A Guide to Fort Lauderdale

Palms sway and sea oats rustle along seven miles of sand in Fort Lauderdale, a sun-drenched playground of seaside cafes, picturesque waterways, a chic gas-lit shopping street, and a leisurely lifestyle that makes later seem like far too much pressure.

By the numbers

Population: 172,400

Elevation: 8 feet / 2.4 meters

Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 Daylight Saving Time); Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Weather

Average Annual Precipitation: 62 inches / 157 centimeters

Average January Temperature: 66°F / 18.9°C

Average July Temperature: 83°F / 28.3°C

Did you know?

There are 23 miles (37 kilometers) of beach in Fort Lauderdale.

There are also 25 miles (40 kilometers) of Intercoastal Waterways and 165 miles (266 kilometers) of navigable canals.

Fort Lauderdale is about 47 miles (76 kilometers) north of Palm Beach and about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of Miami.

District Guide

Once upon a time, one could look down the road along Fort Lauderdale beach and inland along U.S. 1 to see nothing but flat land and the occasional scrubby palmetto. Now villages meld into adjoining towns, towns into cities, and suburbs into each other to form a sprawling megalopolis that stretches from the sea to the Everglades and from the northern border of Miami to the southern border of Palm Beach and beyond.

The city is intersected by a number of rivers and waterways, splitting Fort Lauderdale and its surroundings into a series of small islands, edged by the Atlantic Ocean and miles of golden sand. Beach resorts, fishing charters, and boat tours are aplenty, as are more typical big city attractions like museums, theatres, restaurants, bars and shopping centres.

Downtown
Downtown Fort Lauderdale lies at the center of it all; it is the heart of the city where some of Fort Lauderdale’s most popular attractions and cultural landmarks stand. Glimmering high-rises intermingle with historic sites, while interspersed in between are a plethora of restaurants, boutiques, parks and museums.

Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Downtown’s historic Stranahan House is the oldest surviving structure in Broward County, built in 1901 and converted into a residence in 1906. Downtown is also home to the intriguing exhibits of the Museum of Discovery and Science, and Jazz nights at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Once you’ve had your fill of culture and the arts, head to the award-winning Morton’s Steakhouse for a delicious meal.

East Fort Lauderdale
This waterfront enclave of Fort Lauderdale is where you will find some of the region’s best beaches, edged by the Atlantic Ocean. This section of the city is marked by a series of isles on the Stranahan and New Rivers, home to beach resorts and waterfront hotels like the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, the Ritz Carlton and the W.

East Fort Lauderdale is a mecca for vacationers, with a booming nightlife, a star-studded culinary offer and stellar shopping destinations, alongside mile upon mile of sun-soaked beaches and cultural attractions like the Bonnet Museum and Gardens. East Fort Lauderdale is also where you will find the Hugh Birch State Park with its many trails and the Jungle Queen Riverboat for tours of the city’s scenic waterways.

South of Fort Lauderdale
South of Fort Lauderdale lies Hollywood, with a small but significantly entertaining downtown area built around one of the several major circles that characterize the city. Thanks to a redevelopment project that added intriguing architectural touches, trees and floral displays, downtown Hollywood has become come to be a popular destination. Restaurants like Henry’s China House are favoured by visitors.

Not far away, the tiny town of Dania, founded by tomato farmers, has left its agricultural past behind and is now best known the dozens of antique shops that line its streets, brimming with an eclectic array of collectibles. Parimutuel fans flock here to Dania Jai-Alai and Simulcast, where talented handball players compete.

Beach enthusiasts will also find some of the region’s most beautiful sands here, several of which are tucked away behind forests of palms, pines and palmetto bushes. The standout is Hollywood North Beach Park, where you’ll encounter many a sea turtle.

Fort Lauderdale morning #2

North of Fort Lauderdale
Traveling north of Fort Lauderdale, one wanders through a series of small towns including Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a small town that is home to a cluster of quaint inns and a few seaside cafes. Nearby, the 180-acre Hugh Taylor Birch Recreation Area is blanketed in tall trees, teeming with wildlife.

