Travel: It’s Hard Not To Rock In Daytona
One of the coolest spots to spend your Daytona Beach vacation.
Hard Rock Hotel opened its Daytona Beach location in the spring of 2018, but not to be outdone, the head office just carried out a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation of the 200-room beachside resort.
When I pulled up to the hotel for a stay a few weeks ago, it was essentially a monsoon outside. Water was falling harder than I did that one time I tried curling. I kept looking for random bros and college students to get washed down the street puffing on their vapes and sitting on giant unicorn floats, but I settled for the view of random palm leaves and Big Gulp cups instead.
The self-parking lot was across the street in the aforementioned hurricane so I opted for the valet so I didn’t mess up my hair, threw my keys at the startled middle-aged woman with the functional top bun and sun-baked cheeks, and sashayed into check-in, which was easy and breezy thanks to the help of the (allegedly) Russian model man at the front desk.
The remodeled foyer is bedecked with everything you’d expect from the Hard Rock brand, including a be-glittered mural by Orlando-based artist Andrew Spear, a disco ball limousine that Madonna partied in on the way to the 43rd Grammy Awards, vintage outfits, and a dangling sculpture made from old vinyl records. The whole thing seemed very Miami and smelled like money. I loved it. There was even a big display case of mermaid tails from Bette Midler’s Las Vegas residency at Caesar’s Palace, which made it just gay enough for me to feel comfortable and not so gay that families were hiding in their rooms or to make husbands wear t-shirts in the pool so I wouldn’t look at them too long. Goldilocks Gay, the perfect middle.
The guestrooms have all been redone and my seventh-floor suite was just what the doctor ordered. Well, just what the PR person ordered, anyway. There was even a massive photo of one of the Jonas brothers over the bed with his arms outstretched, like he was welcoming me on behalf of the hotel.
It was the one married to Priyanka Chopra, not the one married to Sansa Stark.
The view of the ocean from the private balcony was almost completely uninterrupted. Now it was time to head to the bar for a drink.
Sessions is the name of the onsite restaurant which also features a bar area overlooking the pool deck. I was a lone single male, so I decided not to sit by myself in line of the pool in case someone thought I was creepy and stayed inside at a two-top where people would just feel like I got stood up by a handsome date who was probably too good for me. The food was simple, fun, and fresh and had me flashbacking to the days when I used to serve tables at Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios with items like bacon and blue cheese-covered tater tots and grilled Mahi sandwiches.
It was simultaneously comforting and nostalgic, and had me tipping the servers a bit too much, and trying to choke back the words, “It’s cool, I used to serve too.” Because that’s condescending and I’m better than that. The hotel has 24-hour in-room dining too, so I just did some small poke apps and things at the bar to let people think I don’t eat that much and then I gorged on room service later when nobody could gasp at how fast I eat a burger. For the record, it’s really fast and a bit dangerous.
The hotel has added a few fun amenities since the renovations to keep people occupied and on-property, which I should mention. Their “The Sound of Your Stay” program lets you check out a vinyl record player and records to set the mood in your suite and they even have Fender guitars you can check out and practice with in your room. I found out about the latter because there was a sexy guy in the room next to mine who kept strumming on his guitar on the patio. Shirtless. He wasn’t that great at it, but gurl, he looked the part and it made me want to order another burger.
The revamped Roxity Youth Club on the bottom floor of the hotel is a fun spot to send your kids if they don’t do sun that well. It’s full of arcade games and sportsball things to keep them occupied and out of your hair while you finish your margarita at the bar, and it’s meant for kids of all ages.
There was even a rooftop concert area that featured performances on the Friday and Saturday nights I was there. The bands were fun and edgy and even had some Daytona Beach grit to them that I appreciated and didn’t really expect to see at a hotel venue. And they well, really rocked it out for everyone in attendance. The vibe with the outdoor bar, the concerts, and the pool deck really made the resort the coolest kid on the block, as far as I could see. I even caught a few forlorn-looking guests at adjacent properties gazing up at all the fun we were having without them.
There are two pools and an oversized hot tub available outside, and one of them is even shaped like a guitar. Because, Hard Rock. They have plenty of seating outside and an outdoor shower, as well as some private lounge seating with covers if you want to feel bougie or have an Instagrammable place to keep your beach bag. If you prefer your swimming with more salt, you can just pop down to the private beachside via the ramp at the back of the pool area and tip-toe to the surf in just a few seconds. Large pier-like pillars obstruct cars from being able to drive by, so you really only need to worry about the beach patrol running you over, if you want to spend your day in the sand instead of by the pool.
Stuff to Do
Daytona Beach proper is, as most know, quite the party town. You can throw a beer coaster and hit anything from a college student dance hall to a leather-clad biker bar. But outside of the downtown touristy peanut butter center are a slew of random side quests just waiting to be unlocked.
The Holly Hill Gnome Tree
While some locals may just refer to this as “a dumb old tree that a crazy lady puts gnome crap on,” I would refer to it as a shrine to whimsy, in a town that could use a little pixie dust. The tree is located along the Halifax River and was started by Virginia and Dewey Morris in 2003. Now people bring little gnomes to add to the ever-growing collection and any little notes and letters that are brought to the gnomes are then brought to the Holly Hill History Museum where they are logged and stored.
For some unknown reason, Daytona Beach residents have chosen to express themselves through their mailboxes. All along State Road A1A, mailboxes have become not only valuable roadside landmarks and wayfinding devices for vacationers trying to find their Airbnb and summer rentals, but testaments to residents who have made it through hurricanes and natural disasters. They scream “we made it through,” or “still here,” just by existing curbside and the bulk of them are weird and colloquial declarations of status and sticktoitiveness. Rent a golf cart from the front of Hard Rock Hotel and take a spin. You won’t be sorry.
Brownie the Dog’s Tombstone
Okay, so there are in fact two historic dog figures in Daytona’s past named Brownie, but the one I went to find was Brownie the Post Office Dog, who was laid to rest at the beautiful post office building back in 1970. Brownie used to sleep on the mail bags and help the mailmen deliver mail all over the area before he passed away and they buried him at the post office with an adorable little grave.
Ruins of Bongoland
On the outskirts of town, in the ruins of an old plantation and sugar mill, you’ll find the failed attempt to make a 1940’s amusement park called Bongoland. It lasted for four years and you can’t find much evidence of it other than a series of horrific hand-sculpted cement dinosaurs that are so ugly they’re beautiful. The sugar mill itself has an interesting story, as Seminoles successfully drove the plantation operators out of the area during the Seminole Wars.
Statue of Invincible Chief Tomokie
Local artist Fred Dana Marsh erected this 45-foot sculpture of legendary Timucuan Chief Tomokie in the beautifully derelict Tomoka State Park. On the very tip of the park, you’ll find the chief standing atop a little mountain scene, tipping over a “sacred drink cup” and pouring its surprising amount of water down a cliff. Apparently, the scene was just a weird fantasy story that Marsh came up with, but the idea of a local tribe having a sacred chalice sounds very Indiana Jones to me and I’m here for it. I saw a gopher tortoise there too, so it’s clearly a magical place.