Walking the wide, sandy beach is one of the many outdoor things to do in Daytona Beach. You could stroll next to the Atlantic Ocean for hours. But that’s just the beginning!
Guest contributor, Cheryl Rodewig, shares tips for outdoor adventures in Daytona that you might not expect. Think kayaking shady creeks, exploring lighthouses, and discovering the charms of Old Florida. Get ready to go beyond the well-worn tourist path.
Known as the world’s most famous beach, Daytona Beach gets a lot of its hype from the Daytona International Speedway, the “World Center of Racing” that’s home to the Daytona 500 every February since 1949.
But nature lovers will delight in this coastal stretch of Florida, too. There’s the beach itself plus acres of hardwood hammock, dunes, boardwalks, over 60 miles of hiking and biking trails, and plenty of places that locals like to call “Old Florida.”
Getting to Daytona Beach
If you’re taking a road trip, Daytona Beach couldn’t be more convenient. It’s right off the scenic A1A, the state road that runs down pretty much the entire coast of Florida, from Fernandina Beach to Key West.
The road crosses barrier islands and peninsulas that hug the shore, which means as you drive you’ll have the ocean on one side. The Intracoastal Waterway (in Daytona Beach, it’s called the Halifax River) is on the other.
If you’re flying, Daytona Beach has an international airport as well, so getting here is easy (research flights here). Once you arrive, you’ll want to rent a car to get around to most attractions, though a few can be reached by bicycle.
Ready for active travel, Florida style? Here’s everything nature lovers should see and do on a Daytona Beach getaway.
Guide to the Beaches of Daytona Beach and Beyond
While the arched sign at Daytona Beach claims it’s the most famous beach in the world, there’s a lot more sand where you can dig in your toes. The Daytona Beach area (Volusia County) has 23 miles of beaches, and each one is a little different.
On the northern end, Ormond Beach is low-key and chill, perfect for a picnic and lounging by the water.
Daytona Beach, meanwhile, is bustling with the attractions-filled Daytona Beach Boardwalk, an arcade popular with families and a fishing pier for anglers. Check out the live beach cam to see how Daytona Beach looks right now.
Next in line to the south, Daytona Beach Shores (where we stayed as you’ll read below) strikes the right balance between activity and relaxation. It’s great for shelling and sunrises and, from May to October, sea turtles who nest in the sand.
If you want total relaxation, pedestrian-only Wilbur-by-the-Sea is for you. Enjoy quiet swims and strolls away from the crowds.
At Ponce Inlet, even farther south, it’s much more active. You might see thrill-seekers surfing the waves or someone parasailing in the distance.
This is also where scuba divers go to explore the artificial reef just offshore. If you’re ready to get out on the water, Ponce Inlet Watersports has everything you could want, including private charters, dolphin tours, sunset cruises, stand-up paddleboarding and fishing excursions.
Need a wheelchair for you or someone in your party when you visit the beaches? Free beach wheelchair rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are also ramps so you can park on the beach, but it’s easy to find free parking by the water, a great perk since plenty of Florida beaches charge by the hour.
Fun Outdoor Activities in Daytona Beach
Not feeling beachy? Keep reading because there’s lots more outdoor things to do in Daytona Beach.
Floral Beauty in Ormond Beach
This charming beach town was the first place we visited on our trip. If you’re driving north to south along the coast, it will be your first stop, too.
We loved strolling the waterfront Rockefeller Gardens, an immaculately landscaped park right on the water in Ormond Beach. It fronts The Casements, the 9,000-square-foot former home of John D. Rockefeller.
The mansion is a wonderful place to visit before or after your walk, but be sure to check that they’re open. Admission is free.
After touring the historic home, we meandered down Granada Boulevard, passing by Wild Rabbit Bistro, where their coffee and pastry case were too much for me to resist. They sell entrees, too, if you want to eat inside. Or, if you prefer to enjoy the Florida sunshine, get your meal or treat to go and dine al fresco at Fortunato Park on one of the picnic tables.
A little farther down, we came upon the Ormond Memorial Art Museum & Gardens. The museum wasn’t open at the time, but the grounds were lovely and free to visit sunrise to sunset.
Walking Daytona Beach
We’re inveterate walkers. City Island and downtown Daytona Beach provided the perfect setting to get in more steps.
Take the Sweetheart Trail, crossing over to Manatee Island Park via a pedestrian bridge, or walk over to City Island Park and snag a picnic table for lunch.
