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AARP’s City Guide to Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Discover new accommodations, gorgeous beaches and year-round budget-friendly thrills in the Sunshine State

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Once popular mainly for spring break, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the surrounding area have grown into a year-round destination that attracts visitors worldwide to its temperate weather, more than 23 miles of beaches and more than 300 miles of navigable waterways. There’s so much water in the area that the city wholeheartedly embraces its nickname, the “Venice of America.”

​From its wide beaches to shopping and people-watching on Las Olas Boulevard to meeting the locals — people and animals alike — there’s a lot to do in Fort Lauderdale. Here’s how to plan a trip that’s fun for all ages.

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When to go

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More than 3,000 hours of sunshine and an average year-round temperature of a balmy 76 degrees make Fort Lauderdale a popular destination any time of year. Outdoor temps and humidity levels are highest in the summer months, which coincides with the time of year when hotel rates are lowest. When temperatures and humidity levels cool off, hotel rates begin to climb, and outdoor fun begins. 

​One thing to consider when planning a trip is hurricane season, which is typically June 1 through Nov. 30; peak season is mid-August through mid-October. When visiting during this time, pack a raincoat and umbrella, and you’ll be prepared for whatever liquid sunshine may fall. 

Before you go

Aside from making hotel and car rental (if needed) reservations before taking off, make sure to pack the right clothes. Florida is casual for the most part, so there’s no need for suits and ties. Rather, bathing suits are a must, as are layers that work together. Be sure to pack a sweater whatever time of year you’re traveling: Florida air-conditioning can chill you to the bone, even in the summertime.

Get here

spinner image Gondola Rides Fort Lauderdale Florida

Traveling to Fort Lauderdale from around the U.S. is fairly direct — Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) boasts nonstop flights to more than 85 cities. Miami International Airport (MIA) is 30 miles to the south via Interstate 95. Cruisers will know Port Everglades is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, and seven cruise lines embark on their voyages from Fort Lauderdale.  

​Rent a car to travel around the Greater Fort Lauderdale area with ease: 31 cities span 1,200 square miles, so there’s a lot to explore. If you plan on staying within a certain area, hop aboard Tri-Rail, the train system that runs from the airport north to West Palm Beach and south to Miami. The Brightline train stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Or float to your destination onboard a water taxi. Lyft, Uber and bike-share options are also available, as is Circuit, an app-based, on-demand electric shuttle that cruises around Fort Lauderdale and is never more than $9 a ride.

Where to Stay

From oceanfront resorts to cozy boutique hotels and practically everything in between, you’re sure to find just the right stay for you in one of the more than 38,000 hotel rooms throughout the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. 

  • Tru by Hilton Pompano Beach Pier and Home2 Suites by Hilton Pompano Beach Pier: A new 150-room property opened in June 2021 when Tru by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton joined forces at the Pompano Beach Pier. The pet-friendly, moderately priced accommodations are steps away from the Atlantic Ocean and Pompano Beach, along with the Fisher Family Pier, Hillsboro Lighthouse and the Pompano Beach Fishing Village with its fine dining and casual restaurants. The hotels’ accessible rooms include a teletypewriter (TTY), lowered beds and closet rods, Braille signage and accessible swimming pools.

  • ​​Hotel Maren Fort Lauderdale Beach, a Curio Collection by Hilton: The 141-room hotel across from Las Olas Beach overlooks the ocean and features oversized balconies, a fifth-floor pool deck and Riviera, an onsite Italian restaurant by Top Chef favorite Fabio Viviani. The hotel’s daily resort fee includes internet access, bicycle rentals, beach chairs, sunrise yoga classes and daily signature drinks. The hotel has accessible rooms and accessible public areas and facilities, including the swimming pool.

  • Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Fort Lauderdale: Elegance is the name of the game at the 22-story hotel that opened in March 2022, boasting a sophisticated yacht club lifestyle and comfortable, luxuriously appointed guest rooms that feature ocean and city views. The third-floor Ocean Sun Deck has two pools — one quiet, the other more active — and it’s here guests can enjoy morning yoga before starting their day of fun in Fort Lauderdale. Accessible guest rooms are available in various categories.

  • The Kimpton Shorebreak Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort: The Escape Hotel, which opened its doors in 1949, has been reimagined and reopened as an oasis tucked between the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. It has two heated pools to dive into: one on the ground floor, the second rooftop, which is a terrific spot to sip a cocktail and watch the sun set to the west. Guest rooms are decorated in soothing hues of blue and beige and include amenities such as beach bags and yoga mats. The hotel has accessible rooms available upon request.


