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We recently went to Daytona Beach for an extended vacation. My mom has a house about ½ a block from the beach and Daytona is a great area to explore. It is also a great location to use a as jump off point to explore other areas. If you live in the Midwest or Northeast, it’s a fairly easy drive. If you would rather fly, the good news is prices are competitive and you should be able to find a great price on a flight into Orlando, Jacksonville or Daytona Beach itself. For this trip we drove down together on a Saturday from Illinois and my husband flew back to Chicago for work on Wednesday morning. He returned the following Thursday for his “real” vacation and we then drove back to Michigan the following Saturday, 9 days later. Lucky me, and the dogs, got to stay the entire 3 weeks since I can work from anywhere and my husband is awesome.
This is our 4th or 5th trip to Daytona since my mom bought her house 7 or 8 years ago. When our kids were high school aged it was often hard to get away in the winter/spring (and summer/fall, come to think of it…) because of high school sports so we didn’t take advantage of this fantastic, relatively free, vacation destination. Now that our youngest is in college and has her own apartment, hasta la vista, kiddos! There is no reason to sit around in our empty nest so we try to be as mobile as possible as often as possible.
Our Daytona Beach vacation started the same day as Bike Week, which was unintentional, but pretty cool to see all of the motorcycles. We are not bikers, but will admit that some of the bikes were pretty amazing and I could almost picture myself in a side car with a helmet and goggles…. Our vacation also coincides with spring break. Spring break + Bike Week = crowded and noisy. Fortunately my mom’s house is about 1 mile down from all of the excitement of the Daytona Pier and boardwalk area, so it was less noisy and less crowded.
Probably the coolest, most unusual feature of the beach at Daytona Beach is that it is a “drive on” beach. This may sound unsafe, but there is a dedicated one-way driving lane, monitored beach access points and a speed limit that is strictly enforced. It is pretty cool to see cars on the beach and there are LOTS of *really nice* fun cars that may give you a touch of car envy, especially if your current car is a 14 year old pick-up truck. (Hey! I’m a thrifter who is renovating a house and has a repurposed goods store. Don’t judge. 😉 The downside to the drive on beach is that is it $20 to drive onto the beach for non-residents. This increase is new as on January 2018 – it was $10 prior to this trip. At $20 a pop, we did the obligatory one-time drive on and walked to the beach the other days. The beach also offers chair and umbrella rentals (about $10 per chair and $10 per umbrella) which is nice, too. In years past we have rented chairs and an umbrella, but this year we bought nice lounge chairs at Target and used one of my mom’s umbrellas. We usually purchase a “donation” for the house while we are visiting, and this year it is nicer beach chairs. Even if you are renting, it is cheaper to purchase chairs and leave them behind than to rent chairs every day.
The beach has over 15 access points from Ponce Inlet to the south to Ormond-By-the-Sea to the north. The pier and boardwalk is located about midway on this long stretch of “The World’s Most Famous Beach.” The 23 miles of white sandy beaches are prefect for casual strolls, jogging and sand castles. Whether you are vacationing with your family or on a couples getaway, the beach is beautiful and you can’t help but relax while laying by the water listening to the surf. There are traffic free areas as well, so kids can play care-free in the sand and surf.
There are food trucks located up and down the beach, and ice cream trucks that drive slowly by, so packing food or not is up to you. The beach does not allow alcohol, but if you are discreet and not an obnoxious drunk 20-something, you can definitely enjoy an adult beverage on the down-low. We saw plenty of people walking by with visible cans, but we chose the more unnoticed route of pouring drinks into to-go cups. This rule seems to only be enforced when it needs to be.
If sea turtles are your thing, sea turtle season is May 1st through October 31st. There are dunes on the beach, but they are not for climbing, as they are protected for the nesting turtles. We have never been to Daytona during sea turtle season, but I would love to some day! My mom once found a tiny baby heading the wrong direction. Since sea turtles are protected you are not allowed to reposition them, so she babysat the little guy until the Florida wildlife volunteers arrived.
The beach is beautiful at sunrise and even during spring break and bike week it was virtually empty. In the evening the beach makes for a lovely stroll to the boardwalk for dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack or some amusement at the pier. Hubby and I enjoyed ice cream and several rounds of skee-ball, and really enjoyed seeing the look on the kid’s face who’s parents’ we asked if we could give him our prize tickets!
