The automobile is king in Daytona Beach. Dubbed "the birthplace of speed," the area's wide, flat sands witnessed the advent of stock car racing, whose 1903 debut saw "horseless carriages" doing then-miraculous speeds of 57 m.p.h. During this weekend visit, you'll never be far from your own wheels. Take a slow-motion drive on the beach. Visit a speedway. Grip and grin at a go-cart track. You can even attend a church service in your car. Come on, let's drive.
Friday: Get It in Gear
Set the pace for this trip by going straight to Daytona USA at Daytona International Speedway. Inspect souped up contenders for the checkered flag. See a giant-screen film about the Daytona 500, from prerace preparation to winner's circle celebration. Studio booths let you "broadcast" a NASCAR race just like the announcers. Take part in a 16-second tire change, and tour the track.
Now go drive on the beach, paying a small fee ($5 per day) at one of the guard stations. The speed limit is 10 m.p.h., but it's still a thrill, one you can't have just anywhere. There are a few no-car zones along the beach, including a 1-mile stretch made up of the Main Street Pier; the shops, cafes, and arcades along The Boardwalk; and Oceanfront Park, with its historic band shell. A free tram serves the area, so getting around is a breeze.
Check in at Bahama House, one high-rise hotel in a long canyon of them, but it's tastefully done and with a fine beachside swimming pool (rates start at $102; 1-800-571-2001). If the Bahama is full, try the low-budget Pier Side Inn (rates start at $41; 1-800-728-4650) or the upscale Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort (rates start at $99; 1-800-525-7350).
Dine at Stonewood Tavern & Grill to the north in Ormond Beach, where sirloin steaks sizzle over burning oak and steam rises from hearty chicken pot pies. Before turning in, step out to the beach. Gaze at a starry sky and the twinkling lights of passing ships. You're due for a pit stop, but your Daytona Beach weekend is off to a nice start.
Saturday: Cruising the Beach
Walk the beach to find shells and work up an appetite. Have a breakfast of omelets and buttermilk biscuits at Daytona Diner, a 1950s-style eatery in the back of a downtown Harley Davidson motorcycle shop. Nearby, the weekly City Island Park Farmers Market teems with fresh produce. Just west of I-95, the sprawling Daytona Flea and Farmers Market gathers more than 1,000 bargain-basement vendors.
Late in the morning, board a cute 18-passenger launch with a candy-striped awning down at Halifax Harbor Marina for a one- or two-hour tour on the Halifax River. The owner-operators of A Tiny Cruise Line point out dolphins and birds, tell tales from local history, spy on waterfront mansions, and duck under bridges spanning the Intracoastal Waterway.
For lunch, go health conscious at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen (tuna melts, whole wheat pizzas, grilled quesadillas, power juices). Then splurge at Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory (free tours). Save the afternoon for quick fun and a few screams at Adventure Landing. Its wear-your-swimsuit entertainment includes curvy water slides, a wave pool, a two-story go-cart track, miniature golf, and video games.
In the evening, cruise the beach road south to the Ponce deLeon Inlet Lighthouse. Climb steps inside the 175-foot redbrick tower, or enjoy the ground-level view looking up at it.
Before sundown, claim a seat on the rambling waterfront deck at Inlet Harbor Marina & Restaurant, a few blocks from the lighthouse. Order a colorful drink, sit back, and take in the best sunset view around. Talented musicians perform on a small stage, and the menu includes spiced shrimp, bacon-wrapped oysters, grouper sandwiches, and roasted sea scallops.
Finish the day at Oceanfront Park, where different bands play free concerts every Saturday night at the band shell.
Sunday: Park It, and Chill Out
Sleep in, or beachcomb again if you're so compelled. Then consider these cultural options available to you.
At the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church (the former Neptune Drive-In Theater), pick up a bulletin and communion elements through your car window as you enter. Park on the grass in sight of the altar building, and tune to a local radio frequency to hear the preacher and choir.
Perhaps you're more inclined to enjoy exhibits of American, African, and Cuban art or a planetarium program at the Museum of Arts and Sciences. Or maybe avant-garde images at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona Beach Community College will catch your eye.
If you're lucky, baseball's Daytona Cubs will have an afternoon home game. The intimate little Jackie Robinson Ballpark on City Island honors the Brooklyn Dodger who in the 1940s broke a racial barrier as the first African-American in the major leagues.
After the game, grab an early dinner at Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant near the speedway known for its huge portions of pasta, pizza, and eggplant parmigiana.
Hitting the highway for the trip home, rev up a salute to the "world center of racing," as Daytona Beach is called. But, please, don't let all this driving go to your head. Keep it on the road and under the speed limit. Everyone's a winner this weekend, 'cuz we're not counting laps.
For more information: Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 126 East Orange Avenue, Daytona Beach, FL 32114; (904) 255-0415, 1-800-854-1234, or www.daytonabeach.com.
This article is from the June 2001 issue of Southern Living.Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.