Get revved up with fun in the sun (This article was originally published on 08/26/10) become so much a part of the American story. Actually, if you can dream it, you can probably find it or do it in the Daytona Beach Area and nearby Ormond Beach. The never-ending list includes beautiful seaside resorts, NASCAR races, lighthouse tours, museums, sun bathing, swimming, surfing, golfing, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, peer fishing, parasailing, canoeing and kayaking, horseback riding and a wide variety of elegant and casual dining experiences. I recently enjoyed a visit to Daytona Beach, which has a population of 55,000 and is located on the eastern coast of Florida. Twenty-three miles of pristine beaches can be found here – the keystone of the Daytona Beach area.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
A plethora of things to do and places to visit await, with the Daytona International Speedway/Daytona 500 Experience high on the list. In the 1940s, racing enthusiasts started racing on the beach, and in 1959 the Daytona International Speedway was built, which hosts eight major race weekends a year. There is much to see and do at the Speedway even when no races are being run. We toured the racetrack for an up-close and personal experience any NASCAR racing fan would envy. Enclosed in a mock race car, I could feel the heat of the race when we tried the Daytona 500 Experience – indoors and air conditioned. Those who dare can attempt to qualify to be a pit crew member – but it’s not that easy. Bikers are welcome in Daytona Beach, and have rallied here since the 1930s. Major motorcycling events include the 10-day Bike Week Rally in March, Biketoberfest, a three-day rally in the fall, and the Daytona 200 motorcycle race at the Speedway each year. You simply cannot visit Daytona Beach without a tour of the D.I.S. For a slower pace, the Museum of Arts and Sciences fits the bill. During our visit, the museum featured the largest collection of Florida-based art, “Reflections: Paintings of Florida 1865-1965.” The museum also boasts the largest collection of Cuban art, and other exhibits include an impressive Chinese exhibit, 200 antique weapons, invertebrate exhibit, a children’s museum and a nature walk adjacent to the museum. While there, we explored a museum within a museum, in this case the Root Family Museum – Americana and Coca Cola – which occupies a wing of the MOAS with antique cars, trains and many other antiques displayed, along with the history and collections of the Root Family, creators of the Coca Cola bottle. It’s a Coca Cola collector’s dream. A visit to the internationally renowned Southeast Museum of Photography, which offers scheduled gallery talks, films, exhibitions, seminars and lectures, was enlightening. The museum has two floors of exhibits, which are changed periodically. It is located at Daytona Beach College, where we were surprised to find a school for chefs, Mori Hosseini College of Hospitality, next to the museum. Complete with a teaching café and kitchen, which is operated by Daytona State College students under the supervision of chef instructors, Café 101 features a fixed-price menu: $11 for lunch and $15 for dinner; however, reservations are required. If you are a nature and wildlife enthusiast, a visit to the Marine Science Center, where turtles and birds receive rehabilitation, is sure to lift your
spirits – it did mine. We took an afternoon to kayak with Nature Adventures of Daytona – Wynn Hamilton Tours at Cracker Creek Canoeing, where we only saw one alligator, but that was enough for me. If parasailing is more your speed – check out the Ponce Inlet Water Sports (Daytona Parasailing). One of my favorite places to spend time sightseeing is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. Learning about the history of this lighthouse was fascinating. At Florida’s tallest lighthouse, you might climb to the top for a spectacular view. After our tour, we enjoyed a delightful lunch dockside at Lighthouse Landing, which is located next to the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet. With fresh seafood and a relaxing atmosphere, this is a place I would like to revisit. For a real treat, visit the Old Spanish Sugar Mill & Griddle House – it is definitely worth the drive to De Leon Springs. The Griddle House offers a rare breakfast experience that allows you to cook pancakes and fry eggs on a griddle in the middle of your table – it was so much fun. A small museum next to the springs is worth taking time out to visit and to explore the history of the springs.
On our trip, we met chefs who choose to live and work in the Daytona and Ormond Beach area over anyplace else on the planet. The Dancing Avocado Kitchen’s Chef Mario Stemberger and his family served delicious avocado omelets during our visit. The Azure Restaurant at The Shores Resort offered ocean-front fine dining, with the sounds of gentle waves nearby. We enjoyed Vince Carter’s new restaurant, which bears his name and serves excellent crab cake appetizers; Ronin for sushi, sake and other Asian delights; The Cellar, which is housed in the historic home of President Warren G. Harding, and is listed on the National Historic Registry; Stonewood Grill & Tavern and Peach Valley Café – both have the magic touch of Chef Mike Drury; La Crepe En Haut Restaurant for elegant French cuisiné and Martini’s Chophouse, which offers organic wines and additional seating outside next to a soothing water fall and glowing fire pit. Calling all chocolate lovers – a visit to Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory in Daytona Beach is a must. We took a tour (available Monday – Friday) and picked a free sample, fresh from the confectioners – “I Love Lucy” style. Ordering online at www.angellandphelps.com is the best way to get these delicious morsels to your home if you do not reside in the area.
While visiting the Daytona Beach area, our stay at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort – Ocean Walk Village could not have been nicer. I could have spent days just relaxing under an umbrella on the beach. Among the list of restaurants within the complex, you will find the renowned Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse and Doc Bales’ Grill. On a smaller scale but no less grand, we discovered unexpected luxury at The Shores Resort. It offers ocean or water views of the Intracoastal Waterway, the ocean-front Azure Restaurant and Shores’ S’mores fixings to enjoy at their signature fire pit. I plan to return to this lovely little city by the sea – maybe I will see you there. For more information, visit www.daytonabeach.com or www.daytonabeachcvb.org.