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What to Do

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​Whether you enjoy spending time at the beach, adventuring in the outdoors, taking in art and culture or getting to know the locals, you’ll find plenty of ways to play in Fort Lauderdale.

  • Travel by gondola: One way to see Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway and navigable inland canals is by boat, so why not go all-in on the Italian vibe with a gondola ride. Unlike traditional Italian gondolas, some of those that traverse Fort Lauderdale’s waterways are electric and can seat up to six passengers. Whether you’re having a romantic night out, a girlfriends’ getaway or time with family, the 90-minute tours showcase the area in an intimate setting. Bring along your own food and drinks and enjoy your time out on the water (tour rates start at $229). 

  • Float like a butterfly: The largest butterfly park in the world is near Fort Lauderdale. Ronald Boender, who grew up in Illinois fascinated by butterflies, opened the park in March 1988. Butterfly World encompasses 3 acres of butterfly houses, botanical gardens, a working butterfly farm and research center and aviaries with tropical birds and lorikeets, or small parrots. More than 20,000 butterflies of up to 50 species can be seen flitting about the property at any given time, and more than 150 species are seen throughout the year. Boender and his team developed the Bring Back the Butterflies program in the late 1980s to provide free butterfly gardening materials to the public, so they can grow butterfly-friendly habitats wherever they live in the U.S. Adult admission: $32.50; $5 wheelchair rental. 

  • Take a sea turtle walk: Every year, from March through October, sea turtles return to the beaches of Fort Lauderdale to lay their eggs in the sand. After about two months of incubation, the eggs hatch, and baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean to start their journey to adulthood. Join the professionals from the Museum of Discovery and Science for a nighttime sea turtle walk to try to glimpse this natural phenomenon ($35 for nonmembers; $30 for members). Reservations required.

  • Go to The Yard: Find quiet in the midst of an urban environment at The Yard in Fort Lauderdale’s Wilton Manors neighborhood, which feels like an island village. Easily walkable and bike-friendly, The Yard is filled with shops and boutiques, spots for iced coffees and bites to eat and plenty of art to see all around. The In Plain Sight Wilton Manors art guide details the public art and interesting architecture found in The Yard and throughout Wilton Manors. Another way to see The Yard and the neighborhood is during the free Art Walk Wilton Manors, which is held the third Saturday of each month.

  • See a mermaid: If you think mermaids are a figment of the imagination, you’ll have second thoughts during a stop at the Wreck Bar, which is designed to look like a shipwrecked Spanish galleon, complete with portholes looking out into a swimming pool. Since it opened its doors in the 1950s, travelers and locals have sought out the historical landmark for its world-famous mermaid shows. The new, interactive, family-friendly Coral Reef Mermaids show ($45) is performed Saturdays at noon. Adults-only male and female underwater burlesque shows featuring MeduSirena and the Aquamen are performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Another option to see the ladies of the sea is Mermaids & Mimosas every Sunday (tickets start at $35). The Wreck Bar is Florida kitsch at its very best.

Where to Eat in Fort Lauderdale

spinner image Beach Side Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale Florida

From casual, toes-in-the-sand beachside dining spots to white tablecloth restaurants for celebrating a special occasion, you’ll find everything you’re looking for. Here are a handful of newcomers to the dining scene. (Tip: Dine Out Lauderdale happens every August and September — some of the region’s top restaurants offer prix-fixe meals at a preset price.)

  • Big Buns: With a name like Big Buns, you just know the menu has to be fun. Seven styles of hamburgers are available at this restaurant on Las Olas Riverfront, from a classic to the Horseradish Bourbon Burger with muenster cheese, bacon, bourbon mushrooms and onions, tomato jam and a horseradish cream sauce. Not to be outdone, chicken sandwiches vary from the BYOC (build your own chicken) to Shirlington Hot with dill pickles, cabbage slaw and Nashville Hot Sauce. Don’t forget the sides: There’s everything from standard fries to Parmesan Truffle Fries and Jammin Sprouts served with bacon jam and a sriracha drizzle.

  • Planta Queen: Vegetarians, vegans and anyone looking for plant-based meals will make a beeline for Planta Queen. Founder Steven Salm and Executive Chef David Lee have a portfolio of restaurants of the same name in New York, Chicago, Toronto, Bethesda, Maryland, and three other South Florida locations. The Asian-inspired menu is filled with sushi, dumplings, noodles, bao buns and more — all with a vegetarian twist. Try the Spicy Tuna Roll with ahi watermelon, avocado and toasted coconut; Unagi Eggplant Nigiri with miso truffle; or a Bao Slider with “chick’n fried” mushroom, hoisin and pickled cucumber.

  • The Katherine: James Beard-nominated chef Timon Balloo blends Chinese, Indian and Trinidadian flavors into exquisite dishes at The Katherine in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Start out with the Thai-Style Charred Cabbage Salad with crispy pork, shallots, garlic and herbs; or the Clam Chowder Fries with steamed clams. For your main course, choose the Jerk Grilled Chicken Thighs served with coconut milk-braised kale, drippings and plantains; or the Thai Red Curry Mahi Mahi with green papaya slaw. If you’d rather nibble, stop in for happy hour (Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 6 p.m.) and choose from a menu that includes deviled eggs with bacon jam, jerk plantains with citrus soy and curry aioli, and the Japanese corn dog served with spicy mayo and eel sauce.

  • Ya Mas! Taverna: A taste of Greece arrived when Ya Mas! Taverna opened on Las Olas Boulevard. The fresh, chef-driven dishes served for brunch, lunch and dinner at Ya Mas! are Mediterranean with a modern twist and include dips and small plates perfect for sharing, such as hummus, tzatziki and muhammara; and dolmades (or grape leaves) filled with rice and herbs. Larger dishes, handheld pitas and salads round out the lunch menu, and the dinner menu features lamb chops and fresh fish prepared with seasonal accompaniments. 

  • The Bite Eatery: At the first food hall in Pompano Beach (about 11 miles north of Fort Lauderdale), patrons can choose from a variety of casual dining options, including tacos, deli eats, pizza, hamburgers, ceviche, lobster rolls — and gelato for dessert.

AARP top picks 

Full moon tour: Join the adventurers at Sunrise Paddleboards for a guided three-hour tour on a stand-up paddleboard or kayak through the “Venice of America” under the light of the silvery full moon. This is a chance to see an entirely different side of Fort Lauderdale, and even the sky above. If the moon isn’t full during your visit, there’s no need to fret — Sunrise offers daytime and sunset tours, too, as well as a two-hour Wine Down Wednesday tour that includes food and wine after the tour. Prices start at $25 for kayak rentals, including paddle, life jacket and launch assistance.

Ways to save: Groupons are typically available and can save you more than 60 percent off select tours.

Flamingos in Florida: The bright, colorful bird associated with the Sunshine State isn’t actually prevalent in Florida, so a visit to Flamingo Gardens is a fantastic way to see our pink feathered friends. The 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary is not only home to a flock of flamingos; it includes other native wildlife such as bobcats, black bears, alligators, wood storks and more. Stroll through the gardens and see more than 3,000 species of rare, exotic and tropical plants, including some of the state’s largest and oldest trees, known as “Champion Trees.” Admission: $21.95; $17.56 for seniors and AARP members. 

Ways to save: September is Broward Attractions and Museum Month, when you can buy one admission to the gardens and get another one free.

Explore the Everglades: Join a naturalist from Wild Lime Adventures on a part-day tour into Everglades National Park for an adventure of a lifetime. Ride aboard an airboat into the “River of Grass” and learn about the native Miccosukee people and how they survived in the difficult environment. Afterward, the naturalist will lead an interpretive walking tour — keep an eye out for alligators, birds and other wildlife.   

Ways to save: Save $10 off each adult rate by booking online using the promo code Eco123. 

Hooray for Hollywood: Rather than go all the way to Miami for the Wynwood Walls, a globally renowned street art museum, stay local and visit downtown Hollywood less than 10 miles south of Fort Lauderdale. You can check out more than two dozen murals by local, national and international artists who left their vibrant, whimsical and lasting marks on Hollywood, and they’re ready to shine in the spotlight for all to see.

Ways to save: A complimentary Downtown Hollywood ArtWalk is offered every third Saturday, and one of the highlights is a tour of the mural project.

Game on: Kids of the ’80s will want to make like Pac-Man and follow the trail to the Glitch Bar in the Flagler Village neighborhood of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Inside the retro arcade bar are classic video games such as Donkey Kong, Robotron, Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and there’s even Skee-Ball. All arcade games are free with a Game Pass that comes with the purchase of an adult beverage (or $7 if you don’t want a drink).

Ways to save: Take advantage of drink specials during happy hours Monday through Friday, 5 to 8 p.m.

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