Beyond lies the city of Pompano, which gets its name from the coveted fish found in abundance here. Pompano is particularly proud of its sportfishing legacy and is home to a number of fishing competitions, a big fishing pier and a popular seafood festival.

Hillsboro Beach, home to some of the region’s most imposing seaside manses, is one of the loveliest parts of the drive, with the road rolling beneath massive trees; a swathe of land that looks much as it did a century ago when the fabled Barefoot Mailman strode the sand, armed with mail for the region’s earliest settlers. Hillsboro Inlet shelters a fishing fleet, great for fishing excursions and fresh-from-the-water seafood at the Pelican Landing.

Continuing northward, you pass through Deerfield Beach, home to a few small resorts, before you reach Boca Raton. Boca’s love and lure is its historic and elegant Boca Raton Resort and Club, a creation of architect Addison Mizner, whose pseudo-Mediterranean architecture is a wonder to behold.

Just north of the city, Wilton Manors is generally thought of as Fort Lauderdale’s gay village, but is much more than that. The city encompasses a host of family-friendly attractions and a nightlife that ranks’ among the county’s best.

West of Fort Lauderdale
To the west of Fort Lauderdale lies a host of smaller cities that are the bedroom communities of the region, their residents working in municipalities throughout the area or in Miami. Among those are Sunrise, Plantation, Tamarac, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Margate, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie—which is particularly proud of its farmland and celebrates it with Western-style architectural touches—and the newest town of them all, Weston, a developer’s dream just minutes from the Everglades.

While Sunrise is primarily known for its well-rounded offer helmed by the BB&T Center – a premier sports and entertainment venue, Coral Springs is revered as the home of the Coral Springs Museum of Art.

Dining and drinking

Once billed as the home of more restaurants per capita than any city in the nation, Fort Lauderdale loves—and virtually lives in—its restaurants. Hardly a day goes by in the city where the discussion doesn’t turn to the latest great restaurant find: a favorite seafood haven, the best spot for steak, a great waterside spot or a new romantic-dining discovery.

shrimp scampi seafood dinner on plate

Port Everglades
Trendy crowds head for the seaside H2O, where an intriguing menu is abetted by an equally diverting seaside location.

Downtown
Work does get done in Fort Lauderdale but much of it gets done over lunch at popular downtown spots, where street-side tables are packed by noon. Enjoy Southwestern fare at Canyon or have some pizza at Bistro Mezzaluna. Dine with a view, waterside, at Casablanca.

Those who want the sand almost between their toes as they dine head for the north end of the beach where Aruba, an on-the-beach—casual dining spot offers views of swimmers and suntan fans frolicking alongside a fishing pier, where determined anglers dangle a hook in hopes of snagging supper.

If the focus of discussion is seafood, you are likely to hear enraptured tales of dinner at 15th Street Fisheries, tucked away in a marina where impressive yachts provide entertainment.

North Beach Area
Not far away on chic Las Olas Boulevard, lines form on weekends at the Floridian Restaurant, where judges and lawyers, politicians and regular folks gather to gossip as they down a creative collection of egg selections—one even including a bottle of champagne—in the ultimate in casual surroundings, inside and out. Boulevardiers who aren’t at the Floridian can likely be found at Croissan’Time Cafe, where French-speaking bakers create what the name suggests, along with baguettes, epis and a host of downright irresistible pastries, sandwiches and sweets.

Enjoy the elegant Oriental options at Rainbow Palace. Picadillo and plantains can be had at Las Vegas, or try the bouillabaisse at the beach at Sea Watch. If an evening that includes both fine food and enchanting entertainment is in order, no Fort Lauderdale devotee would fail to name the Mai-Kai, one of the city’s oldest restaurants and perhaps its most revered. On the other hand, at Sage, you’re likely to find the elegant French touches applied to a contemporary fare exceedingly divine.

Entertainment

Fort Lauderdale is nothing if not entertaining. From the long-gone days when the film called Where the Boys Are skyrocketed the city to collegiate fame, to these simply sunny days when sophisticates have taken over the sands, the city has learned many a lesson about entertainment.

