Daytona Beach, known for spring breaks of the 1980s, labeled “America’s Beach,” and home of the Daytona International Speedway, is still one of the best Florida vacations you could ask for. With its drivable beaches, excellent attractions and museums, water activities, and tasty dining that won’t break the bank, Daytona Beach offers plenty to see and do.
Daytona Beach sits on the Atlantic Ocean about a third of the way down Florida’s East Coast. It is north of Cocoa Beach and south of St. Augustine. Daytona Beach is accessible by car and plane (it has its own airport), and it’s easy to get around once there.
The Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has hosted me on several trips to the area, but all opinions are my own.
Things To Do In Daytona Beach
You may be surprised to find many educational opportunities and arts venues in Daytona Beach. This city has grown up and become more metropolitan since its days of being the world’s most famous beach. Here are some spots not to miss during your visit.
Museum Of Arts & Science
I’m always impressed with the collections and exhibits at the Museum of Arts & Science, a Smithsonian affiliate in Daytona Beach. The Root Family bottle collection (including one of the most extensive Coca-Cola collections) is impressive. The two mid-century train cars (Silver Holly and Hiawatha), complete with china patterns and menus from the past, are informative and interesting.
I would allow 90 minutes to see the museum — 2 hours if you’re adding a planetarium show (a $5 fee applies).
Cici And Hyatt Brown Museum Of Art
Included with your ticket to the Museum of Arts & Science is admission to the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art. This space houses 2,600 gorgeous paintings by Floridians and pieces showcasing the Florida landscape and culture. It’s the largest collection of Florida art in the world.
Daytona International Speedway
The Daytona International Speedway is synonymous with Daytona Beach. The speedway hosts the Daytona 500, the most prestigious NASCAR race of all. Whether you are in Daytona Beach for a race or vacation, the speedway is always open and offering something to do. I have never seen a race in my life, but I loved the speedway tour. It was fascinating to learn about the sport, the drivers, and how the speedway packs in 101,000 people for a race and empties the whole parking lot in less than 2 hours. You can even take a drive in a NASCAR race car by booking the NASCAR Racing Experience.
Pro Tip: Tours run daily between 9:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. and cost $22 for adults. They depart every 45 minutes and last an hour. VIP tours are available for a more in-depth look at the speedway.
Daytona Beach is one of Florida’s only drivable beaches and one of only two drivable beaches on the East Coast. For $20, you can drive your car right out onto the hard-packed sandy beach (four-wheel drive is suggested) and save the stress of hauling out the things you want to take with you. Enjoy sunbathing, a good book, or splashing in the waves along Daytona Beach’s 23 miles.
Pro Tip: Parking is permitted perpendicular to the shoreline only.
Jackie Robinson Ballpark
Attend a baseball game at the beautiful Jackie Robinson Ballpark, which sits right on the Halifax River and is often recognized as one of America’s best minor-league ballparks. You’ll be watching the Daytona Tortugas, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, at this historic park opened in 1914.
Fun Fact: Jackie Robinson played his first professional game at this location.
A short drive away in Ormond Beach, Florida, is The Casements, and it’s worth the trip. This was the winter residence of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and it’s now a park and museum that’s free to the public. This historic attraction doesn’t get its fair share of publicity, in my opinion. See the lovely home on a self-guided tour; the signage and memorabilia are fascinating. You’re sure to love the beautiful park and gardens that surround the unique property.
Best Restaurants In Daytona Beach
You’ll find delicious dishes of every kind on the Daytona Beach restaurant scene, from shrimp, oysters, and fresh catches to international dishes and comfort food. Expect to enjoy every meal!
For those seeking the premier beach experience, breakfast at Crabby Joe’s on Sun Glow Pier is it. Crabby Joe’s food is really good — I recommend the Benedicts or cereal-coated French toast — and free parking is available.
