Hailed as the "World Center of Racing," Daytona Beach is home to the famed 500-mile-long motor race that ushers in the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The area relishes its racecar history and connections, offering attractions that help adults and children step into the shoes of a champ driver.
But Daytona Beach offers more than just racing. Located on the northeastern side of Florida, the city boasts miles of beaches, conservation areas, parks and plenty of other activities to fill a weekend or a longer vacation.
If you're amped for the annual highlight, plan ahead: The next Daytona 500 is Feb. 22, 2015. But this month, you can also catch the Nov. 12-16 Classic 24 Hour, featuring significant, speedy sports cars from 1961 to 2010.
Want to get behind the scenes at Daytona International Speedway? For kids, a 30-minute Speedway Tour offers racing highlights to intrigue young enthusiasts ($16/adults, $10/ages 6-12, free/5 and under). Diehard fans may want to take the pricier 90-minute All Access or the three-hour VIP tours.
To watch more live action, head to the New Smyrna Speedway, which has caps its stock-car racing season with events Nov. 1 and 21-23 (ticket prices vary). Then again, if your kids want to be the ones driving, Go-Kart City has a quarter-mile track where you can race each other again and again ($6.50/single ticket).
Meet a manatee
Once you've had your fill of fast, dive into another of Daytona Beach's attractions – manatees. In the winter months, the giant creatures, known as "sea cows" for their lumbering appearance, make their home in the area's natural springs.
Perhaps one of the best places to spy these gentle giants is Blue Spring State Park, just southwest of Daytona Beach. The $6 parking fee is all you need to pay to get into the park, which includes 2,600 acres where you can see manatees from the trails. Pictures are encouraged, but swimming with this endangered species is not allowed. Keep in mind the popular park restricts the number of entrants, so you'll want to arrive early.
Head inside to learn more about the local sea life at the Marine Science Center. The facility has exhibits on fish, turtles, birds and even a stingray touch pool. Don't miss the nature trail across the street – the short path leads to a two-story observation tower where you can take in the area. Center admission is $5/adults, $2/ages 3-12 and free/under age 3.
Delve even deeper into marine biology at the Marine Discovery Center. Choose among its various tours, like the Dolphin Discovery Boat Tour ($60/family) or, for a little more adventure, try the Guided Kayak EcoTours ($30/adults, $20/kids).
Bask at the beach
No visit to Daytona Beach is complete without some time in the sand. Stretching from Ormond-by-the-Sea to Ponce Inlet, beaches line the area's Atlantic coastline on one side and are bordered by the Halifax River on the other. Each beach has its own personality and draw, so you might plan on spending time visiting a few.
The Daytona Beach draws many visitors since it also has a boardwalk, pier, amusement park, shopping, restaurants, a theater and everything else you'd need to keep your kids entertained.
Free Family Fun in Daytona Beach
Soak up these six destinations with the kids, no charge.
- Angell & Phelps. This chocolate shop, which dates back to 1925, offers free factory tours during the day Monday through Saturday. And yes, there are samples at the end!
- North Peninsula State Park. Look out for sea turtles in this 900-acre park that includes two miles of beachfront. This is also a popular spot to spy birds.
- Sun Splash Park. Let the kids run through the water fountains at this four-acre water oasis, open sunrise to sunset.
- Main Street Pier & Daytona Beach Boardwalk. While you can pay to go on amusement park rides or to buy something to eat, it's free to walk along the boardwalk.
- Sugar Mill Gardens. Stroll through these historic botanical gardens that include a surprise for visitors – dinosaur statues hidden amongst the greens.
- Living Legends of Auto Racing, Inc. This South Daytona museum's mission is to promote beach and stock car racing.