Daytona Beach vs. Clearwater Beach

Daytona Beach might be an obvious beach choice for many, but against Clearwater Beach? You may just have a change of heart. Where Daytona Beach & Clearwater Beach differ in most is the beach experience. Daytona, like most Atlantic coast beaches, has waves perfect for surfing and boogie boarding. Whereas in Clearwater Beach, the water is calmer and warmer. But that’s only skimming the surface, and there’s more you’ll learn about each beach destination in this guide.
Daytona Beach vs. Clearwater Beach

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Daytona Beach vs Clearwater Beach, which is better? As someone who’s been to both, the answer depends on two questions:

Do you enjoy a built-up city beach with a lot of activities? Or do you prefer a more unspoiled beach with white sand and fewer crowds?

Both Clearwater and Daytona Beach have their pros and cons. And while both are worth visiting, there are important differences to note. Especially when you’re comparing Gulf Coast beaches to Atlantic beaches.

Not to mention, your travel personality also plays a huge role. Are you the adventurous type? Enjoy the nightlife scene? Prefer a sounder and more casual atmosphere? What kind of accommodations are you looking for?

All these matter. In fact, Daytona Beach has a different sunset experience compared to Clearwater Beach. This matters for some, especially since both are popular options for beach destination weddings too.

Now, don’t worry. By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly which beach destination suits your vacation preferences most.

Daytona Beach

Without question, Daytona Beach is probably a place you already know about. Because after all, Daytona Beach is synonymous with the sport that’s been around for decades: NASCAR.

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And Daytona Beach happens to host the iconic Daytona 500 NASCAR race every year. Most popular for its Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach attracts sports fans from all over.

However, NASCAR races are just the beginning.

For beach lovers and sunseekers, Daytona Beach boasts a mammoth-sized coastline. 23 miles (37 km) to be exact. Along this massive coastline, you’ll find dozens of resorts, restaurants, and shops lined up.

Want direct beach access during your stay? That’s not hard to find at all in this city. But what’s even more interesting about Daytona Beach is being able to drive on it. This in itself is a unique experience worth trying at least once in your lifetime.

Moving past beaches and thrill-seeking iconic races, the city is also famous for its Daytona Beach Pier. Here, romantic couples and vacationers looking for a solemn time will enjoy the sunset and laid-back vibes. Plus, there’s a lot of family-filled entertainment around the area.

For an even more romantic vacation, Daytona Beach Shores is a popular choice for honeymooners. And if ever you want a break from the city’s lively atmosphere, head to Ormond Beach for a quieter, peaceful option.

Daytona Beach may very well be an upbeat, urban city. But you’d be surprised to know the city also offers gentler alternatives. Whether it’s lounging on soft sand or staying by the pier, having a cold beer, and listening to the sound of crashing waves.

Of course, you’re always welcome to do any of Daytona Beach’s water sports activities. Surfing, parasailing, kayaking, and for inland adventure, there are mini-golf courses too.

All in all, Daytona Beach might just seem like a crowded and loud city. But once you look past that, there are a ton of gems worth experiencing around the city.

What Makes Daytona Beach Unique

Daytona International Speedway

This might seem quite obvious but still worth mentioning. After all, bucket list experiences don’t come as often as they do. And for petrolheads and any motorsport fan, it surely pays to visit the Daytona International Speedway.

This is where race car legends are born. It’s also where some of the most famous races in the world ever happened, the Daytona 500.

But as far as legends and history go, families and even kids will enjoy this legendary landmark. There are daily 30-minute tours starting from 9:30 am to 3 pm. Those looking for a thrill should sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

The experience allows you to drive a real race car on the track and up to 30 laps total. Or, you can experience the 160-mph thrill (257.5 kph) of it all by riding as a passenger. But why pass up the chance to drive a race car on an iconic speedway, right?

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

When people talk about Daytona Beach, they mostly attribute it to either the Daytona Speedway or its beaches. If not that, then it’s Spring break party experiences and bars to explore.

However, there are a few attractions that deserve praise and special mention. Plus, if you’re looking for a break or change of pace, this one attraction is perfect for that kind of occasion.

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is Florida’s 2nd tallest lighthouse. It’s only a 20-minute scenic drive south of Daytona Beach. At a glance and especially at night, Ponce de Leon is an absolute stunner. A fine piece of work preserved beautifully. The same way an artist would treat his/her finest artwork.

That being said, tourists don’t just get to appreciate Ponce de Leon’s architectural design. Its grand stature as a historical landmark goes beyond that. Specifically, inside the tower itself.

For a small price (about USD 6.95), you can climb the 203 steps to get to the top of the lighthouse. Sounds like a lot? If that worries you, just know that 200 steps are below the average daily steps most walk in a day. So, 203 steps should be a breeze.

