Get a taste of Fort Lauderdale before or after your cruise vacation from Port Everglades and explore everything this charming, laid-back South Florida beach town has to offer. From the shops and cafes of Las Olas Boulevard to the glittering beaches and intricate canal system that makes the city a boater’s paradise, you’ll find plenty to discover if you tack on a few extra days to your cruise vacation.
Ft. Lauderdale, a major American cruise port just north of Miami, is filled with museums dedicated to art and science, as well as welcoming restaurants and plenty of fun in the sun for outdoor enthusiasts. Read on for inspiration in planning your Fort Lauderdale vacation.
Ft. Lauderdale’s Great Nature
One of the biggest draws of vacationing in Fort Lauderdale are the miles of pristine sandy beaches. It’s always a pleasure to while away the day here with your toes in the sand and you can also set out for more active adventures in the great outdoors.
Do: Often called the Venice of South Florida, Fort Lauderdale is composed of a series of canals leading to the Intracoastal Waterway and out to the open Atlantic Ocean. Hop aboard the city’s Water Taxi and tour Fort Lauderdale’s waterways for a unique perspective. You can hop on and hop off at various stops. Depending on the route, you’ll cruise down Tarpon River past Fort Lauderdale’s downtown where you can ogle gorgeous, multimillion dollar waterfront mansions. The Water Taxi runs parallel to Fort Lauderdale Beach, all while the captain provides a narrated tour. Best of all, your tickets are valid all day, so you can leisurely get on and off to explore the beach, restaurants and shopping attractions.
Head north aboard the Water Taxi a few miles and hop off at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, which is Stop 7 on the map. Nestled between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic, you can hike through the maritime tropical hardwood hammock, rent paddle-boards and kayaks to explore the coastal dune lakes or the ocean, or simply enjoy a relaxing day on one of the prettiest stretches of sand on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Eat: For lunch, hop off at Stop 3 for 15th Street Fisheries set on the Intracoastal’s Lauderdale Marina for a scenic waterfront dining experience. Delight in meals made with fresh, locally caught seafood, like mahi-mahi sandwiches, shrimp tacos and crabcakes. On weekends there’s live music at various docks. While you’re there, don’t skip feeding the enormous silver tarpon rolling near the marina — it’s always a thrill!
One of Ft. Lauderdale’s trendiest oceanfront restaurants, S3 (Sun-Surf-Sand) is perfect for a post-beach day dinner of creative sushi and small plates. Think, tuna pizza with wasabi creme fraiche, goat cheese croquettes and wood-fired short ribs with bacon-braised cabbage.
Stay: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is a terrific place to soak up the sun with dedicated beach service. We also love its spacious elevated pool deck overlooking the ocean. It’s an easy walk to the Water Taxi.
A Newly Recognized Foodie Destination
When it comes to discovering Fort Lauderdale through its culinary delights, you’re in for a treat. Its burgeoning culinary culture is unique to South Florida, with plenty of approachably casual yet still hip spots rather than celebrity-helmed or Michelin-starred eateries. We especially love the variety, especially restaurants specializing in farm-to-table cuisine and laid-back cantinas cooking tasty tacos and tequila.
Casual Bites: Rocco’s Tacos on Las Olas Boulevard is a classic spot for Mexican and margaritas (they’ve got more than 400 varieties of tequila) with an atmosphere that gets livelier as the night wears on. Sample the ceviche and verde enchiladas with slow-roasted adobo chicken and a jalapeno-infused margarita. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a plate of tacos — they’ve got nearly a dozen varieties, from spicy chorizo sausage to battered-fried mahi-mahi.
High-End Delights: Boasting a gorgeous rustic dining room of exposed brick walls, rough-hewn hardwood floors and exposed bulb pendant lights, Scolapasta Bistro is a family-owned restaurant dishing up Old World Italian fare highlighting farm fresh, seasonal ingredients. Think heirloom tomato salad, sausage and pepper polenta, and organic cavatelli in a grass fed-beef Bolognese sauce. The cuisine pairs beautifully with the restaurant’s fine selection of Italian wines or their housemade sangria.
Late Night: When you’re not quite ready to call it a night, Apothecary 330 is a speakeasy hidden inside the artisan pizzeria Pizza Craft where you can enjoy handmade classic cocktails in a sophisticated setting with red leather tufted banquettes, a vintage chandelier twinkling overhead and shelves of fine spirits.