Beer lovers will enjoy a different type of trail. The Daytona Beach Ale Trail covers over 20 craft breweries, taprooms and distilleries. Follow the map online. This one goes way beyond Daytona Beach.
As you explore downtown, you’re bound to get hungry, but happily diverse dining options abound: Italian to Thai, tacos to sushi. We liked Kale Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan Cuisine for its hearty, home-style entrees and sides. Plus, with the calories saved, you can indulge in the gourmet treats at Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory just down the street.
From downtown, cross the Halifax River to walk around the pier and boardwalk. We found another great eatery here, Health Tree Cafe, so good we went back twice. They offer salads, wraps, sandwiches and more, but their creative smoothies are the very best.
This stretch of Daytona Beach, facing the Atlantic Ocean, is nicest when the day begins so you can catch the early morning light long before the crowds arrive.
Exploring Old Florida at Cracker Creek
Pleasant as it is, Daytona Beach is very much on the beaten path. Tourists around the world come here for sunshine and revelry. But if you want to go off the beaten path, that’s not too far away at all.
One of the few remaining undisturbed black water creeks in Florida, Spruce Creek is protected for over 2,000 acres by a preserve that’s part of the state’s official greenway and trails. If you want to paddle this creek, the easiest place for public access is Cracker Creek, a mere 30 minutes from Daytona Beach Main Street Pier.
Along with picnic tables, restrooms and concessions, Cracker Creek offers canoe and kayak rentals. Paddling down the creek is peaceful — and rewarding if you’re a photographer.
You might spot manatees. You’ll almost definitely see plenty of long-necked birds. And the pristine forests and marshes lining the creek are scenic.
If you don’t feel like charting your own course in a kayak or canoe, take a guided boat tour. For tours or rentals, just be sure to call and book in advance.
Next door to Cracker Creek is another Old Florida treasure: Gamble Place. This 19th-century estate, once home to James Gamble, of Proctor and Gamble fame (and fortune), includes a number of historic buildings. The most famous of these is a picturesque cottage, a replica of the one in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”
You can sign up for a tour to see inside the buildings, but if you just want to wander the grounds, as we did, it’s just a few dollars, quite a bargain.
On the Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail
If you didn’t get enough scenery while kayaking, take a drive or bike ride along the 30-mile Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail. There are plenty of beautiful parks and viewpoints along the way, showcasing dunes, creeks, wetlands and more.
Tomoka State Park is a good stop along the loop. Birdwatchers will love it best — it’s on the Great Florida Birding Trail and home to over 150 bird species — but anyone can appreciate a hike among the oak hammock or paddling down the Tomoka River.
Another stop on the loop, Bulow Creek State Park has similar topography with one notable standout: the sprawling Fairchild Oak, one of the largest live oaks in the South, dating back over 400 years. You can see birds here, too: ospreys, roseate spoonbills, eagles and others. Bring your camera or binoculars (or both!) and hit the trails. Admission to this one is free.
Speaking of trails, the Spring-to-Spring Trail and the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop are great options for cyclists. The latter stretches some 260 miles, fortunately with bike pumps and water fountains along the way.
Even More State Parks
There are four more state parks in Volusia County (making six total): Hontoon Island, North Peninsula, DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs. Those last two are great for swimming in the crystal-clear springs, a Florida experience everyone should do at least once.
Blue Springs State Park might actually be even better in winter when you can’t go swimming because the springs are booked by other visitors — dozens of manatees who crowd the water because it’s warmer than the ocean. These springs stay a refreshing 72 degrees year-round.
Nature Spots for Photographers in Port Orange and Ponce Inlet
Port Orange and Ponce Inlet were two of our favorite cities near Daytona Beach.
When you visit, start with a cup of joe from Copperline Coffee + Cafe in Port Orange. You’ll forget you’re in a beach town with the Smoky Mountain vibes of this charming coffee shop. (They’re in Daytona Beach, too.) If you want to snap a photo of breakfast, it’s understandable.
They’ll give you the fuel you need for a day of walking filled with scenic photo spots. If, like me, you love nature photography, here are my top two recommendations.
First, visit the 12-acre Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens in Port Orange. This unusual site combines a botanical garden with the ruins of a sugar mill.
There are plenty of educational placards detailing the history of the site to make for an interesting tour through the gardens. You’ll even find a dinosaur theme park was once on the grounds — and some of those dinos remain today!
Equally photogenic, Ponce Preserve covers 41 acres in Ponce Inlet, fronting both the Atlantic Ocean and the Halifax River. You’ll spot plenty of birds, be spellbound by the waterfront views and see a Native American midden, the Green Mound State Archaeological Site.
