By Kathie Farnell
Photos by Jack Purser Jr.
Daytona Beach, Florida—long a mecca for Spring Breakers and other people who like to drive on the beach—is repositioning itself as a family destination with a variety of attractions, outdoors and in, to keep kids happy.
The Hilton Daytona Beach/Ocean Walk Village is right on the beach and within easy walking distance of a number of fun attractions. Daytona Lagoon, a waterpark and entertainment center featuring miniature golf, go-karts, laser tag, rock-wall climbing and video games is a block away from the hotel. Here kids can go wild inside and out with ten giant waterslides, a wave pool, snack bar and arcade full of video games.
Ocean Walk Village, next to the beach’s historic Bandshell, includes shops, a ten-cinema theater complex, and plenty of eateries including Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company, where the waiters conduct impromptu quizzes on vital facts from the movie Forrest Gump. Daytona’s famous TrolleyBoats depart from the Village for a unique tour, rolling along the streets like any other trolley, only to suddenly take to the water for a cruise up the Halifax River. The 38-foot-long amphibious vehicles are capable of doing 60 miles per hour on land and 10 miles per hour in the water, and the narrated cruise takes visitors past the historic mansions lining the river banks—some of which played host to Al Capone and Legs Diamond during the Roaring Twenties. On a more spiritual note, the cruise passes St. Paul’s Basilica, where the priests have their own 21-piece jazz orchestra.
Back on dry land, Daytona USA, a 60,000 square foot year-round motorsports attraction provides behind-the scenes tours of the famous Daytona International Speedway as well as simulators, an IMAX Nascar 3-D film, and racing exhibits including Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 28-foot-long Bluebird, the car which set the world speed record here in the 1930s. For those who feel the need for speed, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is also located here.
Daytona’s historic downtown area is home to Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory, founded in 1925. Every hour on the hour, a free guided tour lets you watch more than 100 kinds of candies being made using original recipes and equipment—and, naturally, there are free samples.
A short walk away is Jackie Robinson Ballpark, named in honor of the player who broke major league baseball’s color barrier during spring training here in 1946. The Daytona Cubs have called the field home since 1993. During the April—September season, attendance averages 2500 per game. Anyone sporting a “Cubs” tattoo gets in free.
A short drive from Daytona Beach, DeLeon State Park surrounds a spring-fed pool which maintains a temperature of 72 degrees year round. This has been claimed as Ponce De Leon’s “Fountain of Youth,” and as if that’s not enough of a recommendation, it’s also home to the Old Spanish Mill and Griddle House, a unique restaurant located in a historic sugar mill. Griddles built into the center of each table allow diners to pour and flip their own pancakes (plain or blueberry).
The Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences, located in the Tuscawilla Nature Preserve, features exhibits including a crowd-pleasing thirteen foot tall prehistoric ground sloth, a planetarium, and a couple of private train cars donated by the Root family, who invented the Coca-Cola bottle.
At Ponce Inlet, the Inlet Harbor Marina and Restaurant serves lunch overlooking the water. Nearby, visitors can learn about Florida’s endangered marine life at the Marine Science Center, which includes a sea turtle rehabilitation laboratory. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, tallest lighthouse in Florida, features a 203-step climb to the top for a stunning view of the coastline, and, for the non-athletic, an opportunity to stay on the ground and commune with T.C., the seventeen-year-old lighthouse cat.
Back in Daytona, visitors can check out a variety of dining experiences, including the drenched-in-local-color Daytona Diner, right next to a business that rents Harley-Davidsons. My Cousin Vinny’s Pizza, in the historic downtown area, serves up casual Italian fare in their rooftop, open-air dining room. For something a little more formal, check out the Stonewood Grill and Tavern, flagship of the Stonewood franchise which includes 15 restaurants in Florida and 2 in North Carolina.
Daytona Beach, located in Central East Florida, is easily accessible via Interstates 95 and 4. Direct flights to Daytona Beach International Airport from Atlanta, Newark, Washington, DC and Chicago are available through Delta, Continental, and United Airlines.
For more information on Daytona, contact the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-884-2526 or check the websites at www.daytonabeachcvb.org and www.daytonabeach.com.