This Florida coastal city has an ample supply of museums, fun restaurants, and exciting experiences.
By Lazelle Jones
There’s no question that Daytona Beach, Florida, is often associated with NASCAR and racing of many kinds and types. But you will discover when visiting this seaside destination that Daytona is much more than that. After the race fans have gone and this oceanfront playground returns to its usual, laid-back self, the other side of its personality emerges.
First and foremost it’s a beach town. Regardless of when you visit, any sojourn along its white sand reveals a veritable font of fun opportunities. It’s perfect for snowbirds who come looking to escape the brutality of winter in the northern climes. And for those who may winter somewhere else in the Sunshine State (or adjoining states, for that matter), Daytona Beach is an easy day trip from many spots. Accessibility is facilitated by two major interstates “” it’s about an hour from Orlando, and a mere two hours from Tampa. And since the city handles oodles of RVs whose occupants gather twice a year for NASCAR events, land yachts are a common sight. Yes, for the RV enthusiast, Daytona Beach is user-friendly.
One of the joys in life is good food, and Daytona Beach is replete with bistros, fun chain restaurants, and ethnic eateries. Take it upon yourself to do some serious dining research in the eateries noted below, and you will say without equivocation after completing said research that these are true culinary opportunities.
Writers don’t often recommend chain restaurants, but there were two that I found noteworthy. One is the Bubba Gump Seafood Company and Market. This eatery sits adjacent to and just north of the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort on North Atlantic Avenue. Of course, you can get shrimp, and also other seafood, plus barbecue, hamburgers, and entrees of all kinds. The place is filled with “fun” noise, with the waiters holding pop quizzes about what happened or who said what in different parts of the film Forrest Gump. Be prepared for a good time, and come hungry.
Another chain restaurant, called Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse (in the Hilton) is right next door to Bubba Gump. From a pastry cart waiters serve what are perhaps the biggest pieces of cake anywhere in the world; in fact, one slice can feed four people. This place specializes in aged steaks and chops, plus lobster and fresh fish. The dining room offers a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Original local spots include Angell & Phelps Café, a bistro on Beach Street that shares its location with its own chocolate factory. Guess where the restaurant gets its desserts? Main courses are steaks and fresh seafood. While dining, you can take in tunes from the area’s finest musicians, who routinely perform jazz, pop, and blues there.
A super breakfast deal is available at Sherry’s Kitchen & Buffet. Sherry’s presents a scrumptious buffet with homemade biscuits, gravy, grits, a variety of egg dishes, and tasty meats. “Soul food” is featured for lunch, including fried chicken, fried catfish, fresh greens, and other vegetables.
The Taste of the Tropics Seafood & Grill on West International Speedway Boulevard specializes in Jamaican cuisine, which is spicy and excellent. Their entrees include jerk pork and homestyle Jamaican dishes. It’s for real!
Points Of Interest
As you scour the area for things to do and see, start with some history. The famed Spanish explorer who searched for the Fountain of Youth “” Ponce de Leon “” explored Florida’s Atlantic coast, and his name was given to this region just minutes south of Daytona Beach. Sites include the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse, a 175-foot-tall brick structure built circa 1880. It is one of the best and most complete lighthouses along America’s shore and Florida’s tallest lighthouse. The complex includes a museum with Fresnel and other types of lighthouse lenses. The lighthouse itself continues to be an important navigation aid for modern-day mariners. If you’re so “inclined,” take the 203-plus steps to the top of the light for a bird’s-eye view up and down the coast. Ample motorhome parking is available at the site, too.
In the immediate vicinity of the lighthouse is a marine life habitat/organization called the Marine Science Center. This is not just a place to save sea creatures, but a museum with exhibits, displays, nature trails, and a 5,000-gallon aquarium. Also noteworthy is the work that is done here to heal giant sea turtles and ocean birds, which, once ready, are released back into their natural environment.
In Daytona Beach proper is the Museum of Arts & Sciences, a first-rate facility that is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. This repository is rich with an assortment of stimuli. It is a must during your visit to Daytona.
The museum’s permanent Root Family Gallery is a step back in time to the first half of the 20th century. Vintage trucks, automobiles, and race cars line the self-guided tour route, which includes the sleeper car and observation cars the family used while traveling by train around North America. The family fortune came from running an independent Coca-Cola bottling company, so it’s no surprise the collection includes a huge collection of Coca-Cola-related items.
Other galleries include wonderful Cuban art that was brought here during the 1950s, said to be the largest such collection outside Cuba. The lobby’s walls are laced with paintings that depict the strong influence that the oh-so-close Caribbean Islands have had on Florida.
A Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912) museum wing showcases original Chinese dinnerware, such as serving dishes used by the last emperor of China. A blue-and-white vase painted with woodlands and villages set in a mountain landscape, and gorgeous original paintings of Chinese horses are among the many, many items in the collection.
Daytona Lagoon, located off North Atlantic Avenue, across the street from the Hilton Oceanfront Resort, offers fun for the entire family. It has a huge water park with a wave pool, a go-cart track, laser tag, and a video arcade that will keep everyone occupied for hours on end. The park is open year-round, although the water park portion closes from November through February.
You may not come to Daytona Beach for a NASCAR event, but the Daytona 500 Experience brings you closer to the “experience” than you’d expect. It’s located in front of the Daytona International Speedway and presents the area’s rich history of stock car racing, both on the beach and at the speedway. You also can see several cup cars that have been used to win the Daytona 500.
Arcade rides give you the feel of how it is to be in the pits and behind the wheel of a stock car. If you wish, you can do the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where you are taken out as a passenger in a race car and speed around the track at 160 mph. There’s nothing like it!
Daytona Beach has a rich history in the Civil Rights Movement, and it is home to Jackie Robinson Ballpark, where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and went on to become the first African-American Major League Baseball player of the modern era.
It was at this little stadium that an exhibition game was played between the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team “” the Montreal Royals “” and the Brooklyn Dodgers themselves. Robinson was playing Triple-A ball for the farm team, and here he took the field on March 17, 1946. The following year, Robinson moved up to the pro Brooklyn Dodgers, and the notion of keeping baseball segregated began to end.
The ballpark today is home to the AA Daytona Cubs ball club, where throughout the summer you can see the stars of tomorrow paying their dues and honing their skills.
These are not all the fun things to do and see in Daytona Beach and its surrounding region, but they are a start. So, make Daytona a destination for a few days, but forget about those cars that go in circles on a track. You can always come back later!
Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
126 E. Orange Ave.
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
The following are a few of the many camping opportunities in the area. Check your favorite directory or FMCA’s RV Marketplace, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com, for more listings.
3003 W. International Speedway Blvd.
Daytona Beach, FL 32124
Harris Village & RV Park, C8794
(FMCA commercial member)
1080 N. U.S. 1
Ormond Beach, FL 32174
International RV Park & Campground
3175 W. International Speedway Blvd.
Daytona Beach, FL 32124
Seaside Park Campground
(Affiliated with Coral Sands Resort)
1009 Ocean Shore Blvd.
Ormond Beach, FL 32176
Sunshine Holiday Daytona RV Resort
1701 N. U.S. 1
Ormond Beach, FL 32174
Tomoka State Park
(34-foot length and 11-foot height restrictions)
2099 N. Beach St.
Ormond Beach, FL 32174