5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale is sunny and warm -- a great destination for when you need a healthy dose of Vitamin D. In the southeastern part of Florida, Fort Lauderdale is perfect for a beach vacation, with direct access to the ocean and ample boating opportunities. Incredible dining, boutique shopping, and an endless list of ways to play outdoors, are all reasons why Fort Lauderdale should be on everyone's list for a winter getaway. And indeed, Fort Lauderdale has matured from being known as a college spring break getaway to a more refined, classy scene.

Here's five things I wish I knew before visiting Fort Lauderdale on my recent trip, helpful for anyone headed to The Sunshine State. Read on to discover these tips to make your visit to Fort Lauderdale a success!

1) The Best Beach

Assuredly, if you are coming to Fort Lauderdale you will be spending at least some time at the beach. Perhaps all your time. So, it's best to know which beaches are really worth hitting up, and how to leave the crowds behind. Three of my favorite beaches that are lesser known include: Pompano Beach (north of Fort Lauderdale), Lighthouse Point, and Dania beach, all within Broward County. Pompano Beach is incredible in that it has a beautiful off-shore coral reef worth exploring if you're a scuba enthusiast. With beautiful, clean waters and easy beachside parking, it's definitely worth the drive to check out.

Just north of Pompano Beach is Lighthouse Point named after yes, the lighthouse, that guards this section of Florida. Beloved by tourists and locals alike, Lighthouse Point is set on Hillsboro Inlet and has somewhat of a Florida-Keys feeling. Dania Beach, just south of Fort Lauderdale is low-key yet gorgeous. If you're looking to get away from hoards of people, Dania Beach is a real gem not far from the hustle and bustle of Fort Lauderdale. There are certainly additional beaches that I have not mentioned, however, these suggestions take you beyond Fort Lauderdale and Las Olas Beach which, truth be told, aren't too shabby themselves.

2) Free Things to Do

Free is always good, right? It certainly is in my book. Though the beaches are always a good bet when looking for free, there are a few events and activities to be aware of in the Fort Lauderdale area that are worth putting on your itinerary. Every first Sunday of the month Fort Lauderdale puts on a jazz brunch (11am - 2pm) at the Riverwalk that is a lot of fun. Bring your picnic and chairs and set up to see free live music. Additionally, every last Saturday of the month the FATVillage holds an art walk in the arts district of Fort Lauderdale. Catch some live theater, dip into art galleries, and head into studios to feel the artistic pulse of Fort Lauderdale.

If you're looking to try out a new sport, Island Water Sports at Deerfield Beach offers free surf lessons every Saturday -- an incredible opportunity to learn the basics. Free festivals take place throughout the year and include: the Las Olas Art Fair, Fort Lauderdale Air Show, and Pompano Beach Holiday Boat Parade. Lastly, Fort Lauderdale has a number of weekly farmers markets and flea markets that are always free to peruse.

3) Great Ways to get Outside (Besides the Beach)

Fort Lauderdale really is an incredible destination for those who love to be outdoors. With the Everglades at Fort Lauderdale's fingertips, and an abundance of ways to get outside, this sunny spot makes breathing in the fresh air so easy. Though the beach is definitely delightful, Fort Lauderdale has a lot of other ways to be in the open air besides lying on a beach towel. Gondola rides, paddle boarding, and bike tours were all activities I discovered on my trip to Fort Lauderdale I hadn't otherwise thought of doing.

The gondola rides are a great way to get away from the beach and into the canal system that exists in Fort Lauderdale. Dubbed the Venice of America, getting a ride on a gondola is not only charming, but also a great way to learn about local architecture and Fort Lauderdale history. Rides generally last about two hours and cost around 225 USD for the entire boat (capacity of six people).

Stand up paddleboarding or SUP is another great way to see Fort Lauderdale by way of water. With multiple companies offering rentals, SUP gets your core working while also allowing you to take in the beauty of Fort Lauderdale's coast. A really cool way to do SUP is at nighttime when you can see the twinkle of the city and the glow of the moon.

Lastly, a good old fashioned bike tour around Fort Lauderdale slows down the pace to just the right rhythm for sightseeing. Faster than walking, bicycling allows you to get into neighborhoods of interest, to stop where you'd like, as well as getting the legs pumping. Check the Riverwalk area for bike rental companies.

photo courtesy of Downtown Hollywood Mural Project

4) What Kind of Cultural Activities Exist

Okay, I'll be the first to say it -- sometimes what Florida shines as far as beaches, it lacks in culture. I've been somewhat disappointed in my travels to Florida as I search for the authentic Florida off the tourist trail. So, when in Fort Lauderdale recently, I made a point to explore the cultural side of Fort Lauderdale, and have a few pointers to share. As stated previously, the FATVillage is a warehouse district in Fort Lauderdale, home to a concentration of Fort Lauderdale artists. Monthly art walks promote the art scene, and offer a chance to peer inside areas otherwise private. Neighboring MASS District is also an arts district and has an expanding group of artists as well as restaurants and small business shops. Both are worth a visit and can be done in one swoop.

The Downtown Hollywood Mural Project is worth spending an afternoon hiking around to. With 20+ curated murals, grab a map and hoof around spotting these glorious additions. Additionally if you're craving some independent cinema, head to Savor Cinema - Fort Lauderdale to international and independent flicks.

5) When to Go

It's pretty simple -- the cheap deals will be in the hottest months (June - August). I did make the mistake of going to not Fort Lauderdale, but Miami in August once, and all I can say is, "Never again." Unless you're willing to put up with an intense sun during the daytime summer months, or you're okay with waiting until the evening to go out, it is really too hot.

The shoulder seasons can be quite lovely, with the caveat that the deepest part of hurricane season is mid-August to mid-October. Everyone loves spring in Fort Lauderdale because it is just what the doctor ordered after a long winter in the northern states. If you're willing to deal with higher prices and more people, you will not regret what warm air on your exposed skin can do. Whatever decision you make for yourself and travel partners, Fort Lauderdale has all the aforementioned activities just waiting for you to come out and play.

Fort Lauderdale has earned its chops in becoming not just a destination for those who want to party hard on spring break, but also a more mature locale for those seeking sun and sophistication. Ample ways to get outside, and beaches to do so at, make Fort Lauderdale a no-brainer when thinking of beach getaways. A growing art and food scene make Fort Lauderdale not only naturally beautiful, but also culturally on-point. Whatever season you head to Fort Lauderdale, you will adore this southeastern Florida gem.

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Marina Yoveva is originally from Bulgaria but she considers herself a citizen of the world. Having traveled to over 20 countries and counting, she loves writing about her adventures, experiences, and tips on her blog Exploreist. She has also written extensively on Fort Lauderdale.

Beach Photo courtesy of David Mark and Pixabay
Mural photo courtesy of Downtown Hollywood Mural Project

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