What to See and Do in and Around Daytona Beach and Jacksonville

Explore nature and history along the North Florida coast. See our top tips, sights, and experiences for an unforgettable trip along the scenic route from Jacksonville to Dayton Beach.

From tip to tip, Florida has some of the most unique and fantastic sights in America. People think of Florida as the land of theme parks and snowbirds, but it’s also the place to explore nature and history, and in North Florida particularly. We love to explore the area from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach with kids, and we keep going back for more.

How do you plan a trip to check out all that the North Florida coast has to offer? These are our top tips, sights and experiences for an unforgettable trip along the scenic route from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach.

To begin this awesome adventure, fly in to Daytona Beach or Jacksonville airports, pick up your rental car and use either of these cities as a home base for your North Florida trip. And when you book your rental car remember that you can always return it to a different location. Returning to Daytona Beach is wonderfully easy with no shuttles or anything, as it’s still a small and yet far-reaching airport.

Casa Marina and Jacksonville Beach

Back when New York and Hollywood were all flash and glam, Jacksonville Beach was the spot where the elite escaped, and the Casa Marina Hotel hosted them all. Spend a day or two in Jacksonville (Jax) Beach and enjoy the relaxed vibes of the now-trendy beach town, while staying in a vintage hotel room at the Casa Marina just over the dunes. Is the Casa Marina haunted? Hard to say, but the kids loved the roaring twenties feel … and we could’ve sworn we heard unexplained footsteps in the hall …

Travel plan: Spend one or two nights relaxing in town, visiting some of the most delicious north coast restaurants. Amazing seafood but you need to have a vehicle to go between Jax Beach and Jacksonville proper. Also, consider taking a surfing lesson; Jax Beach has mild to medium waves and is perfect for beginners.

Jacksonville Beach Casa Marina Hotel, Jacksonville Beach


Historic St. Augustine and the Castillo

We keep returning to St. Augustine because it’s the most captivating city we’ve been to in Florida — and possibly the most captivating city in the U.S. St. Augustine (officially founded in 1565) is the oldest city in the USA, and includes a 17th century Spanish fort, delicious fusion food and great museums for kids. The city is the perfect destination for families who like to work a bit of history and education into their vacation, which we do whenever possible.

Tip: if you’re traveling with kids, the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is cool. And dinner on the roof at Salt Life in St. Augustine Beach is a must-do for fresh seafood and a sunset view. Or, dig into crab beignets at the Ice Plant.

In addition to history, St. Augustine is a hub for ecotourism. From kayaking to boat expeditions with marine biologists, we’ve had some incredible encounters with wildlife, all handled in a professional, conservation-first way. Florida’s one-of-a-kind natural treasures are alive and well here, and there are many ways to enjoy them before moving onto your next destination.

Travel plan: Two nights in St. Augustine will give you enough time to explore the city, or you can take a day trip from Daytona Beach.

St. George Street Courtyard fountain, St. Augustine St. George Street Courtyard fountain, St. Augustine


Ponce Inlet: Beyond Daytona Beach

Just south of Daytona Beach is the Ponce Inlet. This may be our kids’ favorite place in all of Florida. Don’t let the town’s small size fool you; plenty of fun experiences await. At 175 feet, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light is the tallest lighthouse in the state, and kids and adults love the challenge of climbing the 203 steps to the top to check out the gorgeous view.

Nearby is the Ponce Inlet Marine Science Center. From rays and fish to sea turtles in the turtle recovery unit, visitors get to check out a unique blend of an aquarium and hospital. Ponce Inlet also offers kayaking opportunities and beach access.

Travel plan: Ponce Inlet is a great day trip from Daytona Beach, where you’ll find most of the family and budget-friendly hotel options.

View from the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach View from the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach


De Leon Springs and the Old Spanish Sugar Mill

Florida is home to more than 1,000 freshwater springs, but De Leon Springs has something extra special: the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. Located near a real-life Fountain of Youth in De Leon Springs State Park, the Sugar Mill is a great family dining experience in Florida.

The restaurant’s staple is DIY pancakes; each table comes with a griddle, allowing you to cook your own pancake breakfast with homemade batters. After your meal, head out for a hike through the Florida forest within the state park or take an eco-tour from the headspring down the St. Johns River, scoping out manatees, alligators and all kinds of birds.

Travel plan: Plan your dining at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill in advance so you can arrive early enough for a table, and also arrange to either rent kayaks or go on a naturalist-led boat tour. Stay in nearby historic DeLand for a night in what looks like Main Street USA.

Eco tour at De Leon Springs State Park Eco tour at De Leon Springs State Park


Blue Spring State Park

It seems that no matter how many times we visit Blue Spring State Park, when we leave we’re always thinking about our next visit. Manatees are a unique Florida treasure, and there’s no better place to see them than at Blue Spring; if you visit during the winter months, you’re likely to see hundreds of them.

Visiting in the off-season (non-manatee time of spring through fall) is also wonderful. Florida’s freshwater springs are always warm, with Blue Spring being a consistent 73 degrees, so swimming in the off-season is awesome! The kids did get a little spooked by the enormous Florida Gar (a large fish) in the springs, but splashing and watching turtles makes it all worthwhile for them.

Travel plan: Book a paddle boarding tour with Paddleboard Orlando for a unique, respectful experience observing manatees in the water. You cannot swim with them at Blue Spring, but they are very curious and friendly creatures that love to say hello to visitors.

Manatee at Blue Spring State Park Manatee at Blue Spring State Park

Wow! Thank goodness we’re heading back to Florida next month because I’m ready to go! Each of these unique Florida sites and experiences are characteristic of the fun our family seeks out with each visit to the Sunshine State. The Scenic Route through Florida is winding and wonderful and, as you can tell, one of our favorites!

Vacation Stories

More Destination Guides


Relax at These 6 Beaches Near Orlando

Relax at These 6 Beaches Near Orlando
When you head to the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” it’s always a good idea to also schedule some beach time to unwind. But which one might you enjoy the most? This guide will help you decide.

5 Things to Do with Family in Ft. Lauderdale

5 Things to Do with Family in Ft. Lauderdale
Averaging 246 sunny days a year, Ft. Lauderdale offers beautiful weather and plenty of entertainment for family vacation fun. P.S. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!

Explore Jacksonville: How to Travel Like a Local

Explore Jacksonville: How to Travel Like a Local
Unlike many of Florida's major cities, Jacksonville doesn't come across as a tourist destination.

Planning a Florida adventure?

Find the closest Alamo rental car location

2 Travel Dads

About the Author

2TravelDads is an energetic pair of dads, Rob and Chris Taylor. Sharing their stories and travel tips while raising their two kids, 2TravelDads have plenty of miles under their belts. Their travel blog comes from the viewpoint of parenting, being a part of the LGBT community, being immersed in nature and wanting to teach their kids the value of cultures from around the world.