(UPDATED AUGUST 2020) Florida has 67 counties, but few are as well known as Volusia County, which encompasses the Central-East part of Florida. Volusia County includes Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, DeLand, Daytona Beach Shores, Ponce Inlet, Holly Hill, and New Smyrna Beach. All of the cities make up the greater Daytona Beach Area, which runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the St. John’s River. Here are the best things to do in Volusia County, a place you’ll easily fall in love with.
One of the best things to do in Volusia County (if not Florida, period) is to see the beaches. Daytona’s beaches are still drivable, so you may see cars parked along the waterfront at this East coast destination.
Besides beaches, Daytona Beach offers world-class attractions such as the Daytona International Speedway, one of the country’s most famous and beloved race tracks, and One Daytona, a megaplex for entertainment, dining, and shopping adjacent from the track. Be sure to see the Jantzen swimming girl statue, a focal point of the shopping complex, and one that resided in downtown Daytona for years.
People come from around the world to watch the NASCAR races (and others) that take place at the Daytona International Speedway. Guests can tour the Speedway through several options, and even if you are not a NASCAR fan, it is still great fun. You can even drive a car on the track or be the passenger with a qualified instructor.
Experience nostalgia at its finest in downtown Daytona Beach. From the iconic pier to the oceanside amusement park with rides, games, and arcades, you’ll find plenty of family-fun in this area. Don’t skip the sweet taffy shop. Or, try Daytona’s newer special features, such as the Tanger Outlets Daytona, a beautiful shopping complex with high-end stores and lovely seating arrangements.
The newly built Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach adds a spark of style to the Daytona Beach landscape while offering a top-notch music venue, restaurant, and spa to boot.
Explore the educational and artsy side of Daytona Beach at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, a Smithsonian affiliate that’s packed with treasures to browse for hours. Admission also gets you into the prestigious Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, a spectacular venue housing beautiful artwork by famous Floridian artists.
A few places we love to eat in Daytona Beach are The Oyster Pub Sports Bar and Grill (for oysters and blackened Mahi-Mahi), Crabby Joe’s (oceanfront breakfasts and superb Eggs Benedict), and Red Bud Cafe (for incredible sweet and savory crepes).
Ormond Beach is only a few minutes from Daytona Beach. It is a beautiful beach community with a large artist population and almost non-existent crowds. Since Ormond Beach’s prices are well below typical coastal Florida rates, I found this an excellent vacation option.
Nature lovers flock to Tomoka State Park for camping, canoeing, boating, and fishing. The park attracts birdwatchers with 160 different species. You can also find The Casements (John D. Rockefeller’s winter home), state parks, and mini-golf in Ormond Beach. Visit in December to see the Holiday Tour of Homes.
The trendy Rose Villa transports guests back to a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Rose Villa’s Southern dishes with a modern flair are highly enjoyable. The Lobster Macaroni & Cheese and Cauliflower Soup are great, but save room for dessert.
DeLand is a hidden gem that I recommend to both tourists and Florida residents. This brick-and-mortar town has a retro feel with a down-home friendliness that makes you feel welcome and wanted immediately.
Historical buildings in Downtown DeLand don plaques that share the age and original function of them. Stroll historical downtown DeLand for unique boutiques, art offerings, cafes and bistros, and 12 painted murals that have been there since 1998, long before it was a hip offering. Due to a fire destroying many buildings years ago, the town is a great juxtaposition of old and new, living harmoniously.
Check out the lovely Athens Theater, circa the 1900s, with award-winning shows and productions. Another top draw is the Stetson Mansion, the famous hat makers opulent 150+-year-old winter home. You can take a tour here almost all year long, with the Christmas Spectacular being the most coveted tour.
The St. John’s River offers lots of outdoor activity options in DeLand, such as boating, fishing, kayaking, and swimming. Skydiving is another. At Skydive DeLand, a world-class entertainment complex, you can skydive, tandem jump, or get even get certified.
DeLand has a thriving food scene. Try any of these for a delicious meal and a casual vibe: Half Wall Beer House, Abbey Bar, and Old Spanish Sugar Mill. At Half Wall, try a beer flight and pair the tasty brews with the Glazed Chicken Wings. Abbey Bar shares its space with Odd Elixir Meadworks, which produces excellent mead (my fave is Peaches, the Friendly Ghost). They also specialize in quesadillas, mouth-watering, insanely good ones. Try the Club Chicken or Spanish Inquisition, both full of flavor.
Old Spanish Sugar Mill (1961) sits inside the DeLeon Springs State Park. Griddles are on each table for cooking your own all-you-can-eat pancakes, French toast, and eggs. The waitstaff takes care of your drinks, breakfast meats, and other needs.
One of the best things to do in Volusia County for lighthouse fans is to visit the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. Florida’s tallest lighthouse, stretching 175 feet in the sky with its fabulous red tower, has been in operation for nearly 120 years, and is a National Historic Landmark. The lighthouse was built in 1887 on a gorgeous remote peninsula.
Driving through the inlet is highly scenic and offers substantial photo opportunities. If you like outdoor adventures, Ponce Inlet Dolphin and Manatee Eco-Tours provide Intracoastal Waterway cruises with a chance to cast nets and comb the islands for seashells. Meanwhile, Ponce Inlet Water Sports can entertain you with water skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing charters.
Racing’s North Turn is a historic landmark sitting on the spot where racing began in Ponce Inlet. Memorabilia from the sport’s origin until the races moved to the International Motor Speedway fill the restaurant. Though the food and drinks at Racing’s North Turn were impressive, the sunset was the most epic. Dishes I recommend are the Lobster Salad Roll or the Mahi Frangelico with a side of Bacon-Cabbage Hash, a fabulous side dish.
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach is labeled one of the “100 Best Small Art Towns in America”. I found it to be upscale and trendy, while still offering that throwback Florida feel.
The Atlantic Center for the Arts is one of NSB’s big draws. It is an artist’s residency that draws musicians, poets, visual artists, composers, and writers several times to mesh their talents into pure magic. An art and shopping space that will wow you is the 9,000 square feet Hub on Canal, where 75 or so artisans and artists gather in a shared workspace and show off their talents and treasures.
Flagler Avenue is the historic street in New Smyrna Beach, running five blocks long from the river to the ocean. You can shop for treasures, enjoy a meal, or people watch. Be sure to pop in the art galleries, which feature beautiful works and even paintings by the Highwaymen, of Florida fame.
The Grille at Riverview is hard to beat for the best views and a fantastic meal. The Strawberry and Brie Salad is crisp and refreshing, or the seared tuna is another tasty meal choice. Views of the Intracoastal Waterway from The Grille at Riverview might afford a dolphin or manatee sighting. Yellow Dog Eats is a trendy spot with gourmet sandwiches and clever ingredient combinations. The menu is fantastic and the food levels above the average sandwich shop.
Volusia County, Florida is a force to be reckoned with. Great prices, awesome attractions, beautiful beaches, yummy food, and family-fun await you in the towns of Daytona, Ormond, and New Smyrna Beaches, DeLand, and Ponce Inlet.
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