The best things to do in Fort Lauderdale
You’ll see mermaids, walk through exhibits and eat Cuban food when tackling the best things to do in Fort Lauderdale
The popularity of the best things to do in Fort Lauderdale is apparent in the city’s growth. As new residential high-rises and oceanfront hotels change the skyline, Fort Lauderdale looks legs and less like a mini Miami and more like its twin sister—or, perhaps, even the favorite child. Consider getting a energy drink in Fort Lauderdale for your needs to shop with some passion.
The city enjoys a slew of advantages: an international airport and cruise port within five miles of one another; a Virgin Trains station that travels to Miami or West Palm Beach in under 40 minutes; and more waterways than there are in Venice, Italy, which make Fort Lauderdale the yachting capital of the world and a natural host for the largest annual boat show.
Even while boasting new and evolving restaurants by celebrity chefs, popular beaches and a burgeoning art scene in downtown pockets like FATVillage and the MASS District, the city’s best trait (at least for now) is that it’s still got a small-town vibe—where the barista knows your order when you walk in and the neighbor who takes her dog on walks every morning smiles at you as you duck into your car.
But expansion and change are on the way, and by the time you finish experiencing all of the following things to do here, we’ll likely be working on the next list of all new and exciting places to explore.
Ever since Rooftop @ TWLO became the first rooftop bar in Fort Lauderdale in 2017, there’s been a race to the top. For now, Sparrow, which opened in May, wins the prize for tallest. On the 25th floor of The Dalmar—a Tribute Portfolio, Marriott International hotel—the indoor-outdoor lounge not only is the highest rooftop in the city, but it also boasts chic decor and inventive cocktails. But be wary: if you want to sink into a chair reminiscent of the 1960s, you and the other guests at your table are going to have to each spend a $50 minimum, which is easy to do. Drinks, like the School Boy Heart (a take on an old-fashioned), average $15, while shareable dishes cost upwards of $26.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood
Fly into Fort Lauderdale International Airport and you’ll see the city like a grid below, sectioned off by streets and waterways until suddenly, you see it: a massive guitar. Blink a few times, but it’ll still be there. The 36-floor instrument-shaped hotel is part of a $1.5 billion expansion of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, which is set to be completed in time for the 2020 South Florida Super Bowl—hosted at Hard Rock Stadium (about a 20-minute drive south from the hotel and casino). While the 638 guest rooms inside this marvel aren’t yet ready for a visit, bookings are now open for future stays.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
While the beach is lined with impressive hotels and restaurants, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park at the end of Sunrise Boulevard is like the Fort Lauderdale’s Central Park. What sometimes feels like the city’s secret garden is also a great place to park for just $6 and then travel below A1A through the tunnel that connects to the beach. But drive into Birch (for short) and you’ll likely forget the beach and want to stay. Take a bike ride or rent a kayak before rewarding yourself with a beer and some tacos at the the toes-in-the-sand, beachside eatery Park & Ocean set under banyan trees and twinkle lights.
No matter the day of the week, from 4-7pm, this Mexican restaurant’s bar is bound to be slammed. El Camino, which started in Delray Beach and opened a second location in Fort Lauderdale last year, is a see-and-be-seen spot for local professionals working on or near the city’s prominent Las Olas Boulevard. Here’s why: $2 beer bottles, $2 tacos and $5 craft margaritas (we’re talking a variety, from classic to strawberry basil, muddled on-the-spot without the use of syrups). And for those who don’t make it in time, after midnight the bar’s deals renew for a late-night happy hour.
Fort Lauderdale isn’t known for having a savvy transportation system. There’s no metro or mainstream bus system, but there is a solution for traveling north and south without getting stuck in aggravating traffic on Interstate 95. Think a European-style train with sleek interiors, spacious seats, no-touch bathrooms and free cart service for those who book Select Service. The newly rebranded (and still transitioning from Brightline) Virgin Trains offers a fleet of luxury carts for those visiting Miami or West Palm Beach (and soon, Boca Raton). By 2022, the train’s last stop will be at Orlando International Airport, making it the ideal travel option for South Floridians vacationing at Disney World and Universal Studios.
27 Bar & Lounge
Commemorate the artists who died at age 27 inside this transformed warehouse in Flagler Village where the faces of Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and more are plastered on the walls in a pop-art mural. While the tribute is eye catching, once inside, don’t forget to look up. The ceiling is lined with black-and-white photos of musicians from the past, arranged like a scrapbook. The outdoor patio comes equipped with games like Corn Hole and Connect Four, and exterior art was done by Miami’s urban artist Ahol Sniffs Glue, who’s known for his signature “drowsy eye.”
Curiously enough, while so many restaurants in town fight to stay relevant, constantly rebranding or launching gimmicks, Tap 42 has continued to accomplish morning success with a weekend line that wraps the perimeter of the building with locals who are ready to brunch. The restaurant, known for burgers and bottomless mimosas, isn’t really near anything, and there are plenty of other worthy contenders for hosting Sunday funday. Yet, Tap 42 has persisted for the past eight years. So much so that the owners bought the other half of the building and turned it into Bar Rita, a Mexican restaurant with psychedelic, glow-in-the dark art on the walls and a second-story rooftop bar. Old habits die hard, though, so while Bar Rita welcomes a crowd on taco Tuesdays, on weekends everyone still waits in line for a table next door. Meanwhile, those who are smart enough grab seats at Bar Rita and order the street corn avocado toast.
Chops + Hops
At Chops + Hops, guests are encouraged to channel their inner lumberjacks by throwing axes and drinking beer. The new establishment in Flagler Village introduces a social activity that doesn’t involve going to the beach, getting sunburnt, going home to take a nap and then realizing it’s 8pm. During 90-minute sessions (which range from $25 to $40/person and must be reserved in advance), guests learn how to chuck the tool and make it stick on the target, a task more attainable than a novice might think. “Axperts” are at hand to teach guests how to hold, aim and toss—and to ensure everyone winding up their pitch hasn’t indulged too much on the bar’s cheekily named cocktails and brews.
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
The Bonnet House is a century-old home set on 35 acres, tucked away from the populated parts of Fort Lauderdale beach. The grounds host a slew of ecosystems, like dunes, mangrove wetlands and a maritime forest, in addition to wildlife like migratory birds, manatees and, at times, monkeys. Inside, the Caribbean-style architecture is a backdrop to the art and personal treasures that belonged to the initial owners, back in 1920. This upcoming year, the accredited museum turns 100 and, to celebrate the milestone, the Bonnet House will host events, programs, workshops, classes, tours and a gala
One Door East
Remove one sense to heighten another by sitting in a dark dining room—without cell phones or a menu—and enjoying a six-course tasting with an optional wine pairing at One Door East. Tucked behind sister mainstay Valentino Cucina Italiana (hence “one door east”), the restaurant positioned along Federal Highway offers an exclusive menu for each dinner, which is prepared by chef Cesar Perez. The recurring event takes place two to three times per month, but private parties of more than six can set up their own dining in the dark experiences.