As the “World’s Most Famous Beach” Daytona has long been home to a collection of nonpareil properties. Where else would you find a place like the former Thunderbird with its gaudy neon sign and '50s motel motif, or the Sun Viking or Destination Daytona, which would more properly be called the “Harley Hotel? You’ll need to choose carefully, though, especially if your trip coincides with college spring break, one of the motorcycle celebrations or a NASCAR weekend. Listening to partiers belly-flopping into the pool from the second story is nerve-racking. The farther away you go from the strip—north and south of Main Street and down past Speedway Boulevard—the calmer and more relaxing things get. On the other hand, if you’re the type who wants in on the action, you’ll have plenty of choices in the heart of downtown.
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Bruce Rossmeyer was an icon in the national biker community; he died in a motorcycle accident in Wyoming in 2009, but not before turning the biker lifestyle into a complete recreational complex in Daytona. The rooms and suites are upper-end motel quality—clean and convenient—some with microwaves, refrigerator and coffee/tea maker. But the real reason to stay here is to be with other bikers, realizing that most of them are dentists from Ohio in town to blow off some steam and show off their hidden tattoos. For their amusement Rossmeyer included a tattoo shop, a cigar store, a leather clothing boutique, a gift store called Hawg Tyd, the Saints and Sinners Lounge and more. Of course, there is Rossmeyer’s Harley dealership, and you can even rent a Harley with advance reservations. Especially during bike weeks and race events at the Speedway, prices soar to more than $200 a night. Rooms close to the Saints and Sinners pub may be noisy, especially during party weeks.
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Just a few miles north of Daytona proper, Ormond Beach is quieter, but just as pretty. The DBRCC is an older beachfront property with rooms in a tower section and a low-rise bank parallel to the beach. Even though it’s not brand new, the hotel has been well taken care of, with rooms in the newer tower section somewhat larger than those in the five-story wing. If you can, get an ocean view with a balcony—you’ll love sitting out as the sun goes down watching the waves roll in. The decor includes lots of crown molding and wall finishes, so the environment feels more luxurious than the rates indicate. Reflections, the onsite restaurant, serves the usual American casual fare and there’s a poolside bar and a spa, Terra Acqua, as well. Pricing varies, and with special packages or during off/shoulder season, you’ll probably pay less than $100 a night, which for a quality beachfront room is a great deal. The hotel caters to small business meetings and has good meeting and event space available.
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This 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow has been imaginatively reborn as a small bed and breakfast catering to surfers. The heart pine floors have rugs shaped like surfboards and there are boards, mounted fish and other oceanic accents throughout. It’s not kitschy—well, maybe a little—but the quality of the decor and furnishings is first rate. The Longboard is in the historic section of New Smyrna, a few blocks west of the Halifax River, making it a short drive to the beach. Breakfast is served family-style, around the dining room table, giving you a chance to meet and talk to you the other guests. For small groups, especially if you’re looking for a casual and quiet place near the beach, it’s a good choice.
There are just 18 rooms in this 1885 pink Victorian beauty located in New Smyrna Beach. It overlooks the Halifax River about three blocks from the ocean, its three stories, tin roof and gingerbread trim a beacon for boaters who pull up to the dock out back to come up and eat in the restaurant. The Grille at Riverview is very good, with a nice range of standards (steak and seafood), along with some specialties, such as yellowfin tuna in an espresso coffee crust served with prosciutto cream sauce, and macadamia-crusted Gulf grouper. You can dock your boat out back for an extra $15 a day ($1.25 a foot if not renting a room), or you can be totally terrestrial and just enjoy the view of boats on the Intracoastal from one of the second- or third-floor balconies. There’s an onsite spa, and the interiors are comfortable and appropriately antique-ish, but not at all shopworn or musty. You can walk to other restaurants and the small shops of New Smyrna—park your car and don’t drive for days if you like—or you can drive over the adjacent causeway and access the attractions and restaurants just north in Port Orange and Daytona.
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If you’re not determined to be beachfront, this elegant 1904 estate overlooking the Halifax River north of Daytona has been turned into a wonderful bed and breakfast, earning a Three-Diamond rating from AAA. It’s hard for smaller properties to get the highest ratings because AAA requires certain amenities (a variety of upscale dining, for example) for its four- and five-diamond certifications, making the River Lily that much more impressive. This is Old Florida at its finest, with a few later additions, including a heart-shaped swimming pool (oh, those fabulous 1950s). The clapboard siding blends with covered upper-story porches furnished with wicker settees, perfect for taking in the view through the live oaks down to the river. The room prices do come close to $200 per night on weekends and during high-demand events, while weekday and special pricing is closer to $150.
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This is standard Hilton fare—meaning it’s a very nice hotel that happens to be in a great location. It’s beachside on the strip, just a block from the Ocean Center events complex and next to the Ocean Walk Shoppes, a small cluster of retail and dining. Inside it’s clean and well appointed—there’s a fitness center, bicycle rentals, a children’s activity area, spa—and there are some terrific rooms. If you can spring for a cabana suite, they’re located on the ground level with walkout access to a terrace and pool deck. The pool overlooks the ocean and comes with a pool bar on top of the requisite beach bar, Waves. It’s also home to one of the better restaurants in Daytona, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, and you’re probably better off spending a bit more there than at the standard restaurants inside. Because it’s located close to the strip, you can walk to the Main Street clubs or any of the restaurants and bars scattered in the area surrounding the Pier.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter and away from the partying downtown, the Hampton Inn is south, almost down to the Dunlawton Bridge that crosses into Port Orange on the mainland. That also makes it closer to New Smyrna, so it’s a nice in-between location convenient to both New Smyrna and Daytona. The hotel is unremarkable—it’s clean and neat with free breakfast daily like most Hamptons—but it does have a nice beachfront location with a pool overlooking the sand and surf.
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This is a real Daytona-style hotel, built for family vacations in the sun. The focus is on lots of on-site activities for kids: There’s a water slide, heated pools (indoors and out), poolside games like twister and treasure hunts, playground, basketball hoop, shuffleboard (do people still play that?) and gas grills you can use to barbecue. You can cook indoors, too; some of the rooms have full kitchens. The resort also has some cottages (homes converted to rentals), which are located across the street rather than beachside, including some three-bedroom units.