Short trip to Daytona Beach, Florida

The boardwalk at Ponce Inlet Preserve runs through salt marsh to the inlet with an amazing display of birds along the way. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

By the end of 2020, we were beginning to feel like the walls were closing in. So, we took a short trip to Daytona Beach, a place I haven’t been since I was a little thing.

We watched beautiful sunrises and the even more gorgeous sunsets across the inland waterway.

We spent our days exploring the area, looking for birds, taking photographs, and allowing the experience to refill our emotional tanks.

We even found a wonderful restaurant on the river with outdoor seating and incredible seafood the night before we drove home.

Daytona’s about 7 hours or so from up here, so it’s a good road trip and can be safely done during COVID.

If you enjoy the beach (the weather was in the 70s-80s), enjoy the birds, enjoy the wildlife––or just dearly want a change of scenery, consider planning your own trip away.

Here’s where we spent our three days in Daytona.

Day 1: Tomoka State Park and Bulow Creek State Park

Tomoka State Park, near Ormond Beach, has water, birds, and gators to keep you entertained. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

Our first stop was Tomoka State Park. We were overwhelmed by the water vistas full of birds. My favorite was the Little Blue Egret that I was able to sneak up to within 8-10 feet from without it ever seeing me.

This Little Blue Heron was only about 8 feet away when he posed for me. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

We also saw Willets, Wood Storks, Double-breasted Cormorants, and an alligator.

We next moved to Bulow Creek State Park that was located almost next to Tomoka. Bulow Creek is much more spread out and we made the mistake of trying to hike a major portion of it. It was a miserable hike, but as we drove through the park, we saw several different types of herons and egrets and an anhinga. It was definitely the kind of park to drive through slowly.

We returned to the beach to spend part of the afternoon sitting by the pool, drinking coffee, and watching the shorebirds.

Day 2: Lyon Preserve and Wild Life Refuge, Audubon Park, and Ponce Inlet Preserve

The Florida scrub forest is the only place in the world to see Florida Scrub-Jays. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

We started out at the Lyonia Preserve and Wild Life Refuge. The preserve is accessed through the parking lot of the Deltona Regional Library. The refuge contains a Florida scrub forest area and is one of the few places where Florida Scrub-Jays can be usually seen. The area is also home to many species of birds, snakes, and other small animals that have learned to thrive in the hostile environment.

Thankfully, we did not encounter any snakes, but we did see the elusive Florida mouse scoot by. And we saw the Florida Scrub-Jay.

The Florida Scrub-Jay can only be seen in a few places in Central Florida. (Photo by Craig Taylor)

Our second stop was at Audubon Park in Deltona, Florida. We walked through part of the park that had boardwalks, salt marshes, and small ponds. There we were able to see Sandhill Cranes, which can be over five feet tall, as well as herons, egrets, and hawks.

Our third stop was at the Ponce Inlet Preserve located south of Daytona Beaching on the same island. It’s a small city park that has playgrounds, picnic areas, beach access, and one of the oldest water oaks still in existence.

Across the road is the boardwalk that goes all through a salt marsh area all the way to the freshwater inlet. The views were gorgeous, the birds were in abundance, and the wind was just enough to make it refreshing.

Day 3: The town of Ponce Inlet, Delores Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve

The historic lighthouse at Ponce Inlet towers over the town and can be viewed from the beach. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

We returned to the Ponce Inlet Preserve first thing in the morning and enjoyed the quiet before the fishermen showed up. From there, we visited the town of Ponce Inlet further south. A couple of dolphins showed up in the inlet, running fish toward the beach. At least a dozen brown pelicans started dive-bombing the fish in a feeding frenzy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Several brown pelicans were roosting next to the dock. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The town of Ponce Inlet itself is cute and the historic lighthouse is open for tours and shopping at the gift store. Afterward, we went to Lighthouse Point Park, another city park nearby that had picnic tables on the shore along the inlet. We ate and watched the dolphins play, the pelicans fish, and black skimmers looking to eat as well.

We ended the day at Delores Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve which is near New Smyrna Beach and about 30-40 minutes away. The preserve contains large areas of salt marsh and waterways. There’s a boardwalk in one area and an observation tower in another. It’s one of the most peaceful times we spent while we were gone.

What we did during the days was almost without cost. Two of the state parks had an entry fee of $5.00 or so. Everything else had no charge. We spent three days enjoying the outdoors and seeing things we’ve never seen before. It was well worth the effort and the minimal costs.

Daytona may not be on your list. There are plenty of places in Florida, South Georgia, and South Alabama that are less than a day away and promise to be restorative. Plan your trip to do the things that bring you joy––baking on the beach, fishing, photography, birding. The options are unlimited. Take time to treat yourself by doing something new.

The sunrise every morning was breath-taking. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)
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