Photo via Wikimedia Commons
After years and years of sitting at home and watching one of the biggest, loudest and most revered auto races in the world, you’ve finally ponied up and headed down to Daytona Beach, FL, for what will be the 58th running of the Daytona 500.
You’re not just going to sit in the hotel room for the rest of the trip, are you?
Daytona Beach is a little town so overshadowed by auto racing and beach culture that one might believe there isn’t much going on otherwise. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Retrace Some of the Country’s Earliest and Most Important History
The northeast coastline of Florida was one of the first areas of the country to be colonized by Europeans thanks to Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth. You can travel the hour north to St. Augustine if you want to retrace his footsteps (and drink from the fountain), or you can stay in Daytona Beach and head to the inlet de Leon and his fellow explorers once called home or even visit the lighthouse named after him. It’s Florida’s tallest!
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A more hidden gem is the home of Mary McLeod Bethune, who helped found the school that would become Bethune-Cookman University and who is one of the most revered members of the Civil Rights Movement. Guided tours only take about 45 minutes, and you’re sure to learn a great deal about an underrated figure in our nation’s history.
Take in a Different Track Experience
Sure, Daytona is known for stock car racing, but the Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room might easily become the track you enjoy spending more of your time at during this trip. Not only are the dining options some of the best in the city, but the low-stakes greyhound racing, poker tables and simulcast wagering on events around the globe will keep your interest piqued for even longer than 200 laps.
Visit A Piece of Baseball (And American) History
Seventy years ago in March, Jackie Robinson played in the first modern integrated professional baseball game in the ballpark that now bears his name in Daytona Beach. Though the current inhabitants (The Daytona Tortugas) aren’t in season during race week, the stadium is still open for tours as is the Jackie Robinson Museum within its gates.
Pro tip: The stadium is also a neat little piece of history for Chicago Cubs fans, as the Cubs AA affiliate had called “The Jack” their home for a number of years with players like Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Doug Glanville and Ryne Sandberg once playing within its fences.
Get Some Awesome (German) Food
Central Florida is a weird place in culinary terms because “The South” stops at about Jacksonville and one doesn’t really start to hit Hispanic and island culture until further down the coast. The best styles of food in Daytona typically come from American transplants that retired to Florida, got bored and reopened their restaurants from up north.
So, while I can’t direct you to a great Cuban sandwich, I can help you find one of your new favorite food places on Earth...and it’s in a shopping mall. Stay with me…
Mr. Dunderbak’s is located just off the food court in the Volusia Mall and is half German restaurant/pub and half gift shop/deli. One could walk by it a number of times and never know the absolute joys that are located in the cavern-like walk toward the back of the restaurant, but I promise good food, great drink and plenty of temptation to fill your baggage with meats, cheeses, chocolates and fermented beverages from the Old World.
Hit the Links
Maybe you know Daytona Beach because of the races, beach or motorcycle week, but the locals know that it’s just as much of a golf paradise thanks to being home of the LPGA and only being a hour south of the PGA’s home. Needless to say, if you plan on bringing your clubs, you’ll have a few options.
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In addition to the LPGA International courses right in Daytona Beach, nearby Palm Coast has a few fantastic courses designed respectively by Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The best of the three is the Watson-designed Hammock Beach Conservatory Course which will trick you into thinking you’re on the rolling hills of the Irish countryside for much of your front nine.
Catch Some Rays...and Some Waves by Driving Right Out Onto the Beach!
The compact sand of Daytona Beach makes it one of the few places left that you can drive right out onto the sand. For only $10 for the entire day, you can drive out next to the water, throw on some tunes and enjoy some of the most breathtaking natural scenery on the planet. Get out early for the sunrise, take a little drive, and then park the car and unpack the cooler for an afternoon you’ll never forget. Just, remember the sunscreen...