Though I’m not her publicist, I can say with confidence that Oprah is a fan of Daytona Beach, Florida. This city was the home of one of Winfrey’s inspirations, Mary Bethune-a well-deserving Daytona darling who provided education to young black people in the early 1900s. Knowing that much about Oprah is probably enough to demand that I surrender my man-card. It gets worse.
Shortly after visiting Bethune’s home, gravesite, and college (www.marybethune.com), I checked in at the luxurious Oceanside Hilton (www.oceansidehilton.com) where I enjoyed the first professional massage of my life. On my birthday. I also toured Angell & Phelps candy store (www.angelandphelps.com) -the official chocolatier of the 2011 ESPY Awards. And I went for a barefoot walk on the beach. At night.
Before I lose any more of my manly readers, you should know that I participated in all of these dainty activities with my wife, Melissa. And I didn’t get a pedicure. And I went to Jackie Robinson Stadium (www.jackierobinsonstadium.com)-where the famous baseball player broke the “color” barrier in professional sports, paving the way for greater civil rights generally. And I was a race car passenger for three laps around the Daytona International Speedway (www.richardpettydrive.com) at 160 miles an hour. And I repeatedly drove by Daytona High School-where movie star Denzel Washington and former NBA star Vince Carter attended-with my hand over my heart.
Credibility now hopefully re-established with the men, here’s a little more information (for both sexes) about Daytona Beach: The Daytona area has an average temperature of 59.3 in the winter and 78.5 in the summer, making it an enjoyable experience regardless of when you visit. Daytona boasts 23 miles of sandy, white beaches open to pedestrians 24/7-and access is free. Cars are permitted in designated areas of the beach from sunrise to sunset, tidal conditions permitting. The beach was alluring and relaxing, and Melissa and I spent much of our time there.
If you’re looking for a place to eat, try the delightful Ocean Deck (www.oceandeck.com). Since hotels gobble up much of the beach front property, there are only a few independent restaurants right on the water. Ocean Deck is one of them, offering open-air ambience with delicious food at reasonable prices. Night-lifers will enjoy the live band.
If you’re a romantic, definitely consider an evening at The Cellar-President Warren Harding’s summer home converted into a delightful Italian restaurant (www.thecellarrestaurant.com). History suggests Harding wasn’t one of our greatest presidents, but his connection with The Cellar significantly improves his legacy. I’m not overstating when I say that eating here is more than a meal-it’s an experience. I had the gnocchi alla bolognese (potato dumplings sautéed in a classical sauce of ground beef, veal, and pork). I’m salivating just thinking about it. Melissa had the rigatoni con gamberi e asparagi (tube pasta sautéed with shrimp, asparagus, and pink sauce). She snarled at me when I asked for a bite. Enough said. Sam Giovanni and his wife, Lani, don’t just own and operate this restaurant-they even live above it. Dress is business casual.
Travel south for a few miles to the engaging Ponce Inlet, and you can dine on the water at Inlet Harbor Restaurant (http://www.inletharbor.com/restaurant). While there, a must-see is the lovely Ponce Lighthouse (www.ponceinlet.org)-Florida’s tallest at 175 feet. (From the top, we had the rare experience of watching the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis). Ponce Inlet is also home to the Marine Science Center (www.marinesciencecenter.com) and a variety of other activities, including parasailing, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and boat rides.
During his 1513 search for the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Leon discovered the Daytona area. Obviously he didn’t find the Fountain, but he did discover a remarkable place that has impressed visitors for centuries. I highly recommend you become a modern-day de Leon, and re-discover Daytona Beach. Oprah would approve.