Things to do in Fort Lauderdale
From its historic downtown to a sprawling landscape of canals, Fort Lauderdale is a cruising paradise.
If you cast off from the luxury and glamour of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, you’ll discover another side of the city. Although famous for its annual celebration of all things yachting, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area beckons to those who are looking for more opportunities to get out on the water.
It truly is a cruiser’s paradise—from the ICW glittering in the mid-day sun to delightful waterfront cuisine, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the area’s winding canals from the bow of a boat. If you only stay in the approximate area of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show you’re missing out on many of the city’s other waterfront offerings. Venture away from the show grounds and reap the rewards. There are plenty of things to do in Fort Lauderdale.
City on the Water
Fort Lauderdale is a city shaped by the development of its waterways. With over 300 miles of canals lacing through the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area, and over 165 miles of canals winding through Fort Lauderdale itself, the city is an engineering marvel and reflects hundreds of years of progress. The city’s topography has changed dramatically since Frank Stranahan made his home along the New River in 1893. The Stranahan House is now the oldest surviving building in the county, still nestled alongside and watching over the New River.
Fort Lauderdale has grown from a small pioneering settlement into a hub of architecture, arts, and entertainment. This cultural growth occurred largely due to the city government’s aggressive efforts to foster development beginning in 1986. Today, the New River sits in the heart of historic downtown and connects the arts and entertainment district with the Las Olas shopping and beach district. There are many ways to experience Fort Lauderdale, but none as true to the city’s unique history as discovering it by water. From exploring the Hillsboro Inlet to an offshore fishing expedition and arrival in Port Everglades, the area’s flavor opens up by boat.
In its early development, the ICW provided a safe haven for ships trying to avoid the many hazards of the Atlantic coast. Approximately 380 miles of the ICW wind through the eastern coastline of Florida, making it the ideal setting for exploration and a great way to experience the vibrancy that Fort Lauderdale and the rest of South Florida has to offer. From the water, cruisers will enjoy the historic scenery, beautiful sprawling houses and mega yachts as well as a large number of marinas. Walking alongside the canals simply doesn’t have the charm of cruising them. There’s a reason why they call Fort Lauderdale the Venice of America.
Movin’ and Groovin’
Fort Lauderdale’s Water Taxi system provides the opportunity to cruise the city’s many canals in novel fashion. Locals and visitors alike should consider jumping aboard for a nice change of pace. It’s an ultra-convenient way to travel, and its stops cover many of the highlights along the ICW. Take a tour to learn more about the history and geographical past of the New River and the ICW as well as their offshoot canals. The first stop along the Fort Lauderdale route is the Las Olas Riverfront. As an added bonus your Water Taxi ticket will give you a discount on dining and attractions along Las Olas. Continue on to see the Stranahan House, Beach Place and even Hugh Taylor Birch State Park—the only nature park on the Water Taxi route, situated right across from the historic Bonnet House. Paying a one-off fare for the Water Taxi will give you a round-trip ticket from your first stop to any other stop and back, at any time of day. watertaxi.com
If all the cruising and sightseeing leaves you famished, you’re in luck. Some of Fort Lauderdale’s best waterfront dining experiences can be found alongside the ICW. Situated next to the iconic Lauderdale Marina near the 17th Street Bridge, 15th Street Fisheries is one of the best seafood restaurants in town. An award-winning menu combined with stunning views of the ICW makes this a popular eatery for locals and visitors alike. Enjoy fresh seafood outdoors while watching the feeding of wild tarpon that hang out under the docks waiting for scraps from the restaurant’s chefs. Buy a bag of frozen shrimp from the nearby shop to feed them yourself.
If you’re looking for a modern take on American cuisine and find yourself close to the Commercial Bridge, Kaluz is your stop. Classic décor combined with ample waterside seating allows for generous views of the ICW. The atmosphere is calm and fosters the perfect setting to sit and watch the sunset. Dockage is available if you arrive by boat, although space fills up quickly as the evening progresses. Open for lunch and dinner, some of the menu highlights include a delectable tuna tartare and jumbo lump crab dip as well as a variety of fresh seafood options.
On the north side of the Commercial Bridge, you’ll find Blue Moon Fish Co. For over 16 years this exquisite waterside restaurant has welcomed locals, transient visitors, and seasonal residents. Named one of the best restaurants in Fort Lauderdale for outdoor dining by the Sun Sentinel, Blue Moon Fish Co. is a must visit. If you’re looking for a more casual atmosphere try Coconuts, just south down the ICW. It offers great service and a full menu of fresh, quality seafood in a fun and relaxed outdoor setting. Finally, no visit to Fort Lauderdale is complete without a stop at the Floridian. Although you can’t bring your boat this fabled diner has great fare and is perfect for people-watching along Las Olas Boulevard. With free street parking for customers and a complete range of cocktails, the Floridian is a prime brunch location in the heart of Fort Lauderdale.
Venture north along the ICW and you’ll reach the Hillsboro Inlet. The inlet connects the Atlantic Ocean with the ICW and is guarded by the towering Hillsboro Inlet Light. This unique, iron lighthouse dates back to 1907 and is unlike any other in Florida. At 136 feet above sea level the lighthouse’s beam can be seen as far away as Bimini and is instantly recognizable due to the linear construction of its iron pilings. The Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society offers limited tours of the lighthouse—the next tour will take place on Sunday, November 6th at 8:30AM-11:00AM and leaves from Alsdorf Park. hillsborolighthouse.org
If you’d rather head south, cruise down the ICW past Port Everglades and you’ll arrive in Dania Beach. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Area has more than 23 miles of silky sand beaches with clear, mild water. Dania Beach is no exception with multiple awards for its “Blue Wave Beaches”. It’s no secret that Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding areas are always bustling with activity and vying for your attention, so if you need a reprieve from the hustle, smaller boats can head to Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (formerly known as John U. Lloyd Beach State Park). Pull up on the protected sandbar but keep an eye on the tide, since many have returned from a long walk only to find their boat beached.
The park is the perfect spot for a day at the beach or picnicking with friends and family and also has two boat ramps that provide easy access to the ocean via Port Everglades—one of the top cruise ports worldwide. If you don’t carry water toys on your boat, the park also provides canoes and kayaks, as well as surf fishing and nature studies. Park hours are from 8AM until sundown. floridastateparks.org/park/mizell-johnson
To get a great view of the setting sun make your way to the Dania Beach Fishing Pier. Grab a drink or a bite to eat at Quarterdeck and you’ll benefit from their great vantage point right above the ocean. Paying the admissions fee of $2.12 gives you pier access to wander its length or try your hand at fishing.
By Susanna Botkin, Southern Boating Magazine October 2016
801 Seabreeze Blvd.
Dania Beach Marina
151 N Beach Road
Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six
2301 SE 17 Street
1900 SE 15 Street
Sands Harbor Marina
125 N Riverside Drive
15th Street Fisheries
1900 SE 15 Street
Bahia Cabana Restaurant & Bar
3001 Harbor Drive (A1A)
Blue Moon Fish Co.
4405 W Tradewinds Ave.
429 Seabreeze Blvd.
(not on waterfront)
1410 E Las Olas Blvd.
3300 E Commercial Blvd.
3033 NE 32 Ave.