Whether you are in Daytona Beach for the Daytona 500, Bike Week, Spring Break or a beach vacation with the family, we share 15 entertaining things for you to do when you’re not sunning yourself on the beach.
Cruise ‘The Loop’ for famous scenic drive
The Ormond Scenic Loop is a 30-mile road trip through live-oak canopies, postcard waterfront scenes, abundant wildlife, three state parks and a state historic site.
Along the way, enjoy camping, fishing, hiking, biking and kayaking.
Tomoka State Park is an excellent place to paddle back-country marshes and waterways, while nearby Gamble Rogers State Park and North Peninsula State Park offer some of the prettiest beaches on the east coast of Florida.
This ride is popular with bikers. You’ll love it, too.
Getting there: From Daytona, go north on State Road A1A to State Road 40 in Ormond Beach. Go west to North Beach Street, then north to Tomoka River State Park, gateway to the Ormond Scenic Loop.
- Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail worth more than a quick ride by Bonnie Gross
- Tomoka State Park: Gateway to the Ormond Scenic Loop by Bob Rountree
Camp on the beach
On scenic Florida A1A north of Daytona, there’s a state park with two campgrounds, one of which is directly on the beach, behind the sand dunes, in this Old Florida beach town.
A paved bike path parallels A1A to the adjacent North Peninsula State Park, a much larger park with two miles of beautiful pristine beaches, and a kayak launch on the river side offers paddlers access to miles of backcountry wetlands and rivers.
On the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, visitors are in for a special treat as folk musicians gather to honor the park’s namesake, folk singer James Gamble Rogers, who drowned here trying to save a struggling swimmer.
Getting There: Gamble Rogers State Park is on Florida Highway A1A 8 miles north of Daytona Beach.
Related article: Gamble Rogers State Park: Oceanfront jewel celebrating song and sea by Bob Rountree
Go whale watching
Who knew! Whales! In Florida!
The rare North Atlantic Right Whale swims south to spend the winter and breed in these warm waters off Flagler Beach
Only 450 right whales are known to exist – and they nuzzle close to shore to give birth.
A prime location for whale-watching is the Flagler Beach Pier, and when there are sightings, the pier magically fills with whale-watchers.
In between sightings, wander around this Old Florida beach town, shop its boutiques and art galleries, and dine at any one of a dozen beach area restaurants. (We like Finn’s Rooftop!)
Getting There: Take Florida Highway A1A 9 miles north of Daytona Beach. You can’t miss it.
- Flagler Beach: A whale of an Old Florida beach town by Bob Rountree and Bonnie Gross
- Right whale watching: A winter thrill off Florida’s northeast coast by Bonnie Gross
One of Florida’s premier surfing destinations is on the south side of Ponce Inlet in New Smyrna Beach. Surf breaks here can be phenomenal, and the slow slope of the beach offers a long ride home.
The downside is that sharks frequent the inlet, feeding on fish that roll through the channel with the tides, and occasionally they’ve been known to nip at surfers’ heels riding waves at the jetty.
If you slip your board in the water a bit south of the inlet, there’s considerably less chance of encountering these creatures of the deep, and the beach is gorgeous and accommodating.
Board rentals are available all along Flagler Avenue near the beach.
Hike into the rolling dunes on a 1.5-mile raised boardwalk to observe wildlife scurrying through the scrub.
Getting there: Go to New Smyrna Beach’s North Causeway and continue straight on Flagler Avenue to the beach access ramp. Pay the $20 beach access fee at the booth in front of The Breakers Bar, turn left and go all the way to the inlet jetty. Be aware of the soft sand. I know the area well and have been stuck more than once.
Related Story: New Smyrna Beach: The best little beach town by Bob Rountree
Paddle Spruce Creek
So, you didn’t bring your kayak but would love to paddle a beautiful Florida creek while you’re in Daytona Beach.
Check out Cracker Creek, a private park with canoe/kayak rentals on upper Spruce Creek. The creek moves slow enough you can paddle against the current. From their launch area, go upstream or downstream, and get back without much hassle.
This section of Spruce Creek is the least developed, so there’s plenty of nature to observe.
For those who prefer to settle back and just enjoy the scenery, Cracker Creek offers two-hour pontoon-boat tours that will cruise eight miles east to the Spruce Creek Reserve. A one-hour Eco-Tour explores a two-mile section of Spruce Creek. Call 386-304-0778 for information and reservations.
Getting there: Follow Dunlawton Avenue west past I-95, where Dunlawton turns into Taylor Road. The entrance to Cracker Creek is on the left.
Related Article: Spruce Creek paddle: A diamond in the rough by Bob Rountree
Drive on the beach
Driving your car on the hard-packed sands of Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach is a Florida tradition.
Pioneers did it with horses and buggies, but the legacy for race fans is the history made here from the 1930s until 1959 — the birth of NASCAR and stock car racing.
Recently established traffic-free zones take back some of the beach, and recent hurricanes have torn up some ramps to the beach, but there’s still plenty of beach left for a drive.
Stay up to date with beach conditions, weather, parking, ramp openings and closures by downloading Volusia County’s new Beach Navigator app at www.volusia.org/services/public-protection/beach-safety/beach-navigator.stml
The daily beach pass is $20 (2023), and Volusia County residents can get an annual pass for $25. (Non-residents pay $100 for an annual pass.) You can purchase beach passes online through the app.
Once on the beach, you can park, set up your beach gear, and enjoy the sea rolling ashore just a few feet away.
Related Story: Ultimate Road Trip: Driving on Florida’s coastal beaches by Bonnie Gross
Climb historic Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
This is Florida’s tallest lighthouse, with 203 steps to the top for a magnificent view of the busy inlet, the ocean, crowds of surfers and a sprawling, dune-filled coastal park on the inlet’s south side.
Ponce Light is the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the United States. (The famed Cape Hatteras Light is taller.)
The lighthouse keepers’ cottages and other historic buildings are home to a museum, where the history of Florida’s coastal lighthouses comes alive.
Don’t miss the display of historic Fresnel lenses that once beamed their brilliance over the sea to guide mariners. Among them, the Ponce lighthouse’s original lens and the rotating first order Fresnel lens from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.
Getting there: Take Atlantic Avenue (SR A1A) to the southernmost point of the Daytona peninsula to 4931 South Peninsula Drive.
Related article: Ponce Inlet: A delightful outdoor oasis near Daytona Beach by Deborah Hartz-Seeley
Go surf fishing at Canaveral National Seashore
Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of pristine beach on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and it’s easily accessed from New Smyrna Beach.
There are five beach-access parking lots with a total of 200 spaces, and they fill up fast on weekends.
The best beach for surf fishing is Lot #1, which has 89 parking spaces. You can also enjoy some really fine backwater fishing in the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon at the park’s river-side fishing pier, or along shoreline trails.
The vehicle entrance fee is $20 (2023), $15 for motorcycles, and the entrance pass is valid for seven days. Walk-ins and bicycles are $10. Annual passes and the National Parks lifetime senior pass for $80.
Getting there: The north entrance to Canaveral National Seashore’s Apollo Beach is from State Road A1A in New Smyrna Beach. The beach highway dead ends at the park entrance in Bethune Beach.
Related Story: Canaveral National Seashore: Florida’s longest unspoiled beach by Bob Rountree
Explore Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island offers a multitude of activities, from bird watching and hiking to kayaking and some really fabulous backcountry fishing, less than an hour’s drive south of Daytona Beach.
The casual, fun and scenic route, a ride frequented by bikers during motorcycle events, is just south of Oak Hill off U.S. 1.
Once inside the refuge, cruise for miles through wilderness. Bring kayaks for a paddle in Mosquito Lagoon, go to the Visitor Center for lessons in bird-watching or access Playalina Beach from the south entrance to Canaveral National Seashore.
Along the way, you’ll see the launch towers at Kennedy Space Center. You might even witness a rocket catapult into space!
