Family Discoveries in Daytona Beach
From sunning on the beach to touring race cars, the family will find a host of activities in Daytona Beach.
As we drove the last leg of the trip to Daytona Beach, it seemed only fitting that a Beach Boys CD provided the sound track. The last time we had visited as a family, the waves were awesome and Aaron, then 9, was swept away by boogie boarding. At age 11, he was ready to stand up on the big board, and old surf-bum dad was psyched about teaching his son how to catch a wave and be "sitting on top of the world."
The best surfing, we were told, happens around the Daytona Beach Pier (closed for renovations until May 2012) and at Ponce Inlet. The pier vicinity happens to be the best spot for all that Daytona is about, so we headquartered there at the Wyndham at Ocean Walk, ideal for families with its roomy condos (kitchen-equipped) and incredibly affordable room service. In the thick of Daytona's redevelopment, Ocean Walk also looks out over Daytona Beach's traditional resort scene, the one I remember from my own college days (I won't say how long ago that was).
Daytona is the ultimate Florida oceanside park, like a fairground on the beach. One of the few Florida beaches that allows vehicular traffic, it radiates a party atmosphere on its broad, hard-packed sands. A one-mile area around the pier is pedestrian-only, but that doesn't mean the party's over there.
A historic coquina rock bandshell orchestrates the night scene with live music. Restaurants, clubs, video arcades, bumper cars and adrenaline rides make the beach a carnival. By day, vendors rent boogie boards, bikes, golf carts, every kind of beach toy imaginable. The beach crams and surfers jam in the frothy waves. Baggy-pantsed, the tanned crazies with their waxed boards descend when the surf's up. It's almost as though they can smell it.
Unfortunately, the surf was not up on that particular surfing safari weekend. We watched from our seventh floor balcony and waited, played in the resort's lazy river pool, walked the beach at sunset, slid down a few waterslides at a water park and waited.
We got into the town's racy reputation at Daytona International Speedway and sped 75-MPH Nitro Alley Dragsters across the street at Speed Park Motorsports. And we waited.
Finally, realizing the waves were not going to grow, we headed south toward Ponce Inlet. This was more like it! We watched the adventuresome pump the waves, then drove up the beach a ways, to save Aaron from beginner's remorse. It took a few tries and he was up and riding like Moondoggie himself. The look of triumph and thrill on his face as he stood his first ride all the way to the beach? You guessed it: priceless.
For a beach less traveled (literally), head to Lighthouse Point Park, south of the pier, where traffic is not allowed on the sand and the solitude is more conducive to families with small children.
Daytona Beach also boasts lots of off-the-beach, kid-friendly activities. The area's reputation for racing equals its beach fame. Daytona International Speedway, the town's cathedral of speed, puts racing fans right in the middle of the famed track's action. Visitors can take tours of the speedway, and even drive or ride in an actual racecar as part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
For a cultural departure in Daytona Beach, check out the Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Halifax Historical Museum, and Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum historical village, where you can wear out the kids by climbing the 203-step tower.