The Outdoors
No mention of Fort Lauderdale is complete without an allusion to the city’s oceanfront sands. Burnished by the sun, this golden stretch of sand spans an astounding 23 miles (37 kilometers), washed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and bordered by luxury resorts and waterfront hotels. The beaches of Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach, Dania Beach, Hollywood, Pompano and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea have been consistently recognized as Blue Wave beaches, noted for their cleanliness and safe waters.

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Nature fans head to such spots as Everglades Holiday Park, where airboats skim across shallow waters for a look at that vast ‘river of grass’ heralded by authors and closely guarded by environmentalists. Here baby alligators play, deer seek refuge, birds swoop and squawk, and visitors marvel at swathes of tropical trees, greenery, and grasses that stretch as far as the eye can see. You can also explore the mangrove swamp at the Deerfield Island Park, traverse the forested trails of the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, or discover sea turtles at the 56-acre Hollywood North Beach Park.

For a close encounter with the wild, a stop at Lion Country Safari is a not-to-be-missed diversion. Animals of the African veldt roam free while you stay caged in your car—an intriguing twist on the zoos and a rare opportunity to go nose-to-nose with a giraffe.

Museums
If history is your cup of tea, the city’s Himmarshee Village focuses on the past. The city’s first hotel sits serenely by the water, and some of its original homes are still on display, or in use as chic riverside restaurants. Star of the scene is the tiny Stranahan House, the antique, New River home of the city’s founders: she a teacher and he operating the ferry that was once the only way to cross the river and make your way to Miami.

To learn a little about the Seminoles, whose flight from their own tribe ended in yet another flight from British, Spanish and American usurpers, visit Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum, in the heart of Big Cypress Reservation. One Seminole, a member of the Billie clan, created the Everglades’ Billie Swamp Safari. You can paddle a dugout canoe, tune in to a Seminole storyteller or stay overnight in palm-thatched ‘chickee’ huts.

Art lovers will enjoy the displays at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. The Museum of Discovery and Science, on the other hand, is a great place to visit with kids for a more edifying alternative to the usual family-friendly attractions. The museum features a Blockbuster IMAX 3-D Theatre, a variety of illuminating exhibits and an space reserved exclusively for children.

Performing Arts
Stage, ballet and opera performances take place at a variety of venues throughout the city, with touring Broadway musicals are showcased at the showy waterfront Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Theatre productions also take place at the cozy Parker Playhouse, the city’s first full-fledged theatre.

Nightlife
Long known as the destination for spring break revelry, Fort Lauderdale and its surrounds offer a veritable cornucopia of options when it comes to nightlife. Join in the fun at America’s Backyard to experience South Florida’s largest outdoor party, or head to Blues Jeans Blues for a sophisticated evening of live Jazz. The Riverside Market is another laid-back hangout, lined with coolers stocked to the brim with over 550 varieties of craft beer, or head to the Funky Buddha Brewery for a taste of local flavour. Beach bars like the legendary Elbo Room are aplenty, as are nightclubs like the Manor and Vibe. While there’s plenty to experience within the confines of Fort Lauderdale itself, the cities of Wilton Manors and Coral Springs boast a vast array of dazzling nightlife options that range from casual to classy just a short drive away from downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Rush Street

Shopping
Fort Lauderdale’s shopping offer runs the gamut from sprawling malls to flea markets and quirky specialty shops. The glitzy Galleria, Coral Ridge Mall and Harbor Shops are the city’s most popular shopping centres, while Las Olas Boulevard is lined with quaint shops, fabulous restaurants and bustling bars just waiting to be discovered. There’s also Sawgrass Mills, one of the world’s largest discount malls, the Swap Shop flea market, the Festival Marketplace and Westfield Broward. Downtown Hollywood, Pompano Citi Center and the Dania Antique Row are other worthy destinations for some retail therapy in and around Fort Lauderdale.

Sports
If sports are the diversion of choice, Fort Lauderdale and environs present not dozens but hundreds of golf courses like Rolling Hills, and tennis courts like the Delray Beach Tennis Center, and plenty of oceanfront rollerblading and skateboarding space.

