By Carla Marie Rupp
Sandy beaches, wonderful restaurants, craft breweries, rooftop bars, specialty museums, and a thriving arts and culture scene…just a few of the fun things I enjoyed in Fort Lauderdale in South Florida.
In fact, I enjoyed every minute of my stay, even though I was traveling on a budget. Fort Lauderdale is a place where you can find plenty of fun things to do on any budget.
If you’re just a regular tourist like me, you’ll find it best to navigate its 300+ miles of waterways – loved by visitors and locals alike in this “Venice of America” – by Water Taxi. It’s a pleasure for sightseeing, especially the hop-on and hop-off aspect of it. Surprisingly, it became a highlight of my Fort Lauderdale trip, and still remains one of the things I remember most about it.
For Me, A Nostalgic Place to Vacation
I’ve always had a love for Fort Lauderdale. In fact, it’s a bit of a nostalgic seaside place for me. Some of that nostalgia is rooted in spring-break days years ago, when I partied in Lauderdale’s seaside cafes, decks and bars. Later, on more conservative trips, I shared a Ft. Lauderdale motel with my parents, and took my toddler son down to the main stretch of beach for a dip in the ocean.
Today, however, a new Fort Lauderdale, or FTL as it’s often known, has evolved. Although it still attracts the spring-breakers, the city is now more hip, classy and sophisticated. And comfortable. It continues to be fun, just different from its “Where the Boys Are” reputation of years ago.
Two Fun Trips to Fort Lauderdale
Not long ago two opportunities arose for me to enjoy unforgettable Fort Lauderdale stays of three to five days each. And each one was so incredible. How could they not be with so many fun things to do in Ft. Lauderdale?
One was prior to a trip to Key West. My New York City friend Suki Rae, a noted flutist and composer, had the idea to vacation in Ft. Lauderdale on our way to a vacation in Key West. It was a great experience – literally two vacations in one – which I can highly recommend. Enjoy Fort Lauderdale and the fun things there first, before driving or taking the bus down to the Florida Keys. Our plan worked out really well.
The other was before a week-long cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas with my Tribeca high-rise neighbor-and blogger-friend Sue Horowitz. We decided to travel to South Florida a few days early to enjoy fun Ft. Lauderdale. We had a vacation before our adventure, which turned out to be perfect.
In each of these Lauderdale stays with a different woman friend, I enjoyed different restaurants, the beach, and unique experiences. And each time I flew nonstop from blustery, cold New York to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport and sunny Florida. What a switch weather-wise – it was like night and day!
Plenty of Budget Hotels
Both times, on arrival at FTL airport it was simple to get an Uber car for the 7-mile ride to our little budget hotel, one of a number in in the city in the budget to moderate range.
There are more than 35,000 hotel rooms in all price ranges in Ft. Lauderdale, which provides plenty of lodging options. Food-wise, there are more than 4,000 restaurants and other eateries to explore. Add world-class shopping and outdoor adventures and you’ve got the makings for a great vacation. While price levels today are not what they were back in spring break days, you can still have a great time without going broke.
The Hotel Deauville, where we stayed on one trip, is a small hotel/hostel that is a great deal (under $100). The lodging includes a tropical atmosphere, with swimming pool and tiki lounge. There is free Wi-Fi, and some units have a kitchenette. Amenities also include a grill, patio, bikes to rent, and more.
Beach towels and beach chairs are available at no charge to be taken to the nearby beach. People are nice; it’s clean, fairly quiet, well-run, with space at outdoor tables. (By the way, the Miami Intl. Airport is 28 miles from this budget motel.) Convenience stores, pharmacies, and the Galt Ocean Plaza shopping mall are conveniently located for shopping and entertainment, including a few bars with food and some live music (jazz, pop or blues) when scheduled.
On both trips Jaime, a local Florida friend, came by to either cook with us – he brought fixings to make a salad – or to go with us in the residential neighborhood to the lovely, expansive Earl Lifshey Ocean Park beach (free) a few blocks away.
