Whether you like lying in the sun soaking up rays, angling for some big game fish, taking a swing around a tropical golf course, or touring historic sites, you'll find plenty to keep your family occupied in the Fort Lauderdale area.
On the Beach
Fort Lauderdale boasts 23 miles of balmy beaches. Route AlA remains one of the most developed strips on the Gold Coast. Most of Fort Lauderdale Beach lies in full view, not blocked by condominiums as are other stretches of Florida's coast. The least-crowded area is South Beach Park, a surfing favorite, located in front of the major hotels south of South Route AlA. Red Reef Park, a mile farther, is far better for sunbathing and swimming.
The narrow 12,000-foot-long white sand beach at 244-acre John U. Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area offers the gentlest surf for swimming, making it ideal if you've got younger children along. Stroll to the tip for a panoramic view of the oceanfront to the south. You can walk the self-guided nature trail through a subtropical coastal hammock, where you'll spot water birds and perhaps a manatee or two in Whiskey Creek, in about forty-five minutes. If you'd rather spend some time fishing, you'll find the jetty at the north end of the park the perfect place (954-923-2833).
The mile-long strand of Deerfield Beach is one of the few places on the Gold Coast where you can collect seashells. The sand is soft and deep and studded with boulders at the low-water mark, and the southern part is more serene.
You can only reach 55-acre Deerfield Island Park by the free ferry from the dock at the Riverview Restaurant in Deerfield Beach, and then only on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. During the 1930s, noted mobster Al Capone, along with his fellow gangsters, frequented the casino in the Riverview Restaurant. He almost purchased Deer-field Park Island, but his arrest for tax evasion stopped his bid, leaving the island to Mother Nature. Allow two hours to walk the two trails — one, a 1,500-foot raised boardwalk, leads through 8 acres of red, white, and black mangroves; the other leads toward the Intra-coastal Waterway and a rocky overlook. On the way, keep an eye out for gray fox, raccoons, and armadillos. (954-428-3463)
On the Water
Fort Lauderdale is a boater's paradise. You can explore the Intra-coastal Waterway, which extends the length of the Gold Coast, by sailboat or motorboat — Sunfish rent for $20 per hour or $70 per day and ski boats seating eight for $49 per hour or $269 per day, skis and tow rope included. The following rent sail and motorboats in Fort Lauderdale:
American Boat Rental: 954-761-8845
Bill's Sunrise Boat Rental: 954-763-8882
Club Nautico: 954-779-3866
Everglades Holiday Park: 954-434-8111
Sawgrass Recreation Marina: 954-389-0202
Or perhaps you'd rather enjoy the sights, cold drink in hand, from the deck of the Jungle Queen, a 538-passenger riverboat that meanders through downtown and Port Everglades and stops at the Seminole Indian Village for a look at native trees and birds. Departing at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. from the Bahia Mar Yacht Center for a three-hour sightseeing cruise, it costs $14.50 per adult, $10.50 per child. For a fun way to spend an evening, take their 7 P.M. nightly all-you-can-eat barbecue-and-shrimp dinner cruise with variety show for $32.95 per person (954-462-5596, www.junglequeen.com). Or cruise under full sail on a 63-foot schooner with Wind Dancer Charters on either a daytime sightseeing or sunset cruise (954-895-5408, www.winddancercharters.com).
JUST FOR PARENTS
After sipping a cup of rich espresso and sharing a piece of heavenly Chambord mousse torte, take a romantic thirty-minute gondola tour in an imported Venetian gondola from Stork's Café and Bakery along Las Olas Boulevard. You can do this from November to June, Wednesdays through Sundays from 5 to 11 P.M. for $50 per couple. (www.gondolaservizio.com)
If you like to surf or windsurf, you'll find all the equipment you need at any of the following places:
BC Surf & Sport: Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-0202
Fun Boards: in Delray Beach, 561-272-3036
Island Water Sports: Fort Lauderdale, 954-491-6229
Singer Island Sailboard Rental: Riviera Beach, 561-848-2628
Windsurfing Madness: Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-9463
Watersports Unlimited (954-467-1316) and Aloha Watersports (954-462-7245), located on the beach at the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, rent WaveRunners, which are like two-person Jet Skis, only more stable. Both also offer parasailing.
