Five Best Things in DeLand, Florida
Stroll the Art-Filled DowntownDeLand is filled with museum quality art, right outdoors where you can easily enjoy it. The town is justifiably proud of its public art program. Thirteen murals tell visual stories of the town and its people with another 15 sculptures throughout the downtown. As you walk, take a moment to appreciate the Athens Theatre, built in 1921. The name came from founder Henry DeLand who saw the city as the Athens of Florida. The 1929 Historic Volusia County Courthouse is a ornate confection with fluted Corinthian columns, and the copper-clad dome. No longer a courthouse, people today come for the 27 pieces of art that grace its walls. Just down the road, Stetson University offers its own art museum. The Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center is devoted to the art of Modernist painter Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938). The Museum of Art -- DeLand offers two locations, one in the heart of downtown DeLand.
Learn DeLand's Unusual HistoryThere was life in Florida long before warm-weather seekers journeyed south. DeLand is part of Old Florida and its rich history. The area was first settled as part of the Homestead Acts that provided 160 acres of surveyed government land to anyone who would build a house and cultivate the land. After five years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear. After the Civil War, homesteaders headed to the area, and cultivated the citrus industry, covering acre after acre with orange trees. Along with the orange groves, a lumber industry was born, as the pine woods were felled for orchards.
The other way to acquire land was through outright purchase. Henry DeLand was visiting from Fairport, New York when he became entranced by the beauty and the possibilities. He envisioned a citrus, agricultural, and tourism center. He bought land, founded the town naming it after himself, and sold off parcels to other settlers.
The DeLand Museum is on part of the original land that he bought and a tour of the house and the museum yields a thorough and fascinating understanding of the man and the town.
Eat, Drink, PartyAll too often the center of a town only hosts life during the day, but DeLand is an oasis for evening enjoyment. When the sun sets, the city shows another side. Wine bars and local pubs fill with people, and the streets host folks just enjoy the evening walk.
The restaurants of DeLand are varied and delicious. TABLE restaurant in a former J C Penny is popular anytime of the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot with fresh and local ingredients and innovative perspective. The same folks own Cafe Da Vinci which, despite its name, is an outdoor live music venue and bar. There's a taco truck parked on the grounds as well. Across the street at the corner of Artisans Alley, Bake Chop is another great for casual eating. The former garage with outside seating is very popular for casual lunch and dinner featuring responsibly-sourced meats. Personally recommend Who's Wanda (even if I don't understand the origin of the name) with grilled shrimp and avocado topped with the perfect savory/sweet black bean and pineapple salsa. Dinner at De La Vega is a treat for the palate -- the thoughtful Latin fusion dishes. For casual breakfast and gourmet coffee variety try Boston Coffee House.
When you crave a beer, or a fun evening that comes with craft beer, it's the Persimmon Hollow Brewery with over a dozen to choose from. Come any time, but especially on BINGO or Trivia Night. On my visit it was BINGO and the prizes were all free beer. No cost to play, just a fun activity. Their trivia night is so popular there's often standing room only. They offer flights of four giving you an instant tasting tour of their artisan brews.
Become an AngelThe first of the Wings Over West Volusia photo-ops is in DeLand, where it all started. These white angel wings are in an alley called Persimmon Lane between Conrad building at Georgia and New York Avenue.
The phenomenon started when artist Erica Group needed to take photographs for a dress shop and found that the place with the most perfect light was a spot in the nearby alley. The problem was that backdrop was not very attractive. Her idea was to draw something pretty on a doorway to add an extra dimension to the photographs. That's when inspiration struck and Erica (with the permission of the building's owner) decided to create a set of wings, drawn in chalk. But soon the wings became a selfie spot. The chalk wings morphed into painted, still ethereal wings and today you can stand in that spot and take a selfie, or ask a friend to immortalize you.
Watch or Partake in Sky-DivingSome of us are doers eagerly jumping out of planes, while others prefer to watch as people drop out of the sky. You can do both at the DeLand Municipal Airport -- home of SkyDive DeLand. It's always open for either activity. If this is your first time, you'll skydive tandem, where you and your instructor use a parachute system built for two. If watching is more your thing, there's seating in and out of the sun. Or step up to the edge and get a much closer look (including the high-five when two friends meet on the ground). You can also watch the divers fold their chutes in the open-ended buildings for just that purpose. There's a snack bar if you get hungry.
There's also another set of wings from the Wings Over West Volusia. These are the wings of a bi-plane. Of course.
LodgingThere are all the major chains represented in DeLand as well as a buffet of B&Bs and locally owned inns. Two historic and well-located properties are the boutique Artisan Downtown and the DeLand Hotel that maintains the spirit of the 1920s with its original architecture paired with modern amenities.
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