DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Michigan sun seekers and snow birds often look straight south for hot holidays and warm weekends in Florida. But Florida is, by geography and culture, a huge and varied travel experience. It is a vibrant mural that cannot be painted with a single brush. The names of its prominent destinations conjure up feelings and perceptions ranging from thrilling and exotic to serene and sedate: Miami; Sarasota; Forts Lauderdale and Myers; Orlando; Palm Beach; the Panhandle and the Keys, and yes, Daytona Beach.
Daytona, which refers to itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” isn’t glamorous like Boca Raton or South Beach, but it has plenty happening on the sand and off. Known for years as a spring break haven, Daytona has made an effort to let the world know that families are welcomed and will be comfortable here. To some degree this is true, depending on which section of the beach you choose for your vacation headquarters.
Immediate name recognition and perceptions of Daytona tend to focus on the Speedway and the famous Daytona 500 plus the ability to drive your car on the beach, where, in fact, the race was first held. Both of those features still exist, as does “Bike Week” and “Biketoberfest,” when thousands of motorcycles roll in and the thunderous rumble they create rolls through this northeast Florida town.
My impressions of modern Daytona?
It is inexpensive. It’s easy to find your way around. Daytona has a very convenient little airport right near the freeway and main drag. It is the home of the LPGA Tour headquarters and there is plenty of golf available. Daytona seems to be the bikini and tattoo capital of the world. It is 60 miles in each direction from tourist activities such as Walt Disney World, St. Augustine, and the Kennedy Space Center. Surf’s up as evidenced by plenty of boarders. And most of all, it is a very casual, user-friendly destination.
Daytona has none of the snobbery of Palm Beach – sandals and shorts are accepted apparel everywhere. Breakfast at Krispy Kreme; lunch at Hooters; and an evening at the brand new Greyhound track in a brand new six-dollar spring break t-shirt can be good for the soul. Let your hair down.
With 23 miles of Atlantic beachfront, you get essentially the same sunrise view, but can definitely choose your atmosphere. Most of the buzz and action centers around the Daytona Pier area, which features a park, gift shops, arcade games, carnival rides and waterslides, go-carts, volleyball, a couple erotic dance clubs, restaurants, the strand’s largest hotels, and the Ocean Deck, a well-known, open-air beachfront watering hole.
A couple miles to the north you’ll find the Daytona Beach Resort and Conference Center, a sparkling clean, family-friendly beachfront resort, fresh off a $30-million dollar renovation, just far enough away from the ruckus but just close enough for an entertaining beach walk. The hotel has personality because it is not too big and yet expansive enough to have four swimming pools, a poolside bar, fire pit and barbeque grill, small spa, gym, and restaurant. The Daytona Beach Resort’s 322 condominium suites are right across the street from a handy strip mall with souvenir shops, beach stores, and a supermarket, which can come in handy for travelers since every unit has a kitchen.
Easter weekend a wedding party watched the bride and groom, from East Lansing, exchange oceanfront vows at twilight and then simply walk to the reception staged in the indoor ballroom.
Daytona Beach Resort is now offering golf packages, too. LPGA International, at the women’s pro golf headquarters, is 11 miles away, and features two very differently styled courses. Rees Jones’ Champions course is open and links like with tasteful homes lining the holes; Arthur Hills’ Legends course is scenic and remote – carved through heavy vegetation.
Once you’re off your donut and chicken wing diet, Bonefish Grill, a half-mile north of Daytona Beach Resort on A-1A, is an splendid dining choice: a sophisticated “big city bar” feel, but still, casual and not overly expensive. You’d have a hard time recognizing Bonefish Grill is a chain restaurant.
If you’re a “Bucket List” kind of person, that is to say, you seek to experience certain activities or traditions before you “kick the bucket,” you can kill two birds with one stone in Daytona if you act quickly. The wisdom of still allowing cars to drive on the beach is in question, and has already been scaled back, after recent accidents. The custom is handy since you can tailgate right at your beach spot. Be sure you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, though, to avoid getting stuck in spots of softer sand.
Your second item bucket list item may be to see a NASA launch of the Space Shuttle, which is visible from Daytona Beach, but you’re also with 45 miles of the entertaining visitor attraction and viewing areas at Kennedy Space Center. The anticipation, the flash, the rumble and the majesty of a launch is almost indescribable. There are only three launches left between now and September, so plan accordingly at www.Space-Coast.com
April 11, 2010
Originally printed in the Lansing State Journal