Daytona Beach isn’t all NASCAR and college kids on spring break, you know. They also have culture, relaxation, and great opportunities for family bonding, provided you know where to look and are up for adventure. If your Florida vacation ideas end at Disney World, Universal Orlando, and a crowded ocean hotel, here are some of the best things to do in Daytona Beach with families that you might not find in that soggy brochure kiosk.
Having spent some time there thanks to the Daytona Beach Area CVB, I was surprised to discover that Daytona has a lot to offer families with older kids who want to bond over nature, science, culture and adventure instead of tuning out on tablets and phones. And if you can get some time alone with your spouse, all the better. I’ll even tip you off to the perfect restaurant for your date night.
Here are some of my tips for the best things to do in Daytona Beach with families that go beyond the expected and maximize fun. Also? When you look for hotels, stay away from the party side and chill across the Halifax River, which is decidedly less touristy and Girls Gone Wild-y.
Take the entire family stand-up paddleboarding. It’s like surfing but calmer. And a great way to see nature.
Our visit to Three Brothers Boards was a complete success, even though my husband and I were both newbies at stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, as they call it. After meeting Eric and Brett at the shop on Beach Street to fill out paperwork and check out their beautiful boards, you follow their truck a few streets over for a brief intro to standing, balancing, and paddling on a ten- to twelve-foot paddle board.
Standing up on your board, you paddle around the Halifax river, navigating under bridges big and small, past street festivals, and into areas where dolphins frolic, herons feed, and manatees are known to give birth. Nothing can describe the peaceful excitement of paddling under the bridge as the cars zoom by overhead; and seeing the mosaic art on the pylons up close as dolphins fish just a few feet away.Besides, it’s a fantastic workout,–you will definitely feel the burn a few hours later!
Tip: Unlike me, remember to bring clothes that can get wet, or at least pack more than one underwire push-up bra.
Spend some time shopping and loafing on Beach Street. Don’t miss the best coffee shop in the world.
Beach Street on the Halifax River reminds me of River Street in Savannah, but without all the grossness. It’s got kitschy shops, cute restaurants (I loved lunch at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen for vegetarian/vegan options), shady benches, weekend festivals, and beautiful views. Walk down the riverside main street for shopping, antiquing, or a free and candy-laden tour of Angell and Phelps Chocolate and Coffee Factory. Know that you’ll find some of the shops closed when you vacation there over the winter, but even more shops will open as we head into spring and summer.
Beach Street has also got the best coffee shop in the world, Sweet Marlay’s Coffee, and I’ve been dreaming of it ever since. The ambiance of this family-run shop is lovely, the view is beautiful, the staff is friendly, the locals have adorable dogs, and they also have a bookcase full of lendable books and even a knitting basket on hand for the customers’ use.
The Beach Day Latte, is hands-down one of the best drinks I’ve ever had (says this avowed coffee connoisseur), with flavors of coconut and almond and this fantastic sea-salt caramel island on top. Though it’s probably the Maple Bacon Cupcakes or Nutella Pastry that your kids will be jonesing for. Sweet Marlay’s makes all their breads and pastries on the premises and have delicious gluten-free and vegan options too. Guys, please open a franchise in Atlanta near me. I love you.
Go visit the turtle doctor and pet a stingray. They feel like velvet!
It’s worth it to take a trip about twelve miles away to the Ponce Inlet, where you’ll find the Marine Science Center. It’s full of exhibits on local sea creatures, rehabilitated birds and turtles, aquariums full of beautiful fish, and a touch tank (at top) full of splashing rays and horseshoe crabs. I was transfixed by a window to the Sea Turtle Hospital, where I watched a vet remove a fishing hook from the mouth of a soft-shelled turtle just a few feet away.
Climb the tallest lighthouse in Florida for bragging rights. And a great calf workout while the kids run around.
A short drive or leisurely walk away, you’ll find the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and Museum, which was surprisingly crawling with tourists. I really enjoyed climbing the lighthouse, which is the tallest one in Florida and the second tallest in the US. The surrounding buildings are original to the site and include historic artifacts with great stories about the people who lived there and kept the lighthouse lit. Littles will dig the treasure hunt fliers in the gift shop, which helped focus the smaller kids I saw running around the immaculate grounds. Big kids will just want to race you to the top.
Play a harp with laser beams or meet a giant sloth. Because, yes, Daytona has a museum.
The Museum of Arts and Sciences is small but full of surprises. The stand-outs for us are the giant sloth skeleton, the weapons room, and the MOAS Children’s Museum, which packed a surprising number of functional and fun exhibits into a small space.
Little kids will go nuts for the harp that plays with laser beams instead of strings and the X-ray darkroom covered in glow-in-the-dark bones. The gift shop fed my husband a complete meal for $9, which was a nice bonus while I enjoyed the artwork. I hear they have a Planetarium, too, which my star-crazy daughter would love.
