Best Things To Do in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale is a city made for beach bums and nature lovers. Case in point: Fort Lauderdale Beach and Sawgrass Recreation Park, home to alligators and other Florida wildlife. History buffs will find things to do here as well (we recommend a stop at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens). And though the Venice of America may lack the rollicking nightlife adjacent cities are known for, downtown Fort Lauderdale has its charms. The Riverwalk, the arts and entertainment district along the New River, and Las Olas Boulevard host art exhibitions and concerts that might surprise you with their quality.
Updated September 13, 2019
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Want a beautiful Florida beach without a crazy party scene? Fort Lauderdale Beach may be just what you're looking for. Here you'll find a calmer and less chaotic version of Miami Beach – but with the same sugary sands and crystal clear water. There are still parties, but you're more likely to find families relaxing or leisurely walking the waterline than raucous groups of college kids. Backing the shoreline, the palm tree-lined promenade bustles with visitors looking to shop and dine in the many establishments along it. There are also beach chair and water sports equipment rentals near the shore.
Recent visitors loved Fort Lauderdale Beach for its wide, expansive shoreline, with some noting that even when there were a lot of people, it didn't feel crowded. Many were also impressed with how clean the beach is, adding that its calm waters make it a great place to bring kids.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Fort LauderdaleBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Located less than a mile south of Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale Beach Park beckons to families who want to spend their beach day doing more than just lounging and swimming. At this free beachfront park, visitors have access to all sorts of facilities, including volleyball and basketball courts, outdoor showers, restrooms, a playground and a picnic area with tables and grills. Plus, the park's sands are less crowded than nearby Fort Lauderdale Beach, and lifeguards are on duty daily during daylight hours.
Overall, recent travelers enjoyed their time at this park, citing its beautiful setting and top-notch amenities as highlights. Many also appreciated the property's proximity to various shops, restaurants and hotels, such as B Ocean Resort and the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa. However, some past visitors warned that additional charges apply for select services. Expect to pay about $50 for beach chair and umbrella rentals, and $6 to $8 per vehicle for parking, depending on the time of day. Parking is limited (especially on weekends and holidays), so consider arriving early.
- #3View all PhotosfreeLas Olas Beach#3 in Fort LauderdaleBeaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Head north from Fort Lauderdale Beach Park or east on Las Olas Boulevard and you'll find Las Olas Beach, a small stretch of sand that attracts beachgoers of all ages. Beach amenities are not as plentiful as those offered at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park; however, visitors have access to beach chair and water sports equipment rentals, restrooms and metered parking. Restaurants, bars and shops are also available across the street.
Reviewers rave about this beach's clean sand and clear water, although some cautioned that the area can get a bit rowdy at night, especially when college students are in town for spring break. Police officers are always present, though, and alcohol and loud music are never permitted. If you tire of sunbathing or swimming, a few travelers suggest taking a stroll along the paved esplanade up to Fort Lauderdale Beach.
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Located a few blocks north of Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park's position between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean makes it a fun locale for all types of travelers. Those looking to get a little wet can canoe or kayak in the largest of the park's coastal dune lakes. Adventurers who want to get their adrenaline pumping can bike along the nearly 2-mile paved park drive. Meanwhile, visitors who prefer to explore by foot can hike the Coastal Hammock Trail, which snakes through a native maritime tropical hardwood hammock ecosystem, one of the last of its kind in the county. Fisherman can make a catch at the seawall, while birders can look for 250-plus species that live in and regularly grace the park.
