Race To Daytona Beach
When you think of Orlando’s most famous neighbor, Daytona Beach, it brings up two images:
1.Driving on the beach (the idea of taking a car through the swirling surf of the Atlantic Ocean offers conflicting images of either awful or awesome).
2.And race cars (this is where it all started and for fans or non-fans, this is where you still see it today).
But this time of year, Spring Break, you might consider a side trip to…where else…where the boys (and girls) are.
This may be especially timely because of the real attraction of Daytona. Often labeled“Blue Collar.”
What that really translates to is lower cost.
And that is timely because the recent news out of Orlando is rising prices that routinely mean about $100 for a one-day theme park ticket.
Universal Studios Orlando tickets recently went up.
Rumors were speeding along that Disney Orlando tickets were also going up as well (the two parks almost always meet higher ticket prices).
This latest Disney ticket rumor is fuel to put a little more gas in the car for a drive to Daytona, less than an hour away on Interstate 4.
Daytona shares similarities with Orlando
And join the bikers and others here for the long-standing tradition of escape during spring break.
The area used to be famous for T-shirt shops and going out of business sales. But partly through efforts of promoters to turn it into a more competitive place for family-oriented Disney-goers, this much smaller beachfront area has been transformed (though you can still find t-shirts for $1.58. Just ask me where).
Daytona has things you can find in Orlando.
Like a 40-mile-an hour roller coaster.
And things you won’t find in Orlando.
This is not often known.
Fireworks, for example. You can also find them in Daytona.
There is also 26 or 23 miles of beaches (depending on who is counting).
Real beaches, that is
Nothing fake about them.
And sure, a roller coaster that only goes 40 miles an hour would not get you particularly fast between Orlando and Daytona…but still, it’s a thrill ride.
We should mention here that Daytona’s reputation has also been influenced by the bikers…this is worth mentioning because this area is not a real heaven for “Hells Angels” or something from “The Wild One” movie.
An aimless biker in the movie
Marlon Brandon, was said to have “lit up the screen” in his portrayal of a gang that took over an entire town.
It was certainly the late actor’s most famous role.
You won’t find too much of him around here these days.
Not all bikers are dentists or doctors these days, but a lot of them are, in fact, members of those occupations.
Some of them don’t even ride their motorcycles here.
Instead, they ship them down via air freight (yes, they can afford the high prices).
Then ride them from the airport to the city’s small but this-time-of-year bustling downtown bars and restaurants.
Speaking of which…there are only a few where you won’t find a good meal.
A good restaurant is hard to miss
A major reason is that when groups like spring breakers or bikers are not here, restaurants must rely on the local and limited trade.
So restaurants either offer good food and service, at reasonable prices, or they are run out of town…you might say.
There are also a lot of free things about Daytona.
More on that later.
But among new attractions…if you have not been here lately…there is the new Daytona Speedway.
Yes, known for autos. But not any longer.
It recently unveiled a $400 million revamping to make it more than just a racing venue.
More than racing
It can now accommodate more than 100,000 people in much more comfortable seats, but that’s far from the only change.
“It’s also more than the World Center of Racing. It’s now the World Capital of Entertainment,” suggested a public relations promoter.
Sorry, not quite true. The world capital is really Orlando.
But the Speedway is moving fast towards far more entertainment.
For example, the upcoming “Country 500” Music Festival on May 17 will showcase Luke Bryan and Willie Nelson, among others who have been here individually but never before in such a huge collection of country entertainers.
For anyone who wants to see the entertainment future here, there is a 30-minute shuttle tour, $16 for adults (or a far cry from the escalating Disney Orlando Tickets and Universal Studios Orlando Tickets (even the Universal and Disney discount tickets).
And when we talk about free…
There are a lot of free attractions to visit.
They start with the miles of beaches (the length of them is about half the distance from Orlando to Daytona).
Top ten to see
When we consider the top ten attractions here, we have to start with the beaches. No. 1.
Nicknamed “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” this is where the center of the action is. In addition to what you normally do with beaches such as fish, surf, lay out in the sun, etc., there is driving, of course. But there is also several miles of pedestrian-only space (fewer noisy radios, less traffic fumes, much more quiet than the areas with auto traffic).
The area has never forgotten (and always reminds tourist) that world land speed records were set on the beach during the early 1900’s.
Many drivers and pedestrians prefer to go next door to Ormond Beach, a far sleepier, smaller and more suburban-oriented next door town. The more laidback area has more than a half dozen beach access points. There are also restrooms and showers if you want to change into your bathing suit.
No. 2: The Casements at 25 Riverside Drive, at next door Ormond Beach. This was the sprawling mansion of John D. Rockefeller. It cost he and his family a small fortune to live here but a free tour shows off his art and historical exhibits. History, yes, but a vivid glimpse of another time in America.
