Daytona Beach, FL
Seekers of a quintessential Florida beach vacation will warm to Daytona Beach, a city of 70,000 on the Sunshine State’s east-central coast. With the ocean right at Daytona’s doorstep, travelers savor locally sourced seafood at an abundance of area restaurants. Nightspots rock well into the early morning hours, and the city has more than 12,000 rooms to accommodate its enormous tourism industry.
Daytona Beach is one of the few Florida resorts that date to the late 1800s. Its wide, world-famous sandy shore has always been Daytona Beach’s main attraction. In the early 1900s, automobile enthusiasts discovered that its hard-packed sands provided a perfect course for racing cars.
Daytona has been “nirvana” to auto racing fans ever since. By far the busiest—and most expensive—time for a hotel stay is during one of the racing seasons: In February, April and July for auto races, and in March and October for motorcycle races. Spring is when Daytona Beach’s weather is at its finest, and there’s plenty to do outdoors besides sunbathing. On the beach itself, windsurfing and body-board rentals are plentiful. The area’s three ocean piers all rent fishing equipment, and deep-sea fishing excursions abound.
Many of today’s Spring Breakers are former collegians who come with their own school-aged children in tow. Besides treating the kids to a good old-fashioned beach vacation, visitors happily discover that Disney World and Universal Studios are just an hour away.
Off the beach, Daytona Beach boasts one of the highest per-capita concentrations of golf courses in America. For more strenuous activity, visit Daytona Beach’s Tuscawilla Park, a forest preserve smack in the middle of town that looks positively primeval. Adventurers can now go ziplining through the tops of 120-foot-tall oak, pine, palm and magnolia trees.
Within Tuscawilla Park is the Museum of Arts and Sciences, offering a world-class collection of American, African, African-American, Cuban and Chinese art. Every two years, the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra sets up residence in town in April and May, drawing fans of classical music.
History buffs should be sure to tour The Casements, John D. Rockefeller’s winter home in neighboring Ormond Beach, now a museum. Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens in nearby Port Orange borders on the archeological; it is the remains of an 18th-century mill from the Spanish-colonial era, and also houses a botanical garden.
For a very different view of this beach town, take a trip on A Tiny Cruise Line, which makes its way down the Halifax River (the local arm of the Intracoastal Waterway) a dozen times each day and evening. The owner of this late 19th-century launch provides a fascinating rundown of Daytona Beach attractions along the shore, including dozens of well-preserved, 100-year-old mansions.
No visit to Daytona is complete without a stop at the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse, located 10 miles south of the city in Ponce Inlet. At 175 feet tall, it is the second-tallest lighthouse in the U.S. The adventurous (and fit) can climb its spiral staircase for a one-of-a-kind panorama of the entire resort area.