Known as the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale is home to 165 miles of canals and waterways that traverse through the city, as well as a stretch of sandy beaches. Water is truly a part of experiencing the city; from the Tequesta Indians, who first inhabited the area, to subsequent American settlers, they were all drawn to the water.
When docked in Port Everglades, the city offers plenty of water activities, from swimming and water sports to simply lounging the day away on the seemingly endless strips of beaches. While on land, Fort Lauderdale is a hot spot for shopping, restaurants, entertainment and cultural experiences. No matter the age or chapter in life, both visitors and locals can find everything they’re looking for — as well as a few surprises they didn’t even know to hope for.
Fort Lauderdale has its own set of unique sights and sounds, and we’ve curated the top 10 can’t-miss experiences just for you. Here they are, with a note of their distance to port.
The city’s swatch of sand is part of the 23-mile-long stretch of beach known as the Gold Coast, which starts in Deerfield Beach and moves southward to Hollywood. A major tourist draw for decades, Fort Lauderdale Beach has been a mecca for spring breakers — as evidenced in the 1960 film Where The Boys Are. Today, college coeds still make their way onto the shore, but it’s also a place for families, couples and singles to relax.
Separated by the scenic A1A state road, bars, restaurants and hotels are just steps away from the beach, with many offering cabanas and lounge chairs so guests can laze the day away in the sun. The boardwalk offers a scenic path for joggers to enjoy on their runs, providing stunning views of the sunrise for early birds and sunsets for night owls. Additionally, from March through October, sea turtles make their way onto shore to nest, giving families and animal lovers the opportunity to witness the event from a safe distance.
The main stretch of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Las Olas, is fittingly named after the Spanish phrase for “the waves” and is a one-stop shop for visitors and natives alike. Not only are there dozens of restaurants with a variety of menus, but the boulevard is also home to the historic Riverside Hotel and Stranahan House, as well as shops, art galleries and museums.
Take the kids to the Museum of Discovery and Science, or meander through the newest exhibits at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. Enjoy al fresco dining for lunch, or head out to the boulevard for dinner and drinks at any of the litany of bars and restaurants. Whatever experience is desired, Las Olas Boulevard has it.
Affectionately known as MODS, the Museum of Discovery and Science is a place to explore the world around you from the comfort of a single building. Watch North American otters play in their tank, step inside the mouth of a Megalodon, or dig for fossils at the adjacent Dig Pit. With the Everglades being an important part of Florida life, learn about the precious ecosystem in the EcoDiscovery Center. Or, experience a hurricane without actually being in one by braving the Storm Center. Plus, have a one-of-a-kind movie experience at the in-house IMAX Theater, which boasts the biggest screen in South Florida and plays everything from family-friendly nature films to the latest box office hits. While the museum has plenty of permanent displays, check the website for special events and traveling exhibits.
Museum of Discovery and Science, 401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312. 954-467-6637, mods.org
AutoNation IMAX Theater, 401 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312. 954-463-4629, mods.org/imax
Another stretch of entertainment in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Himmarshee Village is home to a lively crowd. For those who love music, Revolution Live is a popular spot to catch live musical acts — both mainstream and underground — for a relatively inexpensive rate. In fact, scenes from the Bourbon Room in Rock of Ages were shot here, and some of the props still remain. Other bars, including Original Fat Cat’s and Poorhouse, also open up their stages to local bands to show off their tunes. America’s Backyard is a popular spot for dancing and music, and bars Dicey Riley’s, Himmarshee Public House, ROK:BRGR and many more provide nighttime experiences that can’t be beat.
Downtown Himmarshee Village, Himmarshee St. and SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33301. downtownhimmarshee.com
Art comes in many forms, and it’s all a part of the experience at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. From photography to ancient clay work, to paintings by renowned artists, the curators provide a unique experience for both novices and experts. So great are the exhibits that the museum has been featured in The New York Times. In the past, the works of Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and many others have graced its walls. It’s not just viewing art that makes this museum special, but also its wine series, family fun days, roundtable discussions with experts and lavish gallery openings.
NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, One E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33301. 954-525-5500, nsuartmuseum.org
At 4,000 square feet, the Stonewall National Museum and Archives has perhaps one of the largest collections of memorabilia that chronicles American LGBT history. Inside, visitors can learn about the fight for equal rights and the AIDS crisis, as well as the LGBT community’s impact on pop culture and history. In the museum is the gavel that ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; posters from Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign; and thousands of LGBT books. The museum also hosts author events, movie nights, talks and other educational seminars.
Stonewall National Museum & Archives, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33304. 954-763-8565, stonewall-museum.org
Since 1991, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts has been a place to see some of the finest performances in ballet, live music, theater, opera, musicals and more. Some of the biggest names in showbiz — from Broadway’s Newsies and The Lion King to violinist Itzhak Perlman and tribute bands for Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Pink Floyd — have graced the stage, providing a variety of performances that will please everyone. With the center’s location in the heart of Las Olas Boulevard, patrons of the arts can enjoy dinner at one of the many local restaurants before a show. Or, just grab a drink at the venue’s bar while taking in its beauty.
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312. 954-462-0222, browardcenter.org
The urban art scene has been growing in South Florida, and the Flagler Arts and Technology (FAT) Village is putting Fort Lauderdale on the map. Within the last few years, this ever-growing art community, which is home to a number of creative businesses and artists, has added a small, eclectic network of restaurants, cafes, retail shops and galleries. Here, visitors can peruse numerous galleries, grab lunch and drinks, or commemorate their trip with unique souvenirs from local artists or a fresh henna tattoo. The popular C&I Studios is a marketing and media company that moonlights as a community hub with a quaint coffee shop by day, and a lounge/bar by night. Additionally, on the last Saturday of every month the village hosts an art walk with food trucks, artists, crafters, musicians and galleries.
FAT Village, 521 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-760-5900, fatvillage.com
A historic home in Fort Lauderdale, the land was purchased by settler Hugh Taylor Birch in 1895, and in 1920 a home was built on the sprawling property by newlyweds Helen and Frederic Clay Bartlett as a winter retreat. Today, it’s open to the public as a museum, art gallery and garden, with five ecosystems present. Walk through the garden created by Evelyn Bartlett, Frederic’s second wife, which features her favorite orchids and one of the largest collections of the blooms in the southeastern United States. Along the way, watch for Amazon parrots who visit the property from time to time. Visitors can also find a South American caique parrot, South American squirrel monkeys and a swan on site. Inside, artwork by the home’s former owners is on display.
Bonnet House, 900 N. Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33304. 954-563-5393, bonnethouse.org
Behold the historic home of Frank and Ivy Stranahan, the founders of Fort Lauderdale. The couple built their riverside home in 1901. Since then, it has served as a post office, town hall and trading post. This is the oldest structure in the county, and guided tours are offered every day, with staff dressed in period costumes, and memorabilia and photographs from the early days of Fort Lauderdale on display. During the holidays, the house is transformed into how it would have been decorated by the couple for a Victorian Christmas.
Stranahan House, 335 SE Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33301. 954-524-4736, stranahanhouse.org
Did we miss any of your favorite Fort Lauderdale spots? Share your can’t-miss experiences in the comments below!