Once upon a time, one could look down the road along Fort Lauderdale beach and inland along U.S. 1 and see flat land and the occasional scrubby palmetto as far as the eye could see. Now villages meld into adjoining towns, towns into cities, suburbs into each other and the entire county has become one sprawling megalopolis that stretches from the sea to the Everglades and from the northern border of Miami to the southern border of Palm Beach and beyond.
South of Fort Lauderdale is Hollywood, which has a small but significantly entertaining downtown area built around one of the several big traffic circles that characterize the city. Thanks to a redevelopment project that beautified downtown streets with intriguing architectural touches, trees and flowers, downtown Hollywood has become a popular. Restaurants like California Cafe and Henry's China House , and shops like Sigrid Olsen are popular among visitors.
Not far away, the tiny town of Dania, founded by tomato farmers, has left its farms behind and is best known for a street lined on both sides by dozens of antique shops brimming with an eclectic array of collectibles. Parimutuel fans flock here to Dania Jai-Alai and Simulcast , where talented handball players compete, slamming a wooden ball around at speeds up to 100mph and catching it in a hand-held basket.
Beach enthusiasts will find some of the region's most intriguing sands here, many of them tucked away behind forests of palms, pines and palmetto bushes. The standout is Hollywood North Beach Park , where you'll find many a sea turtle.
Traveling north of Fort Lauderdale, one wanders through a series of small towns including Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, which pretty much describes this tiny town that is home to a cluster of small inns and a few seaside cafes. The 180-acre Hugh Taylor Birch Recreation Area is filled with animals and tall, lovely trees. Beyond lies the city of Pompano, which gets its name from a coveted fish found in abundance here. Pompano is particularly proud of its sportfishing options and is home to a number of fishing competitions, a big fishing pier and a popular seafood festival . Hillsboro Beach, home to some of the region's most imposing seaside manses, is one of the loveliest parts of the drive, with the road rolling beneath massive trees and vegetation that must look much as it did a century ago when the fabled Barefoot Mailman strode the sand, armed with mail for the region's earliest settlers. Hillsboro Inlet is home to a fishing fleet so you can always find a fishing trip here and fresh-from-the-sea seafood at the Pelican Landing .
Continuing northward, you pass through Deerfield Beach, home to a few small resorts, before you reach Boca Raton. Boca's love and lure is its historic and elegant Boca Raton Resort and Club , a creation of architect Addison Mizner, whose pseudo-Mediterranean architecture is a wonder to behold.
To the west of Fort Lauderdale lies a host of smaller cities that are the bedroom communities of the region, their residents working in municipalities throughout the area or in Miami. Among those are Sunrise, Plantation, Tamarac, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Margate, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie—which is particularly proud of its farmland and celebrates it with Western-style architectural touches—and the newest town of them all, Weston, a developer's dream just minutes from the Everglades.
Once billed as the home of more restaurants per capita than any city in the nation, Fort Lauderdale loves—and virtually lives in—its restaurants. Hardly a day goes by in the city where the discussion doesn't turn to the latest great restaurant find: a favorite seafood haven, the best spot for steak, a great waterside spot or a new romantic-dining discovery.
It's easy to find amazing steak, at such renowned spots as Shula's On the Beach and the casual Chuck's Steak House or the woodsy Raindancer , the later two as popular for their brimming salad bars and French onion soup as for their beef and seafood selections. Cool-chic can be had at Bimini Boatyard , and trendy crowds also head for the seaside H2O , where an intriguing menu is abetted by an equally diverting seaside location.
Work does get done in Fort Lauderdale but much of it gets done over lunch at such popular downtown spots as Mango's , where street-side tables are packed by noon. At Mark's Las Olas , where an award-winning chef and a sleekly sophisticated atmosphere cater to the wants of classy customers, the tables are full from midday to nearly midnight. When the flavors of France tempt, thundering herds head for Le Cafe de Paris , where chefs of considerable local renown have been presiding over their respective, and respected, kitchens for decades. Enjoy Southwestern fare at Canyon or have some pizazz and pizza at Bistro Mezzaluna . Dine with a view, waterside, at Casablanca .
Those who want the sand almost between their toes as they dine head for the north end of the beach where Aruba, an on-the-beach—casual dining spot offers views of swimmers and suntan fans frolicking alongside a fishing pier, where determined anglers dangle a hook in hopes of snagging supper. Have some fish and chips on the river at Shirttail Charlie's. Those who delight in the combination of casual and gourmet may head for By Word of Mouth , where the menu is as intriguing as the green-striped exterior.
If the focus of discussion is seafood, you are likely to hear enraptured tales of dinner at 15th Street Fisheries , tucked away in a marina where impressive yachts provide entertainment, or Old Florida Seafood House , where much of the staff has been around long enough to recognize regular customers.
North Beach Area
Not far away on chic Las Olas Boulevard, lines form on weekends at the Floridian Restaurant , where judges and lawyers, politicians and regular folks gather to gossip as they down a creative collection of egg selections—one even including a bottle of champagne—in the ultimate in casual surroundings, inside and out. Boulevardiers who aren't at the Floridian can likely be found at Vie de France Cafe & Bakery just down the way, or up on Federal Highway at Croissan'Time Cafe , where French-speaking bakers create what the name suggests, along with baguettes, epis and a host of downright irresistible pastries, sandwiches and sweets.
Indulge in comfort foods at Ireland's Inn Ocean Room and enjoy the elegant Oriental options at Rainbow Palace . Picadillo and plantains can be had at Las Vegas , or try the bouillabaisse at the beach at Sea Watch . If steak is more your taste, bask in the kitsch in a den at The Caves . You can always have a yodel at Alpine Village , where the food is homemade and divine. If an evening that includes both fine food and enchanting entertainment is in order, no Fort Lauderdale devotee would fail to name the Mai-Kai , one of the city's oldest restaurants and perhaps its most revered.
At Sage , French touches are applied to contemporary cuisine. If you'd like to enjoy a bar atmosphere with your dinner, try Howl at The Moon , where the food is simple, and the people-watching is complex.
From the historic Museum of Discovery and Science to the serene Deerfield Island Park , Fort Lauderdale offers many attractions for visitors.
Museum of Discovery and Science Downtown Fort Lauderdale is home to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts , the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Museum of Discovery and Science . Browse the offerings at Pocock Fine Art & Antiques , then have dinner at Reed's River House .
Stranahan House Explore the many fine galleries located downtown. The New River Gallery , the Seldom Seen Gallery and the Beaux Arts Galleries are three of the best. Tour Stranahan House , the city's oldest home, then dine at Mango's Restaurant & Lounge .
Old Fort Lauderdale Village & Museum Stroll through the historic Old Fort Lauderdale Village & Museum , then picnic at Bubier Park and visit Wyland Galleries . Have dinner at Indigo or Jackson's Steak House .
Old Dillard Art and Cultural Museum In North Fort Lauderdale, visit the Old Dillard Art and Cultural Museum , the Mills Pond Park and Deerfield Island Park . Grab lunch at Old Vienna , then go to Butterfly World in Tradewinds Park.
Sunshine Cathedral Tour the Sunshine Cathedral , cool off at Paradise Cove Water Playground or hit the links at Raintree Golf Resort . When you're through, dine at Blue Water Restaurant & Bar or Ronieri's Restaurant .
Go snorkeling, take a deep sea fishing trip or take a ride in a helicopter; there are many ways to see Fort Lauderdale.
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