And the best part of it all is being able to reach the top and get a bird’s-eye view of the entire city. While photo opportunities are a must, it’s also a good opportunity to unwind and slow down. Even more so to recharge and simply take all the sights in.

Should you find yourself in need of a place to get away from it all, Ponce de Leon is the place to be.

A Getaway for Families & Kids

Daytona Beach’s 23-mile (37 km) coastline isn’t the only family-oriented spot in the city. For families traveling with kids, there’s plenty to keep the little ones entertained aside from splashing waves. There are museums, baseball parks, water parks, arcades, and even chocolate factories.

And what could be sweeter than a free chocolate factory tour with samples to enjoy? The Angel and Phelps Chocolate Factory has been educating tourists on how to make chocolate for decades. A must-stop for kids, and undoubtedly for sweet tooths, learning all about chocolate is a fun-filled family activity.

It’s not the only one, though.

Kids that prefer a more active time during their stay will enjoy Daytona Lagoon. The name already gives a hint of what it is: a water park. But in truth, it’s only part water park because it’s also part arcade.

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Looking for outdoor recreation? A family activity where you can cool off and chill together? Do it at any of the lazy rivers and water slides available at the park. Even better, there’s also laser tag, arcade games, a bumper car area, and a go-kart track. If you’re feeling competitive, you may want to start with the laser tag arena.

Moving onto mellower family activities, you also have the Museum of Arts & Sciences. Speaking of science, you may also want to check out the Marine Science Center.

At the Museum of Arts & Sciences, there are laser shows and seminars for the little ones to enjoy. What’s also interesting is that the art exhibitions rotate frequently. So, whatever you saw during your trip may be a different piece of art the next time you visit.

Also, if you feel like crunching in light exercise throughout your trip, the museum’s art gallery offers yoga classes. The yoga classes take place every Wednesday night.

As for the Marine Science Center, you’ll find a good variety of wildlife here. For animal & bird lovers, you’ll definitely want to add this to your itinerary. You can get up and close with stingrays, spot wildlife along the nature trail, or go bird-watching.

It’s also worth mentioning that Marine Science is also home to sea turtle and bird rehabilitation centers. Since 2002, the Marine Science Center has been able to nurse 200+ animals back to health. This also includes taking in and caring for at least 18,000 injured birds.

Daytona Beach Boardwalk

Beach life doesn’t end on Daytona Beach’s beach. At the heart of it all sits Daytona Beach’s bustling hub of entertainment: the Daytona Beach Boardwalk.

Day or night, and rain or shine, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk always has something for you to do. Whether it’s seeing a concert, a panoramic escape at the Ferris wheel, or a reminiscent time at the arcade.

The Daytona Beach Boardwalk is nearly similar to the boardwalk you’d find in New York. And as a given, you’re bound to find boardwalk favorites here. From hotdog stands and trendy cafes to souvenir shops selling every beach item you could think of. The boardwalk also offers a wealth of eateries, both indoor and outdoor.

That said, the boardwalk at Daytona Beach isn’t the only avenue worth exploring.

Just a few steps away from the boardwalk is another one of the city’s main highlights: Daytona Pier. Up for a relaxing stroll around the city? This is the place to be. Don’t miss out on the amazing seafood here either. While grabbing a bite, enjoying the oceanfront view is an expected perk of being able to dine at the Daytona Pier.

And of course, the Daytona Pier also happens to be the one place for a great sunset selfie. Or spotting dolphins and seabirds. Head east of the pier if you want to grab a fishing opportunity. Alternatively, there’s also the Sunglow Pier if you want more options.

All in all, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk & Pier combined make for a stellar time in the city. Whether it’s with friends, family, or even if you’re traveling solo. Come nightfall and both the boardwalk and pier are even more beautiful.

Clearwater Beach

Calm waters and sugar-soft white sand make Clearwater Beach a constant appeal to families. And even Spring breakers, honeymooners, solo travelers, and of course, beach lovers.

Clearwater Beach has consistently ranked as one of the world’s best beaches. And in 2019, it was even hailed as Tripadvisor’s #1 Beach in the US. In addition, more than 70% of Clearwater Beach’s reviews online say this sun-drenched spot is excellent. The soft white sand is indeed a trademark that tourists immediately fall in love with.

For sunseekers, Clearwater Beach couldn’t be any more than a beach paradise. Any day under the sun is perfect in this city. You might even spot a pod of dolphins while you’re enjoying those waves.

Given its beach fame, it should come as no surprise then its coastline is fairly packed during the holidays. But thankfully, there’s still loads more to do besides lounging and enjoying the beach.

