Getting around Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is half the fun on a vacation. One of Fort Lauderdale's main drags, the New River, allows visitors to hop on a water taxi and take in the sights.
This South Florida city's extensive system of waterways and reputation for gracious living have made Fort Lauderdale one of the country's largest yachting centers. Restaurants and bars overlook the canals and are accessible by water or from land by taxis and, believe it or not, from rickshaws. Several of the city's special events—including a winter holiday boat parade that draws local, national and international celebrities—revolve around boating and the water.
Fort Lauderdale is also awash in museums, art galleries, restaurants, hotels and chic sidewalk cafes, all appealing to visitors. An elegant beachfront promenade attracts vacationers from all over the world, including the spring-break college crowd.
More sedate than it used to be, but still livelier than Palm Beach, its northern neighbor, Fort Lauderdale has more to offer visitors than most beach towns. The passage of a casino gambling law revitalized this resort town, resulting in multimillion-dollar casinos and entertainment venues attracting more tourists and businesses to the area.
Must See or Do
Sights—Las Olas Boulevard, with its designer shops, cafes and beautiful people; Stranahan House and Bonnet House; Everglades National Park; a sunrise over palm-fringed beaches.
Museums—The major collection of CoBrA artwork at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale; African American Research Library and Cultural Center; the International Swimming Hall of Fame Museum; the Museum of Discovery and Science.
Memorable Meals—Waterfront dining at Kaluz and Blue Moon Fish; imaginative "Floribbean" cuisine at Cafe Maxx and 3030 Ocean; great steaks at Grille 66.
Late Night—The lively beachfront Elbo Room; a colorful cocktail at Blue Martini; people-watching at Shooters; the Seminole Paradise and Hard Rock complex of restaurants, nightlife and casino.
Walks—The Broadwalk at Hollywood Beach, filled with characters, cafes and shops; beautiful Fort Lauderdale Beach; quiet nature trails through Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park or Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park; the Riverwalk, a promenade that meanders past some of the city's earliest buildings and along the New River; a sea turtle walk.
Especially for Kids—Free-flying aviaries at Butterfly World; Discovery Center at the Museum of Discovery and Science; Young at Art Children's Museum in Davie; airboat tours at Everglades Holiday Park; Splash Adventure at Quiet Waters Park.
Fort Lauderdale sits in the middle of the burgeoning megalopolis known as South Florida, which hugs the Atlantic coast from Miami (a 40-minute drive south) to Palm Beach (a 45-minute drive north). It is the principal city in huge Broward County, two-thirds of which is Everglades swampland. What isn't swampy includes 23 mi/37 km of wide white-sand beaches and 30 other municipalities.
Several nearby coastal communities make up Greater Fort Lauderdale. To the north are Pompano Beach (where sportfishing is a favored pastime), Lauderdale-by-the-Sea (a small seaside oasis) and Deerfield Beach (one of South Florida's best-kept secrets).
To the south are Port Everglades (the country's third-busiest port, frequented by top cruise lines), Dania Beach (known for its antiques), Hallandale Beach (a seaside community popular with retirees, younger folks and eastern European immigrants) and Hollywood (its bicycle-, skateboard- and pedestrian-friendly Broadwalk parallels the ocean). Western suburbs include Davie, Plantation, Lauderhill, Sunrise and Weston.
If this sounds like a patchwork of towns, it is—making a car a necessity for almost any traveler.
South Florida was the ancestral home of the Seminoles and more than a dozen other Native American tribes, but that began to change in the 1830s when U.S. Army soldiers started clearing trails into the area. The city's namesake, Maj. William Lauderdale, built an outpost at the mouth of the New River. Around the same time, runaway slaves sought refuge in the Everglades, where they banded together with the Seminoles to battle white settlers.
It wasn't until the arrival of a railroad in the 1890s that the area began to grow significantly. Frank Stranahan, one of the city's founding fathers, migrated from Ohio in the early 1900s and established a trading post, ferry system and post office. He eventually married a native Floridian named Ivy Cromartie, and their home—two stories of Florida vernacular architecture—is now a museum in the historic district downtown.
Meanwhile Charles Rodes, an ambitious land developer from West Virginia, followed the lead of Venice, Italy, and increased the amount of waterfront property by dredging waterways through dense mangrove swamps, forming peninsulas and a network of canals that still exist.
Like other resort areas in Florida, Fort Lauderdale boomed following World War II. By the 1960s it was a famed spring-break destination, whose population of raucous partygoers peaked at 400,000 in 1985. Eventually the city government cracked down and forced the annual spring bacchanalia to go elsewhere. The city invested millions of dollars to clean up its crime-ridden quarters in the early 1990s, transforming Fort Lauderdale into a more refined, family-friendly destination known for tourism and business, though it still thrives on the seasonal college crowd.
Along with the rest of South Florida, Fort Lauderdale then experienced a real-estate boom, especially for condominiums. A younger crowd started to fill the city, lowering the age demographic and making the nightlife scene less stodgy and suburban.
The area's Latin community has also blossomed in recent decades, many moving north into Broward County.
The city of Fort Lauderdale, the self-proclaimed "Venice of America," has 165 mi/266 km of navigable waterways and a reported 40,000 boats, earning its title as "Yachting Capital of the World."
Fort Lauderdale has more than 85 public parks and beaches, including nearby Haulover Beach, one of the nation's largest and most popular naturist beaches.
