The Fountain of Youth remains elusive today as it was in the 1500s when legend and folklore claim that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered this mythical fountain at De Leon Springs, now part of DeLeon Springs State Park.

The Daytona Beach area is packed
with family attractions & museums.

De Leon Springs is off U.S. 17, about six miles north of Deland; the outstanding feature of the park's 600 acres is the headspring spewing 19 million gallons of water per day from an underwater cavern.  Wading birds such as herons, egrets, and ibis stalk their prey down river while coots and ducks dive for dinner and ospreys soar overhead. Alligators, otters and manatees are common

A visit to this park was part of a media tour organized by the Georgia Turner Group and sponsored by  the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and area partners. Senior Media Relations Manager Tangela Boyd of Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said it was an opportunity to showcase the culinary opportunities of the area as well as the many attractions.

"Eat, Drink and Be Merry" was the theme of the tour which included top class culinary delights as well as educational and exciting opportunities including the experience at the Old  Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. Team members cooked their own pancakes made from stone ground flours and we also fried our own eggs.  The restaurant is an integral part of De Leon Springs State Park.

Guarding our seafood at
Lighthouse Landing Restaurant.

Visitors can swim in the beautiful, tranquil spring water and can make use of canoes, kayaks and paddleboats. The park provides access to the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuse with 8,000 acres of lakes, creeks, and marshes to explore.

Fishing for bass and bream is offered from shore or from the fishing pier. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required for people between 16 and 65 years.  Visitors can also hike the half mile paved nature trail or the 4.2 mile Wild Persimmon Trail. The Park offers more than five miles of hikingfishing, picnicking, and, swimming in the refreshing spring pool.

In 1779, Panton, Leslie and Company, the largest British firm specializing in the Indian trade, applied for a land grant covering 500 acres that included  De Leon Springs, known then as Spring Garden. At that time, a group of Seminole Indians lived in the area.  In 1804, William Williams moved from New  Smyrna to settle at Spring Gardens and was the first to raise corn, cotton and sugar.

Then in 1823, Major Joseph Woodruff bought some land from Williams. Woodruff owned the property until his death in 1828 while returning from a business trip to New York to purchase sugar-making equipment. His wife Jane, died six years later. In 1831, Colonel Olando Rees obtained the properly from the Woodruff family. Rees, with 90 slaves, constructed the only water powered sugar mill in Florida. The surrounding fields were planted in sugar cane, corn, and cotton.

Old Spanish Mill Griddle House.

That same year, naturalist John James Audubon visited the Rees's plantation for a few days.  Rees took Audubon exploring along the waterways and an island was named after him. He spoke of 'beautiful flowers, rich looking fruits, and a pure sky" and named it a garden.

In 1835, Seminoles attacked the Rees's plantation, destroying the mill and houses, and stealing slaves and cattle. Joseph Woodruff led a militia force against the Seminoles, forcing them from the area. Three years later, U.S. troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor occupied  Spring Garden and the remaining Seminoles left the area.

A small tourist resort was built at the Spring and the community was changed from Spring Garden to De Leon Springs. The resort was developed as an attraction, adding gardens, jungle cruises, and a water circus with an elephant on water skis.

The pace for this exciting tour began with dinner at Ronin for sushi, sake, and other delights.  Ronin offers a wide variety of culinary delights with two separate areas, the principal kitchen and the sushi bar.  The next morning the team ate breakfast at Dancing Avocado Kitchen, a local favorite for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Owner Mario Stemberger his wife and two daughters operate the business which has been in operation since 1998.

The Dancing Avocado Kitchen.

Dancing Avocado Kitchen is a health concept eatery similar to some fast food establishment but with real food. The menu is 75 percent vegetarian with some chicken and one beef item, the Famous Dave Burger.  In addition the Kitchen is 100 percent non smoking, both inside the restaurant and outside on the deck overlooking Halifax River.  Located at 110 South Beach Street in Daytona Beach, at the intersection of historic Beach 'Street and International Speedway Blvd., the Restaurant overlooks the exciting International Speedway Blvd. bridge expansion, City Island  Complex and the Halifax River.

The Restaurant serves Big Burritos, Ultimate Omelets, Vegan Breakfast, house made soup de jour, sweet fried plantains, and Mambo potato chips & Dip, as well as other appetizing menus.

Our next stop was Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory which is a Daytona Beach tradition since 1925; Angell & Phelps Chocolates unveiled its chocolate factory in 1994 and visitors are taken on a guided tour to take in the chocolate making process.

