Fronting the Halifax River next to Daytona Beach, South Daytona was incorporated in 1951. The first Euro-Americans settled here in the 1870s, and there was a post office and railroad state by the 1880s.
Today, South Daytona benefits from an exceptional location, where it feels like nothing is more than a short drive away.
That includes the world-famous Daytona International Speedway, the iconic Atlantic shore, with 20+ miles of open white sands, absorbing historical sites, and all of the fun of the boardwalk.
For me, the Halifax River is a fabulous asset. At the city’s southern limit you can get onto the Port Orange Riverwalk, where you can wander along the boardwalk or rent a kayak to paddle among the dolphins.
1. Reed Canal Park
This super public park is adored by locals, especially those with kids. Reed Canal Park features a variety of amenities, like an 18-hole disc golf course, a playground, a pond
Best of all for me is the knot of walking and biking trails leading through serene forested areas on the south side. If you’re looking for somewhere to exercise your pupper, there’s a dedicated dog park as well.
On Saturday mornings, the park’s pond is abuzz with remote control boats that kids seem to find mesmerizing. It’s a great place for a relaxing picnic or an evening walk as the sun sets.
2. Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens
A spellbinding, multilayered attraction, the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens are just a minute or two from South Daytona.
This site goes back to a British-era plantation and sugar mill, established at the turn of the 19th century but destroyed in 1836 at the beginning of the Second Seminole War.
After WWII this property became the short-lived Bongoland tourist attraction. A holdover from that period is a set of five statues representing prehistoric megafauna, including a T-Rex and giant ground sloth.
These beasts and the ruins of the sugar mill sit within a truly breathtaking landscape, loved for its flowering trees and a marvelous live oak with Civil War history.
3. Museum of Arts and Sciences
This major attraction is barely five minutes from South Daytona. Founded in 1955, the Museum of Arts and Sciences has more than 30,000 items in its extensive holdings.
The collection has a broad scope, with Cuban, Floridian, early American, South American, and Chinese art, as well as a wealth of Americana.
The latter was collected by Chapman Root (1864-1945), famous for his role in the design of the Coca-Cola bottle. I was enthralled by this exhibit in particular, with the second-largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in the world.
As well as a planetarium, there’s also a dedicated children’s portion of the museum. Interactive exhibits here touch on science, the natural world, aviation, and technology, and will keep kids engaged for hours on end.
4. Daytona International Speedway
A world-renowned auto racing icon is a stone’s throw away from South Daytona. Famed for its high, 31° banked turns, and February’s Daytona 500, the Daytona International Speedway hardly needs introducing.
Though not everyone can snag tickets to the track’s biggest races, it’s still possible to get a behind-the-scenes look at the impressive facility and its unparalleled history.
Generally, tours last from 30 minutes to a few hours, and for me the museum was a real highlight. Designed with real flair, this 20,000-square-foot space pays tribute to the male and female inductees of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Among the many astonishing sights is the Bluebird, the first land vehicle to break the 300 mph barrier, in 1935.
5. Dunlawton Beach
I can’t write about South Daytona and not mention the 23 miles of white sandy shore close by. The city is less than five minutes from the nearest beach access, at Daytona Beach Shores.
As is normal for much of Volusia County’s shore, vehicles are permitted at Dunlawton Beach. This is part of a tradition that goes back to early races on this hard-packed sand at the turn of the 20th century.
There’s a $20 fee to enter, a speed limit of 25 mph, and carefully delineated parking areas. Setting your eyes on this massive swath of sandy shore and the rolling surf is quite an experience.
Lastly, there’s a long stretch of car-free beach south of Emilia Avenue, less than ten minutes from South Daytona.
6. Ponce de Leon Lighthouse & Museum
In just 15 minutes you can get to the tallest lighthouse in Florida. At nearly 180 feet tall, the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is among the tallest in the country.
There has been a signal here since 1835, and the current structure was raised in 1887. The lighthouse and historic keepers’ residences are now a museum, preserving the state’s rich nautical history.
If you’re wondering why there’s a whole complex, well back in the day three keepers’ were required to keep the lighthouse operating. There are heaps of interesting things to see at the museum, including a superb collection of 19th-century Fresnel lenses.
I don’t need to tell you that the best part is the 360° view, after battling your way up 200+ steps.
7. Ormond Beach Environmental Discovery Center
Starting right on Port Orange’s line, this park traces the Halifax River and is a gorgeous place to be early in the day.
Riverwalk Park is made up of two distinct sections. Families will appreciate the south section, with its playground and splash pad. There’s a promenade with beautiful vistas, along with a stage for concerts and other public events.