He also took me on a drive around the city after we went to his comedy improv meet-up group. That way I could see the gorgeous long stretch of the Fort Lauderdale Beach, which I remembered from the old “debauchery” days. As we drove along the oceanfront (a lot tamer now), I happily snapped pictures just like a crazed tourist, before we returned to the Deauville.
If You Go:
The Hotel Deauville
2916 North Ocean Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
Wonderful Fun Restaurants in Fort Lauderdale
Luckily, Hotel Deauville is walking distance to some wonderful fun restaurants I tried.
The Etna Rosso Ristorante is a family-owned restaurant with great Italian food. It’s a white tablecloth, Southern Italian, small, full-of-charm restaurant ($42 for two). Here you’ll find superb pasta dishes, daily specials, good wines, expert service and reasonable prices. The on-site owner couldn’t have been more helpful, especially with our wine selection.
Our early dinner time had soft and pleasant, easy-to-listen-to 1940s-style jazz standards music playing, excellent for table conversation. Come early in the day for fresh-baked pastries and homemade rolls with cappuccino. There’s outdoor and indoor seating and it’s family-friendly, wheelchair-friendly and LGBT-friendly. I can’t forget its yummy eggplant parm, always a favorite I like to order anywhere.
We found Nick’s Italian Bistro and Upstairs Supper Club to be a lovely and fun restaurant with classic Italian specialties (around $25 each). Our small group, which included Suki’s brother and a local friend, chose to dine on the upstairs deck. There we enjoyed the balmy tropical climate and soothing breeze.
A good Fort Lauderdale restaurant, Nick’s, which opened in 1974, is still family-owned. Its owner, Dominic, is from a mountain town in the region of Abruzzo. He and his staff pride themselves on the quality of Nick’s food and their service. It opens at 4 pm; be sure to try the appetizers, which are especially delicious.
Shooters, off Oakland Park Boulevard on the Intracoastal Waterway, was once a popular sports bar and restaurant. Another fun restaurant, it is now more cosmopolitan and upscale with superb American food offered at lunch and dinner. Its prices are far less (around $25 each for us) than what we’d pay in New York City. It’s definitely a good deal for the laid-back, beautiful experience.
Shooters was recommended by Valerie, a local friend of my shipmate Sue, because we could easily walk there and meet her for a tasty, Sunday brunch on the Intracoastal. It is an amazing, scenic place to watch the boats go by while eating and chatting with friends. Be sure to see the vintage photographs from old Florida in the front hallway.
Shooters was also an excellent place to board the must-do, hop-on/hop-off Water Taxi. For $28 it will take you around Fort Lauderdale, and even down to nearby Hollywood. (Shooters is stop # 9 of the 10 stops in Ft. Lauderdale).
Nearby you’ll find the sprawling Bokampers Sports Bar & Grill, another fun Fort Lauderdale restaurant, also located on the waterfront. There’s both outdoor and indoor seating, plus a firepit and plenty of parking, to enjoy pub food at this popular restaurant.
If You Go:
The Etna Rosso Ristorante
3354 N. Ocean Boulevard
Nick’s Italian Bistro and Upstairs Supper Club
3496 N. Ocean Boulevard
3033 NE 32nd Avenue
Bokampers Sports Bar & Grill
3115 NE 32nd Avenue
For a Fun Ride, Take the Water Taxi Along Millionaires Row
For travelers on a budget, the Water Taxi is certainly the best bargain and a fun ride. We loved it. It also made us feel like millionaires on the water.
Step aboard and feel the breeze on your face while gazing at the fabulous mansions you pass along “Millionaires Row.“ You’ll see plenty of yachts passing by, making you realize there are also many fun things to do in Fort Lauderdale for those not on a budget. It’s little wonder Fort Lauderdale is often called the Yachting Capital of the World.
Narration on the Water Taxi is entertaining and informative, and you learn so much about the history and culture of the area. We reveled in relaxing while listening to who lives where, who did what, and which celebrities live along the route.
Landmarks on the route include Broward Center for the Performing Arts, NSU Art Museum and the Historic Stranahan House Museum. The Stranahan House, Broward County’s oldest surviving structure, was built as a trading post and later converted into a residence. It can be accessed from Water Taxi stop #1.
