12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach is renowned for its Speedway, its colorful history, its world-class cultural amenities, and a calendar crowded with great events and festivals. Exciting things are happening here. A new Tanger Outlet Shops opened in November with 100 shops and restaurants and plenty more on the way. The Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art - considered the largest repository of Florida art in the world - also recently opened. "Daytona Rising," a $400-million "re-imagining" of the Daytona International Speedway, was recently unveiled, and the old track is now shiny-new, with state-of-the-art facilities and exciting new experiences for visitors.
And it's not as if Daytona Beach didn't have plenty to offer before. The 23 miles of beaches are world-famous. The historic downtown is filled with great shops and restaurants, and the famous Boardwalk lights up with colorful amusements and shops and eateries. Golf is one of the more active things to do here, and you can play it all year long. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is still Florida's tallest at 175 feet, and the Stetson Mansion - built by the man who gave us the Stetson hat - is still an international-visitor magnet.
1 Bask on Daytona Beach
Founders of Daytona Beach didn't pick just a random spot to create a resort town. They picked 23 miles of one of the best beaches in Florida, and one of the best in the entire United States, edged by distinctive aquamarine waters. Today, of course, this famous beach borders one of the world's most legendary Boardwalks, itself now home to a ton of amusements, funky shops and restaurants, and outdoor street performers. This is a true family beach, where the sounds of the waves are intermingled with the laughs of the children. The beach is home to 10 parks; a number of interesting festivals; recreational opportunities galore; and from May 15 to October 31, a parade of giant sea turtles emerging from the ocean to lay their eggs on the sand. The Hilton Daytona Beach Resort is right on the beach, close to the Boardwalk and the shops of Ocean Walk Village.
2 Buckle Up for the Thrill of Your Life at Daytona International Speedway
The moment you walk in, you'll know you're on hallowed ground. This is not only one of the most legendary auto-racing tracks on Earth, but also the home of NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Racing. Founded by Bill France, Sr. in 1947 and still family-owned, this organization holds colorful events that attract upwards of 100,000 spectators. And now you can play race-car driver in a bunch of interactive racetrack experiences. On the Speedway Tour tram ride, you'll experience 31-degree banks on the track, and you'll climb up to the podium in Victory Lane for a photo. You'll have a chance to ride shotgun with a professional driver, at speeds up to 160 miles per hour, and at the NASCAR Racing Experience or the Richard Petty Driving Experience, you can actually drive one of these cars - for up to thirty laps. The track will be empty while you're doing it, but you'll probably hear the roar of the engines and the crowd, anyway.
Address: 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd, Daytona Beach, Florida
3 Immerse Yourself in the Sights, Sounds, and Experiences of the Boardwalk
The 1938 Boardwalk amusement area is the center of Daytona Beach life, and it's constantly being upgraded with new shops, new culinary treats, and new experiences. The new Sand Blaster roller coaster, Daytona's first and only roller coaster, is a must-try experience here. You'll fly over 2,700 feet of track and experience two huge drops and speeds of more than 40 miles per hour, along with incredible views of Daytona Beach and the Atlantic. It's surrounded by a variety of indoor and outdoor tourist attractions, among them the shops and trendy new eateries of Ocean Walk Village, the historic band-shell, and a landmark taffy factory called Zeno's World's Most Famous Taffy. If the name seems like a mouthful, you have to try the taffy. You'll be licking your fingers the rest of the evening!
4 Embark on an Underwater Journey at the Marine Science Center
The Marine Science Center is not only a living museum of underwater life, it's also a research and learning center. Since opening its doors in 2002, the Marine Science Center has nursed thousands of animals back to health and released many back into the wild, among them 900 sea turtles; some 15,000 hatchlings; and 1,000 other animals such as snakes, gopher tortoises, and freshwater turtles. And, since opening in 2004, the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Facility has taken in almost 10,000 injured birds. Children and parents can actually view the research facilities and touch some of the inhabitants in the large touch-tank. Other highlights include a Turtle Terrace, a Nature Trail, a bird observation tower, and all kinds of interesting exhibits.
Address: 100 Lighthouse Drive, Ponce Inlet, Florida
5 See a Game at Jackie Robinson Ballpark
If you're a baseball fan, you're familiar with the name Jackie Robinson. In 1946, Robinson became the first African-American to play in a professional baseball game in the US - right here in the stadium that carries his name today. He was a Minor-Leaguer then, playing for the Montreal Royals. But it wasn't long before he was called up to the Majors, to play - and eventually make the Hall of Fame - with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The old ballpark is a Daytona Beach landmark, and history reverberates loudly here. So does the ballpark on nights when today's minor-league team, the Daytona Tortugas, play here. Located in the historic downtown waterfront district, the Jackie Robinson Ballpark also has an outdoor museum highlighting Robinson's achievements, as well as those of other black athletes who broke color barriers.
