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Welcome to Beautiful Daytona Beach!
Are you stressed out? Overworked? Is it time for a vacation? For stress overload, there is nothing like warm sandy beaches, palm trees swaying gently from an ocean breeze and an ocean view to wind down and rejuvenate your senses. Oh, and don’t forget the strawberry margaritas. Not only are they refreshing after an hour or two in the sun, sipping on a cold frozen strawberry margarita at the beach just somehow completes the whole package, making one feel that all is right with the world. Picture yourself here….
Picture Yourself Here
A Perfect Vacation Location
When choosing the perfect place to go for a relaxing vacation, you can’t go wrong with Daytona Beach, Florida. Daytona Beach is a very laid back town. While there are many souvenir shops, it lacks many of those “tourist trap” type amusements that are so common in other areas. When you choose Daytona Beach, you are choosing a beach vacation.
I’ve been fortunate enough to vacation at Daytona about 8 times in the last ten years or so. Fortunately for me, a friend owns a timeshare there that she can rarely use. I lived on the west coast of Florida for about 14 years, making it easy to drive over for a week. Though the Gulf coast beaches are fabulous, it is easy to get sensory overload from the attractions, crowds and traffic that abound there. Daytona is a whole different experience.
Somewhere along the way, Daytona Beach has gotten a bit of a bad rap. It is not all bikers and rednecks or spring break students, though like any other beach, it has its share. During Bike Week, it has more than its share, but that is just --- a week. Over the years, I’ve seen Daytona change a bit, but it still retains its charm. There are more high rise condominiums and less beach shacks. I’m not sure if that is good or bad, but everyone has different ideas of what the beach should look like. What makes Daytona great is that it is affordable. It is a great place for a family vacation and an even better place to go without them (to unwind). I’ve done both.
I always go around the end of May. The weather is normally perfect that time of year. While it can get hot on the beach, there is almost always a nice ocean breeze to counteract the heat. It rains most every day. Usually the storms that occur only last a short while in the late afternoon, leaving a beautiful evening for dining out at one of the local beach restaurants. There are not many families visiting since, for most of the country, the school year is just wrapping up. In short, it is the perfect time and location for a laid back holiday.
Drive On The Beach!
Like most other beach towns, Daytona is lined with hotel after motel, offering the traveler a wide variety of pricing, amenities, views and comfort. Many units offer a ‘kitchenette’ so that all meals do not have to be eaten out. For us, we shopped at the local Publix supermarket for a variety of fresh fruits, yogurt, and a nice bag of extra-large cocktail shrimp. Not only were we eating healthy for breakfast and lunch, the type of food we purchased enhanced our tropical vacation experience, instead of leaving us feeling deprived by the savings.
With many people deciding to stay closer to home this year, this gives those of us travelers a nice edge in finding accommodations for less. Many ocean front rooms can be had for less than $100 per day. While I enjoy my ocean view from the balcony of our room, if I had to, I could stay across the street for the additional savings with no trouble. Daytona is unique in that it offers driving on the beach for only $5 a day. The beauty of that is that you do not have to hike a mile with chairs and other beach paraphernalia just to enjoy your day at the beach. Drive right up to a nice spot, park, unload and enjoy!
Take A Mini Trip from Daytona Beach
When I go to the beach, usually I just want to lay back and enjoy my week right there. There have been times when we decided to forgo the views and the beach and take mini drives to other places. St. Augustine, the oldest city in North America, is only a little over an hour away by interstate, a little more by driving up SR A1A, the coastal route. I prefer meandering up the coastal road to the interstate and there are some gorgeous views of the ocean along the way through the Flagler Beach area. One year, we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall along the way where the locals were enjoying extremely large platters of crab and hamburgers straight from the outdoor grill in an outdoor patio area. You don’t find that type of place directly off the interstate.
Of course, threatening to ruin the ambiance of the relaxing vacation is Daytona’s close proximity to Orlando and all the tourist activities that beckon. By car, it is about 1.5 hours (80 miles) to Disney World and a little less to Universal Studios and Sea World. I avoid those if I can, preferring to go there only under duress.
Are You A NASCAR Fan? You Are Going To Like This.
While I prefer to stick close to the beach, there are a few destinations in Daytona to keep one busy during a week’s stay. Of course, Daytona is well known for its racetrack, the Daytona International Speedway. Formerly Daytona USA, the Daytona 500 Experience, open year round, offers interactive games for the entire family. There are 3 simulated game experiences called Daytona Dream Laps, ARCA Driver Development Program (not a very exciting name) and Acceleration Alley. There is also a tour of the speedway available and an IMAX theater offering NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop to spend any money you still have left in your wallet. For NASCAR fans, this attraction is a must. For more information, visit the official website at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
For a fun day away from the beach, the only other real attraction in Daytona is the Daytona Lagoon, a water park. There are plenty of fun water slides and pools to keep you busy all day for just $27.99 for adults and $19.99 for the kiddies during the 2009 season. For more information, go to www.daytonalagoon.com. Daytona Lagoon also offers a mini raceway, miniature golf and laser tag (for an additional price, of course).