Get your heart rate up zooming around in the treetops. Zip lines and ropes courses are great for bonding.
When we drove up to Zoom Air Adventure Park in Tuscawilla Park, we first assumed it was a beautiful public green space full of Frisbee golfers. Then we looked up. Whoa.
With three courses that include fifty treetop games and twelve zip lines, it kept us busy for about three hours and was a true challenge. Kids have to be 54″ tall to play and supervised by an adult on the ground, though 13 year-olds and up can do the course without you there. I really enjoy how you navigate the ropes courses on your own–after a brief introduction, anyway–with guides on the ground, easily forgotten but there if you need them, like when my husband dropped a glove.
Sunday morning at 9 AM is a peaceful and beautiful time to be up in the trees with the birds–and, yeah, my husband, although he’s a little competitive and left me in the dust during the games portion of the morning.
Get active! Or just watch other people get active while you eat popcorn.
There is really is so much more to do in the area with tweens and teens, there’s no way I could have done it all in a weekend. Be sure to look into Daytona Speedway adventures which offers tours that NASCAR fans of all ages will love, and of course is part of what made Daytona Daytona in the first place.
Score tickets for a Daytona Cubs game–home games start April 4. Or if you’re more about participating in sports than watching them, you can rent jet skis, parasails, canoes and kayaks. You can play mini golf. Some of the bike and scooter rental shops will even pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
For adults especially, if you can steal a little down time, do yourself a favor and schedule a morning yoga class at Renew Yoga on Beach Street. The studio offers a $5 class on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., when most of my family would rather be sleeping in, anyway, as well as a Karma class on Sunday at 4 p.m., which only requires a non-perishable food donation for admission. (How great is that?) One class, and the rest of the day with my family was Zen.
It is just worth noting that getting around Daytona is not always easy, and I got way lost coming back from the Ponce Inlet, as the bridge over the river has a different name going out and coming back. Make sure your GPS on your phone is working for sure!
Take an arts break with a very cool cinema. No Pixar films, sorry
If you need to get out of the heat, or just want a bit of culture in your trip, there’s the non-profit Cinematique movie cafe. This well-lauded arthouse cinema lets you eat and drink at your table while you watch indie and foreign films, some of which might even be up your kids’ alleys if you check the schedule. Early this month they even had a Shirley Temple tribute featuring The Little Princess. Just be sure to arrive a good 20 minutes early or more so you have time to get settled and order food.
Cinematique also offer a free outdoor movie night with select movies this year based on books, from The Hunger Games to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Which sounds to me like a perfect way to spend a warm evening outside, away from the cocktail craziness.
Indulge at the perfect date restaurant one night, especially if you like The Great Gatsby.
If you’re lucky enough to have a grandparent to leave the kids with, or teens old enough to stay behind, definitely make reservations for dinner. There are a lot more great restaurants than you might thing, and I always find Trip Advisor is a good starting point.
My personal recommendation goes to Fusion 43 in Ormond Beach, just a few miles out of town. Housed in the historic Rose Villa, this restaurant wowed me with a unique, adventurous menu of Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine. Owner Anthony explained that each season, they change up the menu, which means you’re always in for a new treat. I highly recommend the Peking Duck Wings, and then depending how intrepid you’re feeling, my husband loved the Kangaroo Burger with Smoked Duck Bacon (complete with a foot-tall stack of onion rings), while I had the Game Trio with perfectly tender seared ostrich, Wagyu ribeye, and kangaroo loin.
If you’re more into normal fare like steak, salads, and fish, fear not, they have those, too.
The drink menu is divine, and as for the decor, it’s a to-die-for paradise of Art Deco wallpaper that makes you feel like you’re in Gatsby’s West Egg. One caveat: the only parking in the area is complimentary valet, and they were beyond swamped when we arrived.
A few things to keep in mind…
There are a few tips I want to offer to help you optimize your time in Daytona. For one thing, bring your GPS and clarify directions and restaurant planning with your concierge. There’s a big bridge across the Halifax River to the beach area that can be confusing, since the road has a different name in each direction. Also, we had one bomb of a meal at SW Grill, which I hear has since closed, fortunately for the world. When in doubt, ask the locals for specific recommendations and cross reference with Trip Advisor. Some areas of Daytona are, as they say, in transition.
But all-in-all, for a really special Florida vacation that doesn’t involve mouse ears, we had a pretty rockin’ time and would definitely recommend it as a fun family trip, particularly when your kids are tall enough to hit the zip lines. And if they promise not to slow us down.
For more things to do in Daytona Beach with families, visit the Daytona Beach CVB website. Thanks to the Daytona Beach Area CVB for covering Delilah’s travel and adventures, and big thanks to Polly and Art of the River Lily Inn B&B for hosting us–and for the unlimited Klondike Bars in the fridge.