As geeks, we’re generally more comfortable at the movies, on top of skyscrapers, visiting sci-fi conventions, and riding roller coasters than at the beach. But, having lived in Florida for so long, we’ve sort of warmed up to jumping ocean waves, searching for shells on the beach, and checking out cool little beach towns. So, I thought it would be fun to share our favorite Florida beaches and beach towns. First up on our list of Florida’s Best Beaches – Ponce Inlet.
Where is Ponce Inlet?
Ponce Inlet is located on the east coast of Central Florida, on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s just a few miles south of the famous and popular Daytona Beach, on the southern tip of a peninsula.
If you’re traveling from the attractions area of Orlando (Disney World or Universal Studios), it’ll take about an hour and a half to drive to Ponce Inlet.
Why Visit Ponce Inlet?
Ponce Inlet is a quiet residential town with gorgeous beaches and good waves for surfing and boogie boarding. There usually are fewer crowds than nearby Daytona Beach, but you’re still close to everything Daytona has to offer.
Ponce Inlet is known for being home to the tallest lighthouse in Florida, Ponce de Leon Lighthouse. It also offers a marine science center, watersports, and a few shops and restaurants. We think it’s a great beach to visit for a day.
Unlike Daytona Beach, you cannot drive on the beaches of Ponce Inlet. However, there are plenty of free public parking areas all along both sides of the main road, State Road A1A, also called South Atlantic Avenue.
Near each parking lot is a marked public access walkway to the beach. The lots on the west side of the road will require you to cross the road to get to the beach access, which is not the easiest thing to do when you’re toting beach gear and kids. So, we’ve scoped out the most awesome free parking area in town to make your visit as stress-free as possible: Winterhaven Park.
Winterhaven Park has 82 parking spaces and easy beach access without crossing the road. It also has restrooms, grills, picnic tables, and outside showers to rinse off before you head to your car. During busier times, there is a lifeguard posted on the beach near the access walkway, which makes us feel safer.
This spot is pretty popular, so arrive early (before 10:30 am) or later in the afternoon for the best chance at getting a spot, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend or during the summer. There’s no shade on the beach here, so I highly recommend bringing an umbrella or canopy and lots of sunscreen. If you forget anything, there’s a 7-11 just across the street!
If you don’t mind paying (currently $10.00 per car), just keep driving to the southern tip of Ponce Inlet where you’ll reach Lighthouse Point Park. This county park has restrooms, nature trails, and picnic tables. Dogs are allowed on a small section of the beach as long as they remain leashed. This park is also a popular fishing spot and a great place to see gopher tortoises and dolphins. While other public beach access walkways are usually open 24 hours, this park is only open from sunrise to sunset. It also occasionally opens late or closes early, so have a backup plan just in case.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum
Besides the beautiful beach with soft sand and great surf, Ponce Inlet is home to Florida’s tallest lighthouse. Ponce de Leon Lighthouse, built in 1887, is 175 feet tall with 203 spiraling steps to get to the top. For those who brave the climb, the view is gorgeous.
Besides the lighthouse, the museum complex also has the homes of the former lighthouse keepers, which have been renovated and filled with period furniture and other household items. There are other small buildings with historical displays and lots of neat old photographs. You get a really good idea of what life was like in the late 1800’s and first half of the 1900’s here, before the lighthouse was automated.
We love lighthouses and history, so we felt it was well worth the cost and time to visit. Tickets are currently $6.95 for adults and $1.95 for children. Purchase your tickets inside the cute little gift shop, which has lots of fun Florida and lighthouse-themed souvenirs.
The shop is both the entrance and exit point, so save the shopping for the end of your visit. You’ll want to have your hands free to climb the lighthouse steps. I don’t recommend the climb for very small children or anyone who is not in good health. While we were there, paramedics had to come and rescue someone who got too winded on the climb. If you’re unsure, give it a try. There are spots to rest on the way up. It really is worth it for the pretty view!
Other Things to Do in Ponce Inlet
Once you’ve had your fill of the beach and the lighthouse, be sure to check out the Marine Science Center. The entrance fees are reasonable (currently $5.00 per adult and $2.00 per child over 2 years old) for this small, but educational center. There are aquariums to view marine life native to the area, as well as a stingray touch pool. The center is home to two rehabilitation hospitals, where staff and volunteers rescue and nurse sick and injured sea turtles and birds back to health. The center also has nature trails and small tower to climb and view the nearby lighthouse.
If you want to do something more active, check out Ponce Inlet Watersports for a variety of different activities. They offer stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals. They also offer fishing charters, parasailing, and eco tours.
Where to Eat in Ponce Inlet
Because Ponce Inlet is more of a residential area than a touristy beach town, the dining options are a bit limited. You’ll find lots of restaurant choices if you drive 15-20 minutes north towards Daytona Beach. But, if you’re like us and just want to grab something near the beach, at a restaurant where they don’t care if you’re wet and sandy, then here are a few options.
Down The Hatch Seafood Restaurant is located on the edge of the Halifax River, walking distance from the lighthouse. There is seating inside and outside. Outside seating is more bar-like and there is often musical entertainment. With our little one, we usually choose to sit inside. If it’s not too busy, they always give us a great table by a window so we can watch the birds and boats sail by on the river. Sometimes we even see manatees swimming nearby!
The menu includes lots of seafood, burgers, salads, pasta, and sandwiches. There’s also kid’s menu with a few options. It’s not the best seafood you’ll ever eat. But, the view is fantastic, the service is good, and the air conditioning is cold.
If you or your kids really want pizza or pasta, check out Jerry’s Pizzeria Tiki Bar and Grill, which is tucked away off the main road. There’s both inside and outside seating, and sometimes live musical entertainment outside at the tiki bar.
If you’re visiting Ponce Inlet with a pet and want seafood or burgers, check out the nearby Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill, which has a pet-friendly deck.
Have you been to Ponce Inlet? What was your favorite thing about it? Let me know in the comments!
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