**Leave your fancy clothes at home**
By Arvin Steinberg
Leave the world of chauffeur-driven limousines, tux and tails behind and enter laid back Daytona Beach, here you can don blue jeans, wear flip-flops and eat at the fanciest restaurant in town without a jacket.
Daytona Beach is a Florida getaway that doesn’t’ put on airs. It’s a place where you can relax and enjoy yourself at your own speed. It also features the finest beaches, world-class sports attractions, excellent museums, and first-class restaurants.
For me, Daytona Beach was like a tranquilizer. The beach itself is world famous and I couldn’t wait to experience it. As soon as I put on my swim trunks, stepped on all that white sand, it was a different world. Everything seemed so calm.
The beach was super-wide – so wide and flat that cars and trucks ride on it. Many years ago, pre-speedway, automobiles actually raced on it. The ocean near my hotel was unbelievably calm and very shallow when you first entered, no fighting the waves.
As you look in either direction over these 23 miles of beautiful beaches, it appears that all the waves were breaking in unison. This symmetry was intriguing creating a calming, relaxing effect.
Then for those who to like to surf there are also beaches where the waves are high and robust.
The boardwalk has some exciting rides and I, like many visitors, could spend everyday of my vacation right on the beach. But then there is so much more to do and see in Daytona Beach.
The Daytona International Speedway was a must-see with its Daytona 500 race, the most watched motor sports event in the world when combining 200,000 attendees at the track and more than 29 million on television.
I had heard they had tours of the Speedway, but that’s only a small part of it. DAYTONA USA is an interesting and exciting interactive motor sports-themed entertainment experience for hard-core race fans and casual observers offering lots of fun for the whole family. In addition to the thrilling interactive features, there are historical exhibits such as the Goodyear Heritage of Daytona history walk.
A good place to start your visit is by taking a 30-minute guided tour of the Speedway. Guests take an open-air tram through the Speedway’s garage area. The tour is narrated and you’ll see Pit Road, Victory Lane and the world-famous 31-degree high banks where cars race at over 200 miles per hour.
There are two new motion simulator rides at DAYTONA USA—“Daytona Dream Laps” and “Acceleration Alley”. “Daytona Dream Laps” is a ride that seats 32 guests for a full-range motion experience racing at the high banks of the Speedway. On the “Acceleration Alley” ride you hop inside a racecar, buckle up and take a simulated ride at high speeds that combines motion with bone jarring bumps, video, and sound.
Other activities include going over the wall at Ford’s 16-second pit stop challenge to test your skills in a live pit stop scenario.
One of the most popular attractions is the Daytona 500 movie presented on a screen. 55 feet wide and almost three stories tall, in the Pepsi Theater. You see the movie in the realism of 3-D with an accompanying soundtrack that makes you feel truly behind the wheel of one of the racing cars.
Tickets for DAYTONA USA including the Speedway tour are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and $14 for children 6-12.
If you must have the “real” thing, a mere $130 allows you to don a racing outfit including helmet, climb through the window of a race car on the Speedway track, strap yourself in, next to a real race driver and hit high speeds around the track. I saw many racing enthusiasts waiting in line for their chance to be a semi-participant in this high-speed sport.
Whether or not you are a baseball fan, the Jackie Robinson Ballpark is an interesting place to visit in Daytona Beach. Here baseball legend Jackie Robinson played in the first integrated baseball game. The ballpark was built in 1908, seats 3800 fans, and is the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
The museum with plaques and photos documenting the life of Jackie Robinson, explains his childhood, how he excelled in many sports in college, and the humiliating experiences he faced as the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. It also lists many of his accomplishments such as playing in six world series and being voted MVP in 1949 in the National League. But for me the one that tells it all, was that after Robinson’s retirement from baseball, his “number 42” was also retired by every major league baseball team. It was a real pleasure to visit this historic ballpark and watch the Daytona Beach Cubs play. Tickets are only $5.
Another fun way to see Daytona Beach is by an amphibious adventure. Daily the trolley boat leaves from the Ocean Walk Shoppes and drives through historic Daytona Beach before entering the Halifax River; Here we heard a narrated tour of the history and wildlife of this area with great views of the riverfront mansions. The trolley boat then leaves the river and drives you back to the Ocean Walk Shoppes.
At the Ocean Walk Shoppes there’s a lot to do. A new Band Shell features concerts with an ocean view and a ten screen beachside movie theater. Stop at the delightful Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant for some casual fun, good food, all based on the Forrest Gump movie with plenty of Forrest’s favorite fixins.
A visit to the Museum of Arts and Sciences is a wonderful way to spend some relaxing and interesting hours in Daytona Beach. All six permanent collections are excellent as well as touring exhibitions. I had three favorites.
The Center for Florida History collection tells the story of Florida’s historical and cultural development from prehistoric to the present – complete with interactive features. Centered around a 13-foot tall skeleton of a Giant Ground Sloth which was excavated in 1975 in a fossil site called the Daytona Bone Bed. This huge vegetarian could have weighed three to five tons and eaten a daily ration of 300 pounds of plants abundant in the area.
Here is the largest permanent Cuban Art Collection in the world outside of Cuba. It contains rare 18th, 19th, and early 20th century maps, documents, lithographs, paintings, furniture, sculpture, and ceramics arranged chronologically. Rare photographs help establish a sense of time and place.
The Root family; Cocoa-Cola, funded their family fortune, has also amassed one of the most historically important anthologies of the American soft drink, Coca-Cola. The collection includes just about every conceivable item relating to bottling, advertising, and consumption of Coca-Cola.
The Root’s collection also includes an impressive array of decorative arts, china, silverware, and glasses collected from 85 of the nation’s railroads, hotels, and restaurants. Two actual railroad cars are displayed in this permanent collection.
The Root family’s collection is not only interesting, it brings back a lot of memories. This is an astounding display of more than 800 Teddy Bears, ranging from seven feet tall to only a few inches in height. Each Teddy Bear represents a different time period or theme, and portrays everyday scenes such as a “Teddy Bear Wedding”, complete with bridesmaids, groomsmen, and a minister.
There are still lots of other fun things to do in Daytona Beach. You can spend an hour or two at the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, and climb to the top if you wish. It’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida.
Not far from the lighthouse is the Inlet Harbor Marina & Restaurant. The seafood is fabulous. There is a lot of freshly caught fish on the menu. It’s a nice place for lunch or dinner (they have sunset specials if seated by 6 p.m.) with a lovely waterfront view. You can dine inside or on the riverfront outdoor deck all quite casual. A live band playing on the outdoor deck added to the festive Caribbean-like setting.
Greyhound racing is also another exciting attraction in the area. They race at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club. Children are welcome with a parent or guardian.
For more information on Daytona Beach, call toll-free at 1-800-854-1234 or www.daytonabeach.com