Eat Where The Locals Eat
My favorite activity to wind down a perfect day in Daytona is to visit one of the many local restaurants located on the water. My absolute favorite place to eat is DJ’s Deck, which is located under the Port Orange Bridge on the inter-coastal water in Port Orange, Florida, just south of Daytona Beach. Not only are the prices as reasonable (or better) as your local favorite at home, the food is fabulous. The water, the marina and the tiki hut atmosphere are just icing on the cake. DJ’s Deck was the one place that we had to go to twice and, really, I could have gone every night without tiring of it.
While a big draw for many is the raw and steamed shrimp and oysters, I really enjoyed the fried shrimp with salad and hushpuppies at only $10.99 for eight large pieces. Though the menu stated that the dinner comes with fries and cole slaw, there was no problem substituting the salad for those two items. At other places we went, many were not as accommodating, some even stating on the menu that there are no substitutions. At DJ’s Deck, you get what you want, not what they want: friendly service, great food, low prices and a fun atmosphere.
My traveling companion was my cousin, Michelle. She fell for the deep fried shark bites, which are meaty and plentiful at $4.99 on the appetizer menu. According to the staff, these tidbits come directly off the boats into the restaurant. Michelle added French fries and hushpuppies to make a meal of it. Needless to say, we both enjoyed every bite. We also made one last stop there on our way out of town to get our fix until we can get back there again.
Ponce Inlet is a neat little area just down A1A from Daytona Beach. It really has a feel of old world Florida with a lot of vegetation, a lighthouse, water galore and several decent restaurants to choose from. Years ago, we discovered Down the Hatch, which back then was just a hole-in-the-wall with the fishing boats moored outside. This time, we decided to try the Inlet Harbor Sunset Deck, which is also gave us that outdoor water dining experience we love on vacation.
Because I was planning on writing about the local restaurants, I ordered the fried shrimp to see how it compared to DJ’s Deck. At about $5 more, it was half the meal that DJ’s offers. To add insult to injury, NO SUBSTITUTIONS was plainly written on the menu. I asked anyway, but I am sure that the server wondered about my reading comprehension as she flatly told me no. The shrimp was sadly overcooked and smaller, but the atmosphere made up for it, along with the entertainment, a band that was playing pop music in one corner of the deck. Being more of a tourist destination than a local hangout, we visited the handy gift shop on our way out.
Do Not Miss Out on the Ocean Deck Restaurant in Daytona Beach
The Ocean Deck is located in Daytona Beach, right on the water. The Caribbean flare (and ocean front dining) of the busy restaurant is right up our alley on a beach vacation. What I really love on a trip is the friendliness and camaraderie of other vacationers. There was no table outside available at the first come, first serve area and a couple of women visiting from Ocala, Florida promptly offered to allow us to sit at their table (without us even asking). Since they were close to finishing up, they soon left, leaving behind that feeling that, yes, there are more good people in the world than bad.
I had never heard of Rasta sauce, so I ordered the Rasta marinated grilled chicken salad. Whew! It’s really hot, but deliciously tasty (and made the chicken really tender). I enjoyed it thoroughly and it was a nice break from all that shrimp I had been eating. If you love Rasta sauce or just would like to try it, they sell it through their website at www.oceandeck.com. At only $7.95 for a 14 oz. bottle, you will not be sorry you did. The website even lists some recipes to go along with the Rasta sauce. This is a place where you can dine inexpensively or spend a lot, depending on what you order. My check was under $20, which included a couple of vodka and cranberry drinks.
Crabby Joe's Deck and Grill at Sunglow Pier
Crabby Joe’s Deck and Grill is located on the Sunglow Pier, just south of Daytona Beach. Because it is juts out into the water, the view in each direction is stupendous. The food was good, not great, but the view and the service made up for it. We got there a bit late and the moon (full the next night) was glowing so beautifully on the water. To add to the atmosphere, occasionally a fisherman would tromp through the dining room coming or going from the end of the pier, which according to the website, is 1000 feet out into the water. This is another place where you can eat inexpensively or spend some money, depending on what you order.
All too soon, our Daytona Beach vacation was over. A week is not a very long time unless you are working through it. It is really hard to leave behind the peace and serenity of the water. I’m not sure what it is about the ocean, but it really gives me perspective on life, along with serenity. Though we were sad, we knew we were really only halfway through. We were heading west to the Gulf coast of Florida. Stay tuned.