Destinations - Daytona Beach, Fla.

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There’s so much more to this fast-paced city than race cars

There’s so much more to this fast-paced city than race cars

Daytona Beach, home of the legendary Daytona 500 auto race, is all about speed. Fast cars, fast motorcycles and 23 miles of hard, smooth beach bring cruisers to this city on Florida’s east coast year-round.

“Megayacht dockage demand is huge during Speedweeks,” says George Wakefield, dockmaster of the downtown municipal Halifax Harbor Marina. Speedweeks is a series of races at Daytona International Speedway culminating in the “Great American Race,” the Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 20.

Some of those visiting yachts belong to race car owners and teams competing at the Speedway, about four miles from the marina. Others belong to fans, coming for the excitement of the racing that has been a part of the Daytona Beach scene for 100 years.

Auto racing began on the 500-foot- wide Atlantic beach in 1903, when competitors Alexander Winton and Ransom E. Olds reached speeds of 57 mph. Racing moved to the Speedway in 1959.

No race scheduled during your Daytona stay? No problem. You can experience the flashing lights, racing and ThunderRound Sound of NASCAR at Daytona USA, the Ultimate Motorcar Attraction. In Acceleration Alley you’re strapped into the driver’s seat of a stock car simulator racing the 31-

degree banked turns of the Daytona International Speedway, which is just outside Daytona USA’s back door. The Daytona Dream Laps motion-simulator gives you the ultimate ride: a Daytona 500 race. Or head for the pits and try to beat the pros by making a 16-second tire change. The IMAX Theatre puts you in the action in “NASCAR 3D” and “Daytona 500 — The Movie.”

Want less action? Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, which won the 46th annual Daytona 500, is on display. You can also interact with car drivers through computer exhibits or walk through the Heritage of Daytona, where vintage photos, cars and artifacts illustrate automobile and motorcycle racing from 1903 to the present. In the late 1930s the race course incorporated a stretch of Highway A1A so more tourists could view the competition. Faster cars eventually made that beach-highway oval unsafe, and in 1959 Bill France Sr. built the Daytona International Speedway.

Trams take you through the Speedway’s new tunnel into the infield, except during the nine annual racing weekends. The tram circles man-made 44-acre Lake Lloyd — used for speedboat races, fire control and irrigation — and winds past the 168,000-seat grandstand. Fans also watch from suites or RVs that fill the infield on race days. You’ll pass the pit road and the 164 covered race car garages.

Though motorcycles and go-karts may be whizzing around the 3.56-mile road circuit — testing machines, tires or equipment — the area is quiet. It’s a different story, however, during the Daytona 500, Rolex 24-hour, Gatorade 125s or the six other annual events, when some 230,000 fans pack the Speedway, the largest sporting arena in the Southeast.

Multimillion-dollar renovations to the infield last summer enable fans to watch drivers and crew prepare for racing from The Garage Zone’s rooftop viewing area. The Media Zone lets you relive the sights and sounds of previous races through audio and video, and The Merchandise Zone offers racing apparel and merchandise. The new Victory Lane Club and Victory Circle Plaza enable fans to take part in the victory celebration.

Even if racing’s not your cup of tea, there’s plenty of other action in town. “Our marina’s front desk people act like concierges,” says Wakefield, who names dozens of activities, from beaching to concerts to golf.

From Halifax Harbor Marina the ocean beach is only a mile walk, cycle or bus ride. You can still drive or bicycle on the sand at a sedate 10 mph. The concession-lined boardwalk stretches a mile from the Clocktower, band shell and Ocean Walk Shoppes (don’t miss Cold Stone Creamery’s ice cream) to the Main Street Fishing Pier built in 1925. “Blocks of Fame” honor race drivers, including Sir Malcolm Campbell, whose 29-foot-long Bluebird V made 276 mph on the Daytona sand in 1935. Another monument honors decades of motorcycle racing on Daytona Beach.

Many boaters visiting in winter simply stroll the nearly empty beach though, Wakefield says, “Some hardy Canadian souls swim.” In-season, when crowds flock here, you can take the gondola Sky Lift from one end of the 1,000-foot pier to the other, or ride to the top of the 180-foot Space Needle for a bird’s-eye view.

Adjoining Halifax Harbor Marina’s parklike setting is palm-lined Beach Street. Lots here in the Old Daytona Beach Historic District were platted in 1871 by town founder Mathias Day. The Live Oak Inn and highly recommended Rosario’s Ristorante occupy Daytona’s oldest house, a rambling 1871 structure built on the site of an early 1800s orange grove and sugar plantation house.

Riverfront Marketplace comprises three blocks of renovated commercial buildings along Beach Street, where you’ll find antique shops, boutiques, Restaurant Row, Halifax Historical Museum, and the Seaside Music Theater, which features professional performances. The chocolates at Angell & Phelps Co. will make your mouth water. A block or so north on Beach Street is the 16,000-square-foot Daytona Harley-Davidson, where more than $40 million worth of motorcycles are for sale. That store stocks every model of Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycle, and also offers rentals.

