They’re fewer than 60 miles apart, but Daytona Beach and St. Augustine couldn’t be more different. The former is a spring break hotspot, while the latter is a laid-back haven of peace and serenity.
Does it make sense to combine the two into a single Florida vacation? The answer is yes, and the good news is that you don’t have to drive if you don’t want to. Both cities are walkable, offer cozy downtowns and have adequate local transit options.
Daytona Beach has the “World’s Most Famous Beach,” stock car races and a reputation for raunchy spring break parties, as well as world-class museums, a historic minor league ballpark and a quaint downtown that melds trendy dining with motorcycles and magic.
Route A1A parallels the beach and is home to major hotels, popular bars, restaurants like the seafood spot Crabby Joe’s Deck and Grill (3701 S. Atlantic Ave., 386-756-4219) and the Ocean Center convention center.
Head downtown to South Beach Street and find such diverse shops as Daytona Magic (136 S. Beach St., 386-252-6767), Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory (154 S. Beach St., 386-252-6531) and the vegetarian restaurant Dancing Avocado Kitchen (110 S. Beach St., 386-947-2022), all within a few doors of each other.
Attention baseball fans: The nearby Radiology Associates Field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark houses the Daytona Tortugas, a Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliate. The site is notably where Robinson made his first minor league spring training appearance, in March 1946.
For impressive collections of local art and memorabilia, head to the Museum of Arts and Sciences (admission $12.95 adults, $10.95 seniors and students, $6.95 ages 6-17; 352 S. Nova Road, 386-255-0285), home to the year-old Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art and the Root Family Museum, which honors the city’s status as the birthplace of the Coca-Cola bottle with an impressive display of bottles and vending machines.
And, of course, the city is home to the NASCAR stock car racing flagship, Daytona International Speedway (One Daytona Boulevard, 800-748-7467). A recently-completed $400 million rebuild has upgraded the fan experience from functional to comfortable, with 101,500 wide, stadium-style seats, 60 luxury suites, new concourses and free Wi-Fi. A trolley tour takes visitors onto the track — on non-race days, of course (tickets starting at $17 adults, $11 ages 6-12, FREE 5 and under).
The nation’s oldest city makes for a tranquil and historic destination. A host of tourist trolleys hit most major sites, including the historical attraction Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park (admission $15 adults, $14 seniors, $9 ages 6-12, FREE 5 and under; 11 Magnolia Ave., 904-829-3168) and the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum (admission $12.95 adults, $10.95 seniors and ages 12 and under; 81 Lighthouse Ave., 904-829-0745).
On King Street, find former, luxury 19th-century hotels from magnate Henry Flagler at what today are Flagler College and the Lightner Museum (admission $10 adults, $5 students and ages 12-18, FREE under 12; 75 King St., 904-824-2874). Both offer Tiffany glass, elegant wood and stonework and quiet gardens with fountains. The museum’s light-filled Ballroom Gallery sits around and above what used to be the world’s largest indoor pool — the floor of which now hosts art shops and the Cafe Alcazar restaurant. Tours of the nearby Whetstone Chocolate factory are also popular — reservations are recommended (tickets $8 adults, $5.50 ages 5-17, FREE under 5; 139 King St., 904-217-0275).
Horse-drawn carriages are common on quiet Aviles Street, which dates to 1573 and is the oldest public street in North America. More activity can be found a block over on St. George Street, a pedestrian mall with many shops, bars and restaurants.
WHERE TO STAY
Like many St. Augustine bed-and-breakfast operations, the Bayfront Marin House (142 Avenida Menendez, 904-824-4301) grew out of an 18th-century building. With elegant rooms and a quiet bayside courtyard, the inn is a peaceful refuge.