6 Ogle the Exhibits at the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art
The Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art actually refers to itself as a history museum because it tells the history of Florida through the works of its artists, from pioneer days until now. It tells this history more comprehensively than any other art museum; with more than 2,600 works of art, it's the largest collection of Florida art and artists on Earth. Here, you'll find exhibits both historic and contemporary on subjects such as Florida weather; the Seminoles and the Everglades; women painting florida; and views of St. Augustine, along with pop-culture exhibits such as Americana, Coca-Cola, and railroads. There's even a stunning Planetarium show, free with the purchase of a regular museum ticket. Here, Florida history speaks to us, through the strokes of its best artists. This stunning museum is adjacent to the Museum of Arts & Sciences.
Address: 352 South Nova Road, Daytona Beach, Florida
7 Explore the Stetson Mansion
The Stetson Mansion is a still-standing sentinel of the Gilded Age. It was considered Florida's first luxury estate and its most glorious home up until the 20th century. Built by hat tycoon and philanthropist John B. Stetson in 1886, the house was constructed with a variety of interesting interior carvings, rare woods for the floors, 10,000 window panes of leaded glass, and world-class art. The Stetsons were known for hosting the most lavish parties in Florida, attended by foreign royalty and American entrepreneurs, tycoons, and inventors. Family friend Thomas Edison helped design the electrical system. The Stetsons built their own power plant, ice plant, and a hotel for their wealthy guests, and the famous Florida magnate Henry Flagler even built a railroad line directly to the property. If you've ever dreamed about owning a beyond-your-imagination luxury home with the best of everything from all over the world, this is it!
Address: 1031 Camphor Lane, Deland, Florida
8 Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory
Angell & Phelps has been hand-making incredible chocolate confections since 1925. It was actually founded in Mackinac, Michigan but moved to Florida at the start of World War II. It was a woman-owned company well before its time, with founders Riddell Angell and Cora Phelps helping blaze the way for female entrepreneurs. In fact, many of Riddell's and Cora's original recipes, believe it or not, are still used here. Angell & Phelps prides itself on the old-time concoctions it creates. The factory offers a free tour, where you can see chocolate treats being made, and fear not; you won't leave here without some free, melt-in-your-mouth samples.
Address: 154 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, Florida
9 "See the Light" at the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse
They say Ponce de Leon slept here. That may be a topic for debate. But there's no debate about the fact that he never found his Fountain of Youth, or else he'd be here to tell us about it. At the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum - named for the man who first sailed into this inlet with a fleet of Spanish ships - you'll see the historic lighthouse that is Florida's oldest. It was built in 1887, one of a chain of ten lighthouses erected in the late-1800s along the east coast of a state known for its shipwrecks. The light in the lantern, at the top of the tower, now works as it did a hundred years ago. You can inspect the three keeper's dwellings, filled with maps and artifacts from the old days. In 1998, the lighthouse was declared a National Historic Landmark, and you should definitely try to walk the 213 steps to the top. It's well worth the effort, with spectacular, 360-degree views of the ocean, the inlet, and the Intracoastal Waterway.
10 Discover the Museum of Arts & Sciences
This prestigious museum has the lofty honor of being a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, and it's a fascinating combination of two disciplines that are rarely found in the same building. Art lovers will find some 30,000 objects, among them one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast; the Schulte Gallery of Chinese Art; the Gallery of Decorative Arts; the Cuban Foundation Museum; and the Root Family Museum, displaying rare items of Americana. In the realm of the sciences, there's a Children's Museum filled with interactive experiences for the younger set, and a new state-of-the-art planetarium, which will take you up to the heavens, along with a nature trail and displays of fossils and bones from the people who originally walked this trail a thousand years ago. Also, the museum stages interesting events such as Yoga In the Gallery.
Address: 352 S. Nova Road, Daytona Beach, Florida
11 Take to the Skies with Heli-Hogs
Based in nearby Ormond Beach, Heli-Hogs will take you on a great adventure as you shoot straight up into the skies of east-central Florida. When you do, you'll know exactly what the term "bird's-eye view" means. You'll fly north along the beach toward Flagler Beach and back, and on the way, you'll pass over small towns, highways, that magnificent beach, and incredibly-hued ocean waters the likes of which you may never see again. The kids will love it, and both you and they will want to do it again next time you're here.
12 Ride on a Time-Machine at the Lilian Place Historic House
This home, built in 1884 by Laurence Thompson, one of the area's first settlers, is the oldest house on the beachside of Daytona Beach. Built in a time when only those with a pioneering spirit lived here, the home is a distinctive example not of frontier architecture, but of Italian High Victorian architecture. Here, the ceilings are high, and the floors are pine. Because this area is so tied to the sea, there's a widow's walk, where the wives of sea captains waited for their men to return, or not. Author Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage) ended up getting here the hard way - by swimming - when his boat sank offshore in 1896. Some local folks swear he's still here, roaming the rooms and the corridors, along with other "eternal" guests such as Lucille, the mystery ghost of Lilian Place; laughing children; and a woman dressed all in white.
Address: 111 Silver Beach Avenue, Daytona Beach, Florida