No.3: Friends of the Bandshell Concert Series. Free events held from May to September each Saturday at 7:15 p.m. At the historic coquina bandshell. All types of music. Even fireworks at 9:45 p.m. And did we mention no Disney World tickets required. All free.
No.4: Perhaps you’ve heard of Bethune-Cookman University? It’s known as one of the richest repositories of African-American history and culture. The person behind it: Mary McLeod Bethune. A fascinating person coming to life here during free, guided tours (appointments required).
No. 5: There are many state parks surrounding Daytona like theme park refreshment stands. But one of the very best is the North Peninsula State Recreation Area on scenic Highway AIA in Ormond Beach. One major reason is size alone: 900 acres. But all you need to really know is that there are beaches everywhere, and some of the best surf fishing found anywhere. Adults and children both can enjoy finding sea turtles here. F.
Free admission for many varied activities
No. 6: Fishing, tennis and racquetball courts and an exercise trail (picnicking facilities too) are the major attractions at the Ormond Bicentennial Park at 1800 Ocean Shore Blvd. But the park alone is worth a trip to see five ecological systems. It sprawls from the Atlantic Ocean to the Halifax River. Open daily from sunrise to sunset. Free, of course.
No. 7: Museums are more your thing? The Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens has various art works resting next to a lush tropical garden with nature trails and fish ponds. Caters to both art and nature-lovers in one convenient spot.
No.8: The Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College is unusual for a lot of reasons. But the best one is that it is only one of a dozen such specialized museums of its kind anywhere in the United States. Florida’s official museum of photography.
You don’t want to miss theme park Bongoland
No. 9: The Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens at 950 Old Sugar Mill Road in Port Orange is the real thing. Or once was. It was an English sugar mill. Not only that, it was once home to Bongoland. Not heard of it? It’s history. Was a theme park in the 1940’s. You can still see the life-size dinosaurs that dominated the park. There’s also an unusual human sundial. Fun for all ages. And free.
Number 10 is the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory Tour at 154 South Beach Street, downtown Daytona Beach. This is a long-standing tradition. Back to 1925. Tours begin morning and afternoon daily, Mondays through Saturdays. Free for 30 minutes. Free samples (though if you want more, you to have to pay).
Some other adjacent areas you might want to see:
Where locals go
The small town of New Smyrna Beach is where the locals go. Not because it is about 15 miles closer to Orlando, but because of its more tranquil nature. And while it has some beach driving, it is more restrictive when it comes to vehicles. It is simply safer, of course, but shops and restaurants are also major attractions.
The Smyrna Dunes Park is on 73 acres of pristine land just north of the small city. Animals, birds, reptiles, marine life and vegetation. All can be found here and seen on elevated boardwalks. Picnic areas, and guided tours are available.
Another more laidback area is Ponce Inlet, a tiny town at the southern end of the area. Offering swimming, surfing and sunbathing along the beach.
A highlight is the huge Lighthouse Point Park with nature trails
If you don’t want to miss an even quieter place, head over to an even more laidback suburb: Ormond-by-the-Sea. It is mainly residential. But visitors find many quiet sports for beach access.
There is free parking for 100 autos at the Al Weeks Sr. North Shore Park, which has dune walkovers and picnic facilities.
People who buy more expensive Disney tickets or Universal Studios Orlando tickets might also be surprised at how inexpensive another mainstay attraction is here.
Venture out on the pier
That is the iconic Daytona Beach Pier.
The almost one-century-old wooden pier was closed in recent years but reopened after a renovation that cost more than $5 million.
It was worth the money.
You can rent Go-Karts here for $7. Or go down a “fun slide” for $2.
There’s excellent seafood at the pier’s primary tenant: Joe’s Crab Shack. Set at the end of the pier right on top of the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s also pizza slices sold here. And fishing.
And, of course, you can buy t-shirts.
One other place not to miss: the equally famous boardwalk.
Wooden boards lead the way to various amusements.
It’s like an old-fashioned amusement park, in fact.
There’s a giant Ferris Wheel of the old-fashioned type you won’t find in a modern-day theme park.
And you will find a roller coaster here, though not anything as thrilling as Disney and Universal.
But the appropriately named Sand Blaster Roller Coaster (2700 feet of track with two drops) appeals to all age groups.
View of Atlantic worth the ride
Its claim to fame is not its excessive speed or fast turns or scenery, but the fact that it is the only beachside roller coaster in Florida.
It’s also the only roller coaster in the state with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Like much of Daytona Beach, it is not as well-known as Space Mountain or the Hulk but the price is far less than any Disney ticket (or Universal ticket, either).
When we say far less, we mean $6 a ride. Or $15 for three rides.
That’s definitely “blue collar” pricing. ###