Many past visitors were quick to call this attraction a hidden treasure that shouldn't be missed, no matter how long your trip to Fort Lauderdale is. Travelers found the park to be an oasis, citing its abundant flora and fauna and plentiful activities as highlights. Others appreciated the easy access to the beach, as there is a tunnel that brings visitors under the highway and directly to the shoreline.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Fort LauderdaleRecreation, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
One of the best ways to take in your surroundings is to sign up for a boat tour. Fort Lauderdale boat operators offer a variety of ways to get out on the water, from traditional sightseeing outings to fishing charters to themed excursions in specialty boats. The following are a few traveler favorites:
Carrie B Cruises: For a standard narrated tour of Fort Lauderdale's waterways, consider booking a cruise with Carrie B Cruises. Lasting one-and-a-half hours, Carrie B Cruises' sightseeing excursions travel up and down the New River and Intracoastal Waterway, passing Port Everglades and Millionaires Row (a waterfront strip of mansions in the Las Olas Isles neighborhood) along the way. Each trip departs daily at 11 a.m., 1 or 3 p.m. from October through April, but cruises are not available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between May and September. Adult tickets cost $23.95; passes for children ages 3 to 12 are $12.95, and kids 2 and younger ride for free; reduced rates are available for visitors who book in advance online.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Fort LauderdaleCasinos, Shopping, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDCasinos, Shopping, SportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're looking to spend a day at the races or just find a nice spot for dinner, Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach has you covered. The Gulfstream Park racetrack opened in 1939 as one of the top horse racing venues in the United States. It has continued its legacy with world-class races every Wednesday to Sunday from December through September, and it caters to both beginners and experienced bettors. Admission is free, but various luxury boxes and private suites are available for serious racing enthusiasts. Special events at the park include Breakfast at Gulfstream (December through March), where visitors can enjoy a bottomless buffet for $10 per person while watching morning training on the track, listening to guest speakers and more. Gulfstream Park also hosts the annual Florida Derby – considered the biggest racing day of the year in South Florida – at the end of March or beginning of April.
In recent years, Gulfstream Park has grown to include the Village at Gulfstream, a dining, outdoor shopping and entertainment venue. There you'll find stores like Crate & Barrel and Bang & Olufsen, dining options ranging from Texas De Brazil to Brio Tuscan Grille and even a casino, a bowling alley and karaoke rooms. The Village at Gulfstream is the first facility of its kind at a thoroughbred racetrack in North America.
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Diverse restaurants, 10 international art galleries and dozens of retail options line Las Olas Boulevard. But while casual walkers and window shoppers enjoy soaking in the Floridian atmosphere and overall aesthetic of the boulevard, the more intent consumer may not find this commercial street as appealing due to the high price tags. However, travelers recommend grabbing a bite to eat above all else, as many were impressed with the quality of food and the amount of alfresco dining options available. Our advice would be to make a stop here if you're planning to visit the nearby Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale or local museums like the Museum of Discovery and Science.
In terms of parking, there are both on-street and private lots available to customers. Street parking is metered starting at 11 a.m. in most locations, and city and private lots can be found on the side streets that run parallel to the boulevard. The Riverside Hotel also offers a seven-story parking lot. For visitors without cars, the water taxi's No. 2 stop is next to Las Olas Boulevard. Additionally, the No. 11 bus and Sun Trolley's Las Olas Link pick up and drop off along the thoroughfare.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Fort LauderdaleShoppingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDShoppingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Located in Sunrise, Florida – about 14 miles west of downtown Fort Lauderdale – Sawgrass Mills mall is a shopping destination like no other. Known by locals simply as "Sawgrass," it is the largest outlet mall in the United States. Within the 350-store complex, you will find a variety of retail sections with shops ranging from budget-friendly options like a Super Target, Marshalls, J.Crew Factory and Nike Factory Store to the Colonnade's exclusive luxury-brand outlets like Tory Burch, Prada, Jimmy Choo and Kate Spade. Sawgrass also houses an IMAX movie theater two Starbucks coffee shops, a post office, two food courts and several restaurants, including The Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Rainforest Cafe (a great spot for families) and Zinburger wine and burger bar. If you hope to see the entire mall, plan on spending at least one full day here.
Sawgrass Mills is such a major shopping destination that it is not uncommon to see vacationers wheeling empty suitcases around the mall and filling them up with their purchases as they shop. Though Sawgrass Mills no longer offers an official tour bus to and from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, there are third-party direct shuttles and town car services available. Still, the best way to travel to and from the airport (and around South Florida in general) is by renting a car of your own. To cater to international travelers, the mall even has its own currency-exchange station.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Fort LauderdaleEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Spanning 22 blocks, the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District holds some of Fort Lauderdale's top attractions. You'll find the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, the Nova Southeastern University Art Museum, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Florida Grand Opera and the Historic Stranahan House Museum, in addition to many restaurants, green spaces, movie theaters and shops. The district is set along the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale and is a lovely place to stroll or sit on a bench with a cup of coffee. It also encompasses Las Olas Boulevard, where you will find many shopping, dining and nightlife venues.