A few worth mentioning include Pier 60, the Aspirations Winery, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Pier 60 is where most gravitate towards. The palm-lined landmark offers an inviting atmosphere for families, couples, and all travelers.

Not to mention, Pier 60 is where you catch live street performances and the most spectacular sunset views. Golden, bright-orange sunsets are what Clearwater Beach is famous for, and it’s a must-see for all.

Those seeking a quieter experience will also find it in Clearwater Beach. Or rather, a short boat ride away to Caladesi Island. This unspoiled beach haven is worth it if you mean to ditch and avoid loud beach bar scenes. Or if you’re simply looking for a romantic escapade.

Altogether, Clearwater Beach isn’t a destination to visit only once. Breathtaking sunsets, an iconic pier, and beaches meant for you to lay in the sand all day. This all-rounder beach destination is perfect for any and all.

What Makes Clearwater Beach Unique?

A Place Full of Can’t-Miss Beaches

Having consistently ranked as the #1 beach in the US, there’s no denying its beaches are immaculate. Want proof? Read the reviews online. You won’t see anyone say anything bad about its beaches.

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But while postcard-perfect qualities are part of Clearwater Beach’s charm, it’s certainly not the only one. One of the biggest reasons why Clearwater Beach holds the no.1 spot for beaches in the US is also due to its sugar-soft sand.

Imagine that for just a second.

Digging your toes into cool, soft sand. It literally feels like you’re walking on powdered sugar. You could even walk the entire coastline barefoot back and forth without the worry of hurting your feet. What’s more, you’ll enjoy it so much that you might as well do it every day.

Ever wonder why Clearwater Beach’s sand is this soft? As the story goes, the sand actually comes from the Appalachian Mountains. Apparently, these soft & fine quartz crystals were washed down into the Gulf of Mexico. Then, these were swept onto the shores of Clearwater Beach. Nature really does have a way of making the world beautiful.

But wait – because it gets even better.

Although Clearwater Beach is a beach haven of its own, there are several beaches that also boast sugar-sand softness. There’s Sand Key Park, a hidden slice of beach paradise perfect for beach & nature lovers.

Sand Key Park has everything you could hope for in a beach vacation, minus the crowds. Plus, it has a salt marsh area full of bird-watching opportunities.

Another can’t-miss beach is a short ferry ride away from Clearwater: Caladesi Island. If you thought Clearwater Beach was beautiful, Caladesi Island is even more gorgeous. Enough to make you wonder how you never heard of such a pristine beach gem.

Lastly, for those craving a secluded beach stay, visit Honeymoon Island. With miles of undeveloped beaches here, it’s easy to find yourself attached to this state park. On that note, it happens to be the most visited state park in Florida. But don’t worry, Honeymoon Island is only crowded during the weekends. On weekdays, you can have this virgin island all to yourself.

Family-Friendly Attractions & Beach Bars Aplenty

There’s a reason why Clearwater Beach appeals to so many families every year. For starters, did you know Clearwater Beach was built on the idea of being easily accessible to pedestrians?

This means Clearwater is easy to access no matter where you’re coming from. And regardless of the mode of transport you take. Be it by car, water taxi, trolley, or simply walking.

Second, Clearwater Beach offers families several fun-filled attractions daily. And one of the most loved of all is the nightly sunset celebrations that take place in Pier 60. Every night, the pier hosts live music, street performances, and shops that cater to providing entertainment for guests.

Not to mention, the city’s Sunset Summer series is a huge hit for families too. Throughout the year, Clearwater Beach shows free outdoor movies every weekend. There’s no doubt even the kids will love this experience.

And finally, the city is home to several attractions even the little ones would love to see a second time. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Busch Gardens are two of the most popular. Dolphin cruises and tours are also one of the best family-friendly activities sure to make your kids giggle.

If you’re traveling with young adults, you’ll find a wealth of beach bars in the area. Shepard’s Tiki Beach Bar is a spring break favorite, thanks to its live performances and amazing music. For a mix of cold brews and great sunset views, Jimmy Crow’s Nest stands unrivaled.

And for serious beer drinkers, Big Storm Brewing Co. offers a variety of IPAs, ales, stouts, and lagers. But if your partner or friends enjoy a glass of wine, be sure to check out Clearwater Social Brew and Cork.

Accommodations That Fit Every Traveler’s Style

Clearwater Beach has no shortage of accommodations to rest your head. Beachfront options are a go-to for many, seeing as how you’re literally a few steps away from sugar-soft sand.

But even without direct beach access, Clearwater Beach offers options suited to every traveler. There are apartment-style homes with kitchen amenities so you can cook your own meals. For those on a budget, you can go for cute cottages or motels and still feel like you’re living the beach dream. Some even come with a shared party deck and hot tub.

