Family Vacations to Daytona Beach, Florida

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Daytona Beach, Florida
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse (courtesy, Daytona Beach CVB)

Daytona Beach Highlights

  • Get in the driver's seat at Daytona USA.
  • Climb the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest in Florida.
  • Learn about the undersea world at the Marine Science Center.
  • Have an out-of-this-world experience at the Kennedy Space Center.

Located on central Florida's Atlantic coast, Daytona Beach, just an hour's drive from Orlando, sports 23 miles of tempting sea and sand. Its accessibility and beachside lure mean scheduling is important, especially when hordes of college students blanket the beach during March spring break and NASCAR enthusiasts arrive by the tens of thousands to watch the Daytona 500 in February and the Pepsi 400 in July.

Get a taste of the track anytime at Daytona USA, a 60,000-square-foot site dedicated to auto racing. Stockcar wannabes can change a tire in a timed pit stop, broadcast a famous race finish, climb into the driver's seat in a race-car simulator, and experience the gut-wrenching thrills of high-speed laps at NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience.

But not all of Daytona revolves around burning rubber. Encounter Daytona's surf and scenery from atop 175-foot-high Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest in the nation. Check out exhibits on Fresnel lenses, Florida shipwrecks, and what life was like for lighthouse keepers and their families in this 1887 coastal tower.

Along with a 5,000-gallon artificial reef aquarium, Daytona's Marine Science Center has a wooden "birdwalk" that takes you through its Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary. Starting in April, look for sea turtle nests and learn about hatchlings as part of the Center's "Saturdays at the Sea" program of year-round outings. For more wildlife-watching opportunities, keep an eye out for dolphins on the two-hour narrated trip up the Halifax River on A Tiny Cruise Line, a replica of an 1890 excursion boat.

Get up close to a prehistoric 13-foot-tall giant ground sloth at the Museum of Arts and Sciences. The 130,000-year-old skeleton, found near the museum in 1974, is considered one of the finest specimens of its kind in North America. Check out the museum's Kid's Adventure program, too, which offers learning activities centered around major exhibits on display at the museum.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center, 45 minutes from Daytona Beach, visit the place where traveling through the cosmos begins. As part of the Astronaut Adventure room, strap in and experience an interactive space-flight simulator and a G-force trainer that lets you feel the pressure of four times the force of gravity. In the Rocket Garden, climb aboard Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules for a look at astronauts' cramped intergalactic living quarters. You can also learn about space firsthand by lunching with an astronaut, although be sure to reserve ahead for this popular program.

Tip: Beachgoers should avoid the 11 miles of sand dedicated to driving, including the popular Seabreeze to International Speedway Boulevard.

Recommended Side Trips: Kennedy Space Center, Orlando, St. Augustine's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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