Our fun Water Taxi ride also included a stop on the Las Olas Waterfront where we discovered a whole new glamorous world. (Note: it was well within our budgets since strolling and window-shopping didn’t cost us anything.)
Along Las Olas Boulevard we visited countless cafes, art galleries and shops, all without the hassle of parking. We just strolled about, saw some of the art, looked at the best of Florida shopping, and had something to eat. Great people-watching too, and a fun place to take pictures of all the cool architecture and pastel-colored shops. We also found Las Olas to be an easy place to find gifts for friends back home.
The weekend we were there was an exotic car show in town. Posing for photos with the cars, we added a bit of glitz to our afternoon.
If You Go:
All-Day Tickets: Adult (12-64 years) $28; Senior and Military $23; Children (5-11 years) $14. Water Taxis can also be chartered for groups. All tickets must be purchased online.
Historic Stranahan House Museum
335 SE 6th Avenue
Daily guided tours at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.
Admission: Adults $12, Seniors $11, Students $7.
Fort Lauderdale Fun Neighborhoods
After our cruise to the Bahamas returned to Fort Lauderdale, Sue’s local friend met us at Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale’s cruise port. There she excitedly announced she had a surprise she thought we would like.
Fort Lauderdale is composed of 31 municipalities and we were soon on our way to one of them. It was Wilton Manors, a pretty, little artsy area which we immediately loved.
The Yard at Wilton Manors is such a cool, hidden, fun spot in Fort Lauderdale, a peaceful, urban bohemian, retro-entertainment oasis among Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. You can take an Uber here or drive and park in the parking lot.
It’s a casual atmosphere, with a selection of splashy, funky art, and a totally different vibe than Las Olas Boulevard. I had fun taking pictures and particularly liked a large mural of the famous Frida, the renowned late artist of Mexico.
It has three eateries in The Yard: the Alchemist, the Voo La Voo Cafe and the La Mexicana Tapas and Taqueria. Come on Taco Tuesdays and you can get street tacos and margaritas for around $2 each. The area is pet-friendly, and several of the cafes share an outdoor patio.
You can find all kinds of original art, crafts and beautiful clothing, jewelry and gift items for sale here. On weekends you can often meet some of the artists and artisans, and occasionally enjoy live music.
Speaking of art, beauty, history and shops, the city is awash in color with murals, galleries and many kinds of museums. If you have time, visit the historic Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You’ll find fine paintings in the museum, and monkeys in the gardens.
For the Florida mall experience take the Water Taxi to the Galleria Mall (#7 stop on the Water Taxi). You may also want to visit the Museum of Discovery and Science, and the International Swimming Hall of Fame Museum, especially fun if you’re passionate about swimming.
If You Go:
The Yard at Wilton Manors
2430 NE 13th Avenue
Wilton Manors, Florida
Although there is not a website for The Yards, you can view it on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/eucalyptusgardensfl/
Hours are 8 a.m. until 9 pm. Lola’s Market is open Friday through Sunday, 9am – 5 pm.
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
900 North Birch Road
Admission: Adults $20, Children (6-12 years) $16
Museum of Discovery and Science
401 SW 2nd Street
Admission: Adults $24, Seniors $22, Children (2-12 years) $19
International Swimming Hall of Fame Museum
1 Hall of Fame Drive
Admission: many areas of the museum are currently closed due to construction. Half-price-admission tickets are Adults $4, Seniors $3, Students $2, Children (6 years or younger) free, and Active Military free.
A Fun Destination
Greater Fort Lauderdale has so much to offer, especially for those looking for fun things to do. There are a huge number of excellent restaurants of all kinds, extensive shopping, picture-perfect beaches, wave-jumping, and breath-taking beautiful waterways.
One of the best things about visiting Fort Lauderdale is the ability to see another side of Florida on the Intracoastal via the water taxi. I hope to do it again someday soon, and find more art, and definitely eat more Florida food!
And because I like scuba diving, I think I’ll find out more about Greater Fort Lauderdale also being the “Wreck Capital of Florida”…
If you go:
Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
101 NE Third Avenue, Suite 100
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
(954) 765-4466 / (800) 22-SUNNY