After a walk to the beach, it’s time for dinner, and is there really any choice besides seafood? When in Rome, after all. Off the Hook at Inlet Harbor has the ambiance and fresh flavors to end your day on the right note.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
Many lighthouses are just that: a climb up to great views and then you’re done. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse & Museum is a little different. The landmark includes a number of historic sites and exhibits, like a pump house, coastal hammock, theater and homes of various lightkeepers.
In all, there are eight stops on your self-guided tour. Besides the tower itself, our favorite was the Cuban Raft Exhibit, showing makeshift rafts used by refugees and washed up near the lighthouse. It’s both somber and shocking when you consider that Ponce Inlet is over 400 miles up the coast from Key West.
But the main attraction certainly is a climb upward to those incredible views of the ocean and inlet. This is the tallest lighthouse in Florida, finished in 1887, brick red and 175 feet high. It takes 203 steps to reach the top, but the stairs are fairly wide for a light station so it was invigorating rather than exhausting.
Bonus: Close by in Ponce Inlet, the Marine Science Center offers nature trails plus an environmental center where you can learn about conservation efforts for local flora and fauna.
Museum of Art & Sciences
How does a museum fit into an article about natural attractions?
As it turns out, the Museum of Arts & Sciences — with its many exhibits ranging from a massive collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia to a planetarium with rotating shows — also protects Tuscawilla Preserve. This 90-acre hydric hammock is home to exotic and endangered species. Explore the boardwalk, trails and education center as you immerse yourself in this virgin habitat.
Don’t miss the Sensory Garden at the entrance. Pretty and tranquil, with colorful butterflies, wildflowers, a rock garden, waterfall and bronze sculpture of a Great Blue Heron, this is a contemplative spot to pause and relax before you begin your hike into the hammock.
Where To Stay: Hampton Inn Daytona Shores-Oceanfront
As I’ve traveled more and more, I’ve come to understand that a great trip doesn’t necessarily mean cramming as much sightseeing as possible into every minute. It’s been a hard lesson, but I got there, and now I appreciate the slower pace since it allows me to spend more time getting to know each place we visit that much better.
All that to say, a hotel on vacation, especially when you’re near the beach, is a lot more than a place to sleep. That’s certainly true at the Hampton Inn Daytona Shores-Oceanfront.
Daytona Beach Shores is on a thin strip of land off the coast just south of Daytona Beach. The pace here is a little more relaxed, as I mentioned above.
The view from our balcony showed a pretty beach, waves lapping the shore and a few fellow travelers soaking up the sun. Inside, a plush bed and seating, large TV, and convenient mini fridge ensured we had all our creature comforts met. We enjoyed the hearty breakfast and excellent customer service. The location can’t be beat!
Tip: Get up early for the sunrise. You can enjoy your coffee poolside, and it’s magical.
Events in and Around Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach makes the most of its pleasant weather with a calendar of year-round outdoor events. It’s been called the Festival Capital of Florida because there are over 60 events in the area.
Here are just a few.
- January: Manatee Festival, Rolex 24 At DAYTONA
- February: Black Heritage Festival, Mardi Gras & Dog Parade Festival, Volusia Beer Week, DAYTONA 500 & Speedweeks
- March: Oyster Jam Music Festival, Bike Week Motorcycle Rally, Spring Daytona Turkey Run Car Show
- April: Cracker Day Rodeo, Ormond Beach Celtic Festival, the Florida Wildflower, Garden and Outdoor Arts Festivals
- May: Welcome to Rockville
- June: Riverfest on the Halifax
- July: Fourth of July parades and fireworks, Mustangs at Daytona, Red, White & Brew Festival
- August: Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Race, Shrimp & Seafood Festival
- September: New Smyrna Beach Jazz Festival, Natural History Festival
- October: Biketoberfest, King of the Grill, Thin Man Watts Jazz Fest
- November: DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, Greek Festival, Fall Country Jamboree, Food, Wine & Brew Festival, Halifax Art Festival
- December: Florida Christmas Remembered, Light Up Volusia
During the summer, attend the concert series in the historic Daytona Beach bandshell by the ocean (Memorial Day to Labor Day) or enjoy Daytona Tortugas baseball games at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
Outdoor Adventures in Daytona Beach: Made for Nature Lovers
Florida is America’s sunshine playground, and Daytona Beach is no exception. Enjoy the beaches, attractions and great food, but don’t miss the creeks, trails and parks teaming with wildlife and a wealth of natural beauty for those who seek it out.
This is what Florida is all about.