To the north, the park feels a little more secluded. A boardwalk had just been built when I was here last, and this connects with fishing piers at the end. With its gentle and relatively shallow waters, the Halifax River is great for paddling.
Stop by Sandy Point Kayak Concession here to rent a kayak or paddleboard for a few hours exploring the Intracoastal Waterway.
8. Sunglow Fishing Pier
One of two fishing piers in the Daytona Beach area, Sunglow Fishing Pier is the smaller and closer of the two. Part of the Sunglow resort, this 950-foot structure dates back to 1960.
Like any large pier on Florida’s shoreline, hurricanes have played a role in this pier’s history. The whole thing was rebuilt in the late 1980s, and when I was in town there was a temporary closure for reconstruction following Hurricane Ian.
When it’s open anglers, love to drop a line for Spanish mackerel, whiting, flounder, tarpon, trout, and many more.
The other big draw is Crabby Joe’s Deck and Grill, a long-standing seafood spot, with awesome vistas for miles along the coast.
9. Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf
For me, no trip to the shore is complete without a round of adventure golf. Luckily there’s a great 18-hole course a couple of minutes away in Daytona Beach Shores.
Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf is part of a chain with six locations in the Southeast, and checks all the boxes.
So you’ve got waterfalls, swaying palms and immersive theming, with a shipwreck, a cave, cannons, barrels, treasure chests, and views of the ocean at the highest point. See if you can get a hole-in-one on one of the random lucky holes to win a free round.
10. Magnolia Park
If you’re hunting for a serene place to take a family picnic, I reckon this little park in South Daytona is hard to beat. Almost hidden among residential streets, Magnolia Park is a pocket of greenery on the shores of a small pond with a fountain.
Within a few steps of the parking lot you can access a boardwalk, which bends around the south side of the pond.
As with most water bodies in Florida, the pond at Magnolia Park bustles with life, from fish to turtles and occasional wading birds. There’s a fishing dock here, as well as a playground, a pergola, benches and picnic tables.
11. Southside Jetski
Whether you’re on a guided cruise, paddling trip or something more exhilarating, the Halifax River is an essential part of the experience in the Daytona Beach area.
I don’t think it’s a mystery, with a wide strip of mostly gentle water, skirted by launches, docks, and waterfront parks.
There’s abundant wildlife to look out for, with good chances of seeing manatees between November and March. One of many local rental companies is Southside Jetski, just moments away.
As well as single jet skis and three-passenger waverunners, this company offers kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, boat rentals, and fishing charters.
12. Jackie Robinson Ballpark
Back in 2014, the Jackie Robinson Ballpark on Daytona Beach’s City Island celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Though it started small and has had a few different names over the years, the stadium still harks back to eras passed. For decades this was the spring training base for a succession of Major League teams, from the Cardinals to the Orioles.
One thing that makes it historically significant is that it was home to the first professional, integrated baseball game in 1946, between Robinson’s Montreal Royals and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Today you can come for Minor League Baseball, hosted by the Daytona Tortugas of the Florida State League. For families, my ideal day to watch a game is on a Friday, when there are fireworks afterwards.
13. Hannah’s Family Diner
A local staple, this family owned and operated diner was opened in 2013. If you’re looking for a breakfast spot serving familiar, hearty classics, I doubt you can do better than Hannah’s Family Diner.
There’s a cozy home-style vibe, and a menu absolutely loaded with everyone’s favorites. These might be sausage gravy & biscuits, stuffed omelets, fluffy hotcakes, Belgian waffles, and big combos if you’ve really got an appetite.
Whatever you order, the scrapple and hash are a couple of the star sides. If you’re here for lunch, a favorite is the Midwest-style pork tenderloin sandwich.
14. NBalance Best Holistic Wellness Spa
With a dizzying area of massage and total wellness options to choose from, NBalance Best Holistic Wellness Spa is a day spa right here in South Daytona.
It’s just the place if your chi is out of balance. Or perhaps you need a little relaxation, or want to get a youthful spring back in your step
From aromatherapy and scalp massages to anti-aging and skin tightening treatments, there’s probably a little something for everyone regardless of age.
For those who lead hectic and stressful lives, there’s no better way to get vacation kicked-off than with a bit of pampering.
15. Daytona Beach Boardwalk
Located along North Ocean Avenue in Daytona Beach, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk dates to 1938. Though it’s seen several upgrades and renovations over the years, it still retains much of its original charm.
The boardwalk has been attracting locals and travelers since the beginning. It’s full of shops, bars, restaurants, rides, and arcades. I got to say, the carnival atmosphere here is just my kind of thing.
The boardwalk’s bandshell hosts a variety of concerts and live entertainment, and many of them are free. There’s no better place to capture an unforgettable Florida sunrise either, so try to make it here early.