Recent travelers said they enjoyed the views along the river and found the paved stretch to be a perfect place to go for a walk. Additionally, many recommended hopping on the free Riverwalk Water Trolley, which operates like a bus system with eight different stops along the river's north and south banks. The water trolley runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and can be requested by calling 954-TROLLEY. Riders can also track the location of the water trolley using the Sun Trolley Tracker app, or simply waiting 20 to 30 minutes at the nearest stop.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Fort LauderdaleMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This house sitting between the Intracoastal Waterway and Fort Lauderdale Beach has a long romantic history. In 1919, a wealthy settler gave the 35-acre property (named after the bonnet lily flower that grew on the grounds) as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband Frederic. In 1920, the newlyeds began construction of Bonnet House, hoping to build a winter getaway where Frederic could pursue his art and Helen could work on her music and poetry. But construction soon stopped when Helen unexpectedly died in 1925. Frederic didn't resume property renovations until 1931 when he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. The new couple continued decorating the house until Frederic's death. Several decades later in 1983, Evelyn donated the house to the state's Trust for Historic Preservation, opening it to visitors for guided tours.
Previous travelers said Bonnet House has something to keep every type of traveler satisfied: Art lovers, horticulture enthusiasts, animal lovers and history buffs will enjoy this attraction. The plantation home is ornately decorated and filled with artwork (all three residents of the house were artists of some kind), but the estate's grounds are also well worth the visit. The campus is lush and beautiful for a nice walk through nature and even sometimes accompanied by monkeys. However, some noted that not every room in the house has air conditioning, so bring a fan if you're visiting during the summer months.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Fort LauderdaleEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're interested in seeing a theatrical performance during your trip, head to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center is conveniently located on the west side of the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District in Fort Lauderdale, so you can easily grab dinner and a drink before your show or end your night with a stroll along the water.
Shows at the Broward Center range from family-friendly options like Baby Shark Live!, Disney's Aladdin and Junie B. Jones: The Musical to adult-centered performances like Beatles tribute shows, Les Miserables, So You Think You Can Dance Live! and the Miami City Ballet. Be sure to check the theater's website for a current event calendar. The Broward Center recommends patrons arrive 45 minutes to an hour before showtime to allow themselves time to park, get through security and enjoy the pre-theater experience – complete with food and drink specials. Seating opens up 30 minutes before the performance begins. The Broward Center does not enforce a dress code, so you may get as dressed up or dressed down as you desire. Visitors loved the theater itself and said they had a wonderful experience from start to finish. Still, some guests noted that the space could use more restrooms, as long lines form quickly during intermission and after shows.
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Take an airboat tour of the Florida Everglades at Sawgrass Recreation Park and prepare to be amazed (or scared) by the close-up vistas of alligators and other creatures. You can even reserve an airboat tour for nighttime runs to see nocturnal animals in their natural state. Or, arrange for a private tour, which is twice as long as the standard 30-minute ride.
Past travelers raved about their airboat rides at Sawgrass Recreation Park. In fact, many were surprised at how close they were able to get to the gators and found their tour guides to be knowledgeable and entertaining. The only thing that made some visitors uncomfortable (aside from being an arm's-length away from wild gators) was the small, dirty cages in which the attraction's animals reside.
- #13View all Photos#13 in Fort LauderdaleParks and Gardens, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Tucked away on an unassuming street in Davie, Florida, Flamingo Gardens is a botanical garden and Everglades wildlife refuge situated 17 miles west of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Recent guests report that the entrance to this hidden gem is less than impressive, but once you're inside the gates, you will be transported to a stunning 60-acre tropical oasis filled with roaming peacocks, native Florida wildlife and more than 3,000 plant species.
A nonprofit organization, Flamingo Gardens aims to preserve endangered, injured animals in naturalistic habitats and educate the public on the history of South Florida and the area's flora and fauna. Animals on-site include sea otters, rehabilitated Florida panthers, a rescued black bear (named Josh), alligators, 250 bird species and – of course – the sanctuary's namesake Caribbean flamingos. Recent visitors loved the park's narrated tram tour through 200-year-old live oak trees and tropical groves, noting it was the perfect way to get an overview of the park. The 25-minute ride is free of charge and leaves every 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- #14View all Photos#14 in Fort LauderdaleCasinosTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDCasinosTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, underwent a massive $1.5 billion expansion in 2019, making it more than just a great place to stay. Travelers should head to the Hard Rock for dining, nightlife and – of course – gambling. The Seminole Hard Rock is a 10-mile drive southwest of downtown Fort Lauderdale and offers ample parking for visitors. At the more than 140,000-square-foot casino (the largest in South Florida), patrons can choose from 2,000-plus slot machines and 100-plus table games. Games include blackjack, Texas Hold 'em, minibaccarat, three-card poker and more. The award-winning poker room is fitted with flat-screen TVs and a large-screen projector for watching live sports games while you play. The casino also features a high-limit table room (and a high-limit slot room) where serious gamblers can test their luck. Recent visitors said the casino was clean and fun, but one common complaint was that it smelled strongly of cigarette smoke (smoking is permitted in all but the smoke-free room).
