The Black Dolphin Inn

The Black Dolphin Inn

A Small Inn That’s Big on Charm

Words by Christine Van Dyk

Just before sunset, a crowd begins to gather on the dock. They sip wine, exchange tales of the day and relax on Adirondack chairs overlooking the mangroves. The sunset paints ribbons of color across the sky as cheers erupt when a group of dolphins jumps into the air and quickly disappears, chasing an unseen school of fish. There is much debate as to where the pod will surface next and child-like wonder when they finally breach at the edge of the horizon.

It’s just a small moment, a quick drink before dinner and whatever plans await for the evening. And yet like so many simple pleasures, the nightly ritual on the dock is the memory that will remain long after the bags are unpacked and the bustle of ordinary life comes rushing back. 

The Black Dolphin Inn is the kind of place you want to tell everyone about, but then immediately regret it when you do. Tucked away in a historic neighborhood on the shores of the Indian River, it features just 14 suites and guest rooms in a historic house. So small as to be relatively unknown and yet so unforgettable it feels like a secret that can’t be kept for long.

The dream of twin brothers, Scott and Brett Smith, the Black Dolphin was once the private home of a corporate pioneer. Today, it’s a family business where Brett can be found greeting visitors as his wife shops for local produce and his daughter, Food Network Star and influencer, Mackenzie Smith, preps the morning meal. 

Like any boutique, these hotel properties are, by definition, intimate, sophisticated and fashionable—in other words, not your grandmother’s Victorian B&B. There are a host of unexpected personal touches and an attention that makes you feel more like a guest in someone’s home and less like a faceless customer who just checked in online at a HoliDome.

Electric car charging stations, mid-century interiors and an open-air kitchen are notable perks, but it’s the views out the front door that everyone is talking about. The river location in New Smyrna Beach offers travelers plenty of chances to watch the local marine life and a welcome quiet spot to retire after the excitement of a day at the beach.

Guests enjoy the convenience of having fishing gear delivered right to their rooms and docking at one of the inn’s boat slips. A short drive or bike ride away, they savor seafood from the many waterfront restaurants or head to the inlet for what Surfer Magazine calls one of the top spots on the East Coast. There is biking, kayaking and shopping plus drives around a six-mile waterfront loop. Snaking its way along the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, Indian River and Atlantic Ocean, the loop offers breath-taking views and plenty of reasons to get out and explore.

Like other post-pandemic establishments, The Black Dolphin has had to adapt to the new reality, but the changes haven’t seemed to dampen the spirit of the place. In fact, when you enter the lobby you’re immediately greeted by a sign reminding folks of the Covid policies—not with corporate legal speak but the lyrics to The Police song “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”

“Sure, we’ve had to make some changes,” Brett Smith said. “For example, we no longer offer a full-scale, buffet-style meal. But guests can now order room service, a perk you don’t often see anymore, or grab a portable continental breakfast to enjoy on the dock, the front porch or the courtyard.”

While the Black Dolphin Inn has put a hold on weddings, banquets and other large-scale gatherings, it has also flourished in a questionable economy. Small in size and tucked away in a beach town geared toward the outdoors, it’s just the type of destination fearful travelers are heading toward.

If you’re lucky enough to score a reservation at this charming getaway, make sure not to overlook the in-room binoculars that allow you to scan the river for dolphins from your own private balcony. Early explorers believed such sightings brought good luck. In fact, when Ponce de Leon arrived in the Sunshine State, he was fabled to have been guided by a pod of black dolphins—just like the ones you can trace toward the horizon every night from an Adirondack chair on the dock.