From the sidewalk tables at Restaurant Row, you’ll overlook the mile-long riverfront park. Locals recommend Stavros Pizza (it delivers), Crazy Coyote Saloon, and McKay’s Irish Pub for happy hour; Caribbean Jack’s for Sunday Brunch and live entertainment on the waterfront; Song Mongolian Grill for trendy cuisine; Avocado Kitchen for breakfast; and Rosario’s for upscale dining. All are within walking distance of the marinas. Or choose from dozens of other dining and night spots at the marinas, downtown and on the beach.

Two bridges and Riverfront Park’s foot bridge lead to City Island, where you’ll find tennis courts, a public library with Internet access, and the Daytona Cubs ballpark, named for Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke the color barrier here in 1947 to become the first black major leaguer.

Farther afield you’ll find several golf courses, including the LPGA Legends course, voted the best in Daytona Beach the last three years, and Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, served by VOTRAN buses. Bus trips access nearby Disney World in Orlando and Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island.

Keep in mind that Daytona Beach is a popular spring break destination for college students. It runs from March 14 to 31 this school year.

If you decide to go

Daytona Beach straddles the Intracoastal Waterway (the Halifax River) between mile markers 829 and 831, with four bridges that cross the waterway. Seabreeze Bridge (Mile 829.1) and the double International Speedway Bridges (830.1) have a 65-foot vertical clearance. Main Street Bridge (829.7) has a 20-foot clearance and opens on demand. Memorial Bridge (830.6) has a 21-foot clearance and opens on demand, except from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., and 4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday, when the only openings are at 8:15 am and 5:15 p.m.

Daytona’s downtown marine facilities line the river’s western bank, and tides range about 18 inches. Halifax Harbor Marina, a Florida Clean Marina with extensive services and recycling facilities is in the riverfront park at mile 830.7. Caribbean Jack’s, about a mile north, recently completed a $6 million renovation. Just south of Halifax Harbor, Daytona Marina and Boat Works offers dockage and full-service repairs. Halifax Yacht Club, one of Florida’s oldest, may have downtown transient dockage for members of reciprocating yacht clubs. Closest to Ponce de Leon Inlet, but nine miles from downtown, is Inlet Harbor Marina, a center for charter fishing boats.

Boaters approaching from the Atlantic can use St. Augustine Inlet to the north or Ponce de Leon Inlet. Ponce Inlet is dredged to 8.5 feet but is prone to shoaling. “The south channel [from the ICW] is better than the north channel, but even the south channel is tricky for boats drawing over 5 feet,” says Martin Getz, Inlet Harbor Marina dockmaster. He urges customers coming from the Atlantic to call for detailed directions. Other locals recommend visiting boaters follow a local charter or commercial boat through the inlet.

All four marinas are open for transients, though some may have limited dockage until hurricane repairs are completed. Each offers pumpout, gas, diesel, ship’s store, boater lounge, Internet access, cable TV, showers, laundry, picnic areas, restaurants and 24-hour security. All recommend reservations and allow liveaboards for a surcharge.

Marina restaurants offer free dockage for diners, depending on available space. Convenience stores are nearby, and supermarkets require a car or cab. Anchored boaters can dinghy to Halifax Harbor Marina or Caribbean Jack’s and use the facilities for a fee.

NOAA chart 11458 PF, ICW — Tolomato River to Palm Shores, covers Daytona Beach and Ponce de Leon Inlet. Chart 11486, St. Augustine Light to Ponce de Leon Inlet, covers the ocean approaches, St. Augustine and Ponce de Leon Inlets in less detail.

Where to stay

• Halifax Harbor Marina, just south of Memorial Bridge, (800) 343 2899, www.

halifaxharbor.net, has dockage for boats to 135-plus feet in two enclosed basins with depths from 6 to 9 feet for $1.50 a foot per night, plus power. The marina is in a 60-acre riverfront park with a fishing pier and on-site shops; it’s adjacent to the downtown historic district.

• Caribbean Jack’s, (877) 525-2257, www.

caribbeanjacks.com, has slips or dockage for boats to 150 feet in 6- to 9-foot depths for $1.50 a foot per night, plus power. The marina is a half-mile from downtown and a mile from the beach; it offers a swimming pool and spa, complimentary bicycles and van transportation. A day rate of $15 for a boat or dinghy allows four people to use the pool and facilities.

• Daytona Marina and Boat Works, (386) 252-6421, VHF 16, www.daytonamarina

.com, has dockage for boats to 200 feet in 8-foot depths for $1.40 a foot per night. It offers a courtesy car and complimentary continental breakfast.

• Inlet Harbor Marina, (386) 767-3266, VHF 6, www.inletharbor.com, has dockage for boats to 80 feet in 8-foot depths for $1.50 a foot per night including power and water. Fishing charters, bait and tackle, fishing pier, and a boutique and convenience store are on-site.

