Daytona: a real sun of a beach
Daytona Beach and the surrounding cities in Volusia County are one of the few places on the East Coast that allow beach driving. (Orlando Sentinel)
- Florida Beach Guide Pictures: Daytona Beach
- Pictures: Daytona Bike Week through the years
- Photos: Spring Break in Daytona Beach
- Pictures: 2011 Daytona 500 -- the race
- Pictures: Daytona's Main Street Pier & Boardwalk
- Pictures: Daytona Beach Golf Courses
See more photos »
- Restaurant and Catering Industry
- Tourism and Leisure
See more topics »
But it is late evening, and I've found myself driving along Daytona Beach, on Florida's Atlantic coast, easily blending in with true biker babes, racing fans, and beach bunnies.
And I've just come from visiting Daytona International Speedway, after having feasted at the Daytona Diner, a much beloved local cafe frequented by bikers.
Daytona, a real sun of a beach, sort of has that magic wand, transformation effect on you.
Meandering for miles along Florida's Atlantic coast, Daytona is defined by lots of white sand, sparkling green water and big waves, long bridges strung like necklaces across bays, golden rays, and a carnival-like boardwalk that hums with sensory overload.
Once dubbed "The World's Most Famous Beach," Daytona is the largest community in Volusia County and is surrounded by smaller ones like Ormond-by-the-Sea, Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, South Daytona, Daytona Beach Shores and Ponce Inlet.
The main draw of Daytona is the beach, which is one of the smattering in the U.S. on which you can still drive, but, says Georgia Turner of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, "We're way more than a beach. And there's a misconception of who race fans and bikers are. There's not that Hell's Angels element anymore."
During Bike Week in the late winter and Biketoberfest in the fall, about a bazillion motorcyclists gather to pay homage to the sport.
That's when leather-clad dudes riding their choppers and cruisers on the streets and beaches reign, but they're likely to be joined by their equally leather-clad dudette wives and girlfriends, children, parents, and even grandparents. No joke, motorcycles are big business here, Harley-har-har.
Before motorcycles, Daytona's hard-packed sand beaches were known for car racing.
"There is no doubt about precisely when folks began racing each other in automobiles," legendary racer Richard Petty once said. "It was the day they built the second automobile."
So, in 1903 soon after cars were invented, Ransom Olds and Alexander Winton made a straight-line race down Daytona Beach, which became the earliest forerunner of the Daytona International Speedway, which opened in 1959. Now tourists come from across the globe to see these hallowed grounds.
On the day I toured the Speedway, a potpourri of languages filled the air, including French, Canadian, Dutch, Spanish and Southern — definitely Southern, as I overheard this actual conversation:
"Hot dang!" a bearded man clad in an Alabama "Roll Tide" T-shirt laughed into a cell phone, drawing out "dang" into three syllables. "I can't believe it. I'm actually standing here in Daytona at the Speedway. Man, it's so cool!"
My tour, which the Alabamian joined, took us to the drivers' briefing room to victory lane to the press box high above the 2 1 / 2-mile primary track, which, by the way, Bill Elliott once circled in 42 seconds averaging 210 miles per hour.
Later I drove along Daytona's "strip" — Florida's A1A Highway — that runs parallel to the beach. Fun, funky mom-and-pop hotels and restaurants co-mingle with dining chains like Bubba Gump's and Bonefish Grill and big resort hotels like Hilton Oceanfront Resort and The Shores Resort & Spa.
For more intimate accommodations, there's the Villa Bed & Breakfast. First built in 1929, the stately, quiet luxury property, just blocks from the beach, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Or try the art deco-style Streamline Hotel, a Daytona landmark where Bill France started NASCAR.
For local dining, Daytona is more than beach-town burgers and fries. The elegant Rose Villa in Ormond Beach is the place for an outstanding five-star dining experience — the king crab and spiny lobster risotto is a favorite.
At the chic Martini's Chop House, the jumbo lump crab martini comes deliciously served in a martini glass. And The Cellar, located in the home of President Warren G. Harding, unequivocally has the best pasta dishes and wine selections in town.