If sand and surf—and sunbathers—appeal to your senses, then visit Daytona Beach, Florida. The self-proclaimed "World's Most Famous Beach" is an epicenter of activity for Florida-bound college students, NASCAR fans and motorcycle enthusiasts from mid-February through March.
The rest of the year, Daytona Beach is a balmy haven appealing to all age groups, from little children assembling sand castles to seniors basking in the ocean breeze. Although lying on the Daytona Beach sand is a time-honored activity, so is driving on the beach—the silica is so hard-packed that vehicles are permitted as long as they don't exceed 10 mph/16 kph. When you tire of the surf and sand, there are plenty of local Daytona Beach haunts where you can eat, party, relax and shop for souvenirs.
Visitors will find that Daytona Beach is in the midst of a major redevelopment campaign, spurred by hurricane damage and the city's reputation as a spring-break destination. When completed, the Atlantic Avenue Enhancement Project will revamp the 1.3-mi/2-km stretch of Atlantic Avenue from Davis Street to Riverview Boulevard into a tropical boulevard, complete with palm trees, gardens and more.
Modern Daytona Beach hotels line the oceanfront, and many other improvements complement the Atlantic Avenue project. Daytona's character as an entertaining mix of high culture and fun-in the-sun remains intact—the elegant Hilton Hotel shares the boardwalk with Joyland Arcade. Unique shops, restaurants, and recreational and entertainment venues welcome everyone from families with young children to retirees to the uber-sophisticated.
Daytona Beach is located on the Atlantic coast in east-central Florida. The Halifax River cuts through the middle of the city, running north to south and separating the beaches from the downtown area.
On the north end you'll find Ormond Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea, quaint beach communities offering a quieter experience. Ormond Beach extends across the Halifax River, so there are inland and beachside parts of town. This is the first town you'll approach if you're driving south on Interstate 95 toward Daytona Beach.
The central area is the heart of Daytona Beach. It includes the Ladies Professional Golfing Association International golf courses, the Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona Beach International Airport. The beach area extends all the way to the Halifax Harbor Marina and includes such attractions as the Daytona Beach Pier, Ocean Walk Village and the Oceanfront Boardwalk.
The south end extends from Daytona Beach Shores, along 5.5 mi/9 km of sandy beaches, to the quintessential fishing village of Ponce Inlet, home of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and the Marine Science Center.
Originally settled by the Timucuan Indians, the Daytona Beach area began attracting the attention of wealthy northern investors in the late 1800s. The first hotel, the Palmetto House, was built in 1874, and more development quickly followed. Entrepreneurs soon began promoting the area's attributes to northerners looking for a winter retreat. John D. Rockefeller was among the first to discover the area's golf courses and built a winter home, The Casements, in nearby Ormond Beach. When Daytona Beach was incorporated on 26 July 1876, it was named after its founder, Mathis Day.
In the early 1900s, automobile racing became a popular pastime along the hard-packed beaches. The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was founded at the Streamline Hotel in December 1947, earning the city the nickname "Birthplace of Speed." Successful banker William "Big Bill" Henry Getty France moved to Daytona Beach in the mid-1930s to establish a new career in race car promotion. During the 1940s, France established 4.1 mi/6.6 km on the beach and along Highway A1A as a race track. Motorsports gained new ground in 1959 with the opening of the Daytona International Speedway. Since then, the area has attracted millions of racing fans as well as beachgoers looking for a vacation in the sun.
Bike Week became a tradition in 1937, although it was discontinued during World War II. The festival was revived in 1947, and the annual 10-day event continues to flourish.
In recent years, Daytona Beach has attempted to change the blue-collar image it earned from its influx of bikers and spring-breakers. The city has built the Ocean Walk Village vacation and entertainment district, located next to the famed Daytona Beach Pier. In addition to upscale hotels, the village has stores, restaurants and a 10-screen movie theater.
The beach is the place to begin your visit. It's a 23-mi-/37-km-long span of sand that's wide enough to walk, drive and park on. Daytona Beach Pier and nearby Ocean Walk Village are the focal points of beach activities—concessions, arcades, watersports equipment rentals, restaurants and shops are all within walking distance. You can even fish from the pier. This Oceanside district, rich in history, is leading the revitalization effort in this once-neglected area. Beneath the multicolored beams you'll find charming shops, movie theaters with stadium seating and restaurants.
As you stroll down the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, notice the granite blocks paving the walkway—they recount historic racing events. Most of those races were held on the beach before the International Speedway was built in 1959. The rest of the story is told at the speedway, a must-see whether it's a race day or not. The area also has several worthwhile museums and landmarks.
Area clubs can be crowded or quiet—depending on the time of year and who's in town. The best places to look for action are near the beach on Main Street or Seabreeze Boulevard, both of which have dozens of bars. The bar at the Ocean Deck Restaurant & Beach Club is usually packed with a mix of locals and tourists seeking live music and cheap drinks. And there's always something happening on Beach Street in the city's historic downtown district. Visit Martinis Chophouse for tasty martinis in a funky setting. Lively sports bars include The Oyster Pub in Daytona Beach and Houligan's Irish Sports Bar in Ormond Beach. Also, restaurants such as Angell & Phelps and Frappes North feature live jazz on the weekends. Ocean Deck Restaurant features live local bands nightly.
To find out what's happening locally, check the "Go" section in Friday's issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Local entertainment offerings can also be found at Backstage Pass, a free weekly found throughout the area.
The Daytona Beach area is home to a variety of dining options that range from traditional Florida food to classic Greek cuisine. Beach Street, the main road in Daytona Beach's historic downtown district, features a concentrated mix of restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The area is small enough that word-of-mouth quickly gets out: The best places fill quickly, and competition is so fierce that inferior restaurants don't last long.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, excluding drinks, tax and tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$25; $$$ = US$26-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.
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