Blue-collar oriented Daytona Beach as a destination has never risen to the higher standards of its richer rival, Orlando, and its closest associations are probably with auto racing, spring break, bikers and beer. But visitors to theme park-rich Orlando might want to consider taking the less than one-hour detour drive to Daytona.
For one thing, Daytona has what Orlando does not: a real beach, once termed the “world’s most famous.” Sure, Orlando has water parks, rivers and lakes but not a real ocean beach with big-time surfing and genuine sharks.
In the past, the biker reputation has clouded Daytona’s image as a family destination. In fact, USA Today recently awarded Daytona among its “Ten Best Reader’s Choice” as a favorite spring family beach break hideout.
Daytona in addition to its beach has other advantages over Orlando: Less cost. Not always, of course, but both entertainment and hotels tend to be far less costly here than in Orlando. Restaurants are also often less expensive (and the best offering seafood tend to be stand-alone rather than chains).
So we will save restaurants and hotels for another time, but here are a half dozen recommended free or inexpensive reasons for families (couples also) to visit the area:
Life’s a Beach. Daytona Beach is 23 miles long, and you can’t drive it as much as you used to, but selected areas still allow your vehicle. Access points are clearly marked. Not everyone is in favor of this idea, as seen by the fact that miles have been restricted in recent years, but if this is your dream, have at it. Warning: be careful of sunbathers.
Museums that even children love. Four of the best museums include the Ormond Memorial Art Museum at 78 East Granada Blvd., in Ormond Beach. Showcase paintings and drawings. Adjacent to the museum are lush tropical gardens with nature trails and fish ponds. Free admission. Visitors can see how the rich lived at the winter home of multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller at the Casements, which has art and historical exhibits. The Daytona Museum of Photography on International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach is one of only a dozen specialized museums of its kind in the U.S. It’s the state of Florida’s official museum of photography. For smaller children, one of the best treats is the Charles & Linda Williams Children’s Museum of Arts & Sciences. One of the biggest hits for young and old: a Crime Scene Investigation exhibit that teaches basic forensic investigation such as fingerprint and fiber analysis, ala TV. Also a race car station where kids can build and race motel cars. Other hands-on exhibits let children pretend to be doctors and pizza makers. Admission: $12.95/adult, $6.95/child ages 6-17, free for kids 5 and under)
Walking the plank.You’ll find the locals at the 1,000-foot-long Main Street Pier, an advertisement in itself for the longest pier of its kind on the east coast. You can fish here without even a license. Admission is $5 for adults and $3.50 for children. But there’s also amusement rides nearby such as roller coasters and ferris wheels and go-karts. Reasonably priced. And food too, including ice cream and pizza, of course. Note to adults: tropical drinks with a view can be found at the nearby and aptly named “The Roof.”
Sweet treats, free. Once named the “best food find” by Southern Living Magazine, the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory delivers just that. After a short tour, samples. Free. So is the 30-minute tour. Available from 10 a.m. Monday through Saturdays.
Parking it. There are lots of parks around here. But two of the best are the North Peninsula State Recreation Area (5 miles north of Granada Boulevard on Highway AIA in Ormond Beach). It is a sprawling 900-acre park with two miles of sandy beaches with palmetto dunes and sea turtles. Some of the best surf fishing anywhere is found here. Free. Not far away at 1800 Ocean Shore Boulevard is Ormond Bicentennial Park, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Halifax River. It covers five ecological systems while offering such down-to-earth activities as tennis and racquetball courts, a fishing and exercise pier, and picnicking facilities. Open daily from sunrise to sunset. Free admission also.
More edible history. During the Civil War, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill provided grain to Confederate forces. Today it is a tremendously popular griddle house where the specialty is grill-your-own pancakes. The pancake batter is made from grain that’s been ground on site with French millstones. Each table is equipped with a griddle; you pour and flip your own pancakes right at your table. (601 Ponce DeLeon Blvd., DeLeon Springs State Park, DeLeon Springs). Prices start at about $20 for a family of four. ###