More than 20 years ago my parents bought a timeshare in Daytona Beach and started a tradition of going every year for the week of Thanksgiving. They don’t travel anymore, but we’ve carried on the tradition with our sons. It really is a fabulous time of year to go because the weather is mild and the Turkey Run (classic car show) is in town.
Turkey Run – Classic Car Show
One of the highlights of the Thanksgiving weekend is the Daytona Turkey Run, the largest combined Car Show & Swap Meet in the country. It is held in the infield of the Dayton International Speedway, and is not to be missed! Started in 1974 and held every Thanksgiving Weekend and the last weekend in March, attendees enjoy more than 6,000 vintage, classic, muscle cars, race cars and trucks for show and sale. The show also includes more than 2,500 swap meet spaces, Artisan Alley (arts & crafts sales), food and entertainment. Since so many classic car enthusiasts are in town for the show, you can often see old cars driving up and down the main road (A1A), as well as on the beach during the day.
Of course, being right on the ocean is always a plus for us! Daytona Beach is home to 23 miles of coastline. We find it a little too cool for swimming in November, but like walking down the beach in the morning looking for shells, and in the evening enjoying the sunsets. Another cool feature of Daytona Beach is that you are allowed to drive your car onto it.
Boardwalk and Vicinity
The Daytona Beach Boardwalk offers entertainment and dining, people-watching opportunities and scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. The arcade offers traditional games of skee ball, air hockey, basketball hoops, pinball and Pac-Man, as well as newer interactive video games. The small amusement park has an 85-foot-high roller coaster, go-karts, a Tilt-A-Whirl, and other rides. On our last visit my son convinced me to take a ride on the bungee-like Slingshot, which launches riders 300 feet in the air at 100 miles per hour. That’s us above the hotels!
Just to the south of the boardwalk is Breakers Oceanfront Park, featuring a playground, volleyball court, picnic areas, outdoor showers, and restrooms.
Just to the north of the boardwalk is the Ocean Walk Shoppes, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex featuring the Paragon Ocean Walk 10 movie theater. It’s an especially good way to spend a cold or rainy day.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
If you’ve been following this blog at all, you may notice a pattern here: anytime we are near a lighthouse, we will visit it! Located 10 miles south of Daytona Beach, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum are open to the public year-round. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country second only to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
I recommend starting with the 20-minute movie, A Heritage Remembered, before exploring the lighthouse and surrounding buildings. If you are able, be sure to take the time to climb 203 steps to the top of the 175-foot tower and enjoy magnificent views of the Daytona Beach, Ponce Inlet, and surrounding inland waterways from the lighthouse gallery deck. You can also tour the Keeper’s Dwellings (once home to three lighthouse keepers and their families), the Oil Storage House, the Lens Exhibit Building, the Radio and Generator Room, and the Cuban Raft Enclosure displaying two authentic rafts used by Cuban refugees to escape political oppression in the 1980’s. Finish the visit with a tour of the gardens and nature walk through a coastal hardwood hammock.
Ponce Inlet Watersports
Just around the corner from the lighthouse is Ponce Inlet Watersports. They offer all types of excursions from Parasailing (one of our favorites splurges!) to fishing charters. They also have Dolphin and Manatee EcoTours, as well as a really good boat tour called The River of History.
There’s a ton of shopping in the Daytona Beach area, but these are our two favorites:
- Named a top 10 Best U.S. Flea Market by Fodor’s Travel in 2015, the Daytona Flea & Farmers Market features 1,000 vendor booths with produce, toys, jewelry, tools, brand-name clothing, antiques, restaurants and snack bars.
- Artisan Alley’s Farmer’s Market is hosted every Friday evening from 6 to 9 p.m., rain or shine. Located in beautiful Artisan Alley in historic downtown Deland, every vendor featured has a unique specialty, and there is definitely a little something for everyone here: gorgeous produce from a variety of local and organic farms, exotic foods, spices, bakery items, dairy products, preserves, olives, coffee, fresh juice, pickles, and gourmet sauces are just some of the products available along with a vast array of produce.
Day Trips from Daytona Beach
- Blue Spring State Park covers more than 2,600 acres, including the largest spring on the St. Johns River. It is a designated manatee refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. During manatee season, which approximately runs from mid-November through March, several hundred manatee can be viewed atop the spring’s overlooks on cold days. The spring is closed to all water activity during that time as swimming or diving with manatees is not permitted here. For the remainder of the year, the spring’s crystal clear, 73-degree water can be enjoyed by swimmers, snorkelers and certified scuba divers. Fishing, canoeing and boating are also enjoyed along the St. Johns River. There are even river boat tours, as well as a self-guided tour inside the historic Thursby house, built at the height of the steamboat era in 1872.
- Castillo de San Marcos and Historic District, St. Augustine, 56 miles from Daytona Beach – St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States, when it was founded by the Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. It is definitely worth a visit to the historic district to learn more about the history of the city beginning with the Timucuans (Native Americans), Spanish settlers, British soldiers and the occasional pirate to eccentric 18th century millionaires. We enjoy kicking off a visit by taking a trolley tour. Each tour guide adds their own flavor, so you never get the same tour twice!
- Kennedy Space Center, 64 miles from Daytona Beach – We really love the Kennedy Space Center and feel like it is one of those places that you can’t fully appreciate in one visit. In fact, there’s so much to see and do at the sprawling 144,000-acre Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Complex, it’s good to arrive with a game plan. You can go to their website to answer 3 questions and get a custom itinerary or follow ours.
- Universal Studios, Orlando, 64 miles from Daytona Beach – Our family has been huge Harry Potter fans since the first book came out in 1997. We’ve read all the books and watched all the movies numerous times so when Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, we were there with the masses to check it out. Since then we’ve visited almost every year, and even waited FIVE hours at the opening of Diagon Alley when they expanded the attraction! Don’t worry, while it will be crowded, you don’t have to wait that long anymore.
- Walt Disney World, Orlando, 73 miles from Daytona Beach – I’m a big kid at heart so of course I adore Disney! Ever since my boys were little, I’ve been taking them to Walt Disney World as often as possible. Now that they are grown and have homes of their own, I still plan for the family to meet in Orlando at least once every couple of years. In the meantime, I drag my loving husband to Disney for my two favorite events: Epcot Flower & Garden Festival and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World.
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