South Florida Dreaming
Fort Lauderdale offers a whole lot more than just fun in the sun
by Phaedra Friend
Many may remember the Spring Break Headquarters of yonder years as South Florida’s Fort Lauderdale. With the passing of ’80s perms and Jams shorts, the era of the coolest college party has also gone by the wayside for sunny Fort Lauderdale. Because of its blue-water Atlantic beaches, adventurous scuba sites and 3,000 annual hours of sunshine, this hot spot has become the ultimate vacation destination. In fact, this beachfront beauty has grown up quite a bit, offering a plethora of sophisticated and cultural opportunities, as well, for the discerning traveler.
Fort Lauderdale is considered the Venice of the Americas, and rightly so with 300 miles of inter-coastal waterways. In fact, the city also boasts the title of Yachting Capital of the World – an honor rendered almost unbelievable, until you navigate the lovely waterways and get a true glimpse at the enormous amount of these seafaring splendors gracing just about every inch of inter-coastal shoreline. The area is home to 42,000 resident yachts and an ever-growing population of visiting ones. Every October, Fort Lauderdale hosts one of the biggest yacht shows in the world: the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
“Luxury” could not fully describe the homes and yachts you’ll find along the watery streets of Fort Lauderdale. The helpful and informative tour guides on the city?s exquisite and inexpensive Water Buses (available throughout the city as a form of public transit) will happily point out such everyday scenes as Martha Stewart’s yacht and Nick Nolte’s home. If appreciating architecture and star gazing are your favorite pastimes, get the all-day pass for $5 – and enjoy as many rides as you want by the homes and yachts of the rich and famous.
The Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District is a must-do in Fort Lauderdale. A 22-block enterprise, this scenic stroll along the New River laces together an assortment of museums, galleries, shops, restaurants and more.
Jam-packed with museums and galleries, Fort Lauderdale has become a destination of its own for the arts. There are 17 museums, including the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, which is slated to house the Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit this December. The Museum of Discovery and Science also offers an assortment of exhibits and a 3D IMAX theater.
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located right in the center of the action and is host to a wide array of attractions. Broadway in Fort Lauderdale, a part of Broadway Across America, brings Broadway shows to this center year-round. Right down the stream from the Broward Center is the historic Stranahan House. Built in 1901 by the founder of Fort Lauderdale, this home not only houses the history of the city, but also a very interesting (and somewhat spooky) family story.
In the bag
Just off of the Riverwalk Arts &Entertainment District, Las Olas Boulevard is the city’s main drag. Similar to Lincoln Road in Miami or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Las Olas makes a statement about the personality of the city: Upscale, chic and trendy is what it is all about. Unique boutiques, galleries and restaurants line this historic promenade, offering visitors a chance to walk the strip, shop and experience Fort Lauderdale.
Additionally, Fort Lauderdale is home to 12 malls, including Sawgrass Mills, a grandiose discount and entertainment center. Home to outlet centers for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York, this complex also houses Wannado City, an indoor theme park that gives kids the opportunity to try out a number of different careers in realistic settings.
A sure bet
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel &Casino offers a vast assortment of adult diversions 24 hours a day. Just a few minutes from the heart of Fort Lauderdale, this playground run by the Seminole Indians is a major destination for those betting on fun. The 130,000-square-foot casino is just the beginning of the action here. Sporting restaurants, bars and clubs, trendy stores and a European spa, this Hard Rock is hard to top. The club Pangea gives revelers a reason to dance, and the casino offers everything from video poker to Texas Hold ‘Em.
A taste of paradise
The growth in Fort Lauderdale has been astronomical – bringing in some outstanding chefs and restaurateurs. Along the Riverwalk on the New River, you’ll find the appropriately named River House. The historic building was built in 1903 and lends a casual elegance to the New American fare. You will be thrilled with the wine list and simply can’t miss the crawfish pot pie.
Another shining star in Fort Lauderdale’s culinary world is the phenomenally exquisite Rino’s Tuscan Grill on Las Olas Boulevard. A bit busy, but strangely relaxing, this eatery is a happening spot for traditional Italian cuisine. Chef Rino Balzano learned how to pamper palates during his years as a chef to the stars – and now he does that for the eager masses at his hip restaurant. The calamari appetizer is the best ever served, the fish dishes are as fresh as they come, and the wonderful meld of spices and tastes will make you want to eat here every meal.
Trina Restaurant &Lounge is the very happening Mediterranean locale in the seaside luxury hotel The Atlantic. Trina is the place to be seen in Fort Lauderdale, whether you are indulging your senses in some of Chef Don Pintabona’s mouthwatering edible adventures or imbibing signature escapes at the oh-so-cool bar. (You just can’t miss the rack of lamb; it will take your breath away.)
From boutique B&Bs to quaint inns, casino stays to upscale luxury, Fort Lauderdale is home to an assortment of lodging choices. The area currently boasts nearly 33,000 rooms, but, like all of Fort Lauderdale, that number is growing. There are new high-end hotels popping up all over the city. In less than two years, the city will host a new W Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Residences; Marriott Hollywood Beach; and St. Regis Resort, Spa and Residences. This is in addition to the newly opened Seminole Hard Rock Hotel &Casino, Pelican Beach Resort and The Atlantic.
Perched in the middle of all the action along A1A, The Atlantic offers guests the quintessential in pure luxury, without the show of snobbery. A class act all around, this Starwood property delivers outstanding service in a contemporary Mediterranean atmosphere. Guests are delighted by the heavenly beds, gigantic bathrooms and peaceful balconies overlooking the shore. Grab a bite to eat, a refreshing cocktail or a quick dip in the fifth-story pool that peers out over the crashing waves below.
Whatever you do here, you simply must visit the Spa Atlantic. Receive the best massage you could imagine at this 7,000-square-foot escape. Relax in the sauna, steam room or pool in between treatments, and let your vacation really soak in. H
Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention &Visitors Bureau, 100 E. Broward Blvd., Ste. 200, (954) 765-4466, www.sunny.org – Water Bus, (954) 467-6677, www.water taxi.com – Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District, (954) 468-2540, www.riverwalkae.com – Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, One East Las Olas Blvd., (954) 525-5500, www.moafl.org – Museum of Discovery and Science, 401 Southwest 2 St., (954) 467-6637, (954) 463-IMAX, www.mods.org – Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 Southwest 5th Ave., (954) 522-5334, www.browardcenter.org – Las Olas Boulevard, (888)-4-LAS-OLAS, www.lasolasboulevard.com – Sawgrass Mills,12801 W. Sunrise Blvd., (954) 846-2350, (800) FL MILLS, www.sawgrassmills.com – Seminole Hard Rock Hotel &Casino, 6300 Stirling Road, (954) 327-ROCK, (800) 937-0010, www.semtribe.com – River House, 301 Southwest 3rd Ave., (954) 525-7661, www.ftlauderdaleriverhouse.com – Rino’s Tuscan Grill, 1105 E. Las Olas Blvd., (954) 766-8700 – Trina Restaurant &Lounge, 601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., (954) 567-8040, www.trinarestaurant.com – The Atlantic/Spa Atlantic, 601 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., (954) 567-8020, www.luxurycollection.com/atlantic