Take a Deep Dive Into Daytona Beach
Having been branded as “The World’s Most Famous Beach” by enthusiastic visitors a century ago, Daytona Beach is preceded by its reputation as a stellar spot for sun, sand and surf. And with a 23-mile stretch of pristine beaches on Central Florida's Atlantic Coast, there’s little argument that the nickname is well-earned.
But there are more layers to Daytona Beach than you might know. Beyond its beaches (and famous race track), there are area attractions that appeal to art, history and science lovers, for example. And those seeking an upscale beach escape might be surprised at the fine dining the destination has to offer.
When you consider all this alongside the array of nature and water sports activities available, it’s apparent that Daytona Beach has depth beyond its glistening ocean waters. Here are five ways to experience Daytona Beach for the dynamic vacation destination it really is.
See the Artistic Side
No matter how beach-obsessed you are, you’ll want to take a break from hours spent reveling in the sand to experience the area’s cultural hot spots, from museums to walking tours that celebrate local artists.
A must-see stop for families, Daytona Beach’s Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS) claims the title of the largest museum in Central Florida. The Lowell and Nancy Lohman Family Planetarium is one of the museum's most sought-after features, combining science, art and technology for a multi-sensory experience under the expansive 40-foot hemispherical dome. Immerse yourself in a night sky tour from a live presenter, a fascinating talk from a scientist or a stunning laser rock concert.
Also within the MOAS, the Cici & Hyatt Brown Museum of Art is home to the largest collection of Florida art in the world. The rotating collection of 2,600 Florida-themed oil and watercolor paintings currently include exhibitions like “Key West: Southernmost USA,” “Florida Weather” and Daytona's very own "Volusia County."
Set against a backdrop of blue skies and white sand, the Mural Trail adds to the area’s kaleidoscope of colors and stretches across Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach Shores. Tour all 23 of the outdoor murals along the route and collect photos of your favorite off-the-beaten path street art as you go. Strike a pose in front of the Grind Gastropub and Kona Tiki Bar, for example, which features side-by-side paintings of a Hawaiian resort and an outer space landscape, so you’re able to check two stops off your list at once.
Discover Local History, Legends and Lore
The Daytona Beach region has attracted visitors for more than 500 years—Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 while trying to find the Fountain of Youth. Prior to that, the native Timucua people had inhabited the region for thousands of years. As such, the town holds eons of fascinating history and related attractions, including The Casements winter home of John D. Rockefeller in Ormond Beach, whose historical significance has earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside, visitors can tour the sunporch, atrium, kitchen, and other carefully restored rooms once occupied by one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. There are also two third-floor exhibits created by area locals: one devoted to Boy Scouts of America historical memorabilia and the other housing a collection of Hungarian festival costumes and artifacts.
Make stops along the Monument and Statue Trail for a look at the area’s most famous landmarks, starting with “The Legend of Tomokie,” a 40-foot art-deco statue erected in 1955 to commemorate the Timucua people. Journey through Bulow Creek State Park, home to one of the largest remaining stands of southern live oak forest along Florida's east coast. With a trunk measuring about 30 feet in circumference and boughs that spread more than 200 feet, the Fairchild Oak (which, according to local legend, may or may not be haunted) is the largest tree in the park, and a sight more than worthy of a trek through the mystical woodlands.
Sports fans must stop at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark on City Island to feel the energy of the historic field where the namesake baseball legend played his first Spring Training games. Cheer on the Tortugas, Daytona Beach’s minor league baseball team, and catch a fireworks show at the game’s end if you attend on the first Friday of the month. Depending on the timing of your visit, take advantage of Taco Tuesdays for $3 tacos at the concession stand, or Thirsty Thursdays when fountain drinks and draft beers start at $1. No matter the day, you'll have plenty of options for replenishing your energy stores as you cheer on the home team.
