Things to Do

Nonstop from Washington: Fort Lauderdale

Palm trees and pretty beaches

Fort Lauderdale is known for watersports — from kite surfing to diving to moonlight kayak tours.

With more than 300 miles of inland waterways, Fort Lauderdale is sometimes called the Venice of America. But it’s the 23 miles of beach and November temperatures in the 80s that make this Florida getaway appealing as the mercury back home begins to sink.

This month, JetBlue adds another flight option for Washingtonians, with new nonstop service from Reagan National Airport.

Once a mecca for college students on spring break, Fort Lauderdale has restored its image and today is family-friendly, even somewhat sleepy.

With palm-lined avenues and golden sands, Fort Lauderdale Beach is just one of eight beaches within the city limits. The area is known for watersports—from kite surfing to diving to moonlight kayak tours—and the beach promenade hosts a constant stream of walkers, bikers, and skaters.

You can spend an afternoon sunning on one of the beaches, then grab a bit of shade and a breeze on one of the water taxis or gondolas that weave through the canals. Or hop on a boat cruise of Millionaire’s Row, a series of spectacular mansions.

A day trip to neighboring Lauderdale-by-the-Sea offers a glimpse of a vintage beach village with a 1950s vibe. The beach has plenty of close-in coral reefs for easy snorkeling. A prime fishing spot is off Anglins Pier, which stretches 876 feet into the ocean.

There’s lots to do in Fort Lauderdale on a rainy day. The downtown area along the New River features three museums within walking distance of one another: the Museum of Art, a collection of international works with a focus on Latin art; the Museum of Discovery and Science, and historic Stranahan House, which served as a trading post, town hall, post office, and bank in the early 20th century. 

The Museum of Discovery and Science hosts a number of interactive exhibits and enough live animals—from sharks to alligators to turtles—to rival an aquarium. You can take a simulated flight to the moon or Mars in the space exhibit or live out your pilot fantasy in one of the cockpit simulators. There’s a state-of-the-art Imax theater, where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 plays at the end of November.

Through November 11, enjoy Dine Out Lauderdale, when dozens of top restaurants offer three-course menus for $35. Take advantage of the deal at Fort Lauderdale favorite Johnny V. The blue-corn-crusted calamari and sage-grilled Florida dolphin are standouts, as is the duck meatloaf.

In Hollywood Beach, try the fall-off-the-bone Coca-Cola barbecue beef ribs at Lola’s on Harrison. Pair them with the signature salmon tartare and chocolate truffle cake off the prix fixe menu.

For authentic Mexican tacos and burritos, look no farther than hole-in-the-wall Alegria Tacos in nearby Oakland Park (3801 N. Andrews Ave.; 954-563-7170), but be prepared to take your food to go: The three small tables are always packed.

The upscale Atlantic Resort & Spa boasts a five-star restaurant and spa.

A less expensive option is Alhambra Beach Resort, a charming little hotel on a quiet street less than a block from Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

The W Fort Lauderdale opened in March 2009 and is a stone’s throw from Millionaire’s Row.

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This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.