By Susan & Simon Veness
Florida is known as the ever-changing state in many respects, and that is especially true of key destinations that lure visitors back year after year. Nowhere stands still in the Sunshine State.
That is especially good news for those looking for a reason to revisit their favourite American playground in 2020. So, when Ten Things aren’t enough (see last week’s blog), we have a whole new list for why Daytona Beach should be on your radar – and many of them probably aren’t ones you would normally think of.
Natural Daytona Beach
Yes, the beach itself is a natural phenomenon and remains one of the principal attractions, but there is a LOT more to the area that makes it a truly compelling destination. Take your pick from the sea, the land or the inland waterways for an eco-tour or active adventure, including fishing, biking, parasailing, surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding and airboat rides. This part of the coast is positively packed with wildlife expeditions and equipment rentals that are designed to get you up close and personal with Florida’s nature. Try any one of these four for a memorable excursion:
Blue Heron River Tours: Heading out from the St John’s Marina and Resort in the inland town of DeLand, this is where you’ll discover part of the Ocala National Forest and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, with its abundant bird and river life, including alligators, turtles, manatees and a profusion of wading birds.
A Day Away Kayak Tours: Get into the heart of the immediate hinterland for an unforgettable experience along the rivers and intracoastal waterway, including bioluminescent and moonlight tours. This is a gentle but invigorating adventure that will show you just how MUCH nature is just a few miles from those wonderful beaches!
Ponce Inlet Watersports: Take an eco-tour looking for dolphins and manatees along the Ponce Inlet waterway, stopping for some shelling and to check crab traps; try your hand at backwater fishing, casting a line for redfish, drum, snook, seatrout and more; go parasailing or sailing on the beautiful catamaran Arabella; or just charter a boat and enjoy the Inlet.
Yellow Dawg Fishing Charters: Experience the thrill of deep-sea fishing, pitting your wits against snapper, flounder and tarpon, or escape on the beautiful Tomoka River, where time seems to stand still and the evening sunsets are pure gold. You can also charter a private dolphin-watch cruise or go bird-watching for another natural Daytona experience.
Luxury Daytona Beach
While much of the destination is geared very much for families and mainstream entertainment, there is definitely a growing deluxe feel to parts of the beach scene hereabouts, especially with an array of new hotels and resorts that offer that five-star vibe along with the panoramic views of the golden sands. Not only do they provide sumptuous accommodations and blissful creature comforts, they increasingly feature a series of fine-dining restaurants that rival the big cities like Miami, Orlando and Tampa, and are worth seeking out whether you stay there or not. Here are our Fab Four:
The Shores Resort & Spa: For an expansive hotel with a boutique feel, this is an absolute hideaway haven on the lower part of Daytona Beach. Gorgeous beachfront rooms combine with an eye-catching pool deck and Tiki Bar for a total chill-out destination, while the Spa provides more essential pampering, and Azure Oceanfront Dining offers an upscale venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach: Every rock star needs R ‘n R, says their slogan, and this is certainly the place to come for some upbeat beachside relaxation, with the slick, lively Hard Rock style allied to the proper sea-going vibe. Fun, feature-packed and quality-conscious, the hotel allows guests to create a rockin’ good vacation experience of their own making.
The DAYTONA: Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the DAYTONA is situated in the heart of the shopping/dining/nightlife district of One Daytona and affords a great chance to be at the centre of things while also being nicely insulated. Great rooms and service are backed by the excellent dining option of Sir Malcolm with its wonderfully imaginative dinner menu.
Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort: Right in the heart of the main stretch of Daytona Beach, the Hilton provides the essence of the seaside vibe but with maximum style. Multiple pools, shops and restaurants, plus a full-service in-house Spa make this an exercise in indulgent beachfront life, notably with dinner at Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse and drinks at McCoys Rum Room!
Dining Daytona Beach
OK, so we’ve just mentioned a few of the standout restaurants the destination can offer (and they are all genuinely exceptional), but Daytona Beach offers more – MUCH more – in the way of memorable dining, in both upscale and signature terms. Delectable seafood can be found at a wide array of outlets, original cafes abound, and Latin flavours are commonplace, while this is also the place to come for a great beachfront bar and grill. Belly up to the bar, order a hand-crafted cocktail and relish the expansive views. Check out our Magnificent Seven for some of the best tastes of Daytona:
River Grille on the Tomoka: Arrive just ahead of sunset and grab a table on the tiered outdoor deck overlooking the river for a truly stunning dinner location. The menu’s on a par with the views, featuring fresh fish, shrimp, scallops and oysters, as well as succulent burgers and their signature Tomoka Dog – a full foot-long beef hot dog cooked just right with cheese or chilli.
Crabby’s Oceanside: Remember those beachfront bars we mentioned? Here’s a classic example, with both indoor and outdoor aspects, overlooking a prime stretch of Daytona Beach’s famous sands. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, this is where to come for a chill-out break, with a cocktail or three and a menu featuring all manner of tempting seafood, pasta and sandwiches.
Donnie’s Donuts: Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, this one-off speciality shop is an absolute treat. It serves up a seriously mouthwatering selection of doughnuts fresh every day, and there is an astounding array of choice. From Butterbeer to Maple Bacon, the tastes are a riot of fun and fancy, along with a terrific selection of hot and iced coffees.
Racing’s North Turn: They don’t come more iconic hereabouts than this beachfront bar and grill that was part of the racing scene back in the 1930s. Today it pays homage to those early motor-racing days with a terrific array of photos and memorabilia, as well as a menu packed with just about every element of the Daytona Beach culinary scene, including an ultra-fresh Catch of the Day.
Chucherias Hondurenas: When you need a taste of Latin America, Chucherias is not just one of the best along the coast but in the state as a whole. Shades of Honduras, the Caribbean and Spanish South America are all mixed into a delicious package of full-flavoured dishes that are wonderfully reinforced by the beautiful location and gracious service. Definitely a special night out.
Caribbean Jack’s: Park your boat and step onto the restaurant’s dock for another memorable adventure in fresh, local seafood, all overlooking the picturesque Halifax River (part of the intracoastal waterway). With live music nightly, locally-sourced spirits and beers, Caribbean Jack’s will give you a genuine Daytona Beach night out to delight all the senses.
Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill: If there’s one place the locals flock to for breakfast, it is this ramshackle venue on Sunglow Pier, where the menu offers the likes of a Crab Cake Benedict and Shrimp and Grits (which you should certainly try), while the sea views are sheer perfection, with the surf rolling right under the planked floorboards. You can come back for lunch and dinner, too!
And that is all really just a snapshot of this wonderfully vibrant but increasingly gilt-edged destination, a pleasure-beach for the young and young-at-heart but also a natural wonderland of seemingly endless choices. Miss it at your peril!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.