This 80 year old family run company makes a wide selection of delicious, fresh, high quality, handmade chocolates, whether they are chewy caramels, crunchy nuts, or rich creams. In fact the sights, sounds, smells, and most importantly the tastes of delicious chocolate, will certainly overwhelm visitors. Classic assortments include chocolate covered cashews, pecans, almonds & peanuts, fruit crèmes, vanilla caramels, raspberry jellies, honeybees, pecans and caramel topped with chocolate, rocco, almond butter, crunch toffee topped with chocolate and crushed almonds and mint & chocolate crèmes. The sugar free classic assortment is very popular. It has been perfected over the years to include all of the most favored pieces of sugar free chocolate.

Chocolate assortments.

Later that morning we toured the Southeast Museum of Photography at  Daytona State College, Florida's only museum dedicated exclusively to linking past, present, and future generations of African-American artists. The Museum displays contemporary and vintage fine art, fashion, and documentary exhibitions as well as stunning modern galleries.

Among the exhibition film series is one entitled, “Double Exposure on African-Americans History of Film”. This series examines through important documentary and narrative films, discussion and guest speakers, the significant issues, events and figures that have shaped and defined African-American history.

At noon we all lunched at Cafe 101, a teaching cafe and kitchen operated by State College students. and we later toured the Museum of Arts and Sciences. This museum complex is located on the beautiful Tuscawilla preserve, a six acre site complete with nature trails, exhibits by the Center for Florida History which features a Giant Ground Sloth that once roamed the land. 

Valued pieces at the
Museum of Arts & Sciences.

The Museum of Arts and Sciences is the primary art, history and science museum in Central Florida and includes the largest permanent exhibition of Cuban art outside of Cuba. Also on display is Coca Cola entrepreneur Chapman Root's lifetime collection of Americana including two private rail cars.

Sixty Nine paintings from the largest collection of Florida-based art in existence, are now on display. From idyllic beach scenes to lush green jungles, as part of the "Reflection" Exhibition,  which highlights paintings depicting the natural beauty of the state before the great post-World War II building boom.

"Reflections" features masterworks by well-known American artists, some with international reputations, who painted in Florida. The collection subject matter includes famous landmarks and structures, such as the buildings of St. Augustine and Key West, historical portraits of native Floridians, and location-specific landscapes, including elements of weather, light, water, and land.

In the afternoon we headed for Ormond Beach, located at the northern tip of the Daytona Beach area's 23 miles of sparkling, white sandy beaches. At the turn of the century, Ormond Beach garnered the reputation as a summer playground for the rich and famous. Industrialists such as railroad magnate Henry Flagler and oil industry multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller regularly visited the area

Vintage Coca-Cola truck.

Today, Ormond Beach features attractions such as the Casements, Rockefeller's former home, the north Peninsula State Recreation Area, Tomoka State Park, a nostalgic downtown shopping and dining district, and early 20th century homes. The Daytona Complex is home of the world’s largest Harley Davidson dealership.

The city is also famous for the numerous speed records set on the hard-packed sands of Ormond Beach. Automobile racing quickly became a popular past time with inventors such as Olds, Winton, Ford, Chevrolet, Stanley, and Packard testing their machines on what was then the only reliable flat track in the United States.

Each year during Thanksgiving Day weekend, Ormond Beach hosts a multitude of events and activities geared toward racing's rich history and the American love of classic old automobiles. Highlights of the holiday weekend include a Gaslight Parade where antique beauties, modern day classics and fire engines from the 1930s cruise past rows of enchanted spectators of all ages.

Chef Drury tests our tastebuds.

Chef Love lights the Banana Foster.

We later toured Stonewood Grill &  Tavern test kitchen at Peach Valley. Chef Mike Drury prepared a special delicacy: Chocolate Bread Pudding. We followed this up with dinner at Stonewood Grill & Tavern. Menu items included oak-grilled sirloin, Filet Mignon, New York Strip, and fresh seafood such as grouper, ginger lime salmon, oak-grilled shrimp, and scallop skewers.

Stanwood is a warm, comfortable, inviting place where guests are provided an exceptional dining experience through market fresh, superior quality, oak grilled dishes prepared with passion, complemented by an extraordinary wine list and served with attention to every detail. Stonewoods's warm, comfortable atmosphere gets its inviting glow from the mahogany wood, stacked stone and earth tones throughout the restaurant.

Chef Mike Drury has been heading up culinary operations for Stonewood Grill and Peach Valley Cafe Restaurants since 1998.

photo of Chef Mike Drury with his famous Chocolate Bread Pudding

Dessert was at La Crepe en Haut, where we witnessed the experts doing what they do best. Chef Frank Love highlighted the evening with his Banana Foster demonstration: a foot high fire.

Seafood Gratine consisted of Maine lobster, shrimp, crab, artichoke hearts, and Boursin cheese, broiled with Parmesan Cheese and highlighted with Raspberry Puree.

La Crepe En Hau Restaurant is located at  Fountain Square, 142 E. Granada Blvd. Ormond Beach.

The latest Daytona 500 winner.

