There are 23 miles of beach along the barrier island, and its character and inhabitants depend on where you happen to be. This is one of the few places in Florida where you can drive a car on the beach (though not all 23 miles are open to vehicular traffic). There’s no long trek over the dunes, burdened down with chairs, coolers, umbrellas, bags, strollers, sunscreen and sand shovels. You toss everything in the back of the car, find a nice space to park, and then just pull out what you need when you need it. The traffic lanes and parking are close to the seawall, so at low tide there’s a pretty good strip of beach without cars. The most-crowded areas of the beach are from Main Street down to the stretch north and south of the Silver Beach Street access ramp. The crowds normally thin out in Daytona Beach Shores, with Wilbur-By-The-Sea and Ponce Inlet being the least crowded. The action picks up again on the north end of New Smyrna, but thins out pretty quickly as you go south. For the least-crowded beaches, head for Canaveral National Seashore; there’s a visitors center several miles south of Bethune Beach. There’s no driving on the beach, naturally, so you park in lots behind the dunes, then follow a walkway up and over to the beach. If it’s not summer or a holiday weekend, you could be the only one there.
Beach Cautions: In recent years, several people have been run over by cars while on the beach, including two small children. If you have kids with you be sure you know where they are at all times. That should be standard procedure when you’re at the beach anyway. Don’t set up your chairs and blankets too close to the traffic lanes in case someone strays. Your best bet is to get down close to the water; the cars are less likely to come down there. When swimming, the usual precautions apply.
Longshore currents and runouts (riptides) affect virtually all of the beachfront at times. They’re especially dangerous when there’s high surf, but potentially dangerous at all times. The longshore current will sweep you down the beach to a runout zone where you’ll suddenly find yourself being pushed out to sea. If that happens, swim parallel to the beach until you’re out of the seaward current and then swim back in toward the beach. Volusia County beaches are patrolled by lifeguards and there are lifeguard towers along the beach. If you’re at all nervous or have children with you, consider setting yourself up near one of the towers where help will be available quickly. Even strong, experienced ocean swimmers can get into trouble when the waves are up and the currents are running.
The area around the mouth of Ponce Inlet, especially on the south side near the jetty, seems to attract a lot of sharks. Most likely, they swim in the outflow from the Inlet looking for fish being pushed out by the current and mistake people for food. The area has the highest incidence of shark bites in Florida—24 in 2008—and nearly all of them occur near the South Jetty, many suffered by surfers. The bites are rarely very serious, though some require stitches. Fatalities from shark bites are extremely rare: The percentage of fatalities from shark bites in the last 100 years is less than 1 percent. The sharks don’t normally come into the shallow surf zone near shore; those that do are usually small.