Early Morning Baloon Ride Near Daytona BeachEarly Morning Baloon Ride Near Daytona BeachHaving not been to Daytona and Daytona Beach in more than two decades, I was shocked at the renaissance that is taking place! Everything there seems to be in a state of transition that will certainly insure a better future for the entire seaside community.

Though the many racing events that revolve around the Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR probably have the greatest impact on visitation to the area, other interesting options are growing steadily that will surely make Daytona a destination on its own merit.

Over the years, much of the old Daytona had become deteriorated and the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 finished off many places that were barely hanging to life. So, for the people of this old city, the choice was to rebuild, abandon, or sell cheap to real estate developers with deep pockets and visions of a new and better city. Because of the costs to rebuild and the less than adequate insurance adjustments, many private and business owners decided to sell.

Following the hurricane devastation, the new owners along with the Daytona area government agencies immediately began drafting long range plans for the rebirth of this vital coastal territory. Many historical properties were refurbished, other old places were torn down and replaced with new businesses, and still more are in the process of being rebuilt or developed.

Learning to Surf at Daytona BeachOne of the first places to be restored was the area’s oldest and grandest hotel…The Plaza Resort & Spa. This classic landmark has stood for more than a hundred years, but had become rundown like so many other Daytona Beach properties. Today, however, it offers a rich variety of features, including the area’s only full-service, European spa, an Olympic-sized pool, and a nightclub. Also instant beach access is available, and picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean can be enjoyed from most of the rooms. For more information or reservations, call toll-free: 800-329-8662.

Restaurants vary from the fun and tasty Bubba Gump Seafood Company and Market just off the beach to the posh and very hip Rain Supper Club near the Plaza Resort and Spa in downtown Daytona Beach. And, for those who want a taste of ‘Old Daytona’, the Ocean Deck has been a tradition for more than forty years, and is located right on the beach near the famous Daytona Beach pier. At least one night should be spent tasting the excellent cuisine mixed with live music at Angell and Phelps Café in the historic downtown area of Daytona Beach across from Riverfront Park. The music may be Jazz, Blues, or Classical, but the atmosphere is electric! So, bring your dancing shoes, your favorite partner, and plan to ‘cut a rug’…!

Learning to Surf at Daytona BeachThough the waves may not be as big as Hawaii, Daytona Beach has become an excellent place to learn surfing at the Surfari Surf School. They teach children and adults of all ages the art and sport of surfing using proven techniques. Surfari instructors have backgrounds as ocean lifeguards, schoolteachers, and experienced surfers. Contact them at: 386-299-3609.

Enjoying paddling and Fishing in Spruce Creek near Daytona BeachA great day trip is to paddle Spruce Creek, a  natural black water stream and one of only a few that has been left undisturbed in Florida. This can be accomplished by renting a canoe or kayak from Cracker Creek Canoeing, or by taking a guided pontoon ride.

Cracker Creek is located on the original 20 acre homestead of Roland “Rollie” F. Johnson, caretaker for the James Gamble Estate (Proctor and Gamble). Educational tours of the grounds and buildings built by Gamble and his family are offered by the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences. More information and reservations can be obtained by calling 386-304-0778.

The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse near Daytona BeachAnother historic site that must be experienced when visiting Daytona is the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and Museum. Completed in 1887, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station was built when the area was known as Mosquito Inlet. After decades of restoration by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, it stands today as one of the best preserved, most complete Light Stations in the nation.

The Ponce de Leon Lighthouse near Daytona BeachThe Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. Visitors who climb the 175-foot-tall lighthouse tower are treated to a magnificent view of the Florida coastline and Halifax River from Daytona Beach to New Smyrna Beach. For more information or directions, call 386-761-1821 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.

No visitor should come to Daytona without seeing the Daytona International Speedway, which is the home of “The Great American Race” … the Daytona 500. Though this season-opening, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event garners most of the attention, the enormous 480-acre motorsports complex boasts the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe. In addition to eight major weekends of racing activity, rarely a week goes by that the Speedway grounds are not used for events that include civic and social gatherings, car shows, photo “shoots,” production vehicle testing, and police motorcycle training. Tickets and detailed information is available by calling 386-254-2700.

The best experience at the Speedway, however, is found at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Depending on the time or money one has to spend, it is possible to either drive or ride at more than 160 mph on the legendary high banks of the Speedway in a 600 horsepower, racing stock car. Professional drivers guide or drive you through the process and all safety equipment is provided. For more information or reservations, call toll-free at: 800-BEPETTY.

Suiting up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Daytona Int. RacewayNothing could start your final day in the Daytona area better than an early breakfast at the Daytona Diner (386-258-8488), followed by a beautiful sunrise seen from treetop level in a hot air balloon from Fantasy Ballooning (877-744-7359) or Thompson Aire, Inc. (407-421-9322). Bouncing through the tops of tall trees while plucking mistletoe from the branches, swooping down over mirror-like lakes to view the waterfowl, and observing wildlife and cattle quietly from above is a phenomenal experience!

It’s true that Daytona has and is changing almost as fast as the race cars that are synonymous with the name, and time spent there seems to zoom away quickly. But, there is no doubt that being in Daytona and Daytona Beach these days is an absolute blast!

Excellent information is also available from the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau toll-free at: 800-884-2526.

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