It’s been known for fun, spring break mayhem, sun-tastic beaches, hot bodies, and—for those old enough to remember—it’s “where the boys are.”
Today, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, still offers all of that and more, especially if you go where the locals go.
So step off the brochure and onto the side streets of sunny southern Florida with our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Fort Lauderdale, FL …
BEAUTY AND THE BEACH
Unlike single-beach cities, Fort Lauderdale claims eight distinct beaches, each one encompassed by a small community: shops, sights and eateries. Even better, several area beaches have been designated with Blue Wave distinction for their principles of cleanliness, sustainability and safety.
Of course, spending your time in Fort Lauderdale sunning and surfing is about as on the brochure as you can get, but do you know which beach you should be lounging on? Each one has its own unique attribute or activities:
Dania Beach – The 987-foot fishing pier is one of the great landmarks for this beach. Fishing here is an obvious focal point, but the pier is a great place for families to eat summer-fun foods, and watch the fishermen at work. Picnics, shore dives, canoeing, nature walks, and numerous other outdoor activities are available around Dania Beach at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park.
Deerfield Beach – Ski Rixen in Deerfield Beach is the only operating cable wakeboarding park in South Florida, and one of only 79 in the world. Cable wakeboarding is wakeboarding via an overhead cable ski system without the boat. Picture a series of points–towers–set up around a lake. The cable rotates along the points and off each cable are the carriers, which is where the ski ropes are attached that transport the individual around the small lake area. Traditional wakeboarding and waterskiing are also available here for old-school water lovers.
Hallandale Beach – It’s hard to miss this one: its icon is a beach ball-painted water tower that’s visible from afar. Once a hunting ground for Seminole Indians and then an 18th-century farming community, Hallandale now known of its indoor as well as outdoor entertainment. So if you’re feeling all sunshined out, head straight to the Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino and the Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center. You’ll feel as if you’re in Vegas without all the sin.
Hillsboro Beach – The town is on a small peninsula north of Pompano Beach. The famous 142-foot Hillsboro Lighthouse, shaped like an octagonal pyramid, boasts 5.5 million candlepower. Nearby, the Barefoot Mailman bronze statue honors the carriers that walked barefoot on the hard sand; their route was approximately 68 miles long—28 miles by small boat and 40 on foot along the beach. The history, views of yachts, and turtle nesting also draw visitors to Hillsboro Beach.
Hollywood Beach – If you’re looking for the Fort Lauderdale of the postcards, head to the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. With two miles of outdoor space, you’ll be surrounded by locals and visitors walking, cycling, rollerblading, and even doing tai chi while facing the sea.
Lauderdale-By-the-Sea – The SS Copenhagen was a 19th-century cargo steamer that struck a coral reef and sank off the shores of this seaside community. Today, it is an archaeological underwater preserve and the town offers a Shipwreck Snorkel Trail, which includes an anchor, five concrete cannons and a ballast pile.
Pompano Beach – Pompano is part of Florida’s famed Gold Coast, which is comprised of more than 65 miles of Atlantic shoreline between Palm Beach and Miami. The Pompano Beach Air Park offers easy access to fishing, scuba diving, and boating. It is also the home of the Goodyear Blimp, Stars & Stripes. Another neat designation is Pompano Beach’s inclusion in the Internet Coast, a collection of high-tech businesses located in the tri-county region.
Fort Lauderdale Beach – Visitors can experience a typical Fort Lauderdale kind of day at this beach. Boutiques, sidewalk cafes, waterways, spas, and plenty of major events make Fort Lauderdale Beach a year-round destination. In addition to just enjoying the atmosphere and sea are a multitude of activities— boating, wind surfing, jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and rollerblading.
BEYOND THE BEACHES
If you want to get away from the gondolas and waterboats, spend some time wandering Fort Lauderale’s plentiful art galleries and cultural exhibits:
Francisco Sheuat, resident artist and co-owner with Ric Antey of ART Expressions, selects local artists to showcase their works on a rotating basis. Almost 50 artists display their work at the gallery, which is approximately 1,200 square feet of showroom space, with a studio in the back where Sheuat creates his own art. The work featured runs the gamut from modern to abstract, photograph, sculptures, ceramic, and glass, all created by artists living and working in South Florida. Don’t miss the gallery’s monthly wine and cheese receptions where you can meet and greet featured artists. 954-537-9000, www.artexpressions.tk
The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is just what its name implies—a one-stop shop for art and culture lovers. Current exhibitions include: paintings based upon iconic religious figures, symbols and anatomical studies; a collection that incorporates Avon bottles circa 1970; and even dog-themed artwork. Right now, the center is seeking gently used LEGOS for an upcoming exhibit’s hands-on activity area (summer 2010 return engagement by artist Nathan Sawaya). Free Family Day events are also available, with upcoming performances scheduled for Japanese storytelling through magical masks, mime, and music and an African Dance ensemble of dancing and drumming. 954-921-3274, https://artandculturecenter.org/visual-arts
If you’re into fish, there’s even a museum specific to your interest. The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum is a celebration of all things fishing. With funky experiences ranging from interactive exhibits to the Tackle Box Theater to children’s workshops, it may even pique the interest of the non-angler crowd. 954-922-4212, www.igfa.org
Acclaimed artist Wyland, also known for his support of conservation programs, has showcased his work globally through the Wyland Foundation Whaling Wall murals. The Wyland Foundation’s mission has a primary focus on promoting awareness of preserving and protecting marine life through education and public art. The Whaling Wall Murals are painted in life-size dimensions and the Foundation’s mural projects can be found in more than 70 cities throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Japan. North Lauderdale is the site of the WW99, entitled Water for Life. It is 1,000 feet long and 10 feet high and includes a depiction of the beloved manatee, dolphin, and more. www.wylandfoundation.org/
MAN-MADE AND NATURE-MADE FUN
Gaming opportunities are numerous in Fort Lauderdale and we’re talking more than just casinos. Take in a jai-alai game, named by Guinness World Records as the world’s fastest ballgame—this Basque game is certainly all about fast action, with speeds up to 188 mph. Dania Jai-Alai first opened its doors 55 years ago and was the second jai-alai arena built in the United States. And yes, betting on games is legal. 954-927-2841, www.dania-jai-alai.com
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is a treat for visitors who appreciate history, art, and the outdoors (photo from Bonnet House). Bonnet House is situated on 35 acres of a barrier island. Five ecosystems comprise the habitat surrounding the property: Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a fresh water slough, the secondary dune which includes the house site, mangrove wetlands, and a maritime forest. Enjoy the architecture and bonnet lilies, hibiscus, and an incredible orchid collection. 954-563-5393, www.bonnethouse.org
Shopping ranges from budget to upscale in Fort Lauderdale, and of course window-shopping is always free. Malls aside, the area has its share of unusual, including the Swap Shop, an indoor flea market that has features a 14-screen drive-in theater. 954-791-4791, www.floridaswapshop.com
While it’s smart to avoid conventional malls when on vacation, the Festival Flea Market Mall in Pompano Beach features more than 500 shops in a combination of indoor and outdoor quarter-mile space. Shop for craft items, tobacco products, tools, jewelry, toys, and more. 800-353-2627, www.festival.com
DINING OUT WITH FLORIDIANS
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine serves traditional cuisine in a number of locations. The Vilarino family came to the U.S. on the Mariel boatlift in 1980; with the help of their five daughters the family put down roots in the U.S., and opened their first restaurant in 1984. A few years and a restaurant empire later, the family’s Cuban cuisine continues to be loved by locals and visitors alike. Don’t miss the mariquitas—green plantains thinly sliced and fried, topped with a mojito sauce. Best of all, dining here is a bargain. www.lasvegascubancuisine.com
A departure from meaty meals is the vegetarian and vegan-focused food at Sublime. Owner Nanci Alexander founded the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and Sublime is her culinary contribution to reduce animal cruelty. Notably impressive is that 100 percent of Sublime’s profits will go to organizations that promote animal welfare and a vegan lifestyle. While cholesterol-free, organic, and vegan may not exactly whet the appetite, give it a chance and try the frito misto, crispy cauliflower and sweet chili sauce or the sushi, particularly the Florasian—tempura avocado with Vegennaise, mango and toasted coconut. 954-539-9000, www.sublimeveg.com
Cool breezes, patio bars, and conga are just a few lively possibilities of Fort Lauderdale nightlife. See what the film Where the Boys Are was all about with a visit to The Elbo Room, a legend today after 60 years in existence. It’s still a dive, but it’s a rowdy and carousin’ kind of time. 954-463-4615, www.elboroom.com
Inspired by the Latin flavors and sounds? Check out Congas Nightclub, where you can watch and learn. Salsa lessons are available on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9:30—first-timers get in free, and subsequent lessons are $10 per person. Don’t miss out on the nightclub’s famous drink specials, as well as the sounds of merengue, rumba, mambo, and other Latin styles. 954-749-9669, www.congasclub.com
By Neha Shah for PeterGreenberg.com. Except as indicated, all photos from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.sunny.org/
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