In addition to the beach, Daytona has every amenity possible, from all of your major retailers, to chain and independent restaurants, movie theaters to college campuses and golf courses to museums, historical sites and parks. There is truly something for everyone, and even if the weather is inclement there are plenty of things to do. A quick look through Trip Advisor will give you a list of everything there is in the area that may be of interest to you. Daytona Beach is also home to the Daytona Tortugas, a minor league baseball team that plays in beautiful Jackie Robinson ballpark set between the intercoastal waterway and Beach Street, which has cute shops and restaurants. If you are visiting Daytona in April through September, check out a game for some inexpensive fun watching America’s favorite pastime. Oceanfront Park also features a bandshell with concerts throughout the year.
The Daytona Speedway:
We have never gone to the speedway that hosts the famous Daytona 500, but there are daily tours available. It is definitely a site a behold – by far the largest stadium I have ever seen as it is *far* bigger than any football of baseball stadium in the country. You can’t miss is driving past it on International Speedway Boulevard, which is the main road from the beach to the western end of Daytona. There are events year rounds, including activities geared towards kids and car buffs alike, so be sure to check out the Speedway’s calendar of events.
Daytona Beach has some great restaurants – from diners to gourmet – to check out while on vacation. Some of our favorites have been:
31 Supper Club (top row – That is a ***31*** ounce ribeye. omggggg.)
Caribbean Jacks (second row – Amazing mahi tacos and crabcakes.)
Cracked Egg Diner (third row, first two pics – Crabcakes eggs benedict! Yippee!)
Cow Licks (third row, pics 3 & 4 – Ice cream worth the wait in line!)
Doc Bales (fourth row – All you can eat prime rib and a pound of crab legs. Fabulous!)
Blind Turtle (fifth row, pic 1 – Tinyyyy Hilton bar overlooking ocean front park. We were the only ones in there! It was so nice to talk before dinner.)
Panheads (fifth row – We’re from Chicago and we know pizza. This is AMAZING pizza. I could have gone 3 more times while we were there! Located in New Smyrna and well worth the drive.)
Adam’s Egg (Great diner for breakfast.)
Mike’s Galley (Great breakfast AND they serve Bloody Mary’s and have a full bar.)
Chart House (Great for a nice dinner out, located on the intercoastal with gorgeous views from the dining patio.)
Crabby Joe’s (Lively restaurant located on a pier. Terrific seafood and great service. Worth the wait!)
Daytona Brickyard (This place is a Must Stop iconic place for burgers located on the International Speedway.)
Molly Hatchet’s (Great for delivery after a long day in the sun!)
Sunsetters (Awesome low-key biker type bar on the intercoastal with great food and friendly servers!)
There are so many great restaurants you could easily find somewhere new to eat every day you are in town. Forks up!
As I mentioned above, Daytona Beach is also a great jump off point to get to other areas of Florida as well. Orlando is about an hour and 15 minutes, so if you are planning a trip to Disney, Daytona is a great place to vacation after your Disney vacation. (I highly recommend a vacation from your vacation after doing Disney because Disney is exhausting!)
In years past we have driven down to Miami (3 hours) and across the state over to the Gulf side to Crystal River to see the manatees. Mount Dora has an awesome flea, antique and farmers market on the weekends and is about an hour and 10 minutes from Daytona Beach. If you like to treasure hunt Mt. Dora is a must do. The town of Mt. Dora is also great, with little shops and fantastic restaurants you can definitely make an entire day trip to Mt. Dora. Check out my awesome goodies below!
We also decided to check out Blue Springs State Park this year. Manatees migrate to this natural spring every year. Some days there are over 400 manatees in the park! They love the cool weather and cool water between December and the end of March. The day we went it was a little overcast so the manatees were hard to see, but there were still quite a few. For better viewing, choose a cool, sunny day and you may see hundreds! The park also offers kayak and canoe rentals, has a children’s park, public restrooms, boardwalk and trails, gift shop and food stand, so you can easily run there on a whim and not have to pack much.
St. Augustine is a must do as well. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the country, and home of the Fountain of Youth. There are tons of amazing restaurants and shops in the quaint downtown area, as well as hotels and bed & breakfasts. It would be an ideal place for an overnight. The Castillo de San Marcos is a large Spanish stone fortress and is the oldest masonry fort in the US. There is so much history in St. Augustine and the surrounding area that you can definitely spend a full day here!
