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Luxury Travel

Discovering Daytona Beach

Words by Peter Ellegard

As the birthplace of motor racing and home to the Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach may be best known for its association with speed – but it has an altogether quieter, slower and greener side as well. From its 23 miles of beaches to numerous hiking and biking trails, wildlife-rich natural areas, sustainable attractions and cultural heritage, there is plenty to do and see away from its bustling centre and its famous fast cars and motorbikes.
One of 11 coastal cities in Volusia County, Daytona Beach is located on Central Florida’s Atlantic coast just an hour’s drive from Orlando and its theme parks, making it easy to get to and a popular choice for twin-centre breaks.
It has a wide choice of accommodations for visitors to base themselves in and explore the area, with a number of eco-friendly hotels (eg, Club Wyndham Ocean Walk and Best Western Aku Tiki Inn) having sustainable initiatives in place to help the environment. These include cutting out single-use plastics, reducing energy and water use, organising beach clean-ups and working with sustainability companies, such as the charity Coastal Connections.
This organisation’s mission is to protect coastal habitats for sea turtle survival by educating and connecting people to the environment and so far it has rescued more than 500 turtles since it began in 2017. It’s estimated that 100,000 sea turtles come ashore in the Daytona Beach area from early May to October to lay their eggs on the beach. Beachfront lighting is limited during the nesting season (it can deter turtles from coming ashore). Three species of threatened or endangered sea turtles – loggerhead, green and leather-back – return each year to nest at night, the tiny hatchlings emerging two months later to evade predators and scramble down to the safety of the sea.

A much greener option for cruising along the hard-packed sands is to rent a beach bike for few hours or the whole day

See the wildlife

Watch out for some of the area’s other marine life on a 90-minute dolphin and manatee tour aboard a flat-bottomed boat cruising the Intracoastal waterways between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, or under sail on a catamaran that cruises the Halifax River and ventures out to sea. Both offer the opportunity to explore sand bars and islands on foot to hunt for shells. Alternatively, paddle a kayak to watch dolphin pods feed and frolic in Dolphin Cove.
Join a paddleboarding or kayaking eco-tour along pristine rivers or off the ocean shoreline. First-timers can take surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons. While cars are still permitted to drive and park on some designated stretches of beach, they are restricted to a maximum speed of 10mph. Aside from renting an electric vehicle when visiting Florida, a much greener option for cruising along the hard-packed sands is to rent a beach bike for a few hours or the whole day. You don’t even need a car to get around. Votran, Volusia County’s public transportation system, operates almost 20 bus routes to shopping malls, parks, attractions, museums, sports venues and nearby towns in the area, with children under six travelling free.
It also provides buses equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps and is able to accommodate electric wheelchairs and scooters. Accessible ramps and surf chairs allow the less able to enjoy the beach as well, while many attractions and restaurants are also fully accessible.

Explore and Experience

More than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails allow eco-explorers to take in the botanical and tropical diversity of Daytona Beach, with long-distance riders able to explore 45 miles of connected trails within Volusia County. The best time to go cycling or hiking is during the low and shoulder seasons between October and April, when the weather is cooler. Attractions, hotels and restaurants are still open and daytime temperatures are mild, although a jacket or sweater might be needed in the evenings.
Themed trails allow visitors to discover different aspects of Daytona Beach. African Americans were among the area’s first settlers and its Share the Heritage trail takes in museums and historic and cultural sites celebrating that heritage and honouring the legacies of influential Black leaders. The Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Arts & Sciences houses a permanent African art collection of tribal and ceremonial objects, including masks and sculpted figures.

The Monument and Statue Trail is an exploration of the area’s history through sculptures, markers and museums. It starts at Ormond Beach, where the Legend of Tomokie statue at Tomoka State Park commemorates the native Timicua people who inhabited the area for millennia. Restaurants in and around Daytona Beach are flying the farm-to-fork flag, sourcing ingredients sustainably and locally. Among them is Rose Villa Southern Table & Bar in Ormond Beach, which buys its organic produce from small Florida farms and wild fish caught around the state’s waters. It all adds up to a surprisingly slower pace of life in Daytona Beach.

Discover more at Daytona Beach

Climb the 203 steps up 175-foot-high Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest, for panoramic coastline and wetlands views from atop the 135-year-old structure.

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered De Leon Springs in 1513 when he is said to have been searching for the Fountain of Youth.

From November to March, hundreds of manatees leave the cold St Johns River waters to seek refuge in the 72ºC waters of Blue Spring.

The greater Daytona Beach area contains five state parks,
among them the natural warm-water springs Blue Spring and De Leon Springs.

4 Faves in Daytona Beach

Under the Sea

Discover Daytona Beach’s rich undersea wildlife and ecosystems at Ponce Inlet’s Marine Science Center, which has been undertaking conservation and environmental education programmes since opening in 2002. Here, you can view the centre’s medical facilities, which treat sick and injured sea turtles as well as seabirds and other marine animals, and learn how they are rehabilitated before being released back to the wild. Aquariums display the area’s diverse sealife and freshwater flora and fauna while a touch pool features resident stingrays.

Twitchers Delight

Bird-lovers can feather their nest on eco-adventures in numerous spots in the area. Ponce Preserve, a noted spot for bird-watching, has been added to the eastern section of the Great Florida Birding Trail that encompasses more than 15 sites in Volusia County. Other popular birding spots include Lake Woodruff  National Wildlife Refuge, Hontoon Island State Park, Tomoka State Park and Boardman Pond, on the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail. A variety of shorebirds can be seen at Frank Rendon Park during the migratory season.

Water recycling

A key part of the City of Daytona Beach’s long-term water reuse approach, the Bennett Swamp Rehydration and Conservation Project was completed in 2019 and redirects and disperses up to six million gallons per day of reclaimed water into several locations within the 1,423-acre Bennett Swamp. There are many environmental benefits of the $5.3 million project, but first and foremost it provides habitat and refuge for wildlife.

Pancakes in the Park

Customers at The Old Sugar Mill Pancake House in De Leon Springs State Park can make their own pancakes on griddles on each table in the historic former watermill. Previously known as The Old Sugar Mill until October 2022, the former leaseholder ran it for 61 years. The park spans 625 acres of Volusia County near Daytona Beach and is set around a warm spring. Expect to see manatees, alligators, deer, otters, turtles and black bears in the park

Want to find out more?

Read more from the Sustainable Florida supplement of Charitable Traveller, and find out more about the Sunshine State’s sustainability practices, or head to the Daytona Beach page to find out more about sustainability in Daytona.