Information

• Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Information Center, (800) 853-1234. www.daytonabeach.com

• Daytona USA and Daytona International Speedway, (386) 253-7223. www.daytona

internationalspeedway.com

Events

• Dec. 3 — Holiday Central Tree Lighting Ceremony, Riverfront Park, (386) 671-3272. www.riverfrontmarketplace.com

• Early December — Lighted Boat Parade, (386) 671-3600. www.halifax

harbor.net

• Feb. 5-20 — Speedweeks. Rolex 24-Hour Race (Feb. 5-6), Budweiser Shootout (Feb. 12), Daytona 500 Qualifier (Feb. 13), Gatorade 125’s (Feb. 17), Florida Dodge Dealers 250 (Feb. 18), Hershey’s 300 (Feb. 19), Daytona 500 (Feb. 20), (386) 253-7223. www.daytona

internationalspeedway.com

• Feb. 10-13 — Daytona Winterfest classical music festival by Daytona Beach Symphony, Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and Deutsche Philharmonic, (386) 253-2901. www.dbss.org

• March 3-13 — Bike Week. Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race (March 12), (800) 854-1234. www.daytonabeach.com

The tallest light in Florida

A spectacular panorama rewards those who climb the 203 steps to the watch room gallery of Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, its view of the Florida coast and Halifax River stretching from Daytona Beach to New Smyrna Beach.

The 175-foot tower is the tallest in Florida and second-tallest in the United States. (The light at Cape Hatteras tops it by 16 feet.) Though merchants and mariners requested a lighthouse at the inlet in the 1700s, a tower wasn’t built until 1835. However, storms weakened the structure before it was lit, and it collapsed into the sea in 1836.

More than 1 million bricks were used to construct the present tower at Ponce Inlet, completed in 1887 and considered the most beautiful, best-proportioned lighthouse in the district when built. Its 32-foot-diameter base tapers to 14 feet at the top.

Electrified in 1933 and automated in 1953, the lighthouse was abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1970. It was returned to active duty in 1982 after restoration by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Association. The third-order Fresnel lens, used from 1933 to 1970, will be reinstalled when it is restored.

The light station is one of the most extensive and best-preserved in the country, and a National Historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can visit its original principal keeper’s home, two assistant keepers’ homes, oil house, pump house and three brick woodshed/privies. All but the oil house stand within the white picket fence. After dark, the spotlighted red-washed tower is dramatic.

You’ll need at least an hour to explore the tower and three museums, which include exhibits on the 1835 lighthouse, hurricanes and earthquakes, Seminole uprisings, Civil War blockade runners, rum-

running and shipwrecks around the shifting sands of Mosquito Inlet. (The inlet was renamed in 1927 for Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spaniard who explored the Florida coast in the 1500s.) Among the trivia you’ll learn is that the expression “the Real McCoy” was the widely respected product of the McCoy brothers, local rum-runners who used Ponce Inlet in the 1930s.

Lighthouse artifacts cluster around the first order Fresnel lens in the second assistant keeper’s house. Other displays describe the rise and fall of the Spanish, French, British, Confederates and others who fought over these lands and waters for 400 years.

The former principal lighthouse keeper’s house serves as a Sea Museum.

Furnishings in the first assistant keeper’s cottage, named for Gladys Meyer Davis, illustrate the lifestyle of an 1890s lighthouse keeper. Mrs. Davis was born here during her father’s tenure as the last head keeper. Those were the good old days, some say.

There’s bus service to the lighthouse, or you can cruise to Inlet Harbor Marina and walk a few blocks east. Call (386) 761-1821. www.ponceinlet.org

Be sure to call ahead

Despite the damage from Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, Daytona Beach’s four major marinas are accommodating transient boaters. However, space and fuel are limited until rebuilding is complete, so it’s best to call ahead.

“Halifax Harbor Marina never missed a day. Preparedness by boaters and our staff really made a difference,” says Mark Phillips, general manager of the municipal marina, where 160 floating slips are protected in two downtown basins. “However, since we were at 100-percent occupancy before the hurricanes, our transient space is limited. We’ll do what we can to help boaters find a slip.” Diesel is available, and Phillips expected the gas dock to reopen soon.

Daytona Marina and Boat Works also remains open, according to harbormaster Gary Roberts. “Everything’s OK here,” he says. “We had a little seawall damage, which has been repaired.” Dockage, gas, diesel and full repairs are available. The Chart House Restaurant on site is open.

Caribbean Jack’s Marina, a mile north on the Halifax River, has limited space for transients. “It’s easiest to find space for smaller boats,” says dockmaster Aaron Prosser. The marina lost almost half its docks, including its fuel dock. The pool, two restaurants, store, boaters lounge and dry storage are all operating. “Rebuilding is under way, and we hope to have fuel available in January,” says Prosser. He says he is aiming to have his docks at 100 percent by Speedweeks, Feb. 5 to 20.

“ ‘Terrible’ sums up our damage, but our fuel docks are working and we have no problem offering short-term dockage,” says Gary Soucy, manager of Inlet Harbor Marina just inside Ponce de Leon Inlet. “Many of our long-term tenants have moved out while we completely redo the marina.” Inlet Harbor lost 70 percent of its slips, though the restaurants and shops are operating.