The upcoming Daytona 500 is just one of many reasons to race to adventure in Daytona Beach but for those who want relaxing beach time or outdoor nature therapy, it’s all here in Volusia County.
The Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway, photo courtesy Daytona International Speedway
February 14 marks the 63rd running of the world-renowned Daytona 500, the 200-lap, 500-mile stock car race. The iconic auto race held at Daytona International Speedway is just one of many reasons to spend time in Volusia County.
Daytona Beach, the “World’s Most Famous Beach”
From Ormond Beach to New Smyrna Beach, and from DeLand to Cassadaga, Volusia County – including Daytona Beach – has something for everyone.
This is definitely a place to go cruising with the top down and sunglasses on, but you don’t even need a car to get into the “cruisin’ state of mind.” Here, you can climb a lighthouse, hike through an oak hammock forest, fish off a pier, walk through historic downtown, meet a manatee, or even visit a classic biker bar.
Ormond Beach Yacht Club
Whether walking through history or enjoying the area’s best-kept secrets, consider these three suggested day trips. Each one will help you get to know the area while offering relaxation, fun, and thrills that will keep you coming back for more:
Daytona Beach historic bandshell on the boardwalk, photo courtesy Daytona Beach Area CVB
#1 DAY TRIP
The Beach, Race History, a Lighthouse, and Sea Turtles
Daytona Beach is called the Original American Beach with 23 miles of Atlantic waterfront providing more than ample room to plant your feet in the sand while enjoying the salty fresh air.
Ormond Beach, the “birthplace of speed,” photo taken at the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America
Over a century ago, this hard-packed sand drew early racecar drivers to test their vehicles for maximum speed, thus creating a historic racing heritage.
Daytona Beach Road Course, photo taken at the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America
Fifteen world land speed records were set on the sand that soon became known as the legendary Daytona Beach Road Course and was the precursor to the Daytona International Speedway. Starting in 1936 the course regularly hosted races for what would become NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). Visitors can retrace the steps of this course by following the marked signs starting at Racing’s North Turn (the restaurant by the same name marks the spot) at 4511 South Atlantic in Ponce Inlet. It paralleled the beach two miles south on A1A to the end of the road making the south turn to the beach, continuing north on the sandy beach, back to A1A finishing at the north turn. (In the 1940’s it was lengthened to 4.2 miles.)
Driving the beach is one of the iconic experiences on Daytona Beach
Because of this history, driving a car on the beaches where racing began tradition is one of Daytona’s most iconic experiences. You can do the same by following these access points.
Daytona Beach Pier
Daytona Beach Pier
One of the most recognizable landmarks is the Daytona Beach Pier, known simply to locals as “the pier.” It juts out over the Atlantic Ocean at the end of Main Street and was originally built at the turn of the 20th century from old palm logs. Always the center of beach life, the historic landmark was a stopover for famous 1920-era top bands that played in the ballroom overlooking the ocean. During the daytime, race drivers drove under the pier pilings, becoming a backdrop for publicity photos that brought fame to Daytona Beach as the World’s Most Famous Beach.
While you’re at the pier, don’t miss Zeno’s Boardwalk Sweet Shop.
Need a break from the beach but still want a water view? Head south on A1A to the charming town of Ponce Inlet.
Crabby Joe’s Restaurant on the Sunglow Pier
On the way, stop at the Sunglow Pier for a refreshing stroll on another pier that extends out over the Atlantic Ocean. You might even want to enjoy a meal at the authentic Crabby Joe’s. This classic Florida restaurant sits on a pier as waves ebb and flows underneath. For breakfast, try the Fisherman Special of grilled fish with eggs, grits, and toast. Or cast a fishing line from the pier. The pier bait shack has all you need including fishing poles.
From there, head south to Ponce Inlet, home to the tallest lighthouse in Florida.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida, photo courtesy Daytona Beach Area CVB
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse was originally built in the 1800s to reduce the number of shipwrecks because of the treacherous offshore reef. Activated in 1887, the initial lighthouse was lit by a kerosene lantern within a Fresnel lens, and later in the 1930s powered by electricity with a third-order Fresnel lens. The updated light has been fitted with a modern rotating beacon and continues to operate.
The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is 203 steps up to a 360-degree panoramic view
Today, visitors can climb the 203-step lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, and surrounding area. Explore the full complex that includes historic homes of former lighthouse keepers, a lens exhibit, oil storage buildings, and a pump house – all providing insight into the life and times of those who toiled in this remote outpost.
Read more about our adventures in Authentic Ponce Inlet here.
Marine Science Center, Ponce Inlet
Note: Due to COVID-19, the Marine Science Center is closed until further notice. Add this to your future Florida bucket list! Next door to the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the Marine Science Center, an ideal stop for the whole family to experience local marine life. The Center serves as a sea turtle and migratory bird rehabilitation facility where visitors can get up close with Florida’s sea creatures, and learn about the coastal environment and marine life ecosystems. But don’t miss the “touch pools” featuring an array of marine life including stingrays, fish, crabs, and sea urchins.
