South of Daytona Beach is a stretch of 10 miles where nature, history and uncrowded sands help families reconnect.
When folks hear “Daytona” they think NASCAR, not nature. But head south of the festive boardwalk to Daytona Beach Shores, better known as “The Shores,” and down to Ponce Inlet, and you’ll find your new favorite daytrip—or weekend—just an hour’s drive east of Orlando. Sailors have used the brick-red, 175-foot Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, which stands sentinel at the inlet north of New Smyrna Beach, as an Atlantic navigation marker since 1887. Use it as yours to start a relaxing weekend getaway.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse gives visitors a 360-degree view of the area
Courtesy Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station Museum
Nature and history. Tucked beneath the hardwood hammock near the base of the lighthouse is the Marine Science Center (marinesciencecenter.com), where you can view injured sea turtles receiving their daily medical care in an effort to heal and release them. The informative center includes a touch tank and small but diverse aquariums that showcase the symbiotic nature of marine species, such as the decorator crab wearing a purple anemone on its head as though dressed for a day at the Derby. Around the corner is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station Museum (ponceinlet.org). Climbing the 203 steps for exceptional “from above” views of the Florida landscape is a huge draw, but so are the pristine outbuildings that show how the lighthouse keepers and their families lived here from 1887 through the 1950s.
Ready to put your feet in the sand? Locals love Winterhaven Park, two miles north of the lighthouse, for its easy access to a stretch of (usually) quiet, no-drive beach. Walk a couple hundred sandy yards north for rockin’ fish tacos on the oceanfront deck at Racing’s North Turn, where the speed is positively chill. It’s also a great place to watch for the endangered North Atlantic right whales migrating from mid-December through mid-March.
Finally, it’s check-in time. Drive six miles north on South Atlantic Avenue to The Shores Resort & Spa (theshoresresort.com). Its casual beach luxury includes all the amenities you’ll need. In fact, you may never want to leave the property.
Reserve a table for dinner at the resort’s restaurant, Azure, where ease blends with attention to detail to deliver a fine-dining experience. The menu is inventive and committed to fresh ingredients. If available, order the seared diver scallops appetizer, served on a bed of baby garbanzo beans with a cream sauce. Don’t miss the warm, herbed, pull-apart bread—caked in asiago cheese.
Poolside at The Shores Resort & Spa
Courtesy The Shores Resort & Spa
A day for R&R. There’s nothing like waking up and taking a leisurely walk or bike ride on the beach first thing in the morning.
The red-and-white striped daybed cabanas on the resort’s pool deck look like a royal encampment though, as the day unfolds, the scene is entirely down to earth: a couple relaxing with their golden retriever on their poolside patio (it’s a pet-friendly hotel), and teenagers treading to the beach with surfboards and back for lunch with their families (say yes to the grilled cheese, encrusted with golden Parmesan).
If you’d rather be stationed in the sand, rent chairs with umbrellas in front of the hotel’s pool deck. Keep some cash on hand so you can flag down the ice cream truck when you hear its familiar song (this section is a “drive” beach).
Come nighttime, guests gather around the resort’s fire pits and get into the spirit of toasting marshmallows. There’s a Tiki Bar, too, for those who prefer liquid calories. If you walk down to the water’s edge, look for the lighthouse’s flash signal that tells sailors exactly where they are.
Memorable Adventure. Make your last day special with a stand-up paddleboard tour with nearby Blue Coast Shop (bluecoastshop.com). Owners Jay and Lara Brown know precisely how to tailor your tour to your abilities, based on the day’s conditions. Stops on island beaches in the Halifax River/Intracoastal Waterway can yield hermit crabs and large, intact shells. It’s more common than not to spot manatees and dolphins.
For some fuel before or after your paddle, try Black Bean Café (3218 S. Atlantic Ave.), where the delicious homemade dishes are perfectly seasoned. Think thick-cut French toast or a black-bean, rice and egg burrito.
Not quite ready to go home? Based on availability, The Shores Resort offers a 6 p.m. checkout for $60—a great way to extend your stay without paying for an extra night. When your getaway is this close to home, you may as well play a little longer.
Plan your trip at daytonabeach.com