The best things to do in Greater Fort Lauderdale
If endless beaches, thriving outdoor arts, food and nightlife scenes and average winter highs of 24 degrees Celsius sound like the remedy for your winter blues (and greys), here’s a tip. Greater Fort Lauderdale, occupying a prime patch of Florida’s southeast coast just north of Miami, has all this. And with six non-stop flights a week from London with Norwegian Air or British Airways, this laid-back resort area is more accessible than you might have guessed. It’s often cheaper than flying to Miami, too.
There are more than 100 local hotel options, ranging from thrifty to swanky – or super-swanky in the case of the brand-new Conrad and just-renovated Ritz-Carlton. And with a cruise port nearby, you can easily extend your sun holiday across a string of Caribbean islands.
But the best case to be made for a winter escape to Greater Fort Lauderdale is the rundown of what you could be doing if you were there right now:
... 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 more modest boats and water taxis for hire. Once you're on board and plying the 300+ miles of local canals, you'll see for yourself 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).
... Eating your way across an outdoor food and wine festival
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is a 5-day foodie extravaganza, featuring some of the world's most famous chefs. This year, for the first time, the Crave Greater Fort Lauderdale series will throw 11 festival-related events, including 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
There are 37 kilometres of coastline in Greater Fort Lauderdale, so 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 tree-climbing crabs, flying fish and gangling birds. 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. After sampling these shores, you can float off to countless more across the Caribbean. Board your pick of 39 cruise ships that sail from Port Everglades, the world's third-busiest cruise port, and extend your beach adventure by a few days or a few weeks.
... 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, hosting 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. 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 snorkeller 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 metres offshore, where you'll likely find blue-headed wrasse, polka-dotted trunkfish and cute little iridescent blennies, among countless other colourful locals.
... Dancing on the beach
While your friends at home are cranking up their thermostats, you could be getting down in the ocean breeze. 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 Holiday Park west of Fort Lauderdale lets you take an airboat ride through wilderness 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 an easy pub crawl from one to the next. 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 gaming venues. Catch some free outdoor music at Gulf Stream Park Casino, or this season’s headliners (Jerry Seinfeld, for one) at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.