If you are coming for the races – the Daytona 500 is February 23 – do yourself a favor and stay in the area. I live here and the exodus from the Speedway to Orlando after the race is mindboggling. That’s because so many people find Orlando more appealing. That’s because other than going to the big race, they haven’t spent any time in the Greater Daytona Beach area.
There are lots of reasons to stay near the Speedway. Why would you want to drive through all that traffic for an hour or more when you can be close to where the action is taking place? In the core tourist area, it’s a snap to get to and from the Speedway. You will likely run into a few delays on race day, so there’s no need to add the long drive to and from Orlando to the mix. Yes. Orlando has major theme parks, but for racing enthusiasts, Daytona Beach is the Holy Grail and there are lots of themed activities in the area to enjoy. It’s the reason you’re here!
See the humble beginnings of racing in Ponce Inlet, just south of Daytona Beach. The North and South Turn marks where beach racing took place more than a half century ago. For $5, you can drive along that same route, park your car, bring a picnic lunch and watch surfers navigate the waves in one of the world’s best surfing spots. While you are there, visit the Lighthouse at Ponce Inlet, climb to the top and get a bird’s eye view of the North and South Turns, the heart of where racing began.
At the Ponce Inlet Historical Museum at 143 Beach Street, enjoy a seasonal exhibit, “Speed on the Beach” where you can bask in the history of early stock-car and motorcycle racing. Admission is free.
Pay a visit to the Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum of Racing History at Sunshine Park Mall in South Daytona. The museum recognizes the sport’s pioneers. Admission is free. Call for hours of operation. 386.763.4483
The annual parade featuring many of the historic cars and motorcycles used in early racing, begins at the North Turn Restaurant. The parade follows the route of those early drivers. There’s a great view from anywhere along the route, but if you hang out at the restaurant, you can meet driver’s and get autographs following the parade. It’s taking place February 15 at 1:00 in Ponce Inlet. If you miss it this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year. Admission is free.
Check the local newspaper, the Daytona Beach News Journal, for additional information on where to find drivers and race cars. Both make regular appearances at a number of local businesses and meeting a driver can make your visit even more special.
Looking for activities beyond the racing arena? If you can’t find something interesting for every member of the family, you just aren’t trying. The World’s Most Famous Beach is the biggest attraction, though the water is a little cool this time of year. But you can still ride the giant Ferris wheel and shop and dine beachfront.
There are dozens of art and history museums, most offering free admission. Enjoy water activities along the Halifax River in Daytona Beach and the St. Johns River in DeLand, that offer everything from fishing, to stand up paddling, to laid back boat rides that point out the history and area wildlife.
Whatever your plans, you’ll be happy you stayed locally for the Daytona 500.