This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
I’ve been to Daytona Beach many times as a child. Walking along the boardwalk and hoping for a ride on the roller coaster, swimming in the warm water, and collecting seashells that washed up on the smooth sand are all part of my memories.
Coming back after so many years was exhilarating. Everything seems so different as an adult, and it was liberating to have a clean slate — to be in control of what I visited and do what I wanted to. This time, I knew what I wanted to experience.
Daytona Beach as the sun was rising…
We left our Orlando Airbnb before the sun came up on a Monday morning in late September. Pretty much guaranteed we would find an empty beach when we arrived, right? Yep! And it was so beautiful and clean. The parking lot right on the beach didn’t even cost any money because we arrived before they started charging.
The first thing we did was walk on the Daytona Pier. So odd to see it empty! Not a soul. Oh, well that’s not entirely true. It looked empty when we approached it, but at the very end of the pier, there were several fishermen casting their lines in hopes of a great catch.
The views from the Pier looking north included the boardwalk and a long line of hotels, restaurants, parks, and miles of beach. The view looking south included the beach near Ponce de Leon, the tallest lighthouse in Florida, as well as Cape Canaveral.
After the pier, we starting walking north along the beach boardwalk (it’s actually not wooden anymore). We saw the rides and arcade area, the Daytona Beach Band Shell, lots of hotels and resorts, and several beach-themed businesses, too.
It was quiet…only the sound of the waves and the seagulls. No businesses were open yet. No one sunning on the beach, either. I can remember what it’s like during the busiest of times. Crazy and crowded! In fact, I remember my mother worrying about us getting separated from the family when we were kids.
On this morning, it was nice to have the beach nearly to ourselves. We strolled back to our car, and drove a little further north to a beach I had heard about but never seen — Ormond Beach.
Checking out a better beach for families
A few years ago, my adult daughters made a trip to Orlando. They asked me which beach they should visit with a toddler in tow. I could remember Daytona Beach but didn’t think it was the best beach for my granddaughter . After reading reviews, I told them I thought Ormond Beach would be a better match. Now that I was here, I wanted to see it for myself. Just four miles north of the Daytona Beach Pier is the Andy Romano Beachfront Park. Parking was free and plentiful this particular morning — no guarantee about later in the day, however.
So, what did I think? I agree with the reviews. Ormond Beach is a great place for families with children. There are nice restrooms, a splash pad, shaded playground, concession stand, wheelchair ramps to the beach (but how does a wheelchair navigate in the sand?), and drinking fountains, benches, and tables.
I saw signs about the sea turtles, dune plants and sea animals you might see here. So I’m thinking this would be a really fun place for children to explore and play. And parents can enjoy the view while staying close to their kids and protected from the sun.
Exploring Florida’s tallest lighthouse
Okay, to be honest, this was my main reason for coming out to Daytona Beach on this day, but I so loved visiting the beaches too! And it just shows how easy it to enjoy a day’s worth of fun family or couples’ activities within a few miles of Daytona. The lighthouse is about 12 miles south of the Daytona Beach pier and is positioned at the mouth of the Ponce de Leon Inlet. It is nearly surrounded by water — the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the inlet to the south, and the Halifax River to the west.
The Ponce Inlet Light Station is one of the most complete, best preserved, and authentic light stations remaining in the United States. It’s also the tallest lighthouse in Florida (175 ft tall), and it is really something to see! Built in 1887, the lighthouse has seen so much history. When you visit this light station, I guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know before. I’ve always loved lighthouses, and I had seen this one from afar, but had never been able to go inside…until now.
I can’t describe everything you’ll see here at the light station because there’s so much. But I can share my feelings as I explored…and what I liked best. Then you should go and see it for yourself.
The Lighthouse Climb
I suggest you visit the lighthouse during early morning hours because there’s no air conditioning in the lighthouse itself, and there are 203 steps to the top. It was a little unnerving to read a sign on the way up describing a light keeper’s heart attack! But slow and steady wins the race, and my husband and I made it to the top in just a few minutes.
