Not just for college spring breakers and Daytona 500 fans, this Florida favorite offers families fun, sun, and miles of beaches.
Daytona Beach is known for its world-famous beach, but the Atlantic coastline isn’t the only draw. In addition to sandy shores, families will find a variety of activities from science and history to adventures in chocolate making!
KidTripster Tip: Daytona Beach is centrally located near several of Florida’s big name attractions and makes a good base camp if you’re looking to explore Central Florida while enjoying some beach time, as well. Orlando, St. Augustine, and Cocoa Beach with Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center are all roughly an hour from Daytona Beach.
Photo courtesy: Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
What to do?
Upon arrival, the first thing that the kids are going to want to do is get their toes in the sand! After all, Daytona Beach has more 20 miles of sandy beaches. Most hotels in Daytona Beach offer beach access, but there also are 9 beachfront parks in the area with easy and free access to the ocean. Volusia County Beach Rentals offers umbrella and chair rentals as well as surfboards, boogie boards, paddleboards, and bikes from mobile locations at various beaches in Daytona Beach. Our family found the deluxe setup ($30/day) - with two lounge chairs, table, and umbrella - a lifesaver in the hot Florida sun. The rental chairs and umbrellas are arranged along the beach each morning; to claim your spot, just sit down, and someone will be around to collect payment.
After you’ve spent some time in the sun, check out the other big name attraction, the Daytona International Speedway (One Daytona Blvd.). Several tour options are offered, but the Speedway Tour provides enough thrills and information for all ages without boring younger children. Hop aboard a tram for a behind-the-scenes look at Victory Lane, the car garage, and a thrilling ride down turns 3 and 4. The 30-minute tour ends with a photo op at the car that won that year’s Daytona 500. Cost: Youth (Under 6) Free; Children (6-12) $12; Adults $18.
Once you’ve fulfilled your need for speed, slow things down with a walk around historic Beach Street. Our family’s favorite stop was Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory (154 S. Beach St.), where you can learn about the history of candy making in Dayton Beach. My boys loved hearing about the chocolate-covered bacon, but the free samples at the beginning and end of the short tour were the biggest hits. The tour itself is free, but be prepared to lighten your wallet a bit when buying the various chocolate treats that the store offers.
KidTripster Tip: The children’s museum is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon when the forecast isn’t perfect for the beach.
Families looking to explore beyond the beach should head to Lighthouse Point Park (S. Atlantic Ave.) in Ponce Inlet. The park includes scenic hiking trails and boardwalk areas that allow you to get up close with Florida wildlife. Lighthouse Park also is home to the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum (4931 S. Peninsula Dr., Ponce Inlet). The lighthouse itself was first lit in 1887 and functioned as a warning light for ships until 1970. Now visitors can walk the 203 steps to the top for incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. The stairs are steep and open-toed shoes (like flip flops) are not recommended, so plan accordingly. Cost: Youth (Under 2) Free; Children (2-11) $1.95; Adults $6.95.
KidTripster Tip: Water bottles, snacks, and other drinks are not allowed within the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum grounds, so make sure you hydrate before you go. There are water fountains on the grounds and the area where you watch a movie about the history of the lighthouse is air-conditioned, but you’ll work up a sweat walking up all those stairs!
You can’t visit Daytona Beach without stopping by the Marine Science Center (100 Lighthouse Dr., Ponce Inlet). The center itself is rather small but still manages to pack in a variety of animal experiences. My boys particularly enjoyed petting the stingrays. The tank here is slightly lower and smaller, allowing for more interaction with the rays. Educators also offer opportunities to interact with different animals including snakes and owls. We loved the turtle rehabilitation area where you could see sea turtles that have been brought to the Marine Science Center for various reasons. The center has cared for close to 900 sea turtles since opening. Cost: Youth (Under 3) Free; Children (3-12) $2; Adults $5.
Photo courtesy: Volusia County Beach Rentals
Where to eat?