In fact, you can rent an inexpensive cabana that’s situated right on the beach. Plus, you’ll have close access to various shops and restaurants.

That being said, luxurious resorts are accommodations worth splurging for in Clearwater Beach. Most of which are perched right on the sand. What’s more, you have walking-distance access to Pier 60, one of Clearwater Beach’s best attractions. But the real draw is the exclusive amenities these luxurious resorts offer.

Some come with beachside firepits and private beaches for total seclusion and respite. Others have their own kid’s club and a zero-entry lagoon pool. And some even offer every beach outdoor activity under the sun. Whether that’s volleyball, parasailing, jet skiing, tennis, and more.

Sandpearl, Sheraton Sand Key, and Hilton Clearwater are a few of the most mentioned luxury resorts. However, Opal Sands, Palm Pavilion Inn, and Hyatt Clearwater Beach are all just as impressive.

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Islands & Parks Perfect for Those Seeking a Private Retreat

Sand Key Park, Caladesi Island, and Honeymoon Island are all fantastic options if you’re after downtime. As mentioned earlier, these islands or beaches are slices of beach paradise perfect to visit any time of the day.

But if you want to get away from the beach and want a nature setting, Clearwater has those too. The Moccasin Lake Nature Park and Cliff Stephens Park are both massive open-air green spaces.

Moccasin is home to peaceful creeks & lakes, forests of oak trees, and dreamy nature trails. It’s one of the dreamiest places to be for anyone that wants a private nature retreat. Not to mention, there are easy hiking trails here too. Or, you can try a slightly more challenging trail that leads to an excellent view of the city.

Cliff Stephens Park is truly a place for those that want to fully immerse in nature. Additionally, the park has several hiking and biking trails if you’re up for an inland adventure. This includes fishing, inline skating, paddle boarding, and Frisbee golfing.

Whether you choose Cliff Stephens Park or Moccasin Lake Nature Park, both will give you what you’re in need of.

Then again, islands like Honeymoon Island and Caladesi literally scream remoteness and seclusion. Visiting Honeymoon Island, for example on weekdays, is the best time. Mainly because you’ll have most of the island to yourself. Sure, you might see a few people, but it’s nowhere near what a crowded beach looks like.

Which Is Better – Daytona Beach or Clearwater Beach?

Daytona Beach is somewhat of a city beach, while Clearwater Beach leans more as a natural beach. However, between the two, Clearwater Beach is an all-around beach vacation.

Daytona Beach offers unique experiences, no doubt. The Daytona International Speedway is one example of that fact. Plus, being able to drive on the beach is a bucket-list-worthy experience.

Its top attractions are the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Daytona Beach Pier. Both of which offer tourists a bustling atmosphere of fun-filled entertainment. Just strolling around the area already makes the trip a worthwhile experience.

Being a popular go-to beach for many for decades, it’s no wonder Daytona Beach seems like an obvious choice.

That said, Clearwater Beach is not without its charms and appeal. Not to mention, it has more than what Daytona Beach offers.

Daytona Beach wins in terms of beach variety, seeing as its coastline is 23 miles (37 km) long. Clearwater Beach, on the other hand, reaches up to about 4 miles (6.4 km) only. But where Clearwater dominates over Daytona is not in size, but rather, in quality.

Sugar-soft white sand, barefoot-friendly, and an immaculate beach spirit. These qualities easily make Clearwater rank over Daytona when it comes to pristine, unspoiled beach finds. Speaking of unspoiled finds, Clearwater also has more options for those in need of serious downtime. Moccasin and Cliff Stephens are prime examples of that fact.

In addition, Clearwater Beach offers more accommodation variety be it hotels, hostels, or resorts. You’ll even find more activities for both in Clearwater Beach for the little ones & young adults.

Some also prefer the calmer, warmer waters of Clearwater. While others prefer Daytona because it has more waves and it’s more fun to play in.

At the end of the day, you should consider visiting both Clearwater and Daytona Beach. Both are fantastic options for beach vacations. But if you had to choose which one to visit first, Clearwater Beach wins hands down.

FAQ

Is Daytona Beach Near Clearwater Beach?

Daytona Beach is quite near Clearwater Beach. The distance between the two destinations is 161 miles or 259 kilometers. If you drive nonstop from Daytona to Clearwater Beach, it takes about 2 hours and 41 minutes.

Clearwater Beach to Daytona Beach

The best way to get to Daytona Beach from Clearwater Beach is via car. It’s also the most popular option that tourists take since it only takes less than a 3-hour drive. If you want to include sightseeing along the way, you can do so as well.

With regard to buses and trains, there are no available transport services from Clearwater to Daytona Beach. What you’ll find online is taking a train/bus from Tampa to Daytona Beach.

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