On the way up, there are plaques with information to read and also windows, so you can judge your progress. When you finally reach the top, a door opens up onto a narrow balcony that surrounds the lighthouse. At this point, you are only feet away from the very top where the light is kept. And the views are stunning. People on the ground look like toys. You can see
forever (well, 20 miles or so) in all directions on a clear day. There is just nothing else like this view!
Light Station Grounds
On the Light Station grounds, there’s a lot to explore: three keepers’ dwellings, a lens museum, the oil storage building, a woodshed-converted-to-theater, a generator building, entrance building with gift shop, and a display of refugee rafts. Something you need to be aware of is that this area was incredibly remote when the light station was first built. The light keepers and their families were very isolated from the rest of civilization, and they often had to make do without a lot of the amenities that others were used to having. But out of necessity, they were very resourceful. I think that’s what touched me the most. They were willing to serve their community in this way, despite the costs. In 1900, there was no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, and no roads. Everything had to be delivered by boat.
As you tour the buildings, it is not difficult to imagine life here in the late 1800’s. It is like stepping way back in time. The dwellings are furnished as they would have been. Kitchen implements and other tools are very basic. Clothing was not easily replaced. Nooks and crannies in the homes have been turned into museum displays that demonstrate and teach about life at a light station. I hadn’t even thought about the native Americans who would have lived here, but there’s information about them as well.
You will also learn about the building of the community around the light station, and the ways in which they supported the station. There are photographs from some of the first Daytona Beach races on the sand and paintings by resident artists that depict the simple life here. I was impressed to learn that the lighthouse keepers’ wives were just as handy as their husbands. Besides the cooking, gardening, and familial duties they had, they often helped their husbands with the lighthouse responsibilities.
The lens exhibit building was also fascinating. In fact, the staff of the Ponce Inlet lighthouse foundation are famous for their skill at restoring fresnel lenses.
Woodshed Theater and Gift Shop
I’m mentioning these two buildings, because you won’t want to miss them. The woodshed theater (which is made very comfortable with air conditioning) shows a video called “A Heritage Remembered”. It features a young boy who takes you on a tour of the light station grounds and the lighthouse…today and in the past. The video provides a great understanding of the history and purposes of the light station. I was surprised to learn that besides maintaining a light for safe navigation, lighthouses were also used to stop the smuggling of liquor, look for submarines during WWII, and capture or rescue illegal refugees.
The gift shop has a large selection of lighthouse/ocean-themed souvenirs and decor for you to choose from. Not just postcards, but DVD’s, lamps, clothing, greeting cards, books, jewelry, ornaments, toys and games. See for yourself at the gift shop website.
Admission is only $6.95 for adults and $1.95 for children 3-11 (2 yrs and under are free). The lighthouse and grounds are open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours of operation and directions, plus a coupon for a free gift can be found here.
Before visiting the lighthouse, I really enjoyed the preview of the grounds found on their website. It makes for a great virtual tour and helps you plan your visit.
We spent about two hours at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. If we had children with us, we would have spent more time because of the fun interactive activities for them. There’s a lighthouse scavenger hunt that young children can do, as well as a treasure hunt and an “explorer” quiz for older kids.
For example, the quiz invites you to visit the buildings, read the signs and circle the correct answers on questions like these (the answers are posted inside the gift shop):
1. When was the Ponce Inlet Light Station opened?
a. 1835 b. 1862 c. 1887 d. 1933
2. How many principal lighthouse keepers served at this lighthouse from 1887 to 1943?
a. 4 b. 6 c. 8 d. 10
For the price you pay to visit and all the fun things there are to do and learn, I can’t think of a better value for your money. I hope you’ll be able to visit the next time you’re in Florida. Daytona Beach is the closest beach to Orlando and only about an hour’s drive away. Once you’re at Daytona, be sure to include time to tour the lighthouse!
I would like to express my gratitude to Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse for hosting my visit!