By Janet K. Keeler
The city seal of Daytona Beach ought to be a wheel because that’s what carries much of the adventure activities here. Two wheels, four wheels, motorized and people-powered wheels are the hallmarks of adventure in this Surf Coast city.
The Daytona International Speedway hosts many NASCAR races each year, including the legendary Daytona 500. In the early 1900s, racecar drivers competed on the hard-packed sand with the Atlantic Ocean as their view. Now everyday drivers can cruise the beach. Yes, literally drive on the beach. Daytona is also a draw to motorcyclists who descend for Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October. But visitors don’t have to own a stock car or a motorcycle to get in on the fun thanks to rental businesses and organized experiences.
10 adventurous activities in the Daytona Beach area...
THE NEED TO SPEED
With a seating capacity of 110,000, the Daytona International Speedway is a site to behold. There are several driving experiences that put visitors in the driver’s seat (or near it for a ride-along) for those who want to do more than look at the fast tracks. Race enthusiasts can take part in a ride-along of three laps at top speed and there are even some slots scheduled on race days, which adds to the experience of watching the pros go round and round. There are also packages that let the amateurs drive the fast cars, including daylong experiences with more than 40 minutes of track driving.
FISH THE SURF
The bait shops open mighty early along the 40-plus miles of beach that run north and south from Daytona. When the sun comes up, it’s time to cast into the surf to catch mullet, pompano and maybe even baby sharks. The fish bite at dusk too. Surf fishing is a popular beach adventure and the local bait shops can tell you what’s biting and where. Plenty of anglers gather on the east end of the Daytona Beach Pier, too, where no license is needed. The nearby Sunglow Pier has a bait shack, pole rentals and cleaning stations. Daytona pier is free but there’s a fee to drop a line from Sunglow. Some of the fish caught off the piers include whiting, flounder, sheep’s head and sharks.
PADDLING WITH MAMMALS
The calmer waters in inlets and through the Intracoastal Waterways are the perfect spots to paddleboard. What a bonus to cruise along while watching dolphins jump and gentle manatees glide just under the surface of the water. Take a lesson, and then set out on a two-hour-plus excursion that explores Daytona from a watery vantage point. Paddlers will slide under bridges plus get a look at some fancy yachts. For those not quite ready for the paddleboards, it’s possible to join the group on kayaks.
ZIP ON OVER
So much about Daytona is the water experience but Daytona Zip Line Adventure puts the adventure squarely over terra firma. Negotiating and surviving zip line challenges, ladders, tight rope cables and wobbly bridges are just part of the experience. The zip line park is located between the beach and the Daytona International Speedway so while some of your crew is worshiping the sun or taking a few laps around the track, you can make like an American Ninja Warrior. Not to worry, helmets included in the ticket price.
LEARNING TO SURF
Some of Florida’s best surfing is on the northern portion of the state’s east coast. Locals and visitors flock to this part of Florida to ride the Atlantic waves. The original Ron Jon Surf Shop is in Cocoa Beach, about 40 miles south of Daytona, and has become a tourist destination in itself and is a good source of souvenirs. Think T-shirts, hoodies, key chains and shot glasses. Newbies can take lessons in Daytona and rent equipment, including boards, leashes and wet suits. Surf camps are also popular as is private instruction. Vast Oceans promises to have you up on the board and hanging 10 (well, maybe) in about an hour. The company also rents equipment to experienced surfers, plus leads eco-tours of the area on paddleboards.
DRIVE THE BEACH
A portion of Daytona Beach's 23 miles of hard-packed sand beaches is open for cars to explore. There are a number of places for cars to enter the beach for a fee but be warned this is no speedway. The 10 mph speed limit is monitored closely. Still, it’s a pretty cool brag to say that you drove on the beach in Daytona. If you’re in a car, you’ll be joined in the driving lanes by bicycles, motorcycles and even golf carts, which can be rented. There is parking along the beach, too, so you can pull over for a while and walk the beach. Or throw out the beach towel, pitch an umbrella and enjoy a picnic in the sun. It’s low-key adventure for sure, but a memorable experience. A handy map shows the locations of beach access ramps.
SCENIC ON TWO WHEELS
Besides biking on the beach, there are other bike trails in the area that provide a workout with a side of sightseeing. Rent a bike and head out on the 30-mile-plus Ormand Beach Scenic Bike Loop. Bikers pedal by the Atlantic Ocean then under tree canopies as they move through several parks. There are places to stop and bird watch, a popular activity here. Ormand Beach is just north of Daytona. Volusia County also has several multi-use trails that welcome bicyclists including the inland Spring-to-Spring Trail, which has about 15 of 26 planned miles completed.
CLOSE-UP WITH NATURE
In the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, is Canaveral National Seashore and 25 miles of undeveloped coastline. From here, visitors can watch rocket launches (keep at eye on the schedule to time your visit). But primarily the national seashore is a way to experience undeveloped Florida and is a sanctuary for wildlife and people. Stop at the visitors’ center for information and to begin your hikes. Camping in 14 primitive sites is a draw here and park campers can rent canoes, which are needed to get to the campsites. There are kayak and canoe rentals outside the compound. In spring each year, the park offers loggerhead turtle nesting watch experiences though reservations are required.
WILD IN THE WETLANDS
Tiger Bay State Forest is a wild oasis just seven miles west of Daytona. Most of the 31,000-acre forest is cypress swamps and palm-palmetto flatwoods. Popular activities here include fishing and hunting. Horseback riding and biking are allowed on forest roads, fire lines and designated trails. Buncombe is the one designated hiking trail and both new and experienced hikers can walk it as part of their participation in the state’s Forest Trailwalker Program. Think of it as your hiking punch card for Volusia County.
PADDLE THROUGH HISTORY
Tomoka State Park near Ormand Beach and north of Daytona is on the north end of the Intracoastal Waterway, also called the Halifax River here. Some 500 years ago, this was home to Native Americans, likely Timucuans, who flourished on the plentiful supply of fish and shellfish of the area. Today, it is a haven for birdwatchers, paddlers, anglers, campers and daytrippers looking for a taste of Real Florida with picnic basket in tow. Taking to the water in canoe or kayak is the best way to get a feel for the area and see wildlife including manatee in the spring and dolphin year-round. Rent boats and check on charters at Tomoka Outpost inside the park.