Courtesy of Pelican Grand Beach Resort
It’s no secret that Florida has lots of beaches and plenty of sunshine. Fort Lauderdale, however, adds to the intrigue with about 165 miles of inland waterways that earned the city its nickname, “the Venice of America.” Whether you explore these canals via boat, gondola, kayak, or paddleboard, they’…re a great complement to the bustling beach just around the corner. But there’s more to Fort Lauderdale than its sand, sea, and snaking waterways. The city’s strong (and growing) art scene goes beyond simple murals and hipsters; and the international dining options are as diverse as the locals and tourists who frequent them. Fort Lauderdale is the more laid-back alternative to neighboring Miami, so enjoy lazy beach days, less-crowded rooftop bars, and art walks on your next trip to South Florida.
What to know before you go to Fort Lauderdale
With 3,000 hours of annual sunlight and year-round temps averaging 77 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s really never a bad time to visit Fort Lauderdale. For optimal temps and low chances of rain, December to April is your best bet. (Know that you’ll be sharing the beach with spring breakers from late March through mid-April.) Hurricane season is June through November, though the city has been spared from most of these storms in recent years.
On paper, Fort Lauderdale seems like a fairly walkable city. The distances between its different neighborhoods are usually only a mile, but you’ll hardly find people making those treks on foot. This is South Florida—hot, humid, scant shade—and Uber is fairly inexpensive here. One exception is how people explore Las Olas Boulevard: Starting in Downtown and stretching about two miles to the beach, this scenic road is worth the walk as you pass dozens of boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Once you reach the canals, you can admire the homes of Fort Lauderdale’s wealthiest residents.
- The Broward Center for the Performing Arts consistently hosts touring casts for Broadway’s hottest musicals, as well as opera, concerts, and other popular theater shows. Even during COVID, the center still hosts live music events by converting a parking lot into a socially distanced venue, aptly named Backlot Live.
- The Winterfest Boat Parade is one of Fort Lauderdale’s most distinctive December traditions. More than 100 boats decked out in holiday lights promenade for 12 miles down the New River and Intracoastal Waterway. Book your tickets months in advance for the Grandstand Viewing Area or reserve a dinner table at one of the waterfront restaurants along the route.
- On the last Saturday of every month, January through November, the FATVillage Arts District hosts an Art Walk with live music, local artisan booths, and art galleries staying open later than usual.
- Live music enthusiasts should plan their visit around the first Sunday of every month when Fort Lauderdale hosts Jazz Brunch—a free concert series set along the city’s Riverwalk.
- With tourists hailing from around the world—and bringing their varied tipping cultures with them—Fort Lauderdale restaurants, especially on the beach, often include an 18 percent gratuity on the bill. This rule of thumb applies to groups of any size, so be sure to double-check your bill, but don’t be afraid to add a little something extra.
- Don’t be fooled by the two-for-one happy hour specials at the beachfront restaurants. The frozen drinks are surprisingly strong and unnaturally huge, but so is the cost. Because the prices aren’t always on the menu, you may get sticker shock when the tab comes.
- With so many restaurants lining the river and Intracoastal Waterway, do as the locals do and rent a boat for a day of hopping from one eatery to the next.
- There are lots of dog-friendly restaurants (and hotels) in Fort Lauderdale, so feel free to bring your four-legged friend on your trip.
- With COVID-19 still a concern, much of the hospitality industry has taken part in Visit Lauderdale’s Safe+Clean Pledge. Most establishments will require masks indoors; face coverings are optional outdoors. Since the sidewalks can get a bit busy in certain areas, especially on Fort Lauderdale Beach, it’s always best to have a mask handy so you can slip it on when crossing paths in crowded areas.
- In the summer, it rains almost every afternoon—usually around 2–3 p.m. for some reason. Get to the beach early to maximize your day and schedule some indoor activities for the afternoon—even if that activity is just a refreshing postsun, predinner nap.
- If you’re looking to charter a boat with a captain for the day, be sure to book well in advance. Weekdays might not be tough to find availability, but weekends fill up quickly, especially during the summer.
- Skip the cruise tours through the Intracoastal Waterway and opt for the Water Taxi instead. You’ll get the same expertly narrated views of Millionaire’s Row and Fort Lauderdale’s historic buildings, but with the added bonus of a hop-on/hop-off ticket that provides all-day transportation to some of the best spots in town.
read before you go
Essentials by South Florida–based travel writer and freelance journalist Jessica Poitevien (@shedreamsoftravel). Required Eating by Miami-based food and guidebook writer Amber Love Bond (@amber_love). Best Things to Do by Florida-based travel writer Terry Ward (@terrywardwriter and @floridabeyond). Hotels and LGBTQ+ coverage by South Florida–based freelance journalist and photographer Paul Rubio (@paultheprotraveler).