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.