New Smyrna Beach (NSB) is another great little beach town just south of Daytona that also has been dubbed the “Shark Bite Capital of the World.” Apparently the sharks like to nibble on surfers, so you may want to avoid the water. The beach itself is gorgeous, and if you are lucky you may even find a shark tooth! If you have a drone you can get some awesome aerial shots of the sharks, though! NSB has great shops and restaurants as well. If you are interested in renting a boat for a day, NSB is the place to do it as there are quite a few rental companies and it is easy access to the intercoastal waterway, which is where you want to be on a rental boat. (They are too small for the ocean.) The intercoastal is full of tiny islands that are not inhabited that you can pull up to for your own private island relaxation, so take chairs and a cooler and be ready to chill.
Flagler Beach is just north of Daytona and is a great beach to relax at for the day. You can’t drive on the beach, but roadside parking is free and available. We love finding restaurants that are on the beach so we can set up our chairs on the beach and then wander over to the restaurant for lunch. Flagler Beach has just such a restaurant, Break Awayz, and it. is. so. good! (We went twice- it’s that good and the location is great.) We were surprised the entire time we were in Daytona how uncrowded the beaches were! After bike week it really cleared out. It felt like we had the beach to ourselves almost every time we went!
Ponce Inlet, also south of Daytona, has a very fun restaurant/bar on the water, Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill, that features live music on occasion. You will also find the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse here, which is open to the public to climbing to the top. The views are amazing on a nice day and this is a great little piece of history to explore.
For some added, unexpected fun, there was a tornado warning at one point. I was home with the dogs, so we hung out in the bathroom for a while and had a Pinterest pinning party. Fortunately the tornado never materialized and the town remained in tact.
There really is a ton to do in the Daytona area! So much so that we don’t mind going year after year because there are always new things to do and explore. There is never a dull moment – unless you choose to have one, which will most likely entail sitting on the beach, which is not too dull, imo!
Travel Tips & Tricks
- The best travel advice I have ever received is “take half as much clothing, twice as much money.” Ain’t that the truth?! I am a chronic over-packer and adhering to this has been a challenge. I was able to pull it off on our last vacation, which was great because then I had room for all of the stuff I bought with the “twice as much money” part of this equation. <heh heh>
- The second best travel advice I have ever received is that if you are traveling with a group or another couple, build in downtime for yourself or you and your spouse. Too much “together” can take its toll. Nothing says that because you are vacationing together you have to do everything together. If you’re a foodie and your friends are not, go out to dinner with your partner. If you want to read and they want to rent wave runners, stay behind and read. This is your vacation, so make it one you have the best time possible during.
- Airlines have cracked down on luggage sizes and weights, and the fee for an overweight bag can be astronomical. If your luggage is older, consider upgrading to a set that is guaranteed to be the correct size for carryons and is also lightweight. I bought this Travelhouse 3-piece luggage set for my daughter’s recent vacation. The largest piece weighs just 9 pounds, it has spinner wheels and a TSA approved lock. It also comes in several colors, which is my third tip: If you’re purchasing new luggage, consider luggage that is a color or pattern – in other words, not black! It will be so much easier to spot your bag on the luggage carousel. This is especially handy when traveling with kids whose luggage you also need to find. No one wants to hang out at the airport checking every black bag that passes by! Is that it…no…is that it…no…I think that’s it…nope. A new luggage set can solve a lot of headaches, for a pretty reasonable price!
- TSA approved bottles for liquids are another must-have when planning a big trip. These squeezable silicone bottles are 2 and 3 ounces and can be refilled each time you travel. Yes, you can check larger sized containers, but for items you want access to throughout your flight, these bottles are perfect!
- Take comfy shoes, even if you think you won’t do a lot of walking. You never know what adventures will pop up and buying shoes you already have at home is an expense that is easy to avoid.
- Save on hotel stays by choosing hotel groups, such as Intercontinental Hotels, that regularly offer deals and discounts.
Want to hear all about how we maximized our fun and our savings by adding some Groupon purchases to our trip? Check out how we used Groupon to add some luxuries and fun to our vacation at a discount!