Despite Fort Lauderdale’s proximity to sexy Miami — with its famous nightlife and fabulous people-watching — this unpretentious beachy destination is about hanging out with family, relaxing on the shore, and eating caught-that-morning seafood. And, while there is an after-hours scene and plenty of fabulousness here if you look for it, Fort Lauderdale also makes for a perfectly calming mini-break before your cruise.
Tip: If you see the charming Sun Trolley and want to hop on, just wave at it. That’s how this affordable transportation system works. Once on, some rides are free, and others cost as little as 50 cents, depending on the route.
Splurge: W Fort Lauderdale – Whether you’re looking to rage or relax, this is the spot. The pool deck’s Sunday parties feature DJs, so you can groove in a shady VIP cabana if that’s your scene. And the hotel features one of the few Bliss® spas that offer poolside treatments. If you feel like a showoff, jump into the aquarium-likepool and let the hotel guests in the lobby gaze at you while you do your best dolphin impression. At the end of the day, head up to your modern room — with its spectacular water views — to change and then grab dinner at Stephen Starr’s classic steakhouse, Steak954. Doubles from $419.
Steal: B Ocean Fort Lauderdale – This beachfront resort opened in 2011 as the flagship property of a mini-collection of luxurious but low-key Florida hotels, and it boasts ocean views from all 240 guest rooms. The infinity-edge pool and all of the hotel’s communal seating areas are designed for visitors to be social, but those in the mood for a more serene experience can opt for an afternoon of treatments in the spa suite. Doubles from $349.
Tip: Does your sexy hotel make you want to go dancing? Fort Lauderdale isn’t Miami, but it does have its own nightlife hot spots, like the unfortunately named YOLO restaurant and the adjacent O-Lounge, where dressed-to-impress denizens kick up their heels after dinner.
Breakfast: Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day at this classic spot, even when it’s lunchtime. O-B House, as it’s known, serves breakfast until 2 pm on weekdays and 3 pm on weekends. Picture elevated diner fare: If you crave an omelet, consider ordering the cleverly named D-Clawed, which is filled with jumbo lump crab; pancake lovers should consider the one filled with plenty of local corn.
Lunch: Finster Murphy’s – This no-frills market and eatery is home to the freshest fish in town, with the latest catch delivered daily and grilled, fried, sautéed, or blackened to your liking. Take a seat on the outdoor terrace and order up the conch salad — and the crab cakes, too.
Dinner: Eduardo de San Angel – This upscale restaurant’s Mexican-infused international cuisine marries bold flavors with regional ingredients. Gulf shrimp is served as a ceviche appetizer (with plum tomatoes, sweet onions, and jalapenos) and as an entree over pasta. Yellowtail from the Florida Keys pops up in multiple dishes as well. But those looking for a more typical Mexican experience will also be happy with the excellent chips and salsa that start off every meal.
Dessert: Canyon Southwest Cafe – This all-over-the-map fusion spot is fun for dinner, but its desserts, like the white chocolate bread pudding with fresh berries, make it a must-visit. The toasted pecan pie and chocolate mousse pie are also delicious twists on old-school treats.
Tip: Gran Forno Las Olas makes fresh bread for many of the city’s top restaurants and resorts. Locals like it for coffee and breakfast pastries, but you can pop by anytime for the fantastic fennel raisin loaf.
For Everyone: Fort Lauderdale Beach – The city features miles of beach dotted with restaurants and shops. Check out the promenade, play volleyball, or choose your favorite water sport. And you know what’s cuter than a dog park? Canine Beach, where you’ll find puppies making a splash from 5pm to 9pm on weekends.
For Couples: Market 17 – Those with open minds and adventurous palates can dine in the dark, enjoying a blind tasting menu with wine pairings in a pitch-black room that’s separate from the rest of the restaurant. Don’t worry, it’s safe — you’re encouraged to eat with your hands.
For the Adventurous: Stand-up paddleboarding – Like the way the world looks at sunrise? Get up close to marine life, including manatees, at the crack of dawn on a paddle tour of the intracoastal waterway. Yoga, pilates, and even a sweat-it-all-out boot camp (on paddleboards!) are also available.
For Families: The Museum of Discovery and Science – When it’s time to get your family out of the sun, this museum offers adorable river otters to ogle in a 34,000-square-foot EcoDiscovery Center added in 2012. And for a thrill, try the flight simulators.
Tip: The all-day Water Taxi pass ($20 for adults, $13 for 5-11, free for under 5) is an easy, efficient way to explore the waterfront in both Fort Lauderdale and nearby Hollywood. After 5 pm, adults can ride for kids’ prices.
A mere 17 miles from the Fort Lauderdale airport, Sawgrass Mills, in Sunrise, is a gargantuan outlet mall. Head straight to the high-end Colonnade section, where you’ll find luxury faves like Barneys New York and Tory Burch, as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue off 5th.
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