Daytona Beach is filled with soft, but hard-packed sand along the shore enticing families to build sand castles and more in sunny Florida … an 11-hour drive from Nashville.
Walk along the beach, gaze at the ocean, watch birds, read the speed limit sign … um, what? Yeah, there are speed limit signs on the beach because visitors drive right on it and … well, it IS Daytona! This beach was once the spectator spot for races, so drivable sections are still available to honor the tradition. Don’t worry, you can find plenty of traffic-free spots, too. I mean, the beach is what you came for right? Maybe.
HAVING FUN YET?
After building umpteen sand castles, take your family over to the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier (386-253-0254; daytonabeachboardwalk.com). You’ll get an amazing view of the area from the beach-side Ferris wheel. Kids can enjoy the roller coaster, nostalgic arcade and midway games as well as fishing off the pier. This is a popular spot to be during the night as the adjacent laid back ocean meshes perfectly with the lights and sounds of nearby attractions.
If you’re looking to have a sand-free day, go to The Marine Science Center (386-304-5545; marinesciencecenter.com). This facility rehabilitates sea birds and sea turtles while teaching the ecology behind the area’s delicate marine environment. On my visit, I got to watch a gigantic sea turtle feeding. It was a sad and lovely moment all at the same time. Soon, that turtle will be well enough to be released back into the ocean. Admission is $5 adults, $2 ages 3 – 12, free ages 2 and younger.
For those with older, more adventurous kids, you’ll want to visit Tuscawilla Park’s Zoom Air Adventure Park (386-569-3519; zoomair.us). Get up into the canopy with the ropes course woven in the trees and filled with different challenges that test the strength and skills of anyone 54 inches and taller. If it’s your first time — like it was for me — don’t worry. Everyone’s required to participate in a ground-level trial run to get familiar with the mechanics. There are a lot of steps involved, and you’ll want to be comfortable doing them. I didn’t care too much for the ropes, but zipping through the trees was exhilarating!
Tickets start at $19.75, and you can add to your adventure package as you wish.
Get a birds-eye view of the area at Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse (386-761-1821; ponceinlet.org). This brick red lighthouse is the tallest in Florida and is only 10 miles south of Daytona Beach. Climb the 203 steps of this 175-foot tower (because of it’s so tall, children must be able to ascend and descend on their own without being carried). They don’t want parents toppling over!
If you opt to stay grounded, check out the rest of the museum. You’ll be amazed by a unique collection of makeshift Cuban rafts that landed ashore in the area. Admission to the lighthouse is $6.95 adults, $1.95 ages 11 – 3, free ages 2 and younger.
GET YOUR DAYTONA 500 TICKETS NOW!
Of course, one of the main reasons Tennesseans go to Daytona is to enjoy the races at Daytona International Speedway (1-800-PIT-SHOP; daytonainternationalspeedway.com). If you haven’t been in a while, you’re in for a real treat come January, 2016 when the $400 million DAYTONA Rising frontstretch redevelopment project is completed. With the mark of the new development, 2016 is also the 58th DAYTONA 500, which is set for Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.
I had the chance to visit the speedway during the expansion and took a tour — experiencing firsthand the excitement of being on the pavement, up in the box seats, standing at Victory Lane where the champions get their photos taken, seeing the garages and more. I had no idea that the track was so steep, and the tour was a pleasant surprise.
With the completion Daytona Rising, the speedway will become the first-ever motor sports stadium featuring 40 escalators, 101,500 new seats, twice as many restrooms, three times as many concession stands and more.
DAYTONA 500 tickets start at $95, and there are still a limited number of seats available. The Speedway Tour is $16 adults, $10 ages 6 – 12, free for ages 5 and younger (lasts 30 minutes). The VIP Tour is $50 per person (lasts 180 minutes).
GET SOME GRUB
Walking around in the Florida sun makes me hungry. For breakfast or lunch, check out The Dancing Avocado (386-947-2022; facebook.com/DancingAvocadoKitchen). It’s vibe is laid back, and I was eager to see the menu because I’m an avocado-loving girl.
It was hard to choose from the variety of dishes they create using hundreds of pounds of fresh-from-Florida fruits and vegetables, but I ended up with the Dancer sandwich (sliced avocado, three melted cheeses, sliced tomato, sprouts and onions on toasted multi-grain bread). It had an unusual seasoning added to it that was surprisingly delightful. I learned that it was called Dancer Dust (which is also sold in the retail shop) — it’s known to be a blend of 11 herbs and spices with a zest to complement any dish. It was so good I bought some to bring home with me!
Now that your belly is full and you find yourself craving something sweet, visit Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory (1-800-969-2634; angellandphelps.com) to enjoy all the chocolatey wonders!
Browsing the store is not a good idea if you love chocolate — you’ll want one of everything! They have all kinds of traditional old-fashioned candy and chocolates. The fudge is mouth-watering good, too. You’ll be astonished by the different chocolate molds they use to make all those detailed shapes and animals. That can make for a hard decision when you’ve got to choose what to get the kids. I realized, a little too late, that there was also a tour available to see what goes on in the making of their chocolates. Be sure to visit the website to see when the tours happen in order to check it out.
WHERE TO STAY
Kids will be delighted to find the s’mores kit on the bed upon check in at The Shores Resort & Spa (386-767-7350; shoresresort.com). Walking through the newly redecorated lobby of this resort, you’ll find comfort and friendliness is a top priority. As I waited in line to check in, another staff member popped up out of nowhere to take care of me.
The Shores is known for their comfy striped cabanas by the salt water, ocean-front pool — great for families to rent to keep everyone and everything together. More offerings include The Shores Kid’s Club activity programs, kids’ night out programs and more.
Once you’ve had dinner, grab your complimentary s’mores kit (remember? it’s in your room!)get a roasting skewer from the bar and enjoy your sweet treat with your family at one of the many fire pits available pool side.
From the large-scale customer amenities to the smallest of details — like salt scrubs in the public bathroom — Shores Resort aims to delight. They want to keep you busy (if you’re up to it) and having fun.