We were a little upset when we landed at Daytona Beach’s airport in central Florida: it was raining… hard. Not the most ideal scenario for a romantic weekend getaway for my boyfriend, Maurice, and me. A charming coastal community best known for its former Spring Break crowds and the International Daytona Speedway, we weren’t sure what this famous beach town could offer us with the dismal weather. Surprisingly, between the fine food, fast cars and options for relaxation, we were in for a treat, rain or shine.
Daytona Rainy Day Pleasures
We quickly picked up our rental car and headed east towards the coast on International Speedway Boulevard. It is a short ride from the airport to the beach; only about 10-15 minutes once leaving the parking lot, even in the rain.
Our Daytona Beach Shores Hotel Base
Heading south down A1A once we reached the water, our hotel, the recently opened Hyatt Place Daytona Beach-Oceanfront, was actually located in Daytona Beach Shores. Our check-in was smooth and we were happy to see the hotel offered a simple 24/7 Gallery Menu right next to the front desk for quick drinks, baked goods, salads and sandwiches day or night; a very convenient, no-frills feature. Our room, one of the 143 within the 10-story hotel, was generously appointed with a very comfortable bed, state of the art media entertainment center and a private balcony with an ocean view.
After unwinding and hoping the rain would let up, we learned our plan for the evening would not be a possibility. The Daytona Cubs game at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark — a historic field dating to 1914 — was rained out, so we opted for some live music and bar snacks at Mai Tai’s at the Ocean Walk Shoppes and overlooking the historic Daytona Bandshell. With original songs and covers played by a local band, we sipped sweet sangria and ate fried seafood bites. Rain or not, we were on vacation.
The next morning was our scheduled tour of the Daytona Speedway. It was still pouring, but upon calling we happily learned that the tour was still on! We enjoyed the convenience of our hotel’s free a.m. Kitchen Skillet breakfast which included hot eggs, pancakes, cereal, fruit and more. They even accommodated Maurice’s allergy to pork and cooked him some turkey sausage on request, with a smile to boot. The table arrangements for breakfast were also comfortable and spread out -– a welcomed departure from other crowded and disorganized free breakfasts we have experienced.
En route to the speedway, we decided more coffee was in order before our tour; the sangria from the night before was catching up to us! We made a pit stop (pun intended) at Sweet Marlays’ Coffee, a funky little café with homemade baked goods and the most incredible micro roasted coffee (organic and fair trade, too). Interesting tidbits: they serve vegan cupcakes and you won’t find Bubble Tea or frozen hot chocolate anywhere else in the area!
Touring Daytona International Speedway
After picking up a mega-sized umbrella, and we were off to the Daytona International Speedway. Full disclosure: my boyfriend and I are not fans of racing, but the tour was still fascinating and fun. We opted for the quick 30-minute drive through (although it ended up being about an hour long). We boarded a trolley that would take us from the Visitor’s Center to the raceway; there were a few families of young kids wearing ponchos. We sadly didn’t have that kind of foresight and yes, we did get wet on the tour, but it was worth it.
Inside the 180-acre infield (which includes the 29-acre manmade Lake Lloyd) we were like tiny ants surrounded by vast structures of huge Coca-Cola and Budweiser billboards and loud zooming cars. Giving us a history of the racing culture that is inherent on the shores of Daytona and the track itself, our guide was not just witty but also knowledgeable.
Did you know that you could fit 15 different Florida team stadiums within the infield? Our guide also had a big passion for DAYTONA Rising, a $400 million reimagining of the Speedway that is currently underway. By 2016, there will be more than 100,000 new comfortable seats, twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands.
After a stop at the Gatorade Victory Lane that is by the Start/Finish Line, we ended the tour with obligatory pictures of us posing like champions; very corny, very wet and very fun.
Downtown Daytona, Relaxing in the Rain
Without any sun in sight, we decided to head to The Dancing Avocado in the historic downtown area for lunch.