#2 DAY TRIP
Go for the Big Outdoors and Some Small Towns: Pick your Favorite Park and Town
Volusia County is a welcome oasis for those seeking nature, Blue Spring State Park
Volusia County’s western border largely rims the St. Johns River and the Ocala National Forest. The proximity to this luscious greenbelt sets the stage with a welcome oasis for those seeking a natural break from it all.
Thousands of acres of pristine wilderness and abundant wildlife beckon. Volusia County has many roadways, parks, and waterways, well worth your visit because of the access to springs that empty into the St. Johns River. Nearby are small towns worth discovering where you can enjoy a meal and down home ambiance.
The Ormond Loop for a scenic drive of Volusia County
“The Loop” as it is known, is a must for anyone visiting the area. Whether in a car, a bike, or motorcycle, breathe in the fresh air and experience this spectacular 30-mile journey through towering oak hammocks, past creeks, marshes, sand dunes, and beaches. Along the way stop at Tomoka State Park and experience the former village site of the 2,000-year indigenous Timucuan Tribe. Take some time for bird watching while walking through the hardwood hammocks that once was an indigo plantation. Also on the loop is the Bulow Creek State Park home to the giant Fairchild Oak that is over 400 years old and one of the largest of its kind in the southern U.S.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Located in Orange City, Blue Spring State Park is home to a first-magnitude spring and is the largest refuge for manatees along the St. Johns River. From November through March, the refreshing 72-degree water of Blue Spring is welcome warmth for the West Indian Manatee seeking respite from the winter-cooled St. Johns River. Boardwalks provide ideal platforms for admiring the gentle giants. Interpretive displays along the walk provide a history of the area from the earliest native tribes to the early settlers.
Hontoon Island State Park, DeLand
Located in DeLand, Hontoon Island State Park is accessible by a boat shuttle on the St. Johns River from the land parking lot. Guests can choose to explore the island or enjoy a ranger-led tour. On the tour, the ranger details the park’s history ranging from the indigenous tribe to the pioneers who once inhabited the island. But a hike on your own around this island reveals pristine “real” Florida surrounded by hammocks filled with sprawling old oak trees, pines, cabbage palms, and breathtaking authentic beauty. If you wish to stay longer, cabins are available for overnight trips.
De Leon Springs State Park, DeLeon Springs
Each day De Leon Springs pumps around 19 million gallons of sparkling water into an enclosed swimming area where visitors can enjoy the refreshing, 72-degree water. Park exhibits also showcase the spring’s rich history spanning thousands of years from the native people called the Mayaca to a plantation era where settlers farmed sugar cane, corn, and cotton and later home to a winter tourist resort and attraction. But the most popular attraction is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle House, a classic restaurant and Central Florida institution situated next to the spring. Here large pitchers of thick pancake batter are poured onto tableside griddles as generations of families make breakfast together.
And depending on what park you choose, enjoy visiting some of these nearby small towns:
DeLand’s historic county courthouse
This charming college town, home to Stetson University, sits amidst old oaks, historic homes (including the Stetson Mansion), and a quaint downtown offering a relaxing, younger vibe. The southern quaintness resonates throughout DeLand with its assortment of museums, art galleries, and historic murals found throughout the downtown. Be sure to walk Woodland Boulevard and the Artisan Alley with its eclectic shops and the popular Persimmon Hollow Brewery. During your tour, including the historic Volusia County Courthouse to see its signature copper dome and Florida art collection. For lunch head to the classic Cooks Restaurant for an old-time buffet-style menu, salad bar, and fresh seasonal vegetables and known for its amazing homemade desserts.
Discover Florida Cracker history at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement
Step back in time and discover Florida Cracker history at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement, illustrating rural life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Open to the public, it is one of the largest authentic historic villages in the state, inviting visitors to experience and explore a collection of historic buildings that provide a glimpse of Florida’s past. The 1919 Barberville Central High School, the 1926 bridge house, 1875 log cabin, with sugar cane grinder and boiler, the 1890 Midway Methodist Church, 1885 post office, 1879 blacksmith shop, a railroad depot and caboose, a post and beam barn, 1924 turpentine still, 1900 commissary and general store all set the stage for this extensive exhibit of Florida’s historic past.
Cassadaga, home to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
Need some healing energy, guidance on love, career, or your life’s journey? Open your heart to another small town called Cassadaga. This is home to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, one of the oldest spiritual communities in the Southeastern United States. Established in 1875 as a spiritual retreat; it is home to a community of spiritual practitioners who will give you a reading through their clairvoyant powers and mediums, including astrology, numerology, or tarot. Spiritualists are on hand to illuminate your “heart’s truth,” welcoming both believers and skeptics. Top it off with lunch at the Cassadaga Hotel’s restaurant, Sinatra’s.
