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Fort Lauderdale, Florida is known as the Venice of America, and with good reason. With over 300 miles of waterways, you can boat or kayak through charming waterways as you enjoy the South Florida sun and good cheer. I just returned from a five day trip to Fort Lauderdale, and its booming Las Olas Fort Lauderdale restaurant and bar scene, myriad of things to do, and variety of hotels blew me away.
Since I love to collect and hack points, at first I was hell bent on using points alone to book this trip. However, Marriott was running a special promotion on their vacation packages. If a trip was booked as a bundle (hotel and flight), they’d kick over 10,000 extra points to your account. Combining these 10,000 points with the 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties using their credit card, a bundle travel deal seemed to be the way to go.
This was the first time I booked a bundle deal, and I have to say…I liked it. There were a variety of flight categories available, from basic economy to first class. And the variety of hotels to choose from was excellent. Since I was going to be traveling solo, I wanted a hotel that was central to downtown Fort Lauderdale, near the Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale, and safe.
There are a number of hotels in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and construction is booming. There will probably be even more new downtown and oceanfront hotels in Fort Lauderdale within the year!
As it’s on the ocean and nestled among the waterways, there are so many unique things to do in Fort Lauderdale. It has the feel of a city with a true neighborhood vibe. If you’re looking for parties and nightlife, you can find it seven days a week. But if you’re looking for a place to rest or bring the family, Fort Lauderdale also fits the bill. It’s a perfect destination for singles, couples, families, and friends to vacation.
So let’s get down to learning about where to stay, play, and eat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida!
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Fort Lauderdale, Florida is known as the “Venice of America,” due to the winding waterways connecting the land to the ocean. Rent a kayak for an hour or two and peacefully paddle throughout the waterways. Take in the charming coastal houses and mansions with their massive yachts parked in the waterways. Kayak rentals in Fort Lauderdale, as well as stand up paddle boards and bikes, can be rented from Riverwalk Activities.
The New River waterways aren’t just for boats and kayaks. Manatees are known to swim in the warmer waters in the winter time, too! There are lots of signs along the river to alert boaters to minimize their “wake” and speed due to manatees.
Of course, you have to go to the beach in Fort Lauderdale. With over 23 miles of beaches around the Fort Lauderdale area, there are options for quiet and peaceful beach spots or more of a party scene. I explored the main Fort Lauderdale beach, right along the hotel zone, as well as Pompano Beach. You can rent chairs and umbrellas for the day (costs about $18), or BYOU (bring your own umbrella).
Speaking of Pompano Beach, local Christine Ferris runs two popular food tours in South Florida: a sunset food tour in Pompano Beach and lunchtime food tours in Lauderdale by the Sea. She has scouted out the very best restaurants in the area and knows exactly where to go for the best food in South Florida. You’ll leave with a full belly and a list of places you’ll want to visit again. Visit southfloridafoodtours.com to learn more.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the beach, check out some of Fort Lauderdale’s historical attractions. Both the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens and the Historic Stranahan House Museum offer informative tours about the history of the buildings and their relationship in the development of Fort Lauderdale. They’re a great way to spend a few hours learning about the local culture and offer plenty of shade from the sun.
Pro tip: pay a visit to the swans in the lake at the Bonnet House!
Fort Lauderdale is host to a number of museums like the Museum of Discovery and Science, the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Plus, there are a number of art galleries in the area to browse contemporary and local art.
Las Olas Boulevard is packed with adorable restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, antique stores, and boutiques. It’s so fun to walk up and down Las Olas Fort Lauderdale during the day or at night. You can people watch to your heart’s delight!
And the Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale is a wide, well-paved walking path that curves along New River. It’s the perfect spot for a walk, jog, or scooter ride.
The Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale
I was so sad I didn’t try the Water Taxi while I was in Fort Lauderdale! It runs all up and down the waterway, and you can take it instead of hopping in an Uber or driving yourself. Plus, you get a little bit of sightseeing in addition to the ride!
Another fun water boat tour option is the Carrie B Harbor Tour, which takes you all along the waterway on a 90-minute narrated tour.
If you know me, you won’t be surprised that I went to drag brunch the morning after I landed in Fort Lauderdale. The drag club LIPS offers a Sunday brunch with unlimited drinks along with your breakfast. The club also offers nightly entertainment for your pleasure. The queens are also your servers, so don’t forget to tip, hunny!
Pro tip: bring $1 bills (or get change at the bar) to tip each queen during her number.
Another alternative to the hot sun is to spend some time shopping in the Galleria Mall. It’s undergoing a big transformation, and sections of the mall are already completely new and shiny! In addition to the shops, you’ll also find upscale eateries or food court options.
There are so many great hotel options in Fort Lauderdale! There are a variety of Fort Lauderdale beachfront hotels that look right onto the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean. Downtown Fort Lauderdale hotels are also in style because they’re closer to activities like Las Olas Fort Lauderdale or the Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale. They also tend to be more affordable.
As I mentioned above, I booked a hotel package through Marriott which included the hotel and flight. I probably saved at least 25% off the rack rate, plus got some other perks like 10,000 bonus points.
The newest hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale is the much buzzed about hotel, The Dalmar.
It’s an Instagrammer’s dream, and every nook and cranny of the hotel has been designed to be photogenic. It’s just about a 15-minute walk from the Las Olas Fort Lauderdale strip, and easy to use ride-sharing apps if you stay there. I did not have a car and never felt like I needed one.
