Daytona International Speedway is a bucket-list track, and lots of NASA competitors will be spurred to attend the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires based on that alone.
However, Daytona Beach and the surrounding region offers NASA competitors a great opportunity for a family vacation either before or after the NASA Championships. Whether your family comes along for the event or flies in before, or after, the area offers an abundance of recreational opportunities that have not been possible at previous NASA Championships. Here’s a small sampling of what the Central Florida region has to offer and how you can turn your NASA Championships into a family vacation.
Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier
The Boardwalk in Daytona Beach isn’t made of boards like those found in New Jersey, but the focus is the same. Amusements and games and food. Lots and lots of food. There are gift shops, snack bars and restaurants, rides, games and a Joe’s Crab Shack on the Daytona Beach Pier, which is made of boards, just like the Jersey Shore.
One standout at the boardwalk is the Daytona Beach Bandshell. Made from coquina, a soft limestone comprised of broken shells, the Bandshell hosts concerts from May through September, with bands that play Dixieland, jazz, big band music, rhythm and blues, folk and tribute bands, with fireworks displays after the sun goes down.
Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum
Stay long enough and you can witness the first-ever dual induction ceremony at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, which is located right at Daytona International Speedway. Because of Covid-19 there was no ceremony in 2020, and tickets are available now for the ceremony to be held Sept. 27-29. There might be a dress code, so bring your best suit.
There is no suit and tie required if you just want to tour the museum, which is part of the official Daytona International Speedway Tour. Admission to the Hall of Fame is available for purchase daily after the last Speedway Tour departs at 2:45 PM until closing for $12 (adults) and $7 (kids 5 – 12). The museum also offers this admission on event days when no daily tours are offered! Call 1-800-748-7467 with questions.
Florida is home to world-class fishing, whether you’re stalking bass on an inland lake or targeting something bigger in the Intracoastal Waterway or even offshore.
For saltwater anglers, September is a great time to go after barracuda, gag groupers and Jack Crevalle, redfish, tarpon and black tip shark. Probably the easiest way to go fishing before or after the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires is to select from any of the many charters available on Fishing Booker website.
There are more than 15 golf courses in Volusia County. The crown jewel, of course, is LPGA International, a top-flight golf course with a pool and restaurant, Malcolm’s Bar and Grill.
LPGA International has a pro shop, practice facilities, and it offers instruction. It also has two courses, the Arthur Hills Signature course and the Rees Jones Signature course, impeccably maintained and threaded between stands of cypress and pine.
After doing some championship racing with NASA, you might want to swing down to Cape Canaveral and check out NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Here you can find the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, visit the Rocket Garden, learn how Apollo missions VII to X paved the way to landing on the moon. You can see actual Apollo spacecraft and legendary artifacts so real and genuine that you can see the moon dust on Alan Shepard’s space suit.
Now in the age of Space X, you can get a closeup view of Space Shuttle Atlantis, and learn about the things that NASA is doing now and in the future. Just think it all started with some brilliant women and men with computers the size of a Buick, slide rules and the hunger to explore.
Relax at the Beach
The NASA Championships can be pretty intense, and so maybe the ticket is to grab hotel room right on the beach and chill out for a few days. Daytona is a pretty happening place, so if you’re looking for something more subdued, you might look into accommodations north or south of Daytona.
To the north in Ormond Beach, hotels such as the Royal Floridian Resort or Plantation Island are far enough from the hustle to enjoy some peace and quiet. Still on the same barrier island as Daytona Beach, but farther south, Wilbur-by-the-Sea — yes, that’s its real name — and Ponce Inlet feel about as far removed from Daytona as the moon. Check out the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum and grab lunch on the deck at the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill.
On The Wild Side
If you’d like to see one of the oldest animals to walk the earth — we’re talking alligators! — there is no better place to see them than Lake Jessup, which is in between Sanford and Oviedo, Fla. It’s only about an hour from Daytona, so it’s easy to get to.
Black Hammock Airboat Rides will get you out onto the lake with one of, if not the, highest populations of alligators in the whole state. When there’s a golf course or neighborhood that reports a nuisance gator, a trapper comes and takes him away. More often than not, they go to Lake Jessup, a big body of freshwater filled with lake lizards.
Afterward, you can come back and sample some gator tail at the Black Hammock Adventures Restaurant. They also have soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches, including po’ boys, and ribs and seafood.
If you prefer to the security of a cage, you can head over to Gatorland, one of Orlando’s oldest roadside attractions. Taking photos of the kids at the kitschy entrance is worth the price of admission.
Due west of Daytona is Silver Glen Springs, tucked away off Lake George, Florida’s second largest. Welling from deep underground, the water stays a refreshing 72 degrees year round and is some of clearest water you’ll ever see. You can swim or rent canoes, and you might even catch a glimpse of a Florida manatee.
Of course, everyone knows Disney World is in Orlando — Kissimmee, actually. Not only that, but the entire panoply of theme parks is just an hour’s drive from Daytona and if you have little kids, they know it, too.
Disney is now more than just the Magic Kingdom. The complex has EPCOT, which offers you a tour of the world in one park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.
Universal Studios Orlando and its sister park Islands of Adventure have some of the area’s best coasters, including the Incredible Hulk, and also some of the movie-themed rides like Fast & Furious, Men in Black and Transformers.
If water parks are more your thing — and Orlando is still hot enough in September to enjoy them — Universal Studios Volcano Bay picks up where the shuttered Wet ‘n’ Wild left off. There’s a full complement of adrenaline-packed and scary fast slides, as well as your usual “lazy river,” rides for when you want to tone it down a notch.
When your kids get tired, there’s plenty of restaurants where you can plop down and relax.
Sea World is less about animal shows these days and heavier on the rides and close-up animal experiences. Shamu and the killer whale show is gone, but now there are water rides such as the Journey to Atlantis and the Kraken, the area’s only floorless roller coaster, and another coaster called Mako.