Those who aren't willing to risk it all on the blackjack table will still find plenty do. Seminole Hard Rock has dining establishments fit for all palates, ranging from fine dining at Council Oak steakhouse and Kuro (Japanese) to contemporary Asian cuisine at The Bol and the iconic Hard Rock Cafe. What's more, a brand-new food court features pizza, burgers, hot dogs and an all-day breakfast kiosk. You can grab a drink at the Center Bar, the L Bar and various other lounges, too. The property also boasts the 7,000-person Hard Rock Live arena, which is a great place to see visiting entertainers like Maroon 5, Andrea Bocelli, Sting and more.
- #15View all Photos#15 in Fort LauderdaleParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Butterfly World, the largest butterfly house on earth and the first of its kind in the United States, has been in business since 1986 and is home to more than 20,000 live butterflies. The 3-acre attraction was the brainchild of Ronald Boender, a former electrical engineer with a fascination for raising butterflies. He is also known for starting the "Bring Butterflies Back" campaign in 1988, which led to the creation of thousands of new butterfly habitats and an increase in butterfly populations across North America. Today, visitors of Butterfly World can not only interact with more than 50 butterfly species at any one time, but also admire tropical birds and feed lorikeets.
This Coconut Creek attraction, located about 15 miles north of downtown Fort Lauderdale, is a great place to bring children. Recent patrons said it was a beautiful and unique place to spend an afternoon, and they were amazed to see the butterflies flying all around them. Another highlight was feeding the birds in the lorikeet enclosure (though some reviewers warn that the birds will perch right on your arm, which may frighten some visitors). No outside food is permitted at Butterfly World, but you can bring lunch to eat at designated picnic benches outside of the entrance. There are also two outdoor cafes on the premises that sell snacks and drinks.
- #16View all Photos#16 in Fort LauderdaleHistoric Homes/Mansions, MuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, MuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Situated just off Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, the Historic Stranahan House Museum has a storied history in South Florida. Frank Stranahan, an Ohio businessman, moved to Florida in the early 1890s and is considered to be Fort Lauderdale's founding father. He built Stranahan House in 1901 for use as a trading post and community hall. It later transitioned into a private residence for Stranahan and his wife, Ivy, and was renovated between 1913 and 1915. After Stranahan's untimely death in 1929 during an economic crisis, Ivy Stranahan rented out rooms of the home and leased the lower floor to a few restaurants. After her passing in 1971, the house was left to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and then purchased by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society in 1975. The organization restored the house between 1980 and 1984, and opened it to the public later that year as the Historic Stranahan House Museum.
Visitors must take a guided tour to see the museum. Tours last between 45 minutes and an hour and take place at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. daily (with the exception of major holidays). Inside the property, you'll learn about the history of the house, the Stranahan family and Fort Lauderdale as a whole. Groups of 10 or more people should book a private tour for $10 per person – less than the standard admission price of $12 for adults. Admission for seniors costs $11, while tickets for students cost $7. The Historic Stranahan House Museum is especially lovely during the holiday season, when it is decorated in a Victorian Christmas theme and entertains visitors with live music and tours by costumed docents.
- #17View all Photos#17 in Fort LauderdaleMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If it's a rainy day and you need an indoor activity that will appeal to the kids, take them to the Museum of Discovery and Science. The museum is filled with so many activities, animals and exhibits, your kids may never want to leave. Get introduced to river otters, take a simulated airboat ride through the Everglades or learn more about Florida weather patterns at the Storm Center. Other must-visit spots in the museum include an aviation station, where kids can climb into the cockpit of a World War II fighter plane, and the fossil-filled Dino Boneyard. If that's not enough, guests can catch a flick at the 300-seat Imax theater, buy a souvenir at the gift shop or pick up a sandwich at the theater's snack stand.
Whether you're traveling with or without kids, recent museumgoers highly recommend a stop at the property. However, some felt slighted that select parts of the already pricey museum cost extra to visit. Others noted that certain exhibits were outdated and in need of an upgrade, as some interactive features didn't function as promised.
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