With the Gulf Stream less than 2 miles offshore, you have an opportunity to catch marlin, wahoo, pompano, kingfish, shark, dolphin, and sailfish. Deep-sea fishing is one of the most popular sports on the Gold Coast, and there seems to be no end of charter outfits in the area. Among them are Action Sportfishing (954-423-8700, www.actionsportfishing.com) and All-Inclusive Sportfishing (954-761-1066). But if you're on a budget or just don't want to bob around at sea for six hours, you can pay the nominal fee to fish off Anglin's Fishing Pier (954-491-9403), where you can rent equipment, buy bait, and fish to your heart's content.
Under the Water
The clear waters and abundant marine life along the Gold Coast create great conditions for diving sunken wrecks and artificial reefs. Just one mile off Fort Lauderdale Beach in 97 feet of clear water lies the Mercedes I, a 197-foot German freighter that's become a hot spot for coral, barracuda, angelfish, sea turtles, and the scuba divers who love photographing them. Plus, there are dozens of other wrecks you can dive along the Gold Coast, with names like Wreck of the Rebel, Ancient Mariner, and Houseboat Wreck. The artificial reef varies in depth from 15 feet to 100 feet, making it good for either snorkelers or divers. Average visibility is 40 to 60 feet.
One of the best dive shops in Fort Lauderdale is Pro Dive (954-776-3413, www.prodiveusa.com), which offers daily reef and wreck dives as well as basic, open-water, and advanced certification classes and snorkeling. Similar services are available from Lauderdale Diver (Toll-free 800-654-2073) and Undersea Sports (Toll-free 800-842-9798).
If you don't dive, you can take a two-hour glass-bottom boat and snorkeling tour from the Bahia Yacht Basin with Pro Dive aboard their 60-foot glass-bottom boat. The tour leaves at 10 A.M. daily and costs $22 for adult riders, $29 for adult snorkelers, $14 for child riders, and $20 for child snorklers.
On the Links and on the Courts
Fort Lauderdale is one of the Southeast's major golf centers, with more than fifty courses on lush greens interspersed with lakes and tree-shaded hammocks. Some of the best include:
American Golfers Club: Fort Lauderdale, 954-564-8760
Bonaventure Country Club: Fort Lauderdale, 954-389-2100
Grand Palms Golf Country Club: Pembroke Pines, 954-437-3334
Sabal Palms Golf Course: 954-731-2600
If you'd rather play tennis, public courts in the beach area include lighted ones at Holiday Park and George English Park (954-761-2621). Courts and instruction are available through the City of Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation Department (954-761-5346) or you can play at any of the following:
George English Park: Fort Lauderdale, 954-566-0622
Holiday Park: Fort Lauderdale, 954-761-5378
West Lake Park: Hollywood, 954-926-2410
Memorial Park: Boca Raton, 561-393-7978
Several superdeluxe resorts offer full European-style spas, with a complete menu of spa services to relax and rejuvenate you.
Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa: 954-564-5787
Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort & Spa: Toll-free 800-222-6543
The Atlantic: 954-567-8020
The Breakers: Toll-free 888-273-2537
Despite all the shopping malls along the Gold Coast, the best place to shop in Fort Lauderdale is along Las Olas Boulevard, where you'll find mostly one-of-a-kind boutiques, fashioned from old brick and ironwork, selling Lalique crystal and Tiffany sterling. Sawgrass Mills, an enormous mall, has over 200 brand-name and designer outlets, specialty shops, and restaurants.
If you'd like to purchase some Seminole Indian crafts to take home, visit the Seminole Reservation in west Fort Lauderdale or the Anhinga Indian Museum and Art Gallery (954-581-0416), which carries a large stock of fringed clothing, turquoise and silver jewelry, woven rugs, and beaded dolls in traditional Seminole patchwork designs.
A trip to Palm Beach wouldn't be complete without a stop on Worth Avenue, Florida's answer to California's Rodeo Drive and a mecca for fans of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Chanel. Rolls Royces, Mercedes, and Jaguars cruise by world-famous designer stores, high-class art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. You'll also find small shops hidden at the end of side streets, called vias, off Worth Avenue. These vias have the picturesqueness of Old Spain, with their light stucco walls in pastel tints topped with tile roofs, and weathered cypress woodwork.
High-class clothing and accessories, some of it discarded after only one use, turns up in Palm Beach's thrift stores, although the prices are above those you'd normally find in thrift stores back home. Browse The Church Mouse, Goodwill Embassy Boutique, or Thrift Store Inc., and have your wallet handy.
If you love flea markets, head for South Florida's largest, the indoor-outdoor Swap Shop. The 87-acre, seven-day-a-week market with more than 2,000 dealers has live circus shows, a giant carousel, and loads of secondhand treasures, plus a thirteen-screen drive-in theater. (954-791-7927)