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DAYTONA: Beyond the beach

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A portion of Daytona Beach’s Ocean Village Walk complex brings new life to the center of downtown.

By WARREN RESEN, IFWTWA
Jeanne O’Connor photos

This venerable Florida community which bills itself as having the “world’s most famous beach” all 20 plus miles of it, is also known for the Daytona Speedway, bike week, spring break, and the countless hotels and motels that line the beachfront. Pitch the spring break thing though. The focus for this has moved up to the Florida Panhandle to the relief of many.

Generations of visitors keep returning to Daytona Beach, their favorite piece of paradise. Moderate rentals are available year ’round north and south of Daytona Beach’s center. This is not a place of chrome and glitter. It is family-oriented and offers an atmosphere where families can come together without blowing the yearly budget.

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This coquina stone bandshell was built in 1936.
The Ocean Center, Daytona Beach and Volusia County’s major convention center, is only about 400 feet from the beach. It opened for business in 1985 and was to be the catalyst for a major rebirth. However later hurricanes and a bad economy stalled this vision. The Center was doubled in size in 2009. It is in the heart of the complex called Ocean Village Walk. Now, SOLD signs have sprouted in front of large vacant oceanfront properties. Hopefully this is a positive economic indicator of things to come.

New businesses, restaurants and art galleries have opened on both sides of the Halifax River. Those visiting the area’s art and cultural venues have a plethora of offerings from which to choose and wandering the “new” antique district is a delight.

For those who prefer “old” and/or natural adventures, don’t fret. The old things are still there as are natural wonders usually footnoted in travel stories about Daytona Beach.

On the southern tip of the island at the Ponce Inlet is the historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station, otherwise known as the “Lighthouse.” Built in 1887, the lighthouse sits on 10 acres with all of the keepers’ dwellings and support buildings still intact and open to the public. At 175 feet, it is Florida’s tallest lighthouse. The view from the top is breathtaking.

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Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse.
Nearby Cracker Creek offers canoeing, kayaking and pontoon boat tours on one of Florida’s premier natural black water creeks. The launch point is adjacent to the historic 1933 James Gamble Estate (of Proctor & Gamble fame). A visit there will unearth the mystery of the connection between Gamble, Walt Disney and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The impressive coquina band shell sits right on the beach. Built in 1936 by the WPA, it is the epicenter of the beachfront and is in use all year for multiple outdoor functions. Just to the south is the companion clock tower from which you can tell time from all points of the compass.

Driving, or being a passenger, in a race car on the newly resurfaced Daytona Speedway, where 150 mph is akin to driving in the slow lane, is an unforgettable experience.

Down the road is the Kennedy Space Center. You have no idea of what big really is until you stand under an actual full sized Saturn V rocket from the Apollo moon program. Yes, the Center is still open to visitors.

A rather unique experience is a visit to nearby village of Cassadaga. At almost 120 years old, this is a community of spiritualists. In fact this is the community’s sole reason for existence. If you are interested in anything doing with the world of healers, spiritualists or crystals, this is the place. Almost every building in town has a shingle proclaiming a medium or healer resides within and is available for consultation.

But what about dining out, a favorite activity for anyone on vacation? The choices run the gamut from every fast food chain known to man to local favorites. Then there are the fine dining restaurants, and they are special.

A few minutes north in Ormond Beach is the Stonewood Grill featuring American style foods in a delightful atmosphere. Perhaps you might prefer Italian cuisine. Then head for The Cellar across the river in Daytona. This unusual restaurant, with its excellent menu, is located in the house of former President Warren G. Harding.

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The four-sided clock tower can be seen from every direction.
The epitome for fine dining though can be found at the Rose Villa in Ormond Beach. It is housed in an elegantly restored early 1900’s hotel where the servers wear tuxedos. The food and service are superb and there’s no need to match the staff’s dress. Most diners were in normal Florida go-out-to-eat clothing in a nice restaurant the night I was there. Thankfully no one was wearing shorts or tank tops.

A word of advice to all travelers though. Like the airlines some properties, especially ocean front hotels, sometimes have unadvertised charges, called Resort Fees.

These charges are said to cover parking, morning coffee, the morning newspaper, beach towels, exercise rooms and/or any combination of the foregoing. Whatever they are called, travelers are frequently blindsided either when checking in or out.

I researched several properties on the Internet but could find no mention of extra charges until I called the hotels directly. When staying recently at a large chain hotel, in another city, I called the desk to learn why there was no refrigerator in my room. They offered to rent me one. When calling for reservations, anywhere, at any hotel, ask about additional charges. Be an informed traveler.

The best part of visiting Daytona Beach is its location in Central Florida, USA, reachable for most Floridians in an easy day’s drive. A schedule I picked up at the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has listings for an event almost every week of the year. You are certain to find something of interest during your visit. For your schedule and complete information about Daytona Beach go to: www.daytonabeach.com

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