The city of Fort Lauderdale has grown from a busy trading post on the New River in the 1900s to the modern metropolis it is today, thanks to its many waterways. This was what first led to the three forts being here during the Seminole Wars and has since allowed it to develop as one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. It has a beautiful sandy beach which can be windy at times and does get crowded in the winter season. However, behind the glitz and glamor lies a huge amount of debt as the area has been hard hit by the housing crisis.
Las Olas Boulevard
Most visitors head for Las Olas Boulevard which is full of character as people browse the windows of the interesting boutiques, galleries and shops selling celebrity memorabilia. In the evenings, tables spill out across the sidewalk and make the most of the pleasant temperatures and vibrant atmosphere after dark. Formal eateries blend with casual dining and there is always a long line waiting for a table at the popular Cheesecake Factory. More upmarket is the swish Jackson’s Steakhouse with its private club ambiance.
However, you may want to steer well clear of this area during spring break and other popular holidays. After dark crowds of young people hang out on the streets blocking traffic and drinking alcohol despite the drinking laws prohibiting open bottles of alcohol on the streets. By the early hours youngsters are drunk and out of control – not a pretty sight according to horrified witnesses.
Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk
Leading off from Las Olas Boulevard is the 1˝-mile long Riverwalk, a meandering landscaped pathway along the north bank of the New River. It is really pleasant place to stroll as it passes tall glass high-rise buildings, luxury sea-going yachts and eventually reaches the modern shopping district. There are several waterfront pubs offering tasty lunches, evening meals or sunset cocktails at Happy Hour overlooking the river. Enjoy people-watching and see the bridge lift from time to time to let tall-masted yachts sail up-river.
Further along the waterfront is Stranrahan House, the oldest surviving building in the city. It was once the site of the city’s first trading post, post office and bank. It is now restored to its heyday of 1901 with typical Floridian furnishings and old photographs of Frank Stranrahan trading alligator hides, otter skins and egret feathers with the native Seminoles. It’s hard to think how much this area has changed in just a century!
Riverwalk is a lovely quiet respite from some of the crowded and busier areas of Fort Lauderdale, such as the beach and promenade. In the winter "snowbird season" the traffic can be choked up everywhere.
Continue along through the park-like area to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts which always has a varied program in its two theatres.
Despite the upmarket image, all is not going well beneath the surface in Fort Lauderdale. It has been hard hit by the economic downturn as many of the apartments were bought as investments or vacation homes belonging to overseas visitors. They were the first thing to be jettisoned when economies had to be made. Listed 7th on the Forbes list of America’s Most Miserable Cities, the fall in real estate values and glut of repossessed homes ripples on into a shortage of property taxes being paid, a problem many South Florida cities are having to deal with.
From the waterfront, visitors can take a one or two hour cruise of the waterways on a modern cruise boat. Nearby the old Jungle Queen paddle-wheeler offers onboard shows and barbecue buffets. Cruises sail around The Isles, a series of man-made canals dug in the 1920s. Multi-million dollar mansions look out across swimming pools to luxury yachts moored at the end of the garden. The waterways eventually lead out to Port Everglades which has many container ships and oil tankers. The separate cruise port area is perpetually busy with huge cruise ships coming and going to the Bahamas, the Caribbean and further afield.
Old Fort Lauderdale
Second Avenue is where most of the historical houses in Fort Lauderdale can be found. These plantation-style homes have shady verandas and sit amidst lush tropical gardens. Many of the buildings are administered by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society from their base at the Historical Museum.
Highlights to look out for are the King-Cromartie House, built on the south bank of the river in 1907 and transported by barge to its present position in 1971 to preserve it. Behind the house is Fort Lauderdale’s first schoolhouse, built in 1899. The old brick buildings around Southwest 2nd Street are a great place to find a tempting lunch or iced coffee.
Also in this area is the Museum of Science and Discovery which is popular. It shows Florida wildlife in recreated ecoscapes and a range of realistic films in the IMAX theatre. The neighbouring Museum of Art is in an impressive post-modernist building and showcases CoBrA artworks. CoBrA are works by expressionist painters from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, hence the strange acronym.
From here, a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour links this downtown area with the beach which is truly beautiful. A narrow strip of white sand runs beside the bluest Atlantic waves. The paved promenade is shaded by many palm trees giving the area a truly tropical appeal and is enjoyed by walkers, cyclists and roller-bladers.
This informative book offers details of 20 best beaches and coastal cities in Florida
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20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities