Ponce Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
Florida Lighthouse Trail // Along the Buccaneer Trail
It’s easy to hop in the car and drive about an hour to Ponce Inlet, so add a visit to Ponce Inlet Lighthouse & Museum and make a day of it. It’s at the southern tip of the barrier island that is also home to Daytona Beach. The waterway, once named Mosquito Inlet, sits at the junction of the Halifax and Indian rivers; in the early 1800s, it was known for treacherous shifting waters that created sandbars and caused plenty of shipwrecks. Today, however, paddle boarders and jet skiers enjoy these waters where gulls and terns congregate on sandy ridges.
From the plantations along the rivers connected to Mosquito Inlet, lumber, oranges, rice, cotton and indigo were shipped. In 1774, seafarers seriously needed a beacon to aid vessels. A simple bonfire on a dune wasn’t enough. Finally, in 1830, plantation and ship owners petitioned Congress, and in 1834, they approved the first building of a lighthouse. Unfortunately, two years later, it succumbed to erosion and collapsed.
The second attempt, despite many vessels transporting bricks ending up at tåhe bottom of the ocean, was successful. The 175-foot red-washed masonry tower was finished in 1887, complete with a first-order Fresnel lens, to the tune of $200,000.
Today, the meticulously restored and maintained lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark. Start at the Woodshed, now a video theater where the history is told in “A Heritage Remembered.” Move on to the Keeper’s Dwellings to see exhibits about construction and restoration of the lighthouse. They constructed a special building to house an impressive collection of lighthouse lenses, including the original Fresnel lens used from 1887 to 1933. The highlight is climbing the tower’s 203 steps to the gallery deck and gazing out at the inlet and beaches.
After visiting the lighthouse, travel a few blocks to the Ponce Inlet Historical Museum, where two Cracker-style cottages offer a glimpse into how the area’s early settlers lived. Before hitting the road, stop at Lighthouse Point Park, an unspoiled preserve at the island’s southern tip, to dig your toes into the sand, cool down in the surf, and walk the elevated boardwalk over coastal dunes.
You definitely want a room with an ocean view, which you’ll find at The Shores Resort & Spa. A coastal-chic hotel in neighboring Daytona Beach Shores, it’s perfect for lounging on the beach with a tiki bar steps away | shoreresort.com
The Hidden Treasure across the street from the lighthouse serves up views of the inlet, along with creative rum drinks and a killer fish dip. For beachfront dining, it’s Racing’s North Turn for a table on the deck and peel-and-eat shrimp | hiddentreasurerestaurants.com
Hidden behind the lighthouse, Marine Science Center has fascinating exhibits on the area’s artificial reefs, jetty and whale habitats. Unusual sea creatures, like invasive lionfish, and rehabilitated bald eagles can be viewed | marinesciencecenter.com