9 Things You Could Be Doing in Greater Fort Lauderdale Right Now (That You Can't Do in Canada)
It's almost that time of year again: The glorious winter moment when you cash in your vacation days, trading sub-zero temperatures for precious sunshine.
Cue Greater Fort Lauderdale, with its seemingly endless beaches; thriving outdoor arts, food and nightlife scenes; and — perhaps most important — average winter highs of 24 degrees Celsius.
Getting there is easy thanks to the daily nonstop flights from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and staying there is even easier thanks to the 100+ local hotels. Options range from budget to baller -- to super-baller in the case of the brand-new Conrad and just-renovated Ritz-Carlton.
Between these fabulous new digs -- and the complete recovery from this year's storms -- Greater Fort Lauderdale is officially ready to welcome the frostbitten and winter-weary. Make sure you squeeze the most sun out of every moment by ...
... Eating your way across an outdoor food and wine festival
This year, for the first time, the local TV series Crave Greater Fort Lauderdale will throw 11 events in concert with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival -- not least, the kick-off party with world barbecue champion Chris Lilly and a clambake with Emeril Lagasse.
But even if your trip doesn't coincide with the festival (February 21-25), you'll eat incredibly well in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Flanked by some of the city's most beloved restaurants -- from the Japanese-Peruvian Suviche to the Neapolitan Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza -- the always-buzzing Las Olas Boulevard is a great place to start.
... Basking on your choice of beach
Considering the 23 miles of coastline in Greater Fort Lauderdale, you'll have no problem claiming your own plot of paradise. But you may need a quick primer first:
Family travellers will appreciate quiet Dania Beach for its secluded sands, oceanfront playgrounds, crowd-pleasing pier restaurant and close encounters with nature: Paddle through the mangrove-lined Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park to check out the native birds, tree-climbing crabs and flying fish.
Fort Lauderdale proper is home to four miles of public beach where walkers and runners can take in million-dollar ocean views from the path alongside the iconic "wave wall" (a low-slung expanse of curvy concrete that doubles as seaside seating).
Just south of there, Hollywood Beach has another stellar beachside walking, jogging and skating path: The Broadwalk -- declared one of America's Best Beach Boardwalks by Travel + Leisure -- winds past dozens of restaurants and boutiques, plus three beachfront parks.
Of course, if you want bonus beaches for days, the nearby cruise port offers an easy way to float off to the Caribbean's nearly endless supply.
... Scoping out mural art (in shorts!)
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 (F.A.T.) 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. You can catch more monthly outdoor art events in Downtown Hollywood, Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach.
... Wading to a coral reef
Whether you're a first-time snorkeler or a certified diver, you can skip the boat and simply walk into the water to explore stunning local sea life: Just north of downtown Fort Lauderdale, a little beach town called Lauderdale-by-the-Sea has one of the East Coast's best coral reefs about 100 yards offshore, where you'll likely find blue-headed wrasse, polka-dotted trunkfish and cute little iridescent blennies, among countless other colourful locals. Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Pompano Beach offer additional walk-in reef opps.
... Yachting to dinner
Not for nothing is Fort Lauderdale known as "the yachting capital of the world:" There are 50,000 registered yachts here, and you can rent or charter one easily through an app (check out yachtlife or getmyboat). You can also ask your concierge for a recommended company -- and don't be afraid to haggle on the price. (The local secret is that there's almost always a bit of wiggle room.) Of course, yachts are hardly the only vessels, there are plenty of bargain boats and water taxis for hire.
Once you're on board and plying the 300+ miles of local canals, you'll see firsthand how this town earned another of its monikers: "the Venice of America." Of the many vista-blessed waterside restaurants, 20 or so are "dock and dine" (i.e., you and the vessel you rode in on are welcome).
While the boating life is celebrated daily here, it reaches a fever pitch during the Winterfest Boat Parade on December 9, when dazzlingly decorated yachts form a festive flotilla after sundown. Secure a spot in the dedicated grandstand viewing area at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, where you'll find an open-air food court, games and live entertainment. You can also watch from a bar, restaurant or bridge along the parade route.
... Dancing on the beach
While your friends at home are cranking up their thermostats, you could be getting down in the ocean breeze. December 2-3, the Riptide Music Festival will bring more than 20 bands from across genres -- think Weezer to Salt-N-Pepa -- to the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach. But you don't have to be here during the festival to shake your groove thing by the sea: Hollywood Beach, south of downtown Fort Lauderdale, has a bandshell that often hosts free concerts, and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville next door offers live music with a beach backdrop nightly.
... Getting your gator on
The Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area west of Fort Lauderdale lets you bike, hike or take an airboat ride through a wilderness anomaly: turf shared by alligators and crocs. And while their trademark toothy grins are the main ones you'll be trying to capture in photos (please, for the love of your appendages, no selfies!), you should also keep an eye out for the photogenic wading birds and raptors.
... Hitting the bars without a coat
Fort Lauderdale's legendary hot spots tend to crop up in walkable clusters, allowing for tipsy traipsing from one to the next. Don't worry about losing your jacket along the way, as you won't need one -- nor your shirt, as most bars' prices are pretty reasonable. Even better, you'll find every imaginable venue from craft brew pubs to LGBTQ clubs. In fact, Greater Fort Lauderdale is super gay-friendly, as you'll find in the famed "gayborhood" of Wilton Manors, among other locales.
You can also find nightlife on a grand scale at Greater Fort Lauderdale's two casinos. Catch some free outdoor music at the Casino at Gulf Stream Park -- or this season's headliners (Jerry Seinfeld, for one) at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
... Watching hockey and beach volleyball on the same day
There can't be many places on earth where you can see volleyball players dig, spike and sizzle the pits (that's a real thing) under the midday sun, then watch hockey players blow tires, break ankles and put biscuits in baskets the same night. But Greater Fort Lauderdale is one of the few. February 7-12, the Swatch Major Series beach volleyball games will bring some of the sport's greatest athletes to Fort Lauderdale Beach Park February, where you can also catch talented amateurs year-round.
Drive 30 minutes west to the BB&T Center, home of South Florida's NHL team, and you'll see the Panthers face off. All of Canada's NHL teams will be here between December and April.
... See what you're missing in real time and start planning your trip with these deals.