Smiling Woman on Golf Course With Golf Club

Golf enthusiasts should check out the Fort Lauderdale Country Club, the Jacaranda Golf Club in Plantation and the Coral Ridge Country Club for a thrilling day on the green.

Recommended tours

From the historic Museum of Discovery and Science to the serene Deerfield Island Park, Fort Lauderdale offers many attractions for visitors.

Museum of Discovery and Science
Downtown Fort Lauderdale is home to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Museum of Discovery and Science. You can then browse the offerings at Pocock Fine Art & Antiques.

Stranahan House
Explore the many fine galleries located downtown. The New River Gallery is one of the best. Tour Stranahan House, the city’s oldest home.

Old Fort Lauderdale Village & Museum
Stroll through the historic Old Fort Lauderdale Village & Museum and then have a picnic at Bubier Park. Have dinner at Indigo.

Old Dillard Art and Cultural Museum
In North Fort Lauderdale, visit the Old Dillard Art and Cultural Museum, the Mills Pond Park, Deerfield Island Park and then go to Butterfly World, in Tradewinds Park.

Sunshine Cathedral
Tour the Sunshine Cathedral and then cool off at Paradise Cove Water Playground. When you’re through, dine at Ronieri’s Restaurant.

Go snorkeling, take a deep sea fishing trip or take a ride in a helicopter; there are many ways to see Fort Lauderdale.

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Boat Tours Riverfront Cruises ( +1 954 463 3440 )

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History

Florida’s Gold Coast, of which Fort Lauderdale is such an integral part, is proof that contemporary alchemy exists.

Seven decades ago, what is now seductive sands, swaying sea oats and glittering hotels and condominiums was palmetto scrub and swampland. Along these sands, only the occasional beached sailor and the fabled barefoot mailman strode.

Many generations ago, the Abaniki tribe of Native Americans lived beside the sea here, followed generations later by pirates who awaited an opportunity to attack Spanish galleons heading home from Central America, loaded with gold.

Some didn’t just await an opportunity—they created it. Early entrepreneurs called ‘wreckers’ lured ships onto the spiky shoreline stones that gave Boca Raton, which translates loosely to ‘rat’s mouth’, its unglamorous Spanish name, a salute to the rocks’ resemblance to rat’s teeth. Wreckers had a pretty easy job of it, however as hurricanes and inadequate navigational aids sent many a ship to a watery death. So often did this happen, in fact, that the locals often went to church to pray not only for booty, but for specific booty, designed to meet the need of the moment. So handsomely were some prayers answered that a massive party went on for days in Boca Raton when a Spanish shipwreck produced hundreds of barrels of sherry.

The wreckers were such a demanding crowd that, by the late 1800s, they were accusing shipowners of sending out worthless cargo to collect insurance money. Audacity like that is nothing new in these climes, where some of the nation’s most flamboyant characters have made miracles and millions, trading on pride and sunny circumstances.

One of these characters was long-ailing architect Addison Mizner, who rode railroad entrepreneur Henry Flagler’s train to Palm Beach to swim in healing sunshine. He ended up swimming in millions of dollars, happily paid by those who commissioned him to build massive homes along the Gold Coast. Palm Beach and Boca Raton soon became the stronghold of Addison’s flashy ‘Bastard-Spanish-Moorish-Romanesque-Gothic-Renaissance-Bull Market- Damn-the-Expense’ architectural style.

In 1925, he created Boca’s Cloisters Hotel, which stands still as part of a massive resort complex. He created the Breakers Hotel. He created Palm Beach’s toney Worth Avenue. He created half of Palm Beach, at least, and what he didn’t create, others created by copying his embellished style.

No shrinking violets when it came to promotion, he and his cronies lured the famed and infamous of the day, perfecting an enduring technique Mizner called, ‘Get the big snobs, and the little ones will follow’.