When you enter through the ground floor doors, to your right you will see The Yoga Joint, a hot yoga studio on the property. After you pass through the vine-laden outdoor reception area, you pass Rose’s Coffee Bar, a perfect spot for morning coffee and a pastry. If you can head to the elevators without stopping for some selfies in the tiled hallway, you’ll select floor 6 for The Dalmar lobby.
The Dalmar lobby, guest room, and pool
When you exit the elevators, you’ll be welcomed into the vibrant and airy reception center with check in desks and the concierge. After picking up your room key, take a sweep around the rest of the lobby, with its open floor plan, well-stocked bar, and access to the pool. Don’t miss the wrap-around sky deck and prosecco machine.
The rooms are sleek and new, with a variety of amenities available to guests like a steamer, flip flops, umbrella, and bath robe. The TVs are equipped with Chromecasts so you can stream any content from your phone or digital device straight to the TV. I also appreciated the wide selection of cable channels so I could stay tuned to HGTV on vacation.
If working out is your thing (it is definitely mine!), The Dalmar has the best hotel gym I’ve ever visited. It has plenty of natural light, Peleton bikes, stair machine, treadmills, elliptical machines, a full suite of free weights, and other machines and mats for exercise.
While The Dalmar is not a Fort Lauderdale beachfront hotel, they offer an hourly shuttle which brings guests to one of the oceanfront hotels in Fort Lauderdale. From here, you can relax on the soft sand in the heart of the oceanfront area and enjoy any number of restaurants and amenities. You can grab some towels at The Dalmar pool to bring with you on your beach adventure.
I’d definitely love to stay at The Dalmar again in the future. It was modern and comfortable, and the staff went out of their way to be helpful and friendly.
The property is on floors 6 and up, while floors 3-5 are owned by the Element Hotel. It was interesting to have two brands in one building. I’ve never seen a concept like that before.
If you are traveling with children, you should be aware that there is loud live music until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. I wasn’t aware of this and was kind of cranky about the fact that I couldn’t go to sleep early after a long delayed flight. But it only interrupted one night of sleep. The other amenities and experiences at the hotel more than made up for that first night of sleeplessness.
I was so blown away by the booming restaurant scene in Fort Lauderdale. There are dozens of Las Olas restaurants to try on your trip. You’ll have to plan a return visit to sample every downtown Fort Lauderdale restaurant because you simply cannot try them all in a few days!
Here is a list of some of my favorite Las Olas Blvd restaurants, the best brunch in Fort Lauderdale, best seafood in Fort Lauderdale, and a few awesome happy hours I found, too!
While I am not a big late-night/bar person, I did think that walking along Las Olas Blvd at night is a perfect way to experience the Fort Lauderdale nightlife scene.
If you’re staying downtown, the Blue Martini near The Galleria seemed like the most fun place to spend an evening out. They offer live music and tapas, with a large martini menu.
If you want to dance, check out Original Fat Cats for live music and a wide variety of drinks, including craft beer.
Las Olas Blvd at night
Since I arrived on a Saturday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to scout out some of the best brunches in Fort Lauderdale. While I considered many places, I ended up choosing Lips Drag Club for their Sunday brunch show, which included bottomless brunch drinks.
For just about $22 plus tax and tip, you can enjoy menu items like Eggs Benedict, an omelette, steak and eggs, or more lunch-type choices. Each meal comes with unlimited mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, or champagne. Plus, you get to experience their outstanding Sunday Gospel Drag show. It was such a fun way to spend Sunday morning! Seatings are at 11:30am and 1:30pm, and if you want a reserved table, you should call in advance. Bring $1’s for the ladies for tips!
Since Boston does not have happy hours (what?!), I was so excited to try all of the best happy hours in Fort Lauderdale. I used this handy online list of Las Olas Fort Lauderdale Happy Hours to guide my adventures.
For margaritas and Mexican food: El Camino. I tried their $2 chips & salsa, $2 tacos, and $5 watermelon and jalepeno margaritas. Everything was fresh and delicious. The restaurant on Las Olas looks like a big warehouse and is super popular for their happy hour specials and weekend nightlife.
Best Seafood in Fort Lauderdale: Lobster Bar Sea Grille. Try the Mint Passion cocktail for a sweet and tangy burst of passion fruit and mint. The tater tots are especially crispy and delicious, too!
For a creative menu: SuViche. Try the fresh ceviche for just $5, and the HH Sampler to get a taste of some of their popular menu items.
Other Las Olas Fort Lauderdale Restaurants and more
For Ice Cream: Kilwins. With a large selection of ice cream, fudge, and chocolate-covered treats, this is the place to go to satisfy your sweet tooth.
For French Fare: La Bonne Crepe. Find savory and sweet crepes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My first meal in Fort Lauderdale was at La Bonne Crepe and the menu reminded me so much of a sit-down Parisian creperie!
For grocery shopping: The Fresh Market. I stopped here to pick up snacks for the beach and to keep in my room. It reminds me of a more upscale Whole Foods, with lots of organic options, a deli, a DIY nut-bar, and a respectable wine selection.
From top: Happy hour at El Camino, Lobster Bar Sea Grille, Kilwin’s, Lips Drag Brunch
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