And of course there’s the option to do nothing at all except enjoy your hotel, the beaches and the parks — always a good choice. But if, like me, you travel to explore a destination, you’ll find so many options in Fort Lauderdale that simply lounging on a beach might end up being your last choice. Here are our picks for an outstanding mini-break itinerary.
A Note on Transportation: You can get by without a rental car, but considering that the region is one of the least expensive rental locations in the U.S., it’s worth having one for the ease and convenience of getting around. However, downtown can be difficult; drop your vehicle in a parking garage and use the free trolley that loops the area.
Home Away From Home
The Hyatt Regency Pier 66 started life as a simple gas station; now its 17-story tower is a landmark. For an upscale stay in a central location, this is a fabulous choice. There are several ADA fully accessible guestrooms should you need one. The tower rooms offer incredible views, although they are the most expensive. The cabana rooms near the pool are garden-level, convenient and quiet.
Courtyard Villa on the Sand is small, quiet, inexpensive and gorgeous. A member of the prestigious Superior Small Lodgings of Broward County and winner of the best interior decor award, the 10 units consist of apartments and efficiencies. The beach is within walking distance.
Bonaventure Resort & Spa: Golfers will love this gorgeous resort with country-French-inspired guestroom decor, a full-service and luxurious spa, and two pro courses. Great accessibility is a key feature of the grounds and the buildings, too, including several ADA-compliant guestrooms, accessible lobby areas and restrooms, and strobe-lighted alarms.
Day One: Active Day!
Do you golf? Greater Fort Lauderdale might not be Pebble Beach, but (at least most of the year) the weather is better and the courses are certainly a lot less expensive. There are some incredible greens in the area, some of which require advance registration and tee times. Non-duffing partners can take advantage of the tennis courts or elaborate spas offered at most of the clubs, too. Here are a few suggestions:
Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa: Ranked one of the best courses in the world and the only five-star-rated course in South Florida, this 6,728-yard, par-72 course has been around since the 1950’s but was recently redesigned by Joe Lee, a golf pro and course designer.
Bonaventure Country Club: The East Course, nicknamed the Green Monster and designed by Joe Lee, is nationally known for its par-three waterfall hole and its 7,011 yards. The West Course, designed by Tom Mahannah, is shorter at 6,189 yards and offers six par-three holes.
The Club at Emerald Hills: Located just a few minutes away from Fort Lauderdale by car, this 7,280-yard course designed by Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge has been rated one of the best places to play by Golf Digest for the past eight years. The course is challenging, with water on 12 holes, and is also a “soft spike” facility — so plan accordingly.
Other good options include Don Shula’s Resort and the Club at Doral just south of Broward County in North Miami.
If golfing isn’t your cup of tea, how about fishing? You can rent a boat and equipment on your own at Best Boat Club and Rentals.
And, if you neither fish nor golf, rent a bike at Bicycle Generation and have an active day exploring the beachfront and the marinas along the Intercoastal Waterway.
Relax over dinner at the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant and Dinner Show, where you’ll experience an authentic tiki-style show and meal in an atmosphere of a Polynesian village, complete with tiki torches, a thatched roof and tropical greenery.
Day Two: Culture Day!
Greater Fort Lauderdale might be known for its beaches, marinas and spring break parties, but the arts are thriving here too. After your active day one, take it easy … and throw in a little shopping with your culture.
Have breakfast at The Floridian (1410 E Las Olas Boulevard). Open 24/7, this Las Olas landmark is renowned for its breakfasts, which you can get at any time, day or night. You can park in the Arts and Entertainment Parking Garage and take the free trolley down Las Olas. In fact, do the entire loop through this section of the old city.
The Museum of Art has an exciting lineup of permanent exhibits of European masters and local artists and visiting exhibits. Have a light lunch at Stork’s Cafe near the museum, noted as “the best bakery in Broward” by a local newspaper. Then walk down the riverfront to the Fort Lauderdale History Center, located at the site of the city’s first hotel. You’ll get a real sense of the development of Fort Lauderdale with exhibits including artifacts of the Seminoles, the King-Cromartie House built in 1907 with ship timbers, and an 1899 replica schoolhouse. Walk back along Las Olas Boulevard, where you can wander through the trendy and upscale boutiques and do some shopping.
Try dinner at Casablanca Cafe, located beachfront in a restored two-story Mediterranean-style villa with fabulous views of the water, where you can dine on American, Asian or North African-style cuisine. If it’s Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, head down to Hollywood Beach, where you can dance under the stars at the open-air theater on the Broadwalk. You can also go to Ellington’s Jazz Club and Restaurant for live jazz in a true cabaret atmosphere, with both a house quartet and a house trio, and occasional special performances by jazz greats like the Brubeck Brothers. The menu is eclectic, offering meals influenced by Cuba, Asia, Florida’s fresh catch and good ol’ home-town cooking.
Day Three: Nature Day!
Get your sunscreen on early and head out for an all-day Everglades Day Safari, which will take you on an airboat tour, a guided nature walk, a jungle cruise and a safari drive. You’ll also get lunch and the benefit of experienced naturalists. If you would rather do a shorter excursion into the wild, drive out to Billie Swamp Safari, where you can learn about the land and culture of Seminole Indians, take an airboat ride, walk the swamp trail, paddle a canoe or ride a swamp buggy. There are also several nice nature parks in the area, including the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood, which is free to enter and comprises 1,500 acres of wetlands, trails and botanical gardens, as well as a fishing pier.
If you choose that option, head back to the beach for the afternoon, play another round of golf or just walk along the Riverwalk and the canals. A good lunch option would be Creolina’s for some yummy, inexpensive Creole and Louisiana fare.
For dinner on your last night, it’s almost mandatory that you set sail on the Jungle Queen Riverboat for a barbecue dinner of shrimp, chicken and ribs — plus entertainment — from the Bahia Mar docks downtown. This old paddle wheeler has been around for over 60 years and is a tourist must as it meanders through the waters of the area to an island where you dine and enjoy an old-fashioned vaudeville show. Reservations are recommended.
If you’d prefer to end your mini-break with flair and a flourish, try Le Cafe de Paris with its romantic (and expensive) patio dining and piano bar. That still leaves time for some reggae and rhythm-and-blues at Ginger Bay Cafe, or jazz and blues at O’Hara’s Jazz and Blues Cafe.
–written by Jana Jones