Another choice is The Cracked Egg Diner at Daytona Beach Shores, with its retro 1950s vibe. The homemade apple fritters and Belgian waffles are excellent, and they have every egg dish you can imagine.
If you prefer a local coffee shop for a breakfast sandwich or pastry, look no further than Sweet Marlays’ Coffee. The quiche is fantastic.
The seafood is primo in Daytona Beach, far exceeding the options in some of the other East Coast cities I’ve visited. Get your fix of oysters (raw, steamed, or chargrilled) at The Oyster Pub. They also have salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wings, and I highly recommend the yummy onion straws appetizer.
A tasty option for international flavors and a cozy bistro feel is The Red Bud Cafe. Try the chicken and mushroom crepe or spinach and cheese burek (Bosnian pita); both are so good. The Red Bud Cafe is quaint and charming, with art that you can buy off of the walls. Vegan and gluten-free menus are available.
Watch the sunset and enjoy live music at Caribbean Jack’s, serving a tempting menu with some of the best hot peel-and-eat shrimp you’ll ever have. Fish, gator bites, and Caribbean tacos (served blackened, grilled, or island jerk) are other palate-pleasing options.
Another place I love is Racing’s North Turn at Ponce Inlet. This is where the first NASCAR-sanctioned stock car racing occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the restaurant displays an impressive collection of NASCAR memorabilia. Sit by the ocean and bob along to the live music as you enjoy the catch of the day, shrimp and grits, or half-pound burger. Don’t miss the bacon-cabbage hash; it is incredibly delicious.
Where To Shop In Daytona Beach
From 10 a.m to 8 p.m. every day, you can shop till you drop at a relatively new outdoor complex, Tanger Outlets Daytona Beach. Shops include Tommy Bahama, Salt Life, and Vineyard Vines, to name a few. My favorite is the Vera Bradley shop, where I buy my favorite flip-flops for under $10 and stock up on crossbody purses and tote bags at deeply discounted rates. This mall has lovely seating arrangements and plenty of places to rest for a spell.
One Daytona across from the speedway is a pretty outdoor mall and entertainment complex. It offers boutiques, restaurants, a movie theater, a game complex, and lodging. You can truly make this a mini-vacation and never leave the pristine premises. When I’m there, I love to eat barbecue at 4 Rivers BBQ, have a craft cocktail at The Blue Flame, shop for T-shirts at Momentum, and dream about being able to fit into something from Pink Narcissus.
I also recommend walking around historic Beach Street at the Riverfront Shops of Daytona. This area has a few unique Daytona Beach offerings, such as Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory (have you tried chocolate-covered potato chips?) and the Daytona Magic Shop. You can also enjoy a cold beer from McK’s Irish or a refreshing smoothie from Dancing Avocado Kitchen.
Best Hotels In Daytona Beach
The Hard Rock Hotel, located right on the Atlantic Ocean, is full of energy and style. The rooms are spacious and sleek, with floor-to-ceiling windows, luxury linens, and your choice of music playing when you arrive. From Jacksonville to West Palm Beach, Hard Rock hotels have the best pools, with lovely cabanas perfect for experiencing some rest and relaxation, not to mention the coveted Florida sunshine.
An alternative to the beachfront hotels and busy downtown area is River Lily Inn Bed & Breakfast, located in a quieter part of town. This darling inn has friendly innkeepers who understand the needs of travelers and do their best to exceed expectations. I stayed in the Sea Breeze room, featuring a queen-size bed, incredible jetted soaking tub, glider chair, and many special touches. The best part was our second-floor veranda overlooking the Halifax River on the Intracoastal Waterway. All stays include a freshly prepared breakfast. River Lily Inn’s flowers, porch, and swimming pool are an oasis in the heart of town.
Pro Tip: The part of downtown Daytona Beach around the Boardwalk changes when the sun goes down. I would advise not venturing out after dark to be on the safe side. As always, when traveling, keep your valuables out of sight and personal items close to your body. I always wear a crossbody purse.