Sunday, February 25

Lauderdale: Much More than FLIBS

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If you’re one of the 100,000 or so people heading for the big Fort Lauderdale boat show starting Oct. 25, or if you’re just going to Lauderdale at any other time, do yourself a favor. Stay a while. Lauderdale, in my opinion, is one of the most relaxed, enjoyable cities on the cruising boat circuit. The fact that it’s also one of the world’s major boating centers, virtually filled with marinas, boatyards and boating service operations, is just extra icing on the cake.

Fort Lauderdale is often called the Venice of America, for good reason. It has 165 miles of canals, often lined with luxurious homes on the Intracoastal Waterway or one of the many inlets and rivers. And then, via Port Everglades, there’s the Atlantic Ocean, with West End in the Bahamas just 71 nm away.

On the top of my list of things to do in Lauderdale is head for the beach. The city has 23 miles of beaches, and the beautiful and accessible Fort Lauderdale Beach Park is directly across the street from the Bahia Mar, the center of the boat show. It’s wide and sandy, great for walking or swimming, and it has volleyball and basketball courts, a playground, picnic area with tables and grills, and outdoor showers.

When it’s time to eat, my favorite is Coconuts, even when there isn’t a boat show. It’s at 429 Seabreeze Blvd., just north of the Bahia Mar and the Swimming Hall of Fame, overlooking the Waterway. It seems that half the boat show goes there, and for good reason. The vibes are great, the outdoor seating is fun, and the food is a treat.

If you missed any of your boating friends at Coconuts, you’ll probably find them hanging out at the Boatyard, at 1555 SE 17th Street. It has a laidback nautical atmosphere with fresh fish, a great raw bar, and an 80-seat dockside patio. It’s a  place where people tend to stay for a while.

The 15th Street Fisheries restaurant (pictured) is across the Waterway from the show at the Lauderdale Marina, and its name tells what to expect, except that it’s all fresh and delicious. It claims to have the best Waterway views in South Florida, and you can eat upstairs or dockside.

The Blue Moon Fish Company is on the north side of the Commercial Bridge, at 4405 W. Tradewinds Avenue, and it’s worth the drive. It too is on the Waterway, with great food and drink. You can come in your boat, but call first to make sure there’s room on the dock.

When you’ve finished eating, relax with a stroll through the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District, stretching along the Tarpon River downtown for 22 blocks. It’s filled with restaurants, shops and green space; you can stroll or sit on a bench with a cup of coffee. You can make life easy for yourself and hop on the free Riverwalk Water Trolley, which makes eight different stops along the river’s north and south banks.

The Las Olas district, on Las Olas Blvd., is next to Riverwalk, and it has its own appeal for strolling, dining and shopping. It has ten international art galleries, numerous outdoor cafes, and a vibrant nightlife.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is on the north side of the river, for an evening of culture. Kids, and many grownups, will enjoy the Museum of Discovery and Science nearby at 401 SW 2nd Street, where they can see river otters, take a simulated airboat ride through the Everglades, or climb into the cockpit of a Second World War fighter plane.

If you want to drive a bit, Flamingo Gardens is 17 miles west of town, and it’s a tropical oasis of 60 acres with peacocks, Florida wildlife, and more than 3,000 plant species. And Sawgrass Recreation Park, 24 miles west, offers airboat tours of the Everglades, with closeups of alligators, reptiles and other creatures.

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