Florida has a bit of a reputation, the kind that feeds the memes of the world wide web, but there is more to this region than Disneyland and funny tweets. Stretching along a 7-mile beach in the center of South Florida is Fort Lauderdale, a seemingly quiet beach city that offers significantly more than just an ocean view through a fine hotel window.
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The trip was hosted by Greater Fort Lauderdale Tourism, which did not review or approve the story.
The lesser-known parts of Greater Fort Lauderdale (GFL) are home to the new diamond-rated Hard Rock hotel*, brand new open-air entertainment complex, an array of established cocktail bars and speakeasies, and a thriving arts and culture scene, all woven into the growing fabric of the Ale Trail.
I’ve had the pleasure of exploring these lesser-known characteristics of Fort Lauderdale while on assignment attending the Riptide Music Festival in November and it was a great way to spend a weekend. Based on that experience, here’s the 3-day itinerary for all of you weekend adventurers looking for a warm escape.
Start the day with a cup of coffee and a muffin at the Brew Urban Cafe before exploring FAT Village, an urban art district occupied by artist studios, galleries, live theatre, and special events like the monthly ArtWalk. The coffee shop has a well-seasoned artist vibe to it: the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf while the rest of the decor is made up of acquired vintage pieces which makes it immediately feel like home. FAT Village district is not a particularly large area but has a lot to offer between cool spaces like the Girls’ Club, a contemporary art gallery for women by women, and the stunning variety of street murals.
It is also worth noting that with the growing art scene FAT Village is scheduled for re-development next year, the kind that would take a couple of years and open up an entirely new, elevated art community in the city. But don’t wait for these new developments to be completed, today’s FAT Village is a very special place filled with warm, kind people extremely passionate about the local art community, and the current murals have an expiration date.
For lunch grab a seat at Henry’s Sandwich Station, a family-owned cafe and the only restaurant in FAT Village. The space opens up on the street, letting the fresh air and sunshine into a fairly small room. The menu is a hearty selection packed with overwhelmingly delicious options like artisanal toast, pancakes, specialty sandwiches, and various poutines.
I’ve done some research on the nightlife prior to arriving but was more interested in where the locals like to go, the options for this evening are all based on the suggestions of local mixologists and one sea captain.
To start the evening take a quick Uber from FAT Village to Las Olas Boulevard, the area most known for its bar and restaurant scene. Soak in the sunset views from The Balcony, a Cajun eats and crafts cocktails spot, with an open interior and plenty of balcony space, as the name might suggest.
For dinner and cocktails stroll over to North Federal Highway and head up to the Sparrow, a classy rooftop bar located on the top floor of the hotel Dalmar. Late-night cocktails and dancing can also continue at Unit B, Fort Lauderdale’s very own speakeasy. And for all of those looking to have a more casual evening, there is Rhythm & Vine beer garden with rotating food trucks, a bar set inside a vintage Airstream, and local DJs on the turntables.
Grab a bite at your hotel (I’m a fan of breakfast room service) and spend some time catching up on the much-needed rest on the beach. Fort Lauderdale has 3,000 hours of annual sunshine which pretty much guarantees sunshine year-round. The average temperature changes seasonally. In November you might catch a cool breeze in the summer months the sand gets so hot you can’t walk on it barefoot.
Fort Lauderdale has 300+ miles of navigable waterways which is why people sometimes refer to it as the “Venice of America”. The best way to see these wonderful canals is naturally by being on a boat. There are plenty of people who can take you out on the water but we had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with The Yacht Chick crew. Onboard guests are treated to cold drinks and champagne while a local guide fills the time with stories about the region and celebrity villas.
Our guide for this outing was Ernest Vasquez, one of the founders of 1000 Mermaids, an artificial reef project, and eco-art gallery. He was by joined by Evan Snow, founder of Choose954, a social movement focused on promoting and fostering art and culture in the GFL. The two hosts shared a ton of insight into the local scene and coral preservation.
Eco sun tip: After applying sunblock wait 15-20 minutes for it to absorb. Otherwise, it washes right off your body and settles on the reefs, preventing them from breathing.
Request to dock the boat at the Wharf. This is a new open-air hangout spot serving up cold drinks and gourmet dishes from South Florida’s most notable vendors.
The Wharf opened in November 2019 and immediately become the hottest spot downtown. There are shaded bar areas, picnic tables, bistro-style sitting, games, cocktails, beer, and any kind of food your heart might desire. It’s the kind of place you can spend an entire day in, relaxing in the shade, and sipping watermelon mojitos. I strongly recommend trying the truffle brie crab grilled cheese.
Explore Fort Lauderdale’s 15 local microbreweries and 32 craft brew pubs that compose the GFL Ale Trail. The trail had originally started by beer enthusiasts but quickly grew with consumer demand. Today the trail includes over 500 different beers, from a Hefeweizen made with Florida-grown mangos, to sour IPAs and malty stouts.
Make sure to add Invasive Species Brewing to your list of stops and try one of their flights. The brewery is a really cool spot with unique decor (to say the least), and a great selection of rotating beers only available in the taproom. The owner of the brewery is a hunter so from the start taxidermy was a part of the decor. The community really connected with that bit and began to bring their undesirables to the brewery. “My wife says it’s me or them so please take them” type of thing. Today there are supposedly over 200 pieces, from crocodiles to geckos.
Not too far is another fun family-run brewery called Gulf Stream Brewing. This is a larger tap room with a hot food selection, occasional live music and comedy, and of course, various beer community gatherings. During our visit, the brewery opened its doors to a shelter for a dog adoption event. Lucky us got to spend a few hours sipping lagers and playing with puppies.
If you’re not catching the evening flight home try to get a taste of fresh seafood at Rivertail. This James Beard-nominated chef José Mendin’s first Fort Lauderdale restaurant is located on the historic Riverwalk. The space is light and open, offering global fusion cuisine like seafood ceviches, grilled prawns, and lobster allemande.
Where to stay
A luxury beachfront, all-suite property. The Conrad is located close to the city center and across the street from the beach. The hotel offers a taste of high-end cruise life through nautically-inspired decor with clean white lines. Guests can take advantage of the hotel spa, restaurant, cocktails bar, and rooftop bar with pool-friendly lunch selections. This hotel is a Hilton property, full review here.
Another new property on the Fort Lauderdale scene. The hotel is shaped like a guitar and is impossible to miss when driving in from the airport. As AAA Four Diamond-rated property this Hard Rock is on par with high-end Vegas hotels offering celebrity entertainment, live theatre, and of course, a casino. There are 600+ luxury guest rooms some of which are swim-up suites in the adjacent Oasis Tower.
In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens. To see the trip on Instagram look up #xoFL19. Two marked images are courtesy of the hotel.