of the rug rats mounted a sneak attack.

Even on the coldest days, the Christmas Day weather is pretty nice, which makes for prime bragging material with Yankee relatives socked in by some snow storm. After all these years, it's impossible for me to complain about living here.

The kids are older now, so the touch-football tradition has mostly gone by the wayside, but others have emerged in its place.

In recent years, I have been welcomed into another annual rite: the New Year's Day trek with friends to J.B.'s Fish Camp, one of those rustic places that time forgot between the beach and the Indian River, about seven miles south of The Islander Resort, along South A1A.

On New Year's Day, the aftermath of the previous night's party makes the atmosphere even more laid back than usual. Waitresses aren't in much hurry to turn around their tables, so there's ample opportunity for lingering. In past years, our group eventually managed to migrate to nearby Chases on the Beach (3401 S. Atlantic Ave.) or the deck at the Grille at Riverview (101 Flagler Ave.) for additional drinks and conversation about the coming year.

On one occasion, the road trip extended to The Last Resort (5812 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange), the dive-bar made famous as the hangout of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Its earthy charms are an acquired taste.

If you didn't make the beach getaway for the holidays, don't despair. Until the spring breakers kick off the tourist season, a quiet New Smyrna Beach excursion is an excellent way to start a new tradition of your own.