When you mention Daytona Beach to people they think of one of two things: the beach or NASCAR. Racing goes way back in Daytona Beach’s history, with the Daytona International Speedway, home of the famous Daytona 500 race, opening 60 years ago.
- New Autograph Collection property offers upscale race theme for vacation goers -
Across the street from the speedway, NASCAR’s headquarters were sprawled across a multitude of small buildings, but when they were consolidated into a new single mid-rise building, they decided to develop the area into ONE DAYTONA.
ONE DAYTONA has now been developed with a multitude of restaurants, shops, a luxury movie theater, apartments and two hotels. I was able to spend a few nights at their new signature hotel, The Daytona, and what I found was a very thoughtful and elegant property that is easily the best way to experience a race weekend and a great base to enjoy the Daytona Beach area.
The Daytona (thedaytona.com) is a Marriott Autograph Collection property, which is a newer collection of high-end, independently owned and operated hotels that are highly encouraged to bring unique touches and finishes to the customer experience. There’s no mistaking that this isn’t your average hotel by the exterior design. Bold red highlights give it a sense of motion. It’s not a bohemoth-sized hotel with only 144 rooms, but it’s large enough that you still get a high-quality restaurant, room service, gym and a great pool.
I was completely taken aback when I entered the lobby on the second floor. When the elevator doors open, you are immediately greeted by modern and historical race cars placed around the floor like it was a museum. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s number 88 car from the 2018 season was suddenly 15 feet away from me. The lobby features about a half dozen different cars and motorcycles, and the hotel told me that they plan to swap them out for different events.
Also in the lobby is the hotel restaurant, Sir Malcolm, and the bar, Blue Flame. The restaurant is named after a British racing legend, Sir Malcolm Campbell, who was famous for setting land speed records while in Daytona Beach. The Blue Flame is a nod to the distilling process while making moonshine. NASCAR’s origin story is that bootleggers would run fast cars in the back country to stay away from police and eventually they decided to race their cars against each other. The bar features an extensive terrace that overlooks the ONE DAYTONA complex and has an unencumbered view of the side of the Daytona International Speedway. It will certainly be the place to be seen on a race weekend. The Blue Flame has several signature moonshine cocktails, and I couldn’t get away from the Blood Orange Moonshine Mule ($11). Featuring a blood orange moonshine, it added lime juice, ginger liqueur, ginger beer and a candied ginger garnish that really hit the spot.
Sir Malcom’s menu is American cuisine and features entrees in the $20-$30 range, which include steaks, shrimp and grits, and a burger with moonshine tomato jam. I had the hanger steak with jalapeno cheddar grits ($23) and it was cooked perfectly. I later had the Sir Malcolm Burger ($16) delivered via room service, and it was top notch as well.
The rooms are extremely comfortable, as you would expect from a modern high-end hotel. The room décor instills the theme of movement with blue race-inspired carpet, iPads for ordering room service, Nespresso coffee makers, and smart TVs that you can link your Netflix account to temporarily. The small touches were really impressive, with the closet featuring carbon fiber-effect door handles and the notepad on the side table having the appearance of a police officer’s ticket book. Only half of the rooms face the speedway, so I would recommend asking for one of those.
One of the unique packages that The Daytona offers is in conjunction with the speedway: drive a real NASCAR race car around the track. Most NASCAR tracks offer either a ride-along or a driving experience which are bookable directly with the track, but The Daytona allows you to book it as part of your hotel reservation. Our media group was able to participate in the experience that lets you drive on the track and it was surreal. You go through an hour-long safety course, but it still feels like in the blink of an eye you are flying down pit road at Daytona to do an eight-minute run of laps. While these aren’t the cutting edge NASCAR race cars from the current season, they are from recent times. They’re also restricted to about 150 mph, which evidently makes it easy for drivers with no experience to control. Instead of someone riding with you, they use actual spotters up in the stands to talk you through the process. I’m not going to lie; I was scared at first, but it’s surprisingly easy to drive laps at 150 mph. You don’t need to get anywhere near the walls, you keep the car in fourth gear the entire time, and you keep the pedal to the metal. It’s certainly not inexpensive at $599 when booked through NASCAR, but it’s certainly a bucket list-caliber experience. If you just want to ride along for three laps in a special two-seat race car, then it’s much more affordable at $149.
If you aren’t a racing fan, Daytona Beach still has tons to offer. The beautiful beach is just a few miles away where you can rent a Jeep or just soak up some sun. There’s a boardwalk that features a roller coaster and a pier and there are plenty of restaurants and shops to check out.
I also had a bunch of fun going to Daytona Beach’s minor league baseball stadium, Jackie Robinson Memorial Baseball Park, home of the Daytona Tortugas, a Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The historical ballpark has seen some updates, but it’s been open for more than 100 years. It’s named for Jackie Robinson because Daytona Beach was the first city in Florida to allow Jackie Robinson to play during spring training in the 1940s.
One of the other highlights while being in town was dinner at the 31 Supper Club (31supperclub.com). It’s about six miles from The Daytona, but it’s well worth the trip. Designed as a 1930s speakeasy, we were wowed with live music of the era and a beautiful art deco design. Steaks, cocktails, lobster bisque, stuffed shrimp and more all delighted our taste buds. A+ service made the meal a perfect one.
Daytona Beach is a great vacation destination and The Daytona is one of the best ways to experience it, especially if you’re a NASCAR fan. The Daytona is a clear cut above the quality of the hotels in the area: from elegant rooms to the insanely cool lobby and being surrounded by things to check out, it makes the perfect pit stop.