If popping bottles at LIV is your idea of a South Florida vacation, by all means, follow in LeBron’s footsteps and take your talents to South Beach. But with both a toddler at home as well as a burning desire to grab a beer without bribing a bouncer, I have virtually no use for that scene. If you similarly prefer simplicity over silicone, skip South Beach and sojourn north about 20 miles to the thoroughly unpretentious Hollywood, Florida.
Of the many hotels in the area, one of the best deals is at the Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach. For just $79 stay weeknights through September; Friday and Saturday nights are $10 more.
One of Fodor's 2009 "Best Beaches for Families," Hollywood Beach stretches 7 miles. Along 2.5 miles of it is the brick-paved Broadwalk, named one of America's top 10 nostalgic promenades by USA Today. It’s ideal for jogging, bicycling, rollerblading or just a leisurely stroll past dozens of shops and restaurants (with a frosty adult beverage in hand, if you choose; it’s legal as long as it’s in a plastic container).
The Hollywood Beach Theater (Johnson Street and Broadwalk) is at the midpoint of the Broadwalk; there’s live music at this open-air band shell Monday-Wednesday and Friday evenings. A few blocks north is Charnow Park, which has picnic pavilions, playgrounds and a splash pad for kids. Another new playground is a block south of the band shell, but this one’s just temporary because a $126 million, 17-story Margaritaville hotel and restaurant complex is on the way.
There are plenty of places along the Broadwalk to get a quick bite, but it’s well worth taking the time to cross the street to visit Le Tub (1100 N. Ocean Blvd.). Nestled by the Intracoastal Waterway, it resembles an overgrown tree house decorated by a plumber, with tubs and toilets scattered among its wooden benches and tropical foliage. It was a sleepy little spot until a few years ago, when GQ proclaimed it to have the best burger in America and it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. So much for its anonymity, but the burgers are still as good as ever. Two caveats: Bring cash and leave your watch at home. Le Tub doesn’t take debit or credit cards, but it does take its time in preparing the perfect burger.
Another favorite of mine is Nick’s Bar & Grill (1214 N. Broadwalk). Want to sum up the difference between South Beach and Hollywood? On its website, Nick’s describes its dress code as, “Shirts are recommended after 7 p.m.” They’re not talking about collared shirts – just shirts. That’s the kind of fashion sense that comes from 30 years as a beachfront mainstay. I typically order the mahi sandwich or the guacamole burger; someday I’ll get around to trying the oyster po’boy. Nick’s has plasma TVs with all of the major DirectTV sports packages, so this is the best place on the beach to catch a game. There’s also live entertainment after 9 p.m. and more than 60 bottled beers.
Among all of the Broadwalk restaurants, Ocean Alley (900 N. Broadwalk) might have the best view of the beach, and its Italian/seafood menu is a step up from the typical bar food. Also, parking is free for customers; the city’s metered parking is $2 an hour on weekends.
Downtown Hollywood is about 2 miles west of the beach; get there aboard the Hollywood Trolley, which operates every Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. You can pick up the trolley at any of a dozen stops; adults can ride for $1 and kids are free.
Among the downtown restaurants, my favorites are Beefeater Steak House (1902 Hollywood Blvd.) and Sushi Blues Café (2009 Harrison St.). I also have an abiding love for the PRL Euro Café (1904A Hollywood Blvd.), with its great selection of beers from around the world and walls adorned with local art for sale.
But the main attraction downtown is the Young Circle ArtsPark (Hollywood Boulevard at U.S. 1), which features an amphitheatre; a visual arts pavilion and a childrens play area with fountains. Watch films under the stars on ArtsPark Movie Nights (Fridays at 8 p.m.) or bust a move during Dancing in the Park (Saturdays at 8 p.m.).
The downtown Funtastic Fridays for Kids (5-9 p.m.) features clowns, a bounce house, face painters and magicians. Plus, kids eat free at participating downtown restaurants every Friday from 4-7 p.m.
For more adult-oriented fun, venture out to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (1 Seminole Way), which has a 3-acre casino floor with 2,500 slots, the area’s best poker room, 25 boutiques, 30 bars and restaurants, a spa and a 5,500-seat concert venue. Upcoming concerts include Donna Summer (Aug. 18), Adam Lambert (Sept. 19) and Neil Young (Sept. 23).
Closer to the beach, check out Gulfstream Park (901 S. Federal Highway), which has a casino as well as horse racing from January-April. The brand new Village at Gulfstream Park boasts upscale shopping, restaurants, cafés and nightclubs.