By Jodi Mailander Farrell
The wide, hard-packed sand of the beaches around Daytona Beach drew their first hot-rod races more than a century ago, when the area became the nation’s premier spot to pursue the land speed record.
Today, the city is home to the most prestigious race in NASCAR, but Daytona also has become a favorite destination for families seeking adventure, relaxation in the sun, and vacation traditions.
With 35 miles of shoreline, driving on the “World’s Most Famous Beach” is still a favorite pastime. Within a five-mile stretch, Daytona Beach and its surrounding area have 26 beach access points.
From Ormond-by-the-Sea to Ponce Inlet, vehicles can drive and park on the beaches for $20 a day. Check the city of Daytona Beach’s website for opening and closing times. Visitors also can rent golf carts, bikes, scooters and motorcycles for beach cruising from a variety of rental vendors.
More than 10 beachfront parks provide oceanfront fun.
On the southern tip of Ponce Inlet, Lighthouse Point Park, 5000 S. Atlantic Ave., is a car-free, natural retreat with great views of the bright-red, local lighthouse for family photos.
For beachside walks, head to the northern tip of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula for Smyrna Dunes Park, 2995 N. Peninsula Ave., where a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk stretches for two miles. (It’s also dog-friendly if the family pet is along for vacation.)
Fun by the Sea
The iconic Daytona Beach Boardwalk & Pier, extending 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, is the historic center of Daytona beach life. It’s home to Old Florida souvenir shops, snack bars, a classic arcade and restaurants, and is the perfect place for first-time fishing adventures because there’s no fee or licensed required to bait a hook and flick a rod into the ocean from here. Flounder, whiting, black drum, weakfish and sheepshead like to congregate under the pier.
The 1936 coquina rock Daytona Beach Bandshell, 70 Boardwalk, often hosts free street performers, concerts and fireworks.
The new Screamer’s Park, 25 S. Atlantic Ave., is home to the Sling Shot, which propels riders over 150 feet into the air at 70 miles per hour.
Within blocks of the beach, Daytona Lagoon, 601 Earl St., is a water park and arcade in the Ocean Walk Village resort complex. There are slides and flumes that tower over 50 feet high, a wave pool, tubing river, playground for smaller kids, laser tag, go karts, miniature golf and a rock wall for climbing. The complex also houses shops and restaurants, so it’s an easy way to spend the day.
The Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS), 352 S. Nova Rd., has a wing dedicated to children and hands-on learning centers that include a raceway where kids build their own vehicles, doctor and radiologist exhibits, video light microscopes, and a make-believe pizza parlor.
The smaller Marine Science Center, 100 Lighthouse Dr., in Ponce Inlet is a child-friendly aquatic museum with a stingray touch pool and living reef aquarium. The center’s Turtle Tots program designed for ages 2 to 5 provides marine life lessons through stories, crafts and activities.
Take the free, guided 30-minute tour before sampling the sweet product at Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory, a Daytona Beach tradition since 1925 at 154 S. Beach St.
Joe’s Crab Shack, 1200 Main St., on the Daytona Beach Pier is a salty spot for crab buckets and a fun kids’ menu that includes kid-sized steampots and “paint-your-own” crab-shaped Rice Krispies Treats with chocolate, strawberry, caramel and butterscotch sauces.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, 4931 S. Peninsula Dr., is home to the second-tallest lighthouse in the country (after Cape Hatteras Lighthouse). Climb the 203 steps for spectacular views and one-of-a-kind family photos.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park, 1300 W. International Speedway Blvd., is an indoor trampoline park with freestyle bouncing on the wall-to-wall trampolines, dodgeball, a foam zone and Toddler Time for ages 6 and under (with free coffee for parents)!
Hangar 15 Extreme Air Sports, 290 N. Nova Rd., is another trampoline complex that includes a trapeze, aerial silks and Family Night discounts on Monday nights.
A 40-minute drive from Daytona, De Leon Springs State Park, 2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Rd., in Ponce de Leon may seem like a long way to go for breakfast, but it’s worth the trip to visit the park’s flip-your-own flapjacks restaurant, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House. Each table at the old-fashioned eatery has its own griddle, where guests pour and make their own pancakes, adding customized fixings like blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips and more. The griddle house, which serves breakfast until 4 p.m., also offers eggs, bacon, ham and sausage.
Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W. French Ave., in Orange City, is another 40-minute drive, but from mid-November until mid-March, it’s the place to head for spotting manatee, the gentle giants that are drawn to the 72-degree natural springs there.
The Mary McLeod Bethune Home, 640 Dr. Mary McLeond Bethune Blvd., on the Bethune-Cookman University campus is the historic house where the prominent black educator and civil rights lived and welcomed such esteemed visitors as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson and Langston Hughes.
Stetson Mansion, as 1031 Camphor Lane in nearby DeLand, was the grand winter retreat of famed hat maker and philanthropist John B. Stetson in the late 1800s. The historic mansion’s current owners provide tours booked in advance.
The Need for Speed
Did you think we’d forget the Daytona International Speedway? No chance! A $400-million renovation has transformed the Speedway into a motorsports facility where gaming events and light shows are as common as the track’s famous NASCAR races. The track, at 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd., offers 30-minute tours that are perfect for families.
There’s also the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in the same complex, with displays on stock cars, drag racing, powerboating and other forms of motorsports.
More Family Fun
Traveling to other Florida destinations with your gang? Here are more ideas for family fun around the Sunshine State.