Sun-worshipers and fans of Mickey and Minnie flock to Florida year-round, but the Sunshine State has a lot more to offer than Disney World and the beach.
One coastal area in particular is serving up a diverse range of offerings for visitors who either aren’t too keen on Disney (its high prices and large crowds aren’t for everyone) or who want more than the classic sun, sea and sand vacation.
Fort Lauderdale, on Florida’s southeastern coast deserves recognition for its wide, sandy beaches, but getting off the main strip proves that the area is rich with culture, art and spirit.
Visitors will spend less on food and drink that doesn’t come with an ocean view and get a feel for Florida’s multi-dimensional character.
First, about those beaches: Greater Fort Lauderdale (Broward County) has eight of them, and they can be found along the main strip, a pretty promenade running along oceanside highway A1A.
Runners who appreciate a route with an ocean view could plan a trip around the 2019 A1A Half Marathon taking place in February. Now in its fourteenth consecutive year, the race takes place on a fast and flat course and includes a post-race party on the beach.
But of course, you don’t need to be a runner to enjoy a long leisurely walk along the promenade, Fort Lauderdale’s heart.
Both sunrise and sunset are especially picturesque times to take a stroll and helpful in avoiding what can be an oppressive mid-day sun, particularly from May to September.
A relatively new phenomenon in the area is shared scooter services. Visitors looking to get from one end of the beach to another in a hurry can download one of the scooter apps (Bird and Lime are popular options) to unlock a scooter and take it for a scenic ride.
Many hotels along the strip offer beach chairs, towels and umbrellas for guests free of charge. (If you’re staying at a hotel off the promenade, you’ll want to bring your own beach towels and chairs.)
Both the Conrad and the Westin offer pleasant enough such seaside setups, but neither includes food and drink service; for that, you’ll have to head to the hotels’ pool areas or hit up a nearby restaurant with ocean views such as Lona Cocina Tequileria, which has a Sunday bottomless brunch special for brunch afficionados.
Upscale dining options — remember, you’re paying for killer views too — include Terra Mare at the Conrad, El Vez at the W and Japanese hot spot ETARU. Not surprisingly for a city on the water, a handful of restaurants or bars can be accessed via water taxi.
Greater Fort Lauderdale encompasses a decent-sized area and essentially means less beach and more of everything else, and this is not a negative. The beaches “are absolutely worth the visit and are gorgeous,” acknowledges Stacy Ritter, the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, but that’s far from the city’s only draw, and “exploring beyond the beach is a must.”
Ritter is optimistic about the growth of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area and is enthusiastic about its new and ambitious offerings.
For starters, there’s the growing beer movement, which led to the creation of an Ale Trail, a map featuring all of the area’s craft breweries and gastropubs carrying local suds. (This beer drinker can recommend 26º Brewing’s IPA1A and Funky Buddha’s Pineapple Beach.)
But you don’t need to drink to appreciate Greater Fort Lauderdale’s off-shore offerings, though visitors seeking a nonalcoholic option should check out JB & C Juice Bar. It’s a serious space for smoothies and iterations of the ever-trendy avocado toast.
However you choose to fuel, there’s a world of arty goodness waiting for you on the other side.
Taking place January 19-27 is the inaugural Fort Lauderdale Art & Design Week, which will showcase the growing art and culture scene and, per the website, promote diversity.
Happening around the same time is an art fair on the water. In its third year, Art Fort Lauderdale takes guests to pop up art galleries inside waterfront mansions. You’ll need to take a water taxi to get there, and if you like something — a piece of art or a house — you may inquire about purchasing.
Both FATVillage and MASS District (Music & Arts South of Sunrise) are worth checking out too. These creative city enclaves boast outdoor murals and art galleries, photos of which would feel right at home on Instagram.
These inland areas also happen to be near some fine food options, including Henry’s Sandwich Shop (it’s a toss up between the prime rib sandwich and the French onion grilled cheese sandwich) and Brew Urban Cafe, serving up strong (nonalcoholic) beverages.
If it rains during your visit or you just need a place to let the kids blow off some steam for a couple of hours, you could do worse than heading over to Rockin Jump, which is basically trampoline heaven. Adults can play too!
In the same complex is an expansive arcade and go-cart track, tellingly named Xtreme Action Park. It’s boisterous and loud and the opposite of a relaxing afternoon on the beach, but on some level, it may satisfy family members wishing they were in Disney World.
Butterfly World is another kid-friendly, adult-pleasing option as is Billie’s Swamp Safari, unless snakes and critters creep you out.
If you go:
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has more than 700 flights a day, with nonstop service to more than 75 US cities and global connections to more than 60 destinations in 33 countries. Once you land, it’s just a five-minute drive to the downtown area, and taxis or ride-sharing services can take you where you need to go.
Miami International and Palm Beach International are two other relatively nearby airports. From either, you can hop a train to Fort Lauderdale.
Stay at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale, the newest hotel on the strip, with thoughtfully decorated, spacious suites and unparalleled service. As the building was built as condominiums, all the rooms are suite-style with full-kitchens; many units have multiple bedrooms, perfect for long stays and/or large families.
The rooftop bar and pool area includes a ping-pong table with ocean views and cozy spaces to curl up with a good book or a cold drink.
Visitors looking for more of a DIY stay can explore the area’s myriad Airbnb and VRBO options.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Fort Lauderdale has eight beaches, but in fact, Greater Fort Lauderdale (Broward County) has eight, and Fort Lauderdale itself has just one.