By Janet K. Keeler
The coolest block in Daytona Beach is paved by nature.
Sand, not asphalt, is the hard-packed surface that carries cars, bicycles, golf carts and even motorcycles along the beach at a slowpoke 10 mph maximum. Not to worry if you’ve arrived in town without wheels because there are plenty of places to rent both motorized and people-powered vehicles.
In other words, the coolest block in Daytona Beach is the beach, the focal point for much of the fun this city has to offer. The sunrise and waves are constant but the on-shore amenities change with the times, attracting different demographics during the year. The amenities include new or updated accommodations, plus shopping, dining, carnival amusements and even a movie theater.
That the beach is the primary year-round draw is a bold statement about a city with many identities and that is currently in another phase of reinvention. Daytona Beach is the home to the Daytona International Speedway and host of many NASCAR races, including the legendary Daytona 500, first run in 1959. Long before that, in the early 1900s, racecars zoomed on the beach for prizes and records. Visitors have been allowed on the beach on all sorts of wheels for decades.
Daytona Beach is also famous for the raucous gatherings of motorcyclists who descend for Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October. Main Street on the barrier island is just a few blocks long but thousands of riders on Harley-Davidsons, Indians and Hondas flood the bars and restaurants fueled by stories of the road and adult beverages. There are shops that cater to the leather crowd, selling everything from bike pants to fringed jackets to saddlebags. Activities are held throughout the event, including some at the Speedway.
Besides motorsports and motorcycles, Daytona Beach is also known for spring break, the time when college students flocked to the beach during their weeklong breaks from school. This tradition has waned considerably in recent years and a new Daytona is emerging. One with a stronger family vibe, and maybe even a little hipster cool.
A drive along the paved Atlantic Highway, also known as A1A, and a cruise on the beach shows this. There’s a new Hard Rock Hotel on the beach and plenty of construction and refurbishing going up and down the highway. The Ocean Walk Shoppes dining, shopping and entertainment complex, with a multi-story parking garage, is nestled between the Hilton oceanfront resort and Wyndham Ocean Walk. This is where beach vacationers will head to see a movie when they’re ready for a break from the sun.
Where motorcycle-centric Main Street T-bones into A1A, kids and kids at heart play at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier. Amusement park rides, including a Ferris wheel and its miles-long view of the city and ocean plus nightly fireworks, are draws for family travelers and even leather-loving motorcyclists. Get your cotton candy and pepperoni pizza here, but maybe wait until after you’ve ridden the “Slingshot.” An empty stomach might be preferable as you get “shot” 365 feet into the air at a thrilling 70 mph. Nightly fireworks blast just after dark from the pier.
A Joe’s Crab Shack restaurant serves crab a multitude of ways on the Daytona Beach Pier. A Blue Moon Steam Pot comes chockfull of snow crab, clams, lobster and smoked sausage simmered in Blue Moon Belgian ale. Crab nachos might be more your style, especially if you are sharing. Order a Category 5 Hurricane, the beverage not the storm, or a Shark Bite, again a cocktail not a sure-fire trip to the emergency room, to accompany those seafood nachos with a Florida-themed drink.
Nowhere is it more obvious that Daytona Beach is looking to attract new travelers than a couple of restaurants just south of the amusement park and pier. Cocina 214 and LandShark Bar & Grill serve contemporary food with ocean-front views.
LandShark is part of musician Jimmy Buffett’s growing entertainment and dining/beverage empire. Cocina 214 is a smartly designed and decorated Tex-Mex restaurant whose kitchen elevates the usual fare of this cuisine. Mexican corn gets authentic street-fare treatment with cayenne pepper, lime, plus two cheeses – cotija and fresco. Lightly breaded and fried avocado bites are served with chipotle cream sauce. Tacos include fillings of lightly fried cauliflower and slaw; carnitas, mango and jalapeno vinaigrette, and blacked mahi with avocado and citrus dressing. This is not Richard Petty’s Daytona Beach food.
LandShark is the more typical beach food of burgers, fish sandwiches and bar bites, but there is a full menu of margaritas and lots of beer, including LandShark of course. Most tables at both restaurants have ocean views, and what makes these restaurants different than most other places on Daytona Beach is the ample parking and the green grass expanse that links them together. Oh, and beach yoga.
On occasional Sunday mornings, novice and experienced practitioners descend on the green, unfurl their mats and unleash their chakra with the Atlantic Ocean roaring before them. The yoga class is run by Daytona Anahata Yoga and sponsored by Cocina 214. Come for the yoga and stay for the brunch.
Namaste meets vroom-vroom in an emerging Daytona Beach where the coolest block is paved by nature.
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