The hot stone massage didn’t really put me to sleep. It completely disconnected me from my body. When I became one again, splendidly noodled, it took me a few minutes to remember where I was. Oh, yes – Daytona Beach – pampering myself at The Shores Resort & Spa. This is the current direction of things in Daytona Beach, where racecars and drive-upon beaches were once more typical trademarks.
But there’s really nothing new about Daytona Beach attracting a discriminating crowd. Its guest list has historically been scrawled with names of fame. James Gamble (of “Proctor &” renown) once owned an estate here that spread from the Atlantic to the Halifax River at the turn of the last century. All that remains are the guest and carriage houses, today August Seven Inn, offering continental breakfasts, rooms outfitted with hand-carved reproduction pieces and baths with jetted tubs.
Another luxury B&B, The Villa, shows off the Spanish Colonial Revival-style splendor created in 1929 by winter resident B.J. Donnelly, a multi-millionaire quarry owner from Massachusetts. Iron security gates guard the restored home and its regally appointed guest accommodations (think cedar-lined closets, antique furnishings and gold-plated bathroom fixtures), all within walking distance of the beach.
John D. Rockefeller too loved the area and wintered at The Casements on the Halifax River in Ormond Beach. Today, visitors can peek at family photos and period-furnished rooms from the early 1900s. It’s worth a visit if only to drive along the mansion-lined, oak-canopied Riverside Drive that passes it.
President Warren G. Harding’s circa-1907 winter home today holds a fine Italian restaurant called The Cellar, located mainland in one of Daytona’s elegant historic neighborhoods.
Daytona’s famous hard-packed beach started the city down the track of racing fame and brought its own era of legendary names such as Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet, who tested their inventions on the sands. Racing remains an important part of Daytona’s heritage and the beachfront is being restored to its illustrious past: resorts and spas such as The Shores, Hilton and Wyndham Ocean Walk are cropping up along with modern dining and entertainment centers like popsicle-bright Ocean Walk Shoppes, home to movie theaters, retailers and lively restaurants.
Meaning that no matter where you are on Daytona Beach, you can accelerate from beach to plush in no time.
ARTS AND CULTURE
The area's dawning days of grandeur have left an artistic stamp on Daytona Beach. The Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS) is the premier art, history and science museum in Central Florida. Located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the 100,000-square-foot facility hosts over 30,000 objects including one of the finest collections of American Art in the southeast, the largest collection of Cuban art outside Cuba, a significant Chinese art collection and even Florida's prehistoric Giant Ground Sloth. Coca-Cola entrepreneur Chapman Root’s lifetime collection of Americana, including two private rail cars, can also be found at the museum.
The museum’s theater, planetarium and children’s center add to the interactive experience, making it fun for the whole family. The Charles and Linda Williams Children's Museum, opened November 21, 2008, truly makes this experience. As the only hands-on science center in Volusia County, this 9,000-square-foot addition to MOAS boasts cutting-edge, interactive science exhibits for children ages 4 to 14.
Historic attractions such as the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Halifax Historical Museum tell more tales of bygone glories. A colony of historic buildings surrounds the 125-year-old lighthouse, each structure exploring an aspect of lighthouse and local bygones. The museum occupies a circa-1910 bank with exhibits that take you from prehistoric Native American era to the dawning days of car racing.
With the opening of the $29-million News-Journal Center in January 2006, the live arts scene in Daytona Beach took a giant jeté. Since its opening, the Center hosted such area favorites as the Seaside Music Theater, a 27-year-old Daytona tradition; the historic Peabody Auditorium; and events ranging from the Florida International Festival, which featured the London Symphony Orchestra in July 2007, and the Daytona Beach Symphony Society.
In 2008, the facility was purchased by Daytona State College and is now home to School of Music, Entertainment and Art facility and programs, as well as other Daytona State College special events and performances.