Fort Lauderdale was popularized by and is still often remembered for the 1960s beach movie Where the Boys Are.
Besides Where the Boys Are, other movies shot in Fort Lauderdale include Cape Fear with Robert DeNiro; Married to the Mob, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, who also did Up Close and Personal there; and Porky's. In Her Shoes, with Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine, filmed in Deerfield Beach, and scenes from The Hours, with Julianne Moore, took place in nearby Hollywood.
The Seminole Indians have a reservation in the heart of Hollywood, but if you didn't know better you'd think you were in a typical suburb. For a glimpse into the more traditional lives of Seminoles, visit Big Cypress Reservation, about 45 mi/72 km west of Fort Lauderdale. There you'll hear the people speaking their native language and see gator wrestling and authentic palm-thatched chickee houses.
In the neighboring city of Vero Beach, skeletal remains as old as 10,000 years have been discovered. More recent history dating from the late 1890s suggests that renowned "barefoot mailmen" walked along the beach from Hypoluxo to Miami to deliver mail before there were roads in the area.
What's so new about the New River? Legend says it came into being overnight. Maps from the 1630s called it Rio Nuevo; the name stuck.
Fort Lauderdale is considered the westernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle.
Greater Fort Lauderdale has dozens of choices for golf, including courses designed by Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Robert Trent Jones, and Tom and George Fazio.
Fort Lauderdale is LGBTQ-friendly, with more than 200 LGBTQ-owned businesses in the city. Wilton Manors, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and the "second gayest city in America," is the hub of activity for the gay community. There are several gay bars and restaurants in that area.
Port Everglades is a 2,190-acre/887-hectare seaport located within the cities of Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Dania Beach. Each year about 4 million cruise passengers board more than 40 ships from 10 cruise lines at its eight terminals, putting it among the world's busiest cruise-ship facilities.
A highlight of Port Everglades Cruise Terminal 18 is the massive work of art that artist Michele Oka Doner created for the center of the entrance hall. Terminal 18 has several built-in features for waiting cruise passengers such as acoustic panels to keep sound levels down, TVs where passengers can watch news and sports, Wi-Fi and a children's play area.
The port, which is about 3 mi/5 km southeast of downtown Fort Lauderdale and even closer to the beaches, is at the southern end of the 17th Street Causeway. Port Everglades is less than 2 mi/3 km from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, but allow about an hour to make the transfer from the airport to the port. Interstate 595 goes directly into Port Everglades.
The port's Cruise Terminal Four has a high-efficiency air-conditioning system, 50 check-in counters, and two loading bridges to speed passenger check-in.
Secured parking lots are adjacent to the port terminals. Parking is available at both the Northport and Midport Parking Garages (2,500 spaces in each garage) and the 410-space surface parking lot between Terminals 18 and 19. Complimentary shuttle-bus service is provided between the garages and Cruise Terminals 18 and 29. Wheelchair-accessible parking is available.
Free internet access is available at all cruise terminals. There is a cell phone lot where people can wait for passengers to give them a call when the ship is ready for disembarkation. Digital signage provides ship names and cruise terminals on a rotating basis, making it easier for passengers to locate their ship's terminal.
All cruise passengers departing from Port Everglades enter the port through a security checkpoint and must show a government-issued photo ID for all people in the vehicle, as well as travel documents for departing passengers. Additional information can be found in the Cruise Passenger Information Section at http://www.porteverglades.net.
A taxi ride to and from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport costs about US$15-$30. This rate depends on the traffic to and from the port and airport. Limousine and van services are also available for parties of five or more. Most car rental firms are licensed to do business at Port Everglades, and when ships are in port, they may provide courtesy-shuttle service between the cruise terminals and their off-site locations. Confirm shuttle availability with your car rental company.
Ridesharing apps such as Uber or Lyft are recommended for transportation between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades.
The Quay area, which has shops and restaurants (including the popular Boatyard restaurant), is a short cab ride away. Visitor information is available at kiosks around the terminals.
Because of the growth of the cruising industry and Port Everglades, shopping centers surround the port on 17th Street. The Harbor Shops, less than 1 mi/2 km away, includes a bank and a supermarket.
Most of the ships that dock at Port Everglades offer guided excursions for cruise passengers who are booked on afternoon or evening flights. Some passengers may want to tack on an extra day or two at the beginning or end of their cruise.
Typical tours from Fort Lauderdale range from Everglades airboat tours where passengers are guaranteed sightings of wild alligators and a variety of colorful birds, to the old paddlewheel Jungle Queen for a sightseeing cruise past scores of the biggest waterfront mansions in the country to The Swap Shop, Florida's largest flea market. Tours also go to Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise.
Take a water-taxi ride and enjoy free on-and-off stops at area restaurants and on Las Olas, a trendy shopping area. There are also jaunts to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino's entertainment complex or tours of cultural sites highlighting landmarks and the arts district. If you're flying in and out of Miami, trips include South Beach's art-deco district, Little Havana, and shopping at the fabled Coconut Grove and Coral Gables' Miracle Mile. Other typical tours include half-day fishing charters located not far from Port Everglades.
Tours are designed to suit diverse interests and age groups, including a variety of watersports (snorkeling and paddleboarding) and activities such as bicycling. Excursions and their prices vary. Check with your travel agent for additional information.
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