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Daytona Beach, Florida 72-Hour Vacation

A "Speedy" Beach Town
72 Hours in Daytona Beach

By Kay Harwell Fernandez

Daytona Beach Shores
Daytona Beach Shores

Centuries ago, the Timucuan Indians laid claim to what is now the Daytona Beach area. These early settlers would likely be surprised that now Daytona wears the moniker of car racing capital of the world.

In the early 20 th century, wealthy industrialists such as Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller flocked to adjacent Ormond Beach in the wintertime. Fellow tycoon Henry Flagler built the massive Ormond Hotel overlooking the Halifax River just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Since automobiles had just come to the fore, hard surface roads were nearly nonexistent. So the beach's hard packed sand seemed an ideal race course. Ormond Hotel managers reasoned that a racing event would prove an excellent hotel promotion. That first race took place just after the rites of spring in 1903. Beach racing lasted until 1958.

Racing promoter Bill France and 18 racing members formed NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing). In 1959, their vision became reality with the opening of the International Speedway in Daytona Beach. Over the decades, NASCAR has experienced unparalleled growth. It's no wonder that the city's main thoroughfare is aptly named International Speedway Blvd.

Quite some time ago, thanks to the efforts of community leaders, Daytona Beach shed its image of a raucous spring break scene. Sure, there's the hustle and bustle of Bike Week and Speed Week every year, and yes, college kids still beach it. But nowadays the area caters to families and couples. The 23 miles of smooth, clean sandy beach remains a phenomenal draw-500 feet wide with plenty of space to catch those sunrays or beach ball. Plus, you can feel the wind in your hair as you drive on the firmly packed shore.

Lodging choices abound. Stay close to the airport, the Speedway and Volusia Mall at the new Homewood Suites by Hilton or Daytona Beach Courtyard by Marriott. For salty sea lovers, choose oceanfront accommodations that range from high-end at The Shores Resort & Spa to moderate at the newly renovated Best Western Castillo del Sol in Ormond Beach. For those who prefer more intimate surroundings, consider The Villa B&B or August Seven Inn.


Much smaller than its big city counterparts in Orlando and Jacksonville, Daytona International Airport is a breeze to get in and out of. You will need a car to get around the area. Major auto rental companies have counters directly across from baggage claim.

Start off your day with a hearty breakfast at Cracker Barrel, just a mile west of the airport. Home-style favorites range from hickory smoked country ham and grits to wild blueberry or pecan pancakes. After you're sated, take a gander at the nostalgic gift items in the restaurant's country store.

International Speedway Blvd. Bridge
International Speedway Blvd. Bridge

What better way to rev up your day than on International Speedway Blvd., about two blocks north of Daytona International Airport. Just outside Turn 4 of the famed Speedway, the Daytona 500 Experience portrays the color, excitement and history of car racing. Whether you're a hard-core NASCAR fan or just a casual observer, you'll likely enjoy this motorsports attraction. Watch the 45-minute film NASCAR 3-D in the Coke IMAX Theater, and see how the driving world works. Take a journey in racing history at Goodyear Heritage, which also houses a replica of a 1906 steam-powered racer and Richard Petty's 1979 winning No. 43 Oldsmobile. Put yourself in the driver's seat in Acceleration Alley, a stimulating simulator ride that combines motion, video and the thundering sounds of stock cars. Become a crew member, grab an air gun and try to beat the clock in the 16-Second Pit Stop Challenge. Gatorade Victory Lane showcases the most recent Daytona 500 winner's car in the same condition as when it zoomed over the finish line. After winning the 51st Daytona 500 on Feb. 15, 2009, Matt Kenseth's #17 DeWalt Ford was inducted for the display.

Pit Stop Challenge
Pit Stop Challenge

Jump aboard the open-air tram for a 30-minute tour of the Speedway itself. During the ride, the narrator will point out pit road, the garage area and victory lane.

Afterward, take it down a notch, and visit the Museum of Arts & Sciences. A block south of International Speedway, this museum is rather atypical. For starters, its natural setting of 90 acres includes the Tuscawilla Preserve, a coastal hydrick hammock environment with boardwalk and nature trails. A 2.5-acre sculptor garden offers bench seating for you to take it all in.

Inside the museum, explore some 30,000 items in the permanent collection of American, Cuban, African, English, Chinese and Pre-Columbian art and decorative art. A long-term exhibition from the Tampa Museum of Art displays 200 rare Greek and Roman antiquities. Another long-term exhibit focuses on historical accounts and legends of Florida East Coast pirates. The fun and nostalgic Coca-Cola section showcases the Root family collection of Coke glass bottles, shelves of memorabilia and 800 teddy bears. Chapman Root gained fame and fortune by patenting the contoured glass Coke bottle in 1915.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

After your museum tour, travel east a couple of miles to historic downtown Daytona Beach, an enticing enclave of shops and eateries across from the Halifax River/Intracoastal Waterway. Be sure to check out the delectable handmade chocolatey offerings at Angell & Phelps Chocolates — everything from creamy centers to chocolate-covered pretzels.

Continue to Day 2


Daytona Beach Hotels
Daytona Beach Restaurants
Daytona Beach Attractions
Travel Guide Florida
Daytona Beach Convention
and Visitors Bureau

* Images courtesy of the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau


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