What It’s Like to Live in … Daytona Beach

There's more to Daytona Beach than NASCAR and motorcycles.
daytona beach
Locals call Daytona Beach a peninsula, but it’s really a barrier island divided from the mainland by the Halifax River—with 23 miles of white, sandy beaches. pixabay.com

Since Ransom Olds and Louis Chevrolet raced along its hardpacked sands in the early 1900s, Daytona Beach has felt the need for speed. Land-speed records have been broken — and broken again — along the barrier island’s 23 miles of sand and surf, where today the Daytona International Speedway looms large and celebrity sightings are measured by their proximity to NASCAR.

This Atlantic coastal town, however, is also a complex melting pot. It’s a place where bars for bikers and beach goers coexist with top-shelf restaurants, and three-story profiles of ancient motels — holdovers from the construction boom — provide a stark contrast to looming high-rise towers. Daytona Beach and its surroundings — a sweep of the Atlantic Ocean, island and mainland from Ormond Beach south to Ponce Inlet — is an eclectic mix of people and places.

It’s one of the Sunshine State’s younger and more affordable housing markets — factors that contributed to 30-something Rob McCoy accepting a job transfer here from Iowa in 2003. “The cost of living is so much better here compared with bigger cities like Orlando and Jacksonville,” he says. “It’s coastal Florida like you’d expect, but without the urban sprawl and the traffic.”

McCoy’s condo, his second, overlooks the ocean from its 10th floor perch and is within walking distance of local beachfront haunts, including Ocean Deck Restaurant & Beach Club, which fllls up during peak tourist season in winter and spring. “On weekends I like to walk the beach and bar-hop on the way,” he says.

Locals call Daytona Beach a peninsula, but it’s really a barrier island divided from the mainland by the Halifax River. Cities here are either “mainland” or “beach side,” although a few straddle both. On the beach side, Highway A1A creeps past beach accesses, boardwalks and a scene that’s part carnival and part parade with its neon-lit amusements and attractions. Beach stores and water-sports ofierings contribute to a steady flow of pedestrians. Properties like the boutique Shores Resort & Spa, where guests roast s’mores over a crackling fire, and the Plaza Resort & Spa, the place for a pedicure, dot the coast. Towers eventually disappear as you head south to Ponce Inlet, where zoning restrictions keep buildings under six stories.

Take a scenic road trip down Florida’s Highway A1A and explore the top spots for stopping off the Atlantic coast.

Explore Florida’s Atlantic Coast House of Refuge via Facebook

Daytona Beach is one of the few coastal Florida areas with vacant and developable land, positioning it for great things when the boom returns. Parks and fringes of green space, courtesy of proactive city and county leaders who scooped up land despite the recession, will serve to balance any future construction.

On the mainland, Beach Street is home to Daytona’s downtown, a small but growing collection of jewelers, banks, restaurants and shops, including the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory (the old-fashioned, chocolate-covered cherries are scrumptious), within a three-block district of Beaux Arts architecture and cobblestone sidewalks. The early 1900s facade of the Kress building and stenciled “Prescriptions” on glass cabinets at Ivy Lane Bistro, a former drugstore, give a nod to the city’s history, as does Jackie Robinson Stadium, where the baseball great defied segregation laws and played his first Florida game as a minor leaguer. Nearby is The Cellar, an intimate 10-table restaurant in the 1907 home of President Warren G. Harding, and Ronin Sushi + Sake Bar, a new restaurant popular with the young crowd.

“Some very good sushi bars have popped up in the area, which is always a sign of a more sophisticated crowd,” says real-estate agent Irene Noden, a former Atlanta resident who credits the area’s ambience and amenities for her staying here. “We have plenty of golf courses, are close to Orlando and have big surf. We scoured the coast south to Vero Beach looking for a home to replace our condo in Daytona. We ended up just a mile away.”

Daytona Beach has managed to shake off its reputation as a former spring-break hot spot. Local tourism officials say spring-break crowds are a tenth of what they were in the 1980s. Bike Week, which pumps millions of dollars into the economy, attracts far more people — with 47 being the average age of that crowd. Come March, Main Street on the beach side is lined with motorcycles, as riders frequent biker bars Dirty Harry’s and Boothill Saloon.

Higher-end boutiques, upscale restaurants are found along Granada Boulevard on the beach side of Ormond Beach, the area’s most affluent neighborhood. The newly minted Rose Villa restaurant is just across the bridge. Noden says building-free sections along Ocean Shore Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue offer some of Florida’s best surf fishing.

Business brought Cary Hardee to the Daytona area five years ago; housing prices and Ponce Inlet’s manicured boardwalks and three marinas made him a buyer this past summer. “The infrastructure is fantastic for bikers, hikers, walkers and joggers,” he says. Travel along Ocean Way, and those wooden boardwalks dart behind sand dunes and a mix of Mediterranean and Old Florida homes. The owners of the Pevonia skin-care line are said to live in Ponce, which has America’s third-tallest lighthouse, a wildlife sanctuary and the boat-in Lighthouse Landing restaurant. Racing’s North Turn restaurant, in nearby Wilbur-by-the-Sea, marks the exact spot where 1930s drivers turned from the beach onto A1A.

Hardee says he got the buy of a lifetime. He paid $617,000 for his three-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot single-family home that once sold for $1.8 million. “It was built in 1968, but it has a wonderful three-quarter-acre oceanfront lot,” he says. “The appraisal came back at $832,000 and confirmed I got a good deal.”

Real Estate: What Your Money Can Buy Now + Daytona Beach

  • Less than $250,000 – This gem, a 1926 one-bedroom, one-bath bungalow, represents Daytona Beach as it used to be: original hardwood floors and a wood-burning fireplace within 754 square feet. Priced at 94,500, it’s just minutes from the beach.
  • $250,000 500,000 – Daytona Beach Shores’ oceanfront is showcased through sliding doors and large windows in this three-bedroom, 2,625-square-foot St. Maarten condo. Priced at $499,875, the home has five walk-in closets. St. Maarten amenities include three pools, two spas, his-andher saunas and a fitness center.
  • More than $500,000 – Neighboring homes in this Ormond Beach gated community are priced well over $1 million, but not this recently updated 1992-built home, which has five bedrooms, a pool, 3,820 square feet, an oversize mother-in-law suite and a $599,000 price tag. Contact Irene B. Noden, Watson Realty, 386. 767.2890 [email protected].