Getting there: Follow U.S. 1 from Daytona through New Smyrna Beach and Oak Hill. Just past Oak Hill, you’ll see the north entrance to the refuge on your left.
Related Story: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: Birds and beauty galore by Bonnie Gross and Bob Rountree
Feast on fresh seafood with a view in Oak Hill
OAK HILL — Back in the day, Goodrich Seafood was an ice house on Mosquito Lagoon where fishermen would dock to drop off their catch.
I was once a regular customer for bags of freshly harvested clams from the lagoon. The old ice house is gone now, but the restaurant has been restored beyond its past glory and retained its waterfront charm.
This is a great stop for folks out for a ride to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge or the Kennedy Space Center.
Locally harvested oysters are the specialty here, and you might want to try the “Kickin’ Corn and Crab Chowder” or their mahi tacos while sitting out on the deck overlooking the lagoon.
Getting there: Take US 1 south of New Smyrna Beach, through Edgewater, to Oak Hill. At Oak Hill’s only traffic light, turn left onto Halifax Avenue. Follow it all the way out to River Road and Goodrich’s.
Related article: Goodrich Seafood & historic national park site make Oak Hill worth discovering by Bob Rountree
Get lost in Ocala National Forest
Hike the Florida Scenic Trail, camp in the deep woods, spend a lazy day at a cool, bubbling spring, ride the equestrian trails, paddle a spring run, a lake or a river.
Or just drive around and enjoy the scenery.
One of my favorite adventures is to get lost driving hundreds of miles forest roads, most unpaved but hard-packed and well-maintained. You can park on the shoulder almost anywhere and go for a hike, set up a primitive wilderness camp or go fishing.
So much to do, so much to see.
Getting there: From I-95 Exit 268, take State Road 40 west.
Related Story: 6 Things to Do in Ocala National Forest by Bob Rountree
Hike in the wilderness near the Daytona speedway
If it comes as a surprise there’s a vast state forest along just 7 miles from Daytona International Speedway and the airport, you are not alone. Even long-time locals told me: “Never heard of it.”
But here it is, on International Speedway Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95, a 27,000-acre forest of pine islands in grassy wetlands that feed a critical aquifer supplying Daytona Beach residents with water.
The forest has two primitive campgrounds, including one that accommodates equestrians, several lakes and ponds for fishing and kayaking, picnic areas, hiking trails and miles of off-road bicycling.
Fair warning: I found the chiggers to be bothersome, so avoid high grass and wear long pants when hiking.
Getting There: Take International Speedway Boulevard (U.S. 92) six miles west of I-95 (Exit 261). The forest straddles the highway with four forest access points.
Related Article: Tiger Bay State Forest near Daytona Speedway) by Bob Rountree
See the manatees at Blue Spring State Park
Blue Spring has a half-mile boardwalk along the spring run, offering many vantage points for observing manatees, and there are often naturalists or volunteers present to answer questions during manatee season.
You cannot swim or kayak here in the winter because it would disrupt manatee life.
For a few magical weeks in late March and early April, the woods at Blue Spring State Park twinkle with fireflies, a display people get in line to see.
Year around, the park is a great launch for kayaks, canoes and standup paddle boards for exploring the backwaters of the St. Johns River.
Related Article: Blue Spring State Park: Manatees in winter; swimming in summer; beauty year-round by Bonnie Gross and Bob Rountree
Drive along the best stretch of A1A
For beauty and history without dense development, the 30-mile stretch of Florida A1A from Ormond Beach north to Matanzas Inlet is unsurpassed.
You can drive 20 miles without a traffic light and find empty beaches with free parking. One stretch has a canopy of magnificent live oak trees on a route through a Florida you probably thought was gone forever.
This stretch of A1A has many interesting state parks and historic sites, making it a most rewarding and scenic day trip, whether you are in a convertible or on a motorcycle.
Getting There: Take State Road A1A north from Daytona through Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach, then keep on going north.
Related Article: Florida A1A: Best section for superb views & intriguing history by Bonnie Gross
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.