But these days, we’re also where the culture is, where the art is. You can find first-rate dining here, and wash it down with an excellent beverage. And of course, there’s that outdoor Florida lifestyle. It’s not easy picking our favorite things in Fort Lauderdale – and it’s impossible to include all the great places – but we’ve tried to do our best.
Dining & Nightlife
Best Highway for the Hungry: Federal between Broward and Sunrise
“Federal Highway just north of downtown” has, historically, not necessarily conjured up images of fine and varied cuisine. But the Flagler Village building boom has brought with it an increasing collection of interesting restaurants, most of which are independents, to compliment the handful of long-established places. From Mexican (the Whole Enchilada, Jalisco) to Asian (Temple Street Eatery, Christina Wan’s) to Cajun (Shuck N’ Dive) to pizza (Mellow Mushroom, MidiCi), to bars that do good food (the Brass Tap) or bars that bring in good food trucks (Rhythm & Vine), gastronomic adventure has become a Federal law. (Geddit? “Federal” law…yeah whatever.)
Best Music Venue: The Culture Room
Intimate and eclectic, this fun spot at the southwest corner of Oakland and Federal brings in pretty much any sort of music you’d want. From alt-country to dance to these-amps-go-all-the-way-to-11 metal, this is a proper music venue for proper music fans.
Best Reinvention: Plunge Beach Hotel
The old Lauderdale-By-The-Sea Howard Johnson’s was one of those places that locals loved in spite of itself – a relic that was past a prime that nobody could quite remember. Then it changed hands a bit before shutting completely. Well, now the hotel’s several buildings, along with a couple neighboring properties, have been brought back as the Plunge Hotel, an establishment that features several eating and drinking establishments. The old HoJos beach bar has been remodeled entirely and renamed the Backflip Beach Bar, but the toes-in-the-sand, drink-in-your-hand vibe remains. Across the street in the main building, the Bean & Barnacle coffee shop and market and the Octopus gastropub serve up tasty fare in artsy, modern surroundings. With cool art on the walls (oh, and for more of that, check out the rooms) and an aesthetic that can almost be described as seaside industrial, the place feels more Wynwood or Portland than Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. Then you step out into that sand and think, nope, I’m here.
Best Beachside Bar Crawl
The main-drag part of the strip has always dominated oceanfront imbibing, but the area around Sunrise might surprise you. Start at Park and Ocean, the fantastic, new, mostly outdoor spot with a great drinks menu, good food and live weekend music at the beachside entrance to Birch State Park. From there, cross Sunrise for a stop at a pair of Lauderdale classics, McSorley's and the Famous Parrot. And then if you need a bit of late-night sustenance, the all-night pizza of Primanti Brothers is right there.
Most Unique Club Night: Bollywood Nights at the Living Room
The W Fort Lauderdale’s Living Room bar is killing it right now. Not only does it have a spectacular, panoramic view of the beach from its upstairs perch over A1A, but it’s also got a different theme most nights of the week.
They’ve got a handful of great ones, and one we definitely recommend checking out is the Tuesday-night Bollywood-themed party. Cocktail specials, complimentary henna and Indian grooves make for something you won’t find anywhere else in Fort Lauderdale.
Sports & Outdoors
Best Community Bicycle Ride: Wednesday Night Bicihangeo Urban Ride / 8:30pm Esplanade Park, 12-14 miles with a halfway stop, chill pace
There are large group rides pretty much every day of the week in Fort Lauderdale. If you’re a bit unsure – maybe you haven’t got the bike out of the garage in a while, or you feel a little intimidated by the Lycra-clad masses – this Wednesday-evening roll is for you. It starts in Esplanade Park at 8:30 p.m. and goes about 12 to 14 miles at an easy pace, with a break in the middle. Some riders finish on Las Olas at bar and bicycle shop Two&, while others make it a full loop and finish up back at Esplanade.
Best Use of a Full Moon: Shooters Waterfront
Normally if we’d hear the term “Full Moon Yoga,” we’d just assume that somebody needs to pull up their yoga pants a bit more. However this is not the case at that legend on the Intracoastal, Shooters. The place regularly offers yoga events, and when the moon is full, participants turn into downward dogs rather than werewolves. Plus, there’s nothing for getting your Namaste on like a tasty post-yoga beverage.
