From the moment you pass the “Last Bridge to Mainland” sign while hugging the Atlantic coastline to Ponce Inlet you know you’re in for a remote escape.Just a few short miles south of Daytona Beach at the southernmost tip of the destination sits a locale known for being home to the tallest lighthouse in Florida. Some could say the entire Ponce Inlet area is a hidden gem, but the 175-foot tall Ponce Inlet Lighthouse sure makes it stand out.
If you haven’t been, it’s worth the short drive from Daytona Beach to experience all sorts of water, air and land adventures. If you’re not the lighthouse climbing type (it takes 203 steps to get to the top), there’s plenty to enjoy while strolling the lighthouse and museum grounds, including a rare Fresnel light exhibit. To capture an up-close view of the inlet from low ground, visit Lighthouse Point Park and take in the offshore and inshore views, enjoy a picnic and stroll the boardwalks to Ponce Inlet Jetty. To experience it another way, you can literally drive on the beach after paying a small $10 fee at the Beach Street access ramp. From there you can drive south to the jetty, park and walk out to this spectacular point. It’s truly a must see if you’re anywhere in the vicinity.
Ponce Inlet is also part of Daytona Beach’s romantic side and is a favorite spot that you might enjoy discovering with a loved one. Adventure seekers can line up all sorts of activities to enjoy the wild side of the inlet, too. From jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding and parasailing to offshore and inshore fishing, there are several outfitters at the ready and determined to show off this part of the world. You can also learn to surf nearby and when you’re ready bring your own board to the inlet, a not-so-secret favorite place where locals love to let it rip.
Yearning to sail but lack the skills? An all-hands-on-deck excursion with Eagle Yachts and Sailing Charters will change that. Or let someone else take the helm by chartering a boat for sailing, sightseeing tours and fishing. For nearby golfing opportunities, visit DaytonaBeach.golf.
One thing is for sure. Ponce Inlet is abundant with marine, sea and birdlife. Shutterbugs love it for this reason as well as its tranquil sunrises and sunsets. To experience the natural world, two eco boat tours run regularly from Ponce Inlet Watersports and The Manatee – Scenic Tour Boat. Create your own dolphin viewing adventure on the Wilbur Rose Paddling Trail. Accessible from the charming Wilbur-by-the-Sea Boathouse, you can hop on the trail with a canoe, kayak or paddleboard and explore the tributaries and Rose Bay.
You’re also likely to see tortoise burrows along the trails throughout Ponce Preserve, a 41-acre park that stretches from the Halifax River to the Atlantic Ocean. At its heart sits Green Mound, an ancient Indian midden that presents a rare opportunity to hike vertical. The preserve is part of the East Section of the Great Florida Birding Trail so bring your binoculars, ascend the watch tower and check some feathered friends off your life list.
Fortunate for the birds and turtles that can’t escape injury, the Marine Science Center calls Ponce Inlet home. Not only is it a critical resource for rehabilitation, it provides unique hands-on learning opportunities featuring tree-lined boardwalks, an outside aviary with red-tailed hawks and eagles, and a turtle hospital with a viewing deck. Learn about the area’s unique ecosystems and artificial reefs, and join the celebration when a turtle is released back into the ocean.
Of course, all this activity leaves one hungry. If venturing out at the crack of dawn, rest assured you’ll find good eats along the way at Cracked Egg Diner, famous for its granny smith apple fritters and eggs benedict. You might also enjoy the surfer atmosphere and Cuban-inspired bites at Black Bean Café. The award-winning Racing’s North Turn Beach Bar & Grill, a historic racing landmark, is where you can “Ignite Your Appetite,” “Start Your Engines,” and order a delicious sandwich from “Victory Lane.” Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill is practically in the shadow of the lighthouse and provides a great vantage point to enjoy fresh seafood, sweet tea and a cold beverage while dining al fresco.
As you can see, there’s plenty to see, do and explore in Ponce Inlet while on your Daytona Beach family vacation. Perfect for romantics, adventure seekers, family experiences and solo discoveries, you just might need to add a day or two to your stay in order to fit it all in. If you go, share your favorite photos with us on Instagram!