DeBary Hall was once a hunting lodge and now open to the public
Frederick DeBary was a very successful European merchant who built an 8,000 square foot hunting retreat along the banks of the St. Johns River in 1871. The retreat, Debary Hall, served as the winter residence for his family and a destination for European royally, U.S. Presidents, and many of America’s rich and famous including the Astors and Vanderbilts. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the City of DeBary. DeBary Hall is a beautiful example of 19th-century architecture and provides a picture of life on St. Johns in days past. Visitors can walk through history with a tour of the hunting lodge, stables, and historic buildings including displays of old memorabilia and hunting artifacts.
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Daytona Beach
#3 DAY TRIP
Racing History, the Daytona 500 International Speedway, and Biker Bars
The world of racing is on display everywhere in the Daytona Beach area. If it goes fast, it’s here: stock cars, sports cars, open-wheel, motorcycles, drag racing, powerboats, and flying machines.
The roots of this speed capital are anchored in the early 20th century when automobiles were first introduced. They drove on the beaches because most roads were horse trails. They were unable to support the fast speeds of the automobile.
The first speed record was set in 1927, the first auto race was held in 1936 and in 1948 NASCAR was founded in Daytona Beach. A new superspeedway opened in 1959. Christened Daytona International Speedway, the track began a new chapter in auto racing history.
Daytona International Speedway Sprint Fanzone where fans get close to the cars, photo courtesy, DIS
Of course, no trip to Daytona Beach is complete without a visit to the Speedway. Guests can enjoy many things to do including the popular Speedway Tour tram ride. This showcases the sacred grounds and “World Center of Racing”. Experience the immensity of this motorsports stadium, and the steep 31-degree banked turns, then head towards Victory Lane for a photo opp.
Take a selfie alongside the Daytona 500 winning car at the Daytona International Speedway
Next, admire the winning car of the latest Daytona 500 and pose for your classic Daytona Beach “selfie.” Then visit the new Motorsports Hall of Fame of America that features classic speed machines showcasing motorsports throughout history to the present day including a Dale Earnhardt stock car, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’s dragster, a Bill Elliott stock car, plus powerboats and motorcycles. If you still haven’t had enough, try the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Here, you actually get behind the wheel of a NASCAR race car.
And if you want to learn more about the actual drivers and living legends of racing, visit the Living Legends of Auto Racing in South Daytona Beach.
Daytona Beach is Mecca for bike festivals, photo courtesy, Daytona Beach Area CVB
Bikers and Bars
And it goes without saying that Daytona Beach is also a Mecca for motorcyclists. Bikers, bikes, shops, and races are central to this community and the most popular event is Bike Week in Spring or the October Biketoberfest® where 125,000 motorcycle enthusiasts gather from throughout the county.
If you are not in Daytona Beach during either event you can still get the biker vibe. Visit a few nostalgic biker hangouts that will not disappoint.
Daytona Beach Main Street Station, once owned by stock car racing founder Bill France
Located just blocks from Daytona Beach on Main Street and once owned by stock car racing founder Bill France Sr. as a full auto garage, the Main Street Station is now a converted open-air bar that still resembles a garage. Race fans and motorcycle fans collect at this historic landmark. Here, the spirit of racing is celebrated one drink at a time.
Iron Horse Saloon is an iconic watering hole for bikers north of Ormond Beach
If there is an iconic watering hole for bikers it is surely the Iron Horse Saloon. Find it out on US 1 just north of Ormond Beach. At first glance, you may not be very impressed with this biker bar. But go around back during a weekend or bike festival and you’ll find a complete enclave, akin to a rustic biker camp, that is worth the visit, tree houses, swinging bridges, bars, old buses – all combine for fun and to let the good times roll.
And just a few more things you don’t want to miss…
Riverfront Shops of Daytona Beach, on the historic Beach Street
For a nice walk and a little local shopping, try the newly refurbished Riverfront Shops of Daytona Beach on the historic Beach Street between Bay Street and Orange Avenue. Don’t miss Angell and Phelps for tasty chocolate and Moxie Vintage.
Need a place to stay? For charming, low-key accommodations try these three authentic Florida options:
Tropical Manor, Daytona Beach Shores
River Lily Inn Bed & Breakfast, Daytona Beach
Sea Shell’s Beach Club, Daytona Beach
Hull’s Seafood Market & Restaurant, Ormond Beach
For area restaurants and authentic eateries:
Boondocks, Wilbur-By-The-Sea, near Ponce Inlet
Crabby Joe’s, Daytona Beach
Dancing Avocado Kitchen, Daytona Beach
Hull’s Seafood, Ormond Beach
JB’s Fish Camp, New Smyrna Beach
Kale Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan, Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach
Racing’s North Turn, Ponce Inlet
Tia Cori’s Tacos, Daytona Beach
Davidson Brothers, Daytona Beach for fresh Florida citrus
AuthenticFlorida.com was named Best Travel Blog two-times at the Florida Sunshine Awards.
To receive Authentic Florida’s free weekly ENEWs, sign up on our Authentic Florida home page.
To inquire about partnerships/advertising, please contact email@example.com
Comments are closed.
If You Go
For information on visiting Daytona Beach and Volusia County: