Best Road Trips For Orlando Residents: Daytona Beach
55 Miles | 1 hour Drive Time
Daytona Beach is, and always has been, home to speed. From the hard-packed sands of the beach where in 1949 drivers raced down a straightway to Daytona International Speedway’s cutting-edge stadium unveiled in 2016, Daytona has basked in the limelight of professional motorsports. Yet, over the decades, the destination has added more reasons than ever to make the hour drive to the Atlantic side of the state.
On International Speedway Boulevard, the main road into Daytona Beach, you’ll see One Daytona, a new entertainment complex across from the speedway and home to “Jantzen Diving Girl.” The 16-foot bathing beauty adorned a boardwalk beachwear shop for more than half a century. When the store closed, she was packed up and sent across country until nostalgia broke loose and the community rallied to bring her back. Now restored to her full splendor with red bathing cap and swimsuit, she’s an iconic public art figure.
Among the shops and restaurants are murals from the city’s Mural Trail—great backdrops for Instagram photos. “Evolution of Car Racing” features stock cars and fans at the track, and “Beach Scene” is a historic look at the “World’s Most Famous Beach.” Be sure to visit Donnie’s Donuts, a shop loved by locals for its classic cake donuts; Death By Chocolate is a favorite.
Even if you’ve been to a race and felt the heart-shattering roar as NASCAR drivers accelerate, an up-close tour of the speedway and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America will educate you on all forms of motorsports and who’s who in the world of racing.
En route to the beach, check out the River Esplanade in the historic downtown at the foot of the Intracoastal Waterway bridge. Freshly installed landscaped trails and gardens skirt the Halifax River, and new eateries like Mama Foo Foo surprise with out-of-the-box concepts in décor and food. The Halifax Harbor Marina is a showcase for boat lovers with its collection of yachts, sailboats and fishing vessels. On City Island, Jackie Robinson Ballpark, named after the Black player who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1946, draws fans.
Eclectic stores and cafes fill the old buildings on Beach Street, including the always-packed Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory, dating back to 1952. It’s the place to get a quality chocolate fix with a box of cordials or pecan honeybees.
At the beach, the boardwalk continues to entertain with arcades, cotton candy stands and daredevil rides like the Slingshot that propels you 365 feet into the air. Walk the pier to see what fishermen are catching and then take in the view of the expansive beach filled with sunbathers, kids on skimboards and bicyclists, who share the firmly packed sands with motorists.
Another highlight with motorists, as well as motorcyclists and bicyclists, is the Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail. Drive the 30-mile serpentine road along the marsh-like waterways and through cool shady tunnels formed by gnarled branches of live oaks. It’s a peaceful refuge devoid of heavy traffic, where even bikers refrain from the temptation to rev their motors.
When it comes to location, you can’t beat the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. Wake up to sunrises over the Atlantic and alabaster sands just steps away. A family-friendly, pet-friendly resort, your room offers easy access to all the action on the boardwalk and pier. A full-service resort, you’ll find several pools, a spa and restaurants from a steakhouse to sports bar. Its two towers have 744 guest rooms, which means you’ll have plenty of people to mingle with and make new friends.
With several waterways to explore in the Daytona Beach area, dining on the water’s edge is always a great option. RiverGrille on the Tomoka River has a fish camp vibe with wooden decks and stairs leading down to a peaceful watery setting punctuated with oaks dripping in Spanish moss. Order the Southern Crab Boil: crab legs, shrimp and andouille with potatoes and corn tossed in seasonings like Bayou or Cajun, plus sides of hush puppies and coleslaw.
If you’ve driven through Texas, then you know Buc-ee’s. If you haven’t, then you need to meet this thrifty beaver. At the giant rest stop for road warriors (no 18-wheelers allowed), 100 pumps offer gas priced at about 30 cents less per gallon than in the city. Pit masters take to loudspeakers announcing the arrival of freshly made Texas-style pulled pork and chopped brisket sandwiches. Walls are covered with packages of beef jerky and display cases feature oversized cinnamon rolls. A retail section with tasteful Florida-centric items delights shoppers.