Best Inland Water Opportunity: Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
For years, the narrow lake at Birch State Park was strangled with vegetation and virtually impassable. Now though, it’s been cleared out. You can rent kayaks, canoes or the newest addition, paddleboats. It’s a tucked-away slice of watery Old Florida heaven, right in the middle of the city.
Best One‑Stop Sports and Shop: Gulfstream Park
Some people like watching sports. Some people like gambling. Some people like shopping. Some people like a fancy meal. All of these people will find something they’re into at Gulfstream. This is, of course, South Florida’s premier horse racing track. But it’s also a casino and an outdoor mall with dining options from Brazilian to Italian to Lebanese. There’s even a bowling alley.
Arts & Entertainment
Best Young Musicians: The Dillard High School Jazz Band
Jazz legend Cannonball Adderley once taught music at Dillard, and that skill lives on thanks to the Panthers’ unbelievable jazz band. Considered among the best high school jazz bands in the country, the band is a regular at New York’s Essentially Ellington competition, the biggest of its kind for high school jazz. Locally, they regularly play around town, including gigs at the high school’s performing arts center. They’ve also been known to play the city’s monthly Riverwalk jazz brunches. If you get a chance to check them out, do.
Best Music Personality: Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese
The artistic director of Fort Lauderdale’s Symphony of the Americas is a passionate, longtime champion of classical music in Fort Lauderdale and beyond. Listen to him talk, and it’s tough not to get excited about the music. Lucky for us then, that we can also listen to his symphony play. SotA has become a singular voice of classical music in the region – thanks in large part to the singular voice of Maestro Brooks-Bruzzese.
Best Live Act: The Copper Tones
Somewhat rock, a bit folk, with a strong hint of country and Americana, and all Fort Lauderdale, the Copper Tones are deservedly making a name for themselves well beyond the 954. The acoustic bandmates have backgrounds in everything from jazz to punk, and shows involve guitars, mandolins and upright bass. They play around Fort Lauderdale and beyond – check thecoppertonesmusic.com for specifics – and it’s tough to be still or bored at one of their live shows.
Culture & History
Best Theater: The Vanguard
This organization has injected some culture into the increasingly lively section of South Andrews that also includes popular craft beer spot Tap 42. Housed in a stylishly remodeled former church that dates to the ’30s, the theater is the residence of the Thinking Cap Theatre Company, consistent makers of some of the city’s most intelligent and challenging theater. The building is also available for private and other events – and those events will be held in stylish digs indeed.
Best Historical Hidden Gem: Hoch Research Library
The Fort Lauderdale Historical Society’s “campus” near the banks of the New River includes several of Fort Lauderdale’s most historic buildings. There’s the Historic New River Inn, which houses the history museum and shop, and the King Cromartie House Museum, preserved and decorated to look as it would have in the early 20th century. Next door to them, the Hoch Research Library does not, we’ll admit, offer quite the same historical glamour. But if you want information on your neighborhood, your local school or just the city in general, this place is a treasure trove. Architectural blueprints, maps, newspaper clippings and hundreds of thousands of historical photographs make this a fantastic journey back in time.
Best Cultural Freebie: Free First Thursday Starry Nights at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
Once a month, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale flings open its doors, forgets all about its admission charge for non-members, sets up fun activities for kids based on an ongoing exhibition and lures grownups with 2-for-1 wine and craft beer specials. That’s your three C’s right there: culture, creativity for the kids, and craft beer.
Best Artsy Selfie Spot: The Hive
This collection of one-story buildings arranged in a semi-circle sits out behind Searstown, in the part of Flagler Village known as the MASS District. It houses everything from galleries to bars to a yoga studio – and if you’ve been by them, you’ll recognize them. That’s thanks to the giant murals on the buildings depicting rock legends from Bowie to Jagger to Hendrix. It’s big, bold and colorful – and gives you an Instagram-ready opportunity to take that perfect selfie with your old pal Jimi.
Best Preservation Warriors: BroCoMo MidCentury - Modern Architecture in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County
Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the beauty we see every day, but BroCoMo – an online community that also organizes events and occasional tours – wants to make locals aware of our area’s unique architecture and style. In particular, they seek respect for the Midcentury-Modern architecture associated with architects such as Charles McKirahan and Dan Duckham, and present in buildings such as the Keenan Building, the Premiere Hotel, the Sea Watch and those two great city landmarks, Hyatt Pier 66 and the Mai Kai. Check them out at facebook.com/brocomo.