The next morning the team was taken to Daytona Diner, next door to the Harley Davidson dealership in downtown Daytona Beach.  Later it was time for some excitement as we toured Daytona International Speedway. Although there were no races, members of the team got a brief track tour that included a backstage look at racing with a stops in pit row, the NASCAR garages, the infield area, and Victory Lane. After the tour members enjoyed a romp through the Daytona 500 experience, which is a year around attraction.  Each member was assigned to a vehicle of their choice and took part in a race, although the vehicles were stationary but appeared to be moving at fantastic speeds.

We experienced the Speedway tour which  rolls through the famed 31 degree, high banked turns, all the way to Daytona's Gatorade Victory Lane, where the current Daytona 500 winning car was on display in the exact condition when it crossed the finish line.

Lamb served at the Cellar.

Next we took part in the Progressive Tasting Lunch at Daytona native and Orland Magic basketball star Vince Carter's new restaurant, which brings together great food and spectacular design in a welcoming "upscale-casual" dining atmosphere. Vince Carter's is located just east of Interstate 95-exit 265, at 2150 LPGA Blvd. Daytona Beach. The 10,700 square foot dining and entertainment venue serves more than 450 guests. The dining room seats 138 guests and there are patio dining for an additional 24 guests. The restaurant offers comfortable booth and table seating surrounded by art elements including a spectacular floor to ceiling water wall.

Later we made a brief stop at Martini's Chophouse for beverages and then moved on to The Cellar, located in the historic home of President Warren G. Harding for a sumptuous dinner. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Sam and Lina Moggio.  Chef Sam is a graduate of the renowned Culinary Institute of America.

Fruit platter at the Azure.

The following morning we made our way to Azure, located in the luxurious Shores & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores overlooking a pristine stretch of sandy white beach in the quiet, upscale oceanfront residential area. There are 212 guestrooms offering magnificent water views of either the Atlantic Ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway. The award winning restaurant features chef-driven, world class cuisine artfully infused with regional flavors.

The resort has been certified by the Green Lodging Program, (Florida's Department of Environmental Protection) for its commitment to conserving and protecting Florida's natural resources.

Offering three meals daily, Azure provides signature dishes using fresh, seasonal menu items and sustainable foods. Among guests' favorites are the Crab Cake Benedict for breakfast, Spanish spiced mahi mahi wrap and corn meal crusted Grouper Tacos for lunch, and dinner specials such as chicken Sausage & Gnocchi, Stone Roasted Grouper, and Porcini dusted Filet Mignon. There is also an abundance of fresh fruit and juices.

The tallest lighthouse in Florida.

Climbing the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse was a feat for most of us the next morning. The 175 foot lighthouse, the second tallest in the United States. was completed in 1887 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is one of the few light stations in the country with all the original keepers dwellings and outbuildings still intact. The Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit building continues to attract visitors.  It houses two magnificent first order Fresnel lenses, the rotating Cape Canaveral Lighthouse lens, and the Ponce Inlet lighthouse's original fixed first order lens.

With a brick foundation 12 feet deep and 45 feet wide, the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse soars up to 175 feet and is 32 feet in diameter at its base and tapers to 12 feet at the top. The brick walls are eight feet thick at the bottom and two feet thick at the top. It took one and a quarter million bricks and three years to build. Including the nine granite steps at the entrance, there are 203 steps to the gallery deck. The first beacon was a first order fixed Fresnel lens, manufactured in Paris by Barbier et Penestre and illuminated by five concentric wick kerosene lantern whose light could be seen nearly 20 miles out to sea.

Our final day activity was touring the Marine Science Center.  This afforded us the opportunity to discover, enjoy and appreciate the wonders of marine science through interactive displays and exhibits. Of special interest was the endangered and threatened sea turtle exhibit. A pavilion, located near the main facility has been converted into a turtle rehabilitation laboratory.

A huge stuffed manatee is almost life-like. There were also a sea turtle rehabilitation and bird rehabilitation exhibits, a nature trail and boardwalk, and bird observation tower. The important work being done at the center is caring for the rehabilitation of turtles, birds, and other animals.

Stuffed manatees at
The Marine Science Center.

The writers were guests of Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, at 100 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach. With 744 newly renovated guest rooms, cabanas, and suites, the Hilton also offers over 60,000 square ft of meeting space, a 189,000 square ft. Coquina Ballroom which can hold up to 2,000 guests, 29 individual meeting rooms with wireless internet access.

The Hilton family plan provides for no charge for children 18 and under when they occupy the same room as their parents. Other facilities include health club, the spa, pools, whirlpools, children's pool & playground, beach activities such as sailing, fishing, surfing,  and more. The Hilton is adjacent to Ocean Walk Shoppes and across from the Daytona Lagoon Waterpark. The Hilton remains one of the most attractive and remarkable accommodation at Daytona Beach.

— Feature and photos by Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Editor.

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