Fort Lauderdale is one of South Florida’s gems. Its miles of beautiful beaches and many canals have earned it the nickname, “The Venice of the America.” As a visitor, you can try water sports like boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding by day and take in the city’s culinary scene and buzzing nightlife by night.
Having spent nearly the last decade in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Heidi Siefkas, nicknamed Ms Traveling Pants, provides us with an insider’s head start to the Floridian city:
Five new-to-the-scene- bars or clubs:
For those looking to be seen at a trendy spot among Fort Lauderdale’s good-looking, young downtown crowd, head to Vibe on Las Olas. The Ultra-style music, drinks and ambiance can be enjoyed at the bar, outside, or at private tables throughout the club.
Make your way to the Himmarshee Village in downtown and stop in at the bar on the corner, Tarpon Bend. During the day you’ll see the downtown business crowd grabbing great affordable lunches at Tarpon Bend, and, from happy hour on, it has live music, great drink specials and a casual mix of all ages.
If you are in the mood for a pool party, then Exit 66 is for you. Located right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, it’s nestled through Rock Bar’s front patio in the very back of the building. There you will find the wildest pool party in Fort Lauderdale with a live DJ, young good-looking bartenders and staff, and 10 private cabanas located poolside.
Those venturing to Hollywood and its diverse downtown area must pop inWhiskey Tango. Typically with a wide range of ages, Whiskey Tango has good eats, both indoor and outdoor seating and bars, and live bands at night. This is an ideal casual spot for happy hour, late-night drinks and dancing, or even to catch the games.
Also in Hollywood on the same boulevard is a wine and beer locale called Open Plaza. Decorated as an eclectic, step-back-in-time, cozy living room, it offers great appetizers like empanadas and cheese plates to accompany your drinks. As an added bonus for those that like to shop: all the clothes and books on display are for sale at near rummage sale prices.
Five great restaurants that only locals would know:
Don’t leave South Florida without eating a burger at Le Tub in Hollywood. Le Tub is a no frills, Intercoastal restaurant and bar that is always busy. Be prepared to wait as service isn’t quick, but the burger is big enough to share and very juicy. Do order a side of fries, which are to die for as well.
Himmarshee Bar & Grille is a restaurant and bar that is located in the downtown Himmarshee Village close to the Fort Lauderdale nightlife and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The menu is unique with items such as butternut squash purses for an appetizer, one-of-a-kind brick oven pizzas and fresh fish selections. Don’t miss the Side Bar, open later than the restaurant, which features awesome mixologist cocktail menu.
On the West side of Las Olas, the Royal Pig is a new gastro pub serving traditional pub appetizers and burgers with a definite foodie twist. Enjoy items like parmesan truffle fries, free-range turkey meatballs, or a variety of burgers like the Cactus Jack Burger.
Gran Forno is also on Las Olas with two locations. One, which is halfway between downtown and the beach, is where all the baking happens. The second is a café next to the Riverside hotel. The locals know that Gran Forno is the best bakery in town, offering great lunch sandwiches on fresh ciabbata bread as well as homemade pizza. If you have a sweet tooth, they have everything from tiramisu to Italian cookies and fruit tarts – plus excellent espresso and cappuccinos.
Orale in Hollywood is the best Mexican restaurant in the area. The location is not large, but the food is authentic. It isn’t Tex-Mex. The house margaritas are reasonably priced and just the right blend of tequila and lime. Plus, the chips and salsa are also fresh, delicious and addictive. For a bit of everything, try the Orale combination plates; you can’t go wrong.
Five great, kid-friendly activities:
Hollywood Beach Boardwalk is a mecca for all things you and your family would want to do at the beach. Along the 2.5-mile boardwalk, there are bike and surrey rentals, water slides, restaurants, shops, live music at the pavilion, and, of course, nearly seven miles of beach to relax, swim, build castles – and to take a siesta.
The Museum of Discovery and Science is open seven days a week with exhibits for all ages and the IMAX theatre. It is located near the Himmarshee Village off of Broward Boulevard. There is parking across the street from the museum. Enjoy a nice walk on the Riverwalk either pre or post visit.
Everglades Holiday Park is one of the best family fun activities. Located at the very end of Griffin Road, this park is your gateway to the Everglades. Take an airboat ride to view alligators in their natural habitat. Afterwards, stay for the alligator theatre with the Gator Boys. In a half-hour show, the staff will explain the basics about alligators and most importantly show you how to wrestle a gator.
