54 miles NE of Orlando; 251 miles N of Miami; 78 miles S of Jacksonville
Daytona Beach is a town with many personalities. It is at once the self-proclaimed "World's Most Famous Beach" and "World Center of Racing," a mecca for tattooed motorcyclists and pierced Spring Breakers (though it lost its Spring Break crown to Panama City Beach), and the home of a surprisingly good art museum. Though the city and developers spent millions of dollars to turn the somewhat seedy beachfront area (complete with the requisite T-shirt and souvenir shops) around the famous Main Street Pier into Ocean Walk Village, a redevelopment area of shops, entertainment, and resort facilities, there's still something bleak and seedy about Daytona's famous strip. Much of its '70s-style beachfront condos and hotels are still decrepit, run-down, and badly in need of a face-lift. In due time, we hope. Thank goodness for Ponce Inlet, a scenic fishing village that has seemingly remained impervious to development.
Racing fans, however, don't care what the place looks like. Daytona Beach has been a destination for racing enthusiasts since the early 1900s, when "horseless carriages" raced on the hard-packed sand beach. One thing is for sure: Daytonans still love their cars. Recent debate over the environmental impact of unrestricted driving on the beach caused an uproar from citizens who couldn't imagine it any other way. As it worked out, they can still drive on the sand, but not everywhere, and especially not in areas where sea turtles are nesting.
Today, hundreds of thousands of race enthusiasts come to the home of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) for the Daytona 500, the Pepsi 400, and other races throughout the year. The speedway is also home to DAYTONA USA, a motor-sports entertainment attraction worth a visit even by non-race fans.
Be sure to check the "Calendar of Events" to know when the town belongs to college students on Spring Break (though not as many since Panama City took over as Spring Break Central), thousands of leather-clad motorcycle buffs during Bike Week (Mar) and Biketoberfest (Oct), or racing enthusiasts for big competitions. You won't be able to find a hotel room, drive the highways, or enjoy a peaceful vacation when they're in town.