My idea to stay off the interstate on my six day road trip from Orlando, Florida to Knoxville, Tennessee lasted about 50 miles to Daytona Beach, Florida. There are plenty of places off the beaten track to see, but I soon realized that my time was limited and I had destinations to reach.
Daytona Beach was a first time visit for me. My prior knowledge consisted of the Daytona 500 NASCAR race and spring break festivities.
First impression of this beach city is parking by the beach is $5 minimum and $10 to drive right on the beach and park. I parked two blocks from the beach where parking is free for two hours. There were only two other cars parked on a three block stretch of street. The neighborhood looked rather ghetto. I parked in the shade of the only small tree around in front of a house with an engineering firm inside.
Daytona Beach looks like it has seen some hard times with vacant buildings and lots all around. Wearing sandals I had to watch out for broken beer bottle glass littering the sidewalks.
Driving across the bridge to reach the Daytona Beach area revealed multimillion dollar estates and yachts on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. That was about a mile and a world away in economic lifestyle from the Daytona Beach I strolled around near the pier and the intersection of A1A and Main Street.
$10 to park on the beach means a short walk with all your gear for a day in the sand. My only gear was my camera, so I walked north along the beach into the vehicle free area toward Daytona Beach Pier.
As I learned a little while later, Daytona Beach has car history. Long before the Daytona 500 annual NASCAR 500-mile race began in 1959 with the opening of Daytona Speedway, and more than a decade before cars raced on the Bonneville Salt Flats of northwestern Utah, there were world speed records for automobiles and motorcycles set on the hard packed sands of Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach beginning in 1903.
1903 – In March, the first automobile speed meet is held on Ormond/Daytona Beaches. Alexander Winton drives his ‘Bullet’ to 68.198 MPH on a 1 kilometer course for first beach record.
Plaque on Daytona Beach Boardwalk
Many people dream and plan for beach vacations. The chance to wallow in the water is a dream come true. Seeing children playing in the surf is a contagious joy.
This blonde woman, solitary in the surf with an endless sea horizon, made for a picture perfect postcard image of a Daytona Beach, Florida vacation. The reality is hundreds of people are in the water on either side of her on a sunny and warm weekday afternoon.
My only beach stop in Florida meant a dip in the water to feel the warm gulf stream sea on my skin and then a hike along Daytona Beach Pier. A sign at the beginning of the pier about saving endangered sea turtles turned out to be a recurring theme I encountered over three days of beach travel in Florida and Georgia. Sea turtle nesting season runs from May to October on the southeast coast. Sea turtles have come to these beaches for thousands of years and animal behavior research now knows electric lights on the beach disorient hatchling turtles who often emerge from their eggs and head for the lights, in the opposite direction of the sea. That wrong turn generally means death. Sea turtle survival rate is very low, with only about 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 probability of reaching sexual maturity at around 20 years of age.
Sea Turtles Dig the Dark
“Ensure that lights do not illuminate the beach at night and no source of light can be seen from the beach.”
Like Joni Mitchell said, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
The boardwalk amusement park looked sparsely attended, while the bars and restaurants were generating business. The boardwalk has plaques detailing the Ormond/Daytona beach speed records from 1903 –1935.
Bike town, or rather biker town
There were people riding different kinds of cycling equipment on the hard packed sand of Daytona Beach.
Heading back to my car revealed another side of Daytona Beach. This is a biker town.
Froggy’s Saloon, Main Street Daytona Beach.
Daytona Beach Bike Week celebrates its 75th anniversary March 2016.
Back to my parked car before my two hours of free parking was up and I felt like I had seen as much of Daytona Beach, Florida as I cared to see. Daytona Beach has a scene, but it is not my kind of scene.
Driving to I-95 took me right past the Daytona Speedway.
My engine was ready. I stepped on the gas without stopping again until I was out of Florida.
Highway 17 Georgia state line, “Welcome. We’re glad Georgia’s on your mind.”
My next beach stop was Jekyll Island, Georgia, 150 miles north of Daytona Beach, where I stepped back in time to the 19th century gilded age of resort living in a sea turtle friendly place. This place is dark at night in a good turtle environment kind of way. The Westin Jekyll Island opened a couple months ago.
At Jekyll Island I found the kind of beach experience and solitude I desired. And more than photos on a wall, I saw live sea turtles in one of the most moving wildlife encounters I have experienced.
That is a wetlands story for another day.