Butterfly World located in Coconut Creek in the Tradewinds Park is 10 acres of botanical gardens and butterflies galore. Don’t be surprised if, while exploring the gardens and waterfalls, a butterfly lands on your head, shoulder or right in your hand. It’s open seven days a week and costs $20 for children and roughly $40 for adults.
A short drive north is Coconut Cove Waterpark in Boca Raton, a fun and exciting time for the entire family. Make a day of it. Enjoy a lazy river float, water slides, lily pad walk, lap pool, and other amenities and concessions.
Five things to do on the water:
Spirit of Lauderdale offers catamaran tours along Fort Lauderdale’s Intercoastal and out into the beautiful Atlantic’s waters. Tours offer guests the opportunity to rest and relax on the catamaran’s sundeck or in the shade. For those who would like to take a dip, there is a stop along the Fort Lauderdale coastline to swim, ride the slide, and play on the floating trampoline. For those looking for something romantic, they also offer a sunset cruise.
Aloha Watersports in Fort Lauderdale provides a variety of services from Hobie cat rentals to jet skis and parasailing. They are located both at the Marriott Harbor Beach and at the SW corner of A1A and Las Olas.
Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is all the rage across the country and likewise in Fort Lauderdale. Try lessons, rentals, tours, or fitness classes with Fort Lauderdale Stand Up Paddleboarding. You can get the SUP body while on vacation like those of the celebrities.
Don’t leave Fort Lauderdale without a ride on the water taxi. It’s the easiest and most enjoyable way around town. For $20 you can tour the Intercoastal, view the gorgeous waterfront mansions, and get on and off at some of the best restaurants, bars and shops on Fort Lauderdale’s Water Taxi.
Located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami is Oleta State Park, which is great for mountain biking and kayaking. If you didn’t bring your bike, you can easily rent kayaks at Oleta State Park from Blue Moon either hourly or by the day. If you like picnics, take along a lunch to break on one of the many islands by the park after paddling through some of Florida’s tropical mangroves.
Five day trips to take from Ft. Lauderdale:
The closest Florida Key to Fort Lauderdale and Miami is Key Largo. The trip will take about an hour and a half to two hours by car. However, it is home to one of the best parks in South Florida, John Pennekamp. If you enjoy snorkeling, SCUBA, kayaking, canoeing, or even riding on a glass bottom boat, you can find them all here.
South Beach, or SoBe, is an essential stop for every visitor. Ocean Drive, the cruising strip near the beach, is great for people watching, walking, eating and sipping cocktails. You must visit the local hotspot, Nikki Beach, for a mojito, a typical Cuban libation with rum and mint. Another favourite for happy hour, food and more is the Clevelander. Stay until the sun goes down as the neon colours in the Art Deco district and along Ocean Drive are well worth it.
Although within a short 20-minute drive from most of Fort Lauderdale, Sawgrass Mills Mall is a day trip. It is the largest outlet mall in Florida, drawing hordes of discount shoppers. You will find that many visitors end up buying a suitcase at the mall to take back all the goodies purchased at the hundreds of discount stores.
At Lion Country Safari, animal lovers can take advantage of a drive or walk through the safari. The park is open daily and located in the northwest portion of Palm Beach County. The costs are $27.50 for adults and $20 for children.
Segway Tours Palm Beach is a fun and different way to take in the sites in Palm Beach. After a quick safety lesson, you will set off on your rolling tour of the city crossing the Intercoastal, viewing the mega yachts and mansions on Palm Beach Island, and returning to the hip Clematis Street. The rates are $75 for a two-hour tour.
Having a curious streak, Heidi has taken her Midwestern roots and traveled to uncover new places, cultures, languages and adventures, from Patagonia to the Sahara and places in between. After almost a decade of writing in travel journals, in 2008 Heidi started a personal travel blog under her nickname, Ms Traveling Pants.
Heidi’s most recent adventure was a summer in Alaska. Currently, she is back in South Florida where she hangs her hat and continues to write featured articles and blog posts while preparing a memoir for publishing. You can learn more about Heidi and check out her travel stories and insights at @HeidiSiefkas and @MsTravelingPant.