Daytona Beaches Hit the Gold Standard

By: Kate Pursell

Many NASCAR drivers have taken home gold after speeding around that famous track, but there's another gold standard in Daytona: the beaches.

Surf's up, and our surf instructor Ryan – all tan and laidback in his colorful board shorts – has a happy quartet ready to learn how to hang ten (or just hang on) to a surfboard. Our group is a mix of ages, from teens to a few months shy of 50.

The grins are ear-to-ear as we hoist our boards and trek to the water. We glide over just-my-size waves (small) and paddle on our bellies just a hundred yards offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. It's here that surf-pro Ryan will teach us novices how to ride a wave.

Dozens of Daytona Beach Surfing School surf campers are already out in the greenish-blue waters on this postcard-perfect day. The white-capped waves crash in a cascading, never-ending replay that rivals anything you'd see on TV. An hour later, many of us have started to get the hang of it and are surfing toward shore.

Beachy Possibilities

The Daytona Beach area boasts 23 miles of mesmerizing shoreline, and the possibilities are just about endless for a memorable beach adventure: take a surfing lesson, dive down to gander at shipwrecks, drive your car on certain areas of the famous hard-packed sand or just chill. Spread out that beach towel, make sure to slather on sunscreen and sip a cool drink (a black cherry slushy?) while you work on perfecting that bronze-hued tan.

There are plenty of spots, including beachside restaurants, to grab a great grouper sandwich and other goodies. And when it comes to finding that perfect place to relax and hang your bathing suit to dry, look no further than the Daytona Beach area's mom-and-pop motels or oceanfront resorts.

Action on the Water

The waterfront action centers around Daytona Beach, where you can rent ATVs and boogie boards, go parasailing, get your dive certification in four days with Discover Diving Dive Center.

If you're craving an icy drink or quick snack, you're in luck – they sell it all right on the beach. A chili dog and a root beer float will float my boat anytime.

Racing's North Turn (NASCAR spoken here) in nearby Ponce Inlet and its amazing deck with breathtaking beach views make it hard to concentrate on the menu, but take the time. The sumptuous crab cakes beckon like a siren's call. Stonewood Grill and Tavern in Port Orange rocks – to keep your bodies buff for the beaches order the steak salad with slices of melt-in-your-mouth sirloin and steamed asparagus, and share. Stavro's Pizza House has excellent pies, while the local-favorite Miller's Daytona Ale House & Raw Bar will entice and then satisfy you. Cold Stone Creamery seals a very sweet deal.

As will the Daytona Beach Pier or Sunglow Pier in Daytona Beach Shores (fishing, anyone?). On Beach Street, the "catch" of the day might be some souvenirs for the folks at home.

Natural Attractions

You can't leave Daytona Beach without visiting Lighthouse Point Park, which Dr. Beach (aka Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research and Professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University) ranked No.9 in the nation in 2007. The park boasts fishing, picnicking, nature trails and the nearby Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse – climb it and get amazing water views.

Meet Eric West aboard his 36-foot Morgan sailboat. He runs Eagle Yachts Sailing Experience, and this man's passion for sailing should be bottled and sold. A favorite recent memory? A small boy who was a little nervous in the beginning, but later kept saying to his dad, "I wish this day would never end!"

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