Mizner’s boom spread southward to Fort Lauderdale and environs, where canny characters salted the seaside with ‘pirate gold’ to lure buyers who already were pouring USD2 million a week into Mizner’s sales coffers. So wildly farcical and often felonious did it all become that Boca Raton earned the nickname Beaucoup Rotten.

While this investors’ feeding frenzy was luring wealth-seekers to the Gold Coast, down in Fort Lauderdale, a young man named Frank Stranahan was seeking his fortune in the sunshine along the city’s New River. There he opened a general store and built a ferryboat to sail Miami-bound travelers across the river. To his humble home and store, which still stands, Seminoles paddled downstream from the marshes. They would sleep over on his porch before beginning the upstream return. Later, boarders of a more conventional nature slept in his extra rooms. When a young teacher named Ivy arrived, he married her, and the town of Fort Lauderdale, named for Maj. William Lauderdale, who had once commanded a fort on the site, was born.

All the bubbles burst when the Depression spread its depressing tentacles across the nation, but at least Addison Mizner sunk into fiscal gloom with characteristic style. Mizner sold a barren plot of land to an entrepreneur, whose efforts to grow coconuts failed miserably. The buyer sued Mizner, claiming he had been told he could “grow nuts” on the land. ‘Oh no’, Mizner responded to the judge, ‘I told him you could go nuts on the land’.

In the years that followed, some went nuts, some went broke, but as the decades passed, the lure of year-round sun, sparkling sea and swaying palms proved irresistible to buyers.

That booms continued—and continues—as Fort Lauderdale became Greater Fort Lauderdale, encompassing a host of smaller urban areas stretching from the southern border of Palm Beach to the northern edge of Miami, luring thousands to a golden coastline that has become one of the nation’s best-loved sunspots.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport
Shuttle: Tri County Airport Express (+1 954 561 8888 / +1 800 244 8252)

Bus: Bct Rider (+1 954 357 8400 or +1 954 357 8320) Tri Rail (+1 800 874 7245)

Taxi: Yellow Cab (+1 954 565 2800) Atlantic Cab (+1 954 565 8900) Checker Cab (+1 954 777 7777)

Rental Car:

Alamo (+1 800 462 5266/ http://www.alamo.com/)
Avis (+1 800 831 2847/ http://www.avis.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700/ http://www.budget.com)
Dollar (+ 1 800 365 5271/ http://www.dollar.com/)
Enterprise (+1 800 736 8227/ http://www.enterprise.com/)
E-Z Rent A Car (+1 800 277 5171/ http://www.e-zrentacar.com/)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131/ http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368/ http://www.nationalcar.com)
Royal (+1 800 314 8616/ http://www.royalrac.com/)
Thrifty (+1 800 847 4389/ http://www.thrifty.com)

Limo: A1 Luxury Limo & Limousine of South Florida (+1 954 771 2339) Carriage Limousines (+1 954 491 7305) Stylyn Limousines (+1 954 565 4575) A Family Limousines (+1 954 522 7455) Limo Max (+1 954 527 5466) Costa Limousines (+1 954 255 5515) Coastal Limousines (+1 954 761 1003) Luxury Limousines (+1 954 485 7901) Chariot Limousines (+1 954 785 2060) White Knight Limousines (+1 954 359 0373)

Bus
Greyhound (+1 800 231 2222/ http://www.greyhound.com). See the website for schedules and details. Station in Fort Lauderdale located at 515 North East Third Street.

By Train
Amtrak (+1 800-USA-RAIL/ http://www.amtrakcalifornia.com/), The Palmetto, and Silver Service trains (the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star) offer service between New York City, Georgia and Florida.

By Car
Routes into Fort Lauderdale: I-95, I-75, US 441, US 27, US 1.

Getting Around

Ferry
Water Taxi 651 Seabreeze Blvd. (+1 954 467 6677) Makes 20 stops along the New River which flows through downtown, as well as the Intracoastal Waterway which runs north and south along the length of the city.

City Cruiser (+1 954 761 3543)

Travel Information
If traveling overseas, take the safety precaution of registering your trip at https://travelregistration.state.gov and for helpful, practical advice about traveling technicalities and safety standards check out http://travel.state.gov/