Stay (& Eat): Anchored by the chic oceanfront restaurant Terra Mare, the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is a natural home base for foodies. Snag a table on the patio overlooking the beach and order favorites like grilled swordfish with prosciutto in a white bean ragout, shrimp scampi, and branzino with chili braised fennel, mussels and saffron cream.
There’s plenty to discover on a cultural crawl of Fort Lauderdale, from a cutting-edge arts district to a world-class fine art museum and performing arts center.
Discover: FAT Village transformed Fort Lauderdale’s warehouse district into a community hub for artists, designers and tech entrepreneurs. You’ll find galleries, exhibition spaces and dance venues here. If you’re in town on the last Saturday of the month, its Art Walk is a great way to discover the latest gallery exhibitions and street art while enjoying live music, a craft market, local food and drink.
Fresh off its 60th anniversary, NSU Art Museum is celebrating with a retrospective of the museum’s impressive collection through June 2019, spanning global artistic movements of the last century with works by modern masters including Renoir, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo and Barbara Kruger. On the first Thursday of the month, the museum is free during extended hours from 4 to 8 p.m.
See: Enjoy an evening of theater, dance or live music at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts or its sister venue Parker Playhouse. The spring calendar includes performances by Macy Gray, Ballet Trockadero, South Florida Symphony and a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Shop the Arts: A visit to Fort Lauderdale is incomplete without cruising the charming, palm tree-lined Las Olas Boulevard. You’ll find a collection of art galleries and locally owned boutiques. Stop by National Geographic Fine Art Gallery to view the iconic magazine’s nature photography at a large scale or Sienna Fine Art for an impressive range of contemporary paintings, from abstract to realism. You can also commission portraits here by renowned pop artist Jean Pierre Rousselet.
Eat: Make a pit stop at Ann’s Florist, which doubles as a coffee and wine bar, for a light lunch of homemade quiche, coffee or Champagne on the sunny patio or inside the eclectic shop filled with fresh flowers. For a heartier meal, stop by Louie Bossi with heaping plates of pasta, like the mafadinne with pork ragu, ricotta and nduja in a warm, trattoria-like setting. If you’re in the mood for sushi, Etaru is a stylish Japanese grill in a warm, wood-paneled Zen-like dining room with items like rock shrimp tempura and spicy yellowfin tuna rolls.
Stay: The newly renovated Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, with its central oceanfront location makes for the perfect central embarkation point for your cultural crawl and it makes for a relaxing place to return at the end of a busy day exploring.
Best for Families
Fort Lauderdale is one of the most family-friendly Florida beach towns thanks to its world-class science museum, miles of pristine beaches and a slew of affordable restaurants that make planning an itinerary for your family a breeze.
Do: The Museum of Discovery and Science is a fantastic interactive attraction that’s perfect for the whole family. It boasts an IMAX 3D theater with lasers where you can watch everything from Hollywood blockbusters to documentaries about the environment and outer space. You’ll also enjoy the otter habitat and exhibits dedicated to dinosaurs, the weather and South Florida’s unique ecosystem, including the Everglades with an airboat ride simulator.
Eat: Grab lunch at the nearby Chimney House & Grill and sample South Florida’s famed Latin American cuisine inside a restored historic home built in 1924. With a kid’s menu that includes carne asada and chicken quesadillas, it’s a great way to introduce your family to new cuisine while you delight in entrees like Peruvian beef stir-fry lomo saltado or mahi-mahi cooked in coconut milk with crispy plantain tostones.
Explore: Follow the bend in the Tarpon River through Esplanade Park for a stroll along Fort Lauderdale’s scenic Riverwalk. It’s a great way to soak up the charm of Fort Lauderdale and give the kids some space to run wild. You’ll find riverfront parks, playgrounds, marinas and a recreation center where you can embark on a guided kayak or paddle-board tour through the waterways or a 7-mile round trip bike ride to the beach.
Stay: We love GALLERYone — a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton, which is located directly on the Intracoastal and a short trip to the beach near Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. It boasts spacious suites with cribs available for a comfortable family stay, as well as a swimming pool and children’s menu at the onsite restaurant.
Shayne Benowitz is a travel writer whose work has appeared in AFAR, Nat Geo Traveler, American Way and The Miami Herald where she worked as the hotels editor. She’s also the Miami destination expert for the UK’s The Telegraph. A beach girl at heart, Shayne called South Beach home for nearly a decade. Her ideal getaway involves sailboats and islands.