Stepping out of the car straight onto the soft sands, I gazed out over coastline. Daytona Beach. Good ol’ Daytona Beach. The prodigal daughter returned decades after venturing here for spring breaks and summer vacations with my college pals. But now I had a new crew in tow: my husband Carl and two kids, nine-year-old Alicia and six-year-old Aiden.
Years have passed, but looking out at the Atlantic waves crashing onto the sandy shore and seeing the look of awe on my family’s faces, I could tell—this was going to be just as wild of a vacation. Just a different kind of wild.
Our summer vacations are serious business. Before the school year ends, we form a family council to discuss our approaching “adventure.” After a little debate, Carl floated the idea of Daytona Beach.
“Daytona Beach?” I asked, a little incredulous. “It was great for spring break, but are you sure it’s family-friendly?”
Carl had visited the area himself while in college, and promised that it wasn’t just a spring break destination—there was so much more to the area now. And with a little convincing, it was decided: to Daytona Beach we would go.
Day one, we arrived at the beach, and parked right up on the sand. Juggling sunscreened kids and beach chairs, parking on the beach is a rare convenience. Making trips back and forth is no big deal when you’re lying only feet away.
Once set up, beach day bliss completely took over. Aiden was collecting shells and buckets of water for his sandcastles. Carl and Alicia were out in the cool Atlantic surf with their boogie boards. And I was free to soak up enough sun to get a nice golden glow.
What struck me the most was just how peaceful it was. There were the sounds of kids squealing and playing. A nearby group of people chilled to beach tunes as seagulls cawed overhead. The sea kept up its constant rhythm of waves coming in and out, and a harmony emerged that was nothing like what I remembered from my time here before.
We always try to add an element of education to our travel, so Day Two brought us to the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
Carl and I loved the beautiful art and history exhibits, but the onsite Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum was the clear favorite of our kids. Filled with interactive exhibits, Alicia was most fascinated by the doctor and medical exhibits. We couldn’t tear Aiden away from all the building sets. The museum even brought out my inner child as I found myself asking the kids if they were sure they didn’t want to play with the tennis ball launcher one more time.
Lunch was a bite at Bay Street Seafood Market & Deli. We loaded up on fried goodies like onion rings, butterfly shrimp and fish nuggets. Paired with a nice cucumber salad and a naughty (but so delicious) slice of key lime pie, it really hit the spot.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been enthralled with lighthouses. A single light in the dark to protect ships, and guide travelers. There’s something romantic and very hopeful about lighthouses. As a teen, I pushed aside the longing to see one. It wasn’t “cool” to care about old things.
But now, I finally got my beautiful evening tour of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Florida. Champagne in hand (and juice for the kids), we toasted the rising full moon as we learned all about the lighthouse’s rich history. It was truly an experience I’ll remember forever.
When the kids went to bed that night, Carl and I stayed up and talked about our past experiences in Daytona Beach and what had changed.
I remembered having spent my breaks here jumping from beach bar to dance clubs and how crazy my friends and I would act. And now? This beach was almost unrecognizable.
“I think both you and Daytona Beach have grown.”
And Carl was right. Daytona Beach hasn’t lost its fun and excitement, but it certainly has so much more to offer now. There’s still a fun vibe of adventure and relaxation, but approachable for all ages. It is a fuller, more vibrant Daytona Beach.
It was our last full day in Daytona Beach, and we were determined to finish strong. We got up early for a kayaking tour on the Intercoastal Waterway. With two kayaks, we split up girls vs. boys for a little paddling competition, but ultimately just enjoyed the sights, calm waters, sea birds and even dolphins.
After our kayak adventure, we explored even more. We spent the whole afternoon around the Ocean Walk Shoppes. There are a number of brightly colored restaurants and popular stores in the plaza, and we went into most of them, finding sunglasses, funny beach shirts, a movie, ice cream and pizza. We also walked past nearby oceanfront Bandshell for Daytona Beach’s fun Summer Concert Series.
That evening, we went back to our room to clean up. A friend of Carl’s had recently moved to Ormond Beach a year ago, and he and his wife volunteered to watch the kids for an evening if we wanted a fancy dinner out. Oh, yes please! We love the kids, but date nights don’t come every day. We perused some local menus, and we finally chose the classic and sophisticated 31 Supper Club.
Ordering, we may have gone a little overboard. Did we really need three appetizers, a salad, two entrées and a dessert? Yes! The escargot had the perfect amount of butter and garlic, and the oysters were so fresh. Carl got the filet, which was extremely juicy and tender, and my osso bucco literally melted in my mouth. Of all the decadent desserts, take my word when I say it is a MUST to order the bread pudding. Topped with a warm chocolate bourbon sauce, you’ll never want to eat anything else again.
A little groggy, Carl and I dragged Alicia and Aiden out of bed in the predawn light the following morning. It was our last day. Leaving our packed luggage in the room, we hurried out onto a twilight beach. I had one absolute requirement for our trip: we would watch a sunrise as a family.
With the soft sand between our toes and the blue Atlantic before us, we sat quietly as the sky changed hues from deep purples to reds and pinks as the sun broke the horizon.
Dotting the beach were other families and couples, all enjoying the glorious sunrise. Contrasted with my old memories of this beach, it was truly night and day. There was a magic happening here before us. Was this the Daytona Beach I remembered? No. This former college spring break destination has transformed and evolved into this stunning, thrilling destination. But is it a Daytona Beach my family will return to for more incredible family vacations? Definitely!
Check out free things to do in Daytona Beach and plan your family getaway.