Dive (and Drive) Into Must-See Attractions
A trip to Daytona Beach isn’t complete without honoring its special place in the saga of race car driving in America. The Daytona International Speedway is home to the Daytona 500, affectionately nicknamed “The Great American Race,” along with numerous other events. Here, you can tour the Speedway, or if you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can drive a NASCAR race car on the same track as the greats. The venue offers visitors three- or six-lap sprints at top speeds with a professional instructor for a once-in-a-lifetime racing experience.
Finish out the tour with a stop at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America for an up-close look at legends of the track, followed by a visit to One Daytona, a premier shopping and dining destination set across from the speedway. If you've still got "gas in the tank," so to speak, switch gears and head to the Daytona Lagoon for family fun that spans water sports, arcade games, mini golf and go-karts.
Another can't-miss spot is a 30-minute drive south to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, one of the best preserved and most authentic historic light stations in the country. Constructed in 1887, the tower stands at 175 feet tall and invites visitors to climb 203 steps to the top for a sweeping view of the shoreline.
Dine and Drink in Style
You’re likely to work up an appetite after hours of exploring, and Daytona Beach’s array of restaurants caters to all types of appetites. For those in search of comfortable-casual dining that equally prioritizes food and aesthetics, Rose Villa is required eating. Located in a charming historic home in Ormond Beach, the unique setting complements the cuisine centered on southern delights and craft cocktails. The top-rated spot—and its legendary shrimp and grits—is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
And if the idea of eating fresh seafood on a pier with a light breeze grazing your skin sounds like your ideal dining experience, be sure to stop at Joe’s Crab Shack at the Main Street Pier. Order a plate of the top-rated seafood buckets and stuffed mushrooms while taking in all of the ocean views and sounds around you.
Half restaurant and half event space, 31 Supper Club on the Halifax River offers guests a full night of savory bites and entertainment that includes live music, dancing and comedy on select nights. The spot was developed as a tribute to Ormond Beach and features some of the remaining artwork of Frederick Dana Marsh, owner and builder of the Battleship House, a famous, now-demolished beachside marvel. Named after the year 1931—one of the last years of Prohibition—the restaurant models its cuisine and aesthetic after the rebellious period.
Mama Foo Foo is another spot for those looking for a cocktail as visually pleasing as the décor, which boasts upscale bohemian elements and wood-paneled ceilings and walls. But for those who prefer craft beer to craft cocktails, the Daytona Beach Ale Trail is a must.
Tour local breweries and tap rooms that have earned approval from beer enthusiasts everywhere. And whatever you do, don't skip McK's Tavern & Brewery, where house-made brews like Papa Bears Oatmeal Stout and Watermelon Beach Street Blonde keep patrons coming back for more. There's also Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, which offers craft beers to go—though you’ll likely want to stick around and enjoy them on the rooftop overlooking the fountains and live entertainment in Victory Circle.
Embark on a Beach Adventure
Of course, despite all of Daytona's enticing on-land attractions, you’re still going to go to the beach—and Daytona Beach has sandy options in spades. Best of all, the beaches are free and among the most accessible in Florida; those with disabilities are welcome to rent complimentary beach wheelchairs, and cars are even permitted in designated areas.
While beach hopping along the coast, be sure to stop at Ormond Beach, also known as the “birthplace of speed.” The area’s park of the same name commemorates the first beach automobile race in 1903. The dune walkover and educational monuments highlighting the beach’s history make for great photo opportunities.
And for a beach park that, like Daytona as a whole, holds a little something for everybody, pay a visit to the 52-acre Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet. The stunning lighthouse mentioned earlier is the park's namesake and located just outside this untouched coastal haven.
The pedestrian-only sanctuary is home to a beautiful white sand beach, a separate dog-friendly beach, nature trails and elevated boardwalks that allow visitors to explore the pristine dune system without harming native plants. You'll also find a 1,000-foot-long fishing jetty and covered pavilions that make beach picnics a breeze. The onsite Marine Science Center, offering close encounters with seabirds and sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation before being released back to the wilds of Daytona Beach, is another must-visit, especially for families.
Before your trip's end, climb the park's observation deck and tower to get the full lay of the land and sea. Snap some gorgeous panoramics so you can dive back into the memories whenever you need a beach break.