As there are no direct flights to the Oldest City in the U.S. from Los Angeles, I flew into Orlando, rented a Tesla and drove the two-and-a-half hours. On the way, we did something I always say I’m going to do, but rarely ever do: we spontaneously stopped in a town because of a sign on the highway that sounded interesting.
The sign read, “Historic Downtown DeLand Garden District.” We had time and although I’d lived in northeastern Florida for four years, I’d never been to DeLand. A random Friday morning after a red-eye seemed the perfect time.
We entered the garden district into our phone and wound up on a dead end street next to some old homes. Confused, we backed out and were about to give up when we stumbled into the historic downtown area full of coffee shops, bookstores, and an assortment of other small businesses, but devoid of any major brands. Hallelujah.
The weather was positively Los Angeles. Clear skies and about twenty-four degrees celsius (I’m trying the metric thing, forgive me Imperialists). We parked in front of a beautiful brick building housing, The Athens Theatre, which promised many live shows for its post-pandemic re-opening, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Absolute Queen, evidently a Queen cover band.
We ventured down finely paved streets to see the seat of government for Volusia County. The whole of the downtown area had a very charming vibe with brick buildings, fountains, the aforementioned coffee shops and various businesses from retail to insurance to veterinarians.
After walking for half-an-hour, we determined to enter a coffee house / wine and beer bar called Sidecar. Initially, I thought it was the same as the doughnut shops here in Los Angeles, but after speaking to the owners about their lack of doughnuts, I realized it was a local business with no affiliation. In addition to coffee, muffins, beer and wine, the shop had the most beautiful bathroom (I consider the pride with which a business keeps its bathroom an indication of the overall state of the business) I’ve seen in a business in years.
Sidecar also had vintage furniture, soaps, lamps, and glasses, amongst other vintage items for sale on the large floor. Ms. Marvelous and I wound up purchasing a bunch of vintage glassware as we are currently down to our last glass in our mid-century modern style and had been looking for replacements. We bought some other gift-type things for people in our lives as we drank our delicious local coffee (well, from Gainesville, home of the Florida Gators).
We continued to wander around into various shops, buying gifts for my mother and reading the local paper in another coffee shop where I ate a bagel. I asked the local shopkeepers for more information on the town (a top downtown area in the U.S. according to some magazines) and for their troubles around Hurricane Ian a few weeks earlier. Ms. Marvelous, a California woman, is always amazed by the hospitality and the “sir / ma’am” of Southerners.
We sighed and admitted that (a) we must return to DeLand on subsequent trips, and (b) we must also get to St. Augustine, as we only had through Monday to accomplish many tasks before returning to California.