7 Ways to Spend Every Sunny Second Outdoors in Greater Fort Lauderdale
It’s no secret that across Canada, the mercury is still struggling to rise above the zero mark. And so, as you de-ice your driveway for the umpteenth time this winter, we entreat you to envision a place where salt is used mainly to line the rims of margarita glasses and the only reason to pick up a shovel is to build a sandcastle.
Greater Fort Lauderdale is on our radar as one such destination, in particular because of all the ways it keeps travellers entertained (hint: the beach is just a starting point) – and in the glorious balmy outdoors (we’re talking average highs of 24 degrees throughout winter) – from morning to night.
With more direct flights available from more cities than ever (including new low-cost flights from Hamilton on Swoop, new service out of St. John’s and established daily flights from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa), it’s never been easier to get there.
In other words, once your driveway’s clear, you may want to skip the ride to work and head straight for the airport instead. Soon you’ll be thawing out with these seven activities in Greater Fort Lauderdale:
1. Sunning, snorkelling or strolling on your choice of eight beaches
Upon arrival, sun-starved pilgrims will obviously want to make a beeline for the beach. With Greater Fort Lauderdale’s 23 miles (almost 40 kilometres) of enticing coastline, the only question is – which one?
Sun worshippers craving uninterrupted golden sands and serene, ultra-swimmable ocean waters will find their bliss on Fort Lauderdale beach. This iconic shoreline boasts huge stretches of walking paths with endless insta-worthy views, which you can also take in from a seaside seat on the undulating concrete “wave wall." Then there's the Broadwalk in Hollywood: Lauded as one of America’s Best Beach Boardwalks by Travel + Leisure, it winds past dozens of restaurants, boutiques and three public parks.
If you’re ready to kick the adventure level up a notch, head north to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, where you can wade to a coral reef teeming with colourful sea creatures; to Hillsboro Beach for a view of a historic lighthouse or a night-time sea turtle nest tour; or to Deerfield Beach for a free surf lesson. Dania Beach, just south of the airport, offers the chance to paddle through wildlife-studded mangroves at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park. Canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals start at US$30 for a half day.
2. Dining with a waterfront, rooftop or backyard view
In our experience, beach-going tends to conjure an especially ravenous hunger. No matter what craving the salty sea and sun have instilled, Greater Fort Lauderdale’s varied restaurant scene likely has the answer. And, to top it off, every meal is an opportunity to take in more views of this tropical oasis.
Shooters Waterfront is home to an expansive canal-side patio, complete with firepits for extra ambience. The menu features everything from fresh seafood you’d expect (with accompaniments you may not; the cashew-crusted mahi mahi with sticky rice and Thai red coconut curry sauce, for one) to sinful brunch options (think bottomless mimosas and sticky cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing).
5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill in Hollywood is the spot for beachy fare (conch fritters, blackened shrimp tacos and tangy margaritas) – and the chance to hear live music as you watch the sun go down from the Intracoastal Waterway-facing dock.
New to the scene, Beach House Pompano is a two-story structure that lives up to its name, with breezy, eclectic furnishings and ample outdoor seating – be it beachfront or rooftop. Its unbeatable location makes it a prime spot to take in ocean views and what some have called the best Key lime pie in South Florida.
And the quaint, overgrown garden patio at the Alchemist Café in Wilton Manors serves up a distinctly homespun vibe, with its house-roasted coffee, served chilled in mason jars with coffee ice cubes, plus a resident cat and murals by local artists. The melted brie slicer – an open-faced sandwich with sliced almonds and honey on Tuscan bread – is a house favourite.
3. Showing your pride outside
One of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s “things” is inclusiveness. In fact, the region’s motto is "Greater Together." In this vein, it’s not surprising that you’ll find a thriving gay community here.
In fact, Wilton Manors, a pedestrian-friendly “gaybourhood” that’s home to the highest concentration of same-sex households in the country, hosts more than 40 restaurants, lounges and nightclubs, many of which are gay- and lesbian-owned. There’s even a new LGBT+ visitors centre, which supplies travellers with maps and brochures that highlight notable gay-owned businesses in the area.
4. Feeling the natural attraction
Beyond the beach, there are plenty of picturesque outdoor diversions to make nature lovers drool. Flamingo Gardens, for example, is a 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary where you can spot its namesake bird, plus alligators, bobcats, eagles, otters, panthers, peacocks and over 3,000 species of rare and exotic plants. With a dedicated tram that whisks guests from the bald eagle aviary to the tortoise pond to the panther sanctuary, it’s basically a theme park of natural wonders.
Or, for the best view of the Everglades (about 40 minutes west of Fort Lauderdale), board an airboat and glide across this expansive “river of grass,” while keeping your eyes peeled for crocodiles, alligators and elegant, long-legged Floridian bird species.
5. Water Taxi hot spot hopping
Greater Fort Lauderdale is widely known as the yachting capital of the world, but you don’t have to be an oil tycoon to get in on the boating action here. For US$28 a day, you can ride the Water Taxi, a “trolley on the water” that lets you hop on or off at any of 15 stops in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Among the highlights are the shops and restaurants of Las Olas Boulevard, Shooter’s Waterfront, Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort and scenic riverfront Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
6. Spotting art on the street
In the middle of Fort Lauderdale's historic warehouse district, four city blocks have become a hotbed of creativity -- and host the Flagler Arts Technology (FAT) Village ARTWALK the last Saturday of each month (except December). So consider timing your visit around one of these culture crawls, when galleries stay open late, artisans sell wide-ranging wares, and food trucks cater to the thousands who turn out.
If you can’t make the event, you can lead your own voyage through the area’s emerging art scene any day of the week. Stroll through the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, or explore the larger region’s underground art venues with guidance from the Underground Create Map.
7. Shopping at one of the country’s largest outlet malls
Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise is an open-air shopping mecca, boasting more than 350 designer and luxury outlets. Brands like Burberry, Prada, Coach, Versace, Tory Burch and Giorgio Armani are among those that claim plots amid the 2.4 million square feet of retail space within the mall. There are also 46 dining spots ranging from hot pretzel stands to steak houses and mojito bars. Of course, you may want to stick to a two-drink maximum, since browsing hundreds of chic shops while tipsy can be a danger to your credit card statement.