As a lover of spicy food, Maurice was happy to discover the mysterious and famed “Dancer Dust,” that The Dancing Avocado is known for. A blend of 11 different herbs and spices, it added an extra blast of zest to our order of fries. The bohemian décor was welcoming and the staff was knowledgeable about the menu, which highlights a variety of dishes created using fresh-from-Florida fruits and vegetables. A healthy and yummy lunch option, the eatery has some tables outdoors on a verandah and this is where we ate as the rain slowly continued to come down.
After lunch we took a walk on Beach Street and strolled the Riverfront Shops of Daytona. Our sweet tooth was happy to stop in Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory where the wafting smell of confections is enough to put you in a sugar coma. They offer free tours of the chocolate-making process every hour, but we sadly couldn’t stick around. So we bought a bag (or two) of roasted pecan brittle and headed to The Shores Resort and Spa for our couple’s massage appointment.
Arriving at the hotel, the only AAA Four-Diamond luxury beachfront hotel in Daytona Beach, we sipped on lemon-infused water and were brought up to the spa waiting room. Relaxing and rejuvenating, the our treatment was a simple “Massage Medley” that used a variety of massage techniques combined to create a personalized experience featuring indigenous herbs and minerals. Maurice enjoys a light, relaxing Swedish massage, while I prefer to work out all my kinks with deep tissue; we both left happy.
Foodie Heaven at Fusion 43 in Ormond Beach
We continued the relaxing vibe by catnapping at our hotel and then headed north on A1A to Ormond Beach for our dinner at Fusion 43, one of the newest restaurants in the area. Located in the historic Rose Villa, the restaurant is housed in a building that takes you back to the days of old in Ormond Beach. There are original black and white photographs lining the walls, a rotary phone at the top of the staircase and antique artwork that creates a speakeasy-like setting. Fusion 43 offers up a unique food vision that features a rotating menu of culinary fusion delights created by owner Anthony Trevena and Chef Mark Pullin.
Maurice and I were fortunate enough to sample the last night of Brazilian and Greek fusion cuisine. The menu changes every few months, and next up is a hybrid of California and Caribbean, which is sure to be a hit. Leaving the restaurant after a wonderful conversation with Trevena about his unique liquor collection behind the bar, we knew one thing: we would come back to the area just for this!
Daytona Sun – Ideal for Driving on the Beach
We woke up to the sun on our third day, literally, as we watched the sunrise from our terrace. Knowing that we would finally have the weather we had been craving, we got an early start and packed up for a day on the beach.
We began by partaking in Daytona’s most famous activity: beach driving! With multiple access points throughout the 23-mile stretch of coast, we took our rental car for a spin on the shore. Naturally firm, the sand makes a steady surface for driving and has been used for races since 1902. We cruised up and down the coast for a bit, taking in the scenes and watching as families unpacked their beach gear and set up their position for the day. Our favorite: there were food and ice cream trucks park on the beach, making it easy for visitors to grab a quick bite while enjoying the waves.
We still had not had an opportunity to relax at our hotel’s pool and outdoor bar, so we headed back to get a good spot. Since this was our last full day, we spent it wisely: lazily tanning, swimming, Jacuzzi-hopping and reading. My boyfriend took the time to explore the hotel’s fitness center. Opened 24-hours, the equipment was from Life Fitness and he was happy to discover that they offered free earphones to those working out – it was perfect timing, he lost his pair the day prior!
A Parting Daytona Celebration at The Cellar
Thoroughly relaxed with sun in our cheeks, we headed to the award-winning restaurant, The Cellar for dinner on our last night.
Just as the name suggests, the classic Italian eatery is located in a cellar and features a full wall of wines and other wooden décor reminiscent of its name. The really cool tidbit: this cellar just so happens to be in the historic home of President Warren G. Harding. During the course of our delicious dinner, we were happy to meet Chef Sam Moggio, who also owns the restaurant along with his lovely wife Lina. His menu includes homemade pasta and seafood-influenced antipasti.
When we arose from depths of The Cellar, the sun was gone from the sky.
We were sad to only have it for just one day in Daytona, but we were happy to discover that Daytona Beach is more than just a race town; it can be a lovers’ retreat rain or shine.
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