Our first night in Daytona Beach, we had cranky kids and needed some familiar food in a low-key, family-friendly environment. The bartender at our hotel suggested Genovese’s Italian Cafe (116 Dunlawton Ave.), claiming it had incredible Italian food and was a place where no one would think twice about whiny kids. We pulled up to the strip mall where the restaurant is located and had second thoughts for a moment, but hungry kids and the enticing aromas propelled us toward the door. I’ve never been more thankful that we listened to a bartender! The menu includes all your Italian favorites, as well as New York-style pizza and sandwiches. We ordered several pasta dishes, which come with soup or salad, and enjoyed each and every one. I was partial to the baked penne, while the homemade lasagna seemed to be the preferred entrée with the other grownups. The kids enjoyed the spaghetti with meat sauce and pizza but kept stealing bites of the adults’ pasta, as well. We brought home lots of leftovers that were more than enough for lunch the next day, which is always a plus!
Another great dinner spot is Ocean Deck Restaurant and Beach Club (127 S. Ocean Ave.). Located right on the beach with ocean views from most of the tables, the restaurant has a relaxed vibe along with live music and great seafood options. The kids’ menu is pretty typical, but all kids’ meal are served in a frisbee which is yours to keep after the meal. The restaurant deck actually leads right out onto the beach, so kids can play in the sand while you wait for your food or after the meal, while adults enjoy a last drink or dessert. Ocean Deck is right down the street from the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, so you can visit the boardwalk area before or after dinner.
KidTripster Tip: The restaurant provides complimentary valet parking while you’re eating, which is a plus as parking is at a premium in the boardwalk area.
Our hotel bartender also suggested that we check out the Daytona Diner (2043 S. Atlantic Ave.) for lunch and ice cream. She called it a local hangout, but also mentioned that it serves breakfast all day, which is a big plus for our family. Again, the restaurant isn’t located on the beach, but it’s a 50s-style diner with throwback décor and a budget-friendly menu. Most of our family went for breakfast options, but the Elvis sandwich was too intriguing for my oldest son to resist, so he ordered the peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich served on Texas toast with a honey drizzle. He declared the concoction "good, but weird" and washed it down with a large milkshake.
Photo courtesy: Ocean Deck Restaurant & Beach Club
Where to stay?
When our family of five travels, we often find that we don’t fit in many hotels, but we stumbled upon a gem for larger families with the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Oceanfront (3209 S. Atlantic Ave.). Our family booked a one-bedroom suite with two queen-sized beds in the bedroom and a queen-sized sofa bed in the living room, plus a full kitchen. The best part of the room was the two balconies that overlooked the beach. Not only were the rooms spacious, but the hotel itself had a great pool that overlooked the ocean, a large hot tub, and beach access. My boys would have been happy to spend every day of our trip at the pool and beach. The Residence Inn Daytona Beach Oceanfront also offers a hearty buffet breakfast with a variety of hot items and a happy hour most nights with free drinks and snacks. There are many, many hotel options in Daytona Beach, but our family won’t ever look further than the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Oceanfront. It truly was the perfect hotel for a family beach vacation. Rooms start at $169/night.
Photo courtesy: Residence Inn Daytona Beach Oceanfront
Daytona Beach is easily accessible by car, train or air. Three carriers serve Daytona Beach International Airport, offering non-stop flights from Atlanta (Delta), New York City (JetBlue), and Charlotte (American Airlines). If you prefer to come by car, two of Florida’s major interstates, I-95 and I-4, intersect in Daytona Beach, making the drive an easy one. And Amtrak has a passenger train station in DeLand, which is about 25 miles from Daytona Beach. No matter how you arrive, Daytona Beach is the perfect stop on a family beach vacation.
Jamie Farber lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons. Her English degree somehow has led her to a career planning Disney vacations with Mickey Travels.
Photo courtesy: Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau