Fort Lauderdale is such a great place to live and visit. It definitely has some of the best beaches, restaurants and shopping for sure. You may be completely happy spending all of your time in this one fabulous place! That being said, if you do find yourself wanting to change things up a bit there are some great spots to spend the day with family and friends just a short drive away.
Short Drives to the North in Broward County
Lauderdale By The Sea is to the north of Fort Lauderdale on the barrier island. It’s a somewhat quieter beach scene with a fishing pier that is located right in the center of fun restaurants, bars and specialty shops. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is the Shore Dive capital of Florida, so take a swim out to the the nearby reef for some great snorkeling or scuba diving. Anglin’s Square by the pier has some very comfortable Adirondack chairs that are perfect for chilling and people watching while you listen to live music coming from the open air dining venues in the area.
Just north of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is Pompano Beach. Here you will find the recently rebuilt fishing pier surrounded by restaurants both old and new. It’s easy to park in the new parking garage just off of A1A and then walk to the beach and restaurants. Pompano Beach has been undergoing a complete revitalization in recent years, so if you haven’t visited lately it is definitely worth the trip.
Deerfield Beach is another local gem just a few miles north of Pompano Beach. Here you can fish off of the International Fishing Pier, chill on the beach or choose from one of many bars and restaurants in the area including several oceanfront dining options. It’s easy to find live music and you won’t have any trouble parking here with a large parking structure and plenty of meters close to the beach.
Longer Day or Weekend Trips
If you have some more time why not consider a day trip? There are many places that you can drive to in under 2 hours and spend the day in completely different surroundings.
Key Largo, FL
First on my list would be Key Largo which is located in the upper keys about an 1 hour and 30 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale. Key Largo has a lot to offer, so plan your trip ahead of time. You could easily spend the entire day at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park is open every day of the year and there is a small fee to enter. Once you are here there is truly something for everyone!
Boat Tours, Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Take a glass bottom boat tour. The trip lasts about 2.5 hours and you will spend about 1.5 hours at the reef. Remember to bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat. And, the park has a PADI 5 star gold palm dive shop. You can rent equipment and take a 4 hour scuba diving tour offering the experienced diver 2 tank dives at various local reefs. They even have a resort course for inexperienced divers.
Other Activities in Pennekamp:
- Camping – Want to spend the night? You can camp overnight for a fee. The resort has 42 campsites with electric, water and sewer. This does require reservations and it is very popular, so plan ahead.
- Fishing – There is great fishing in the park. Please note, a saltwater fishing license is required. More information is available at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fishing in Florida.
- Hiking – If you are someone who prefers to hit the walking trail, there are 3 short hiking trails where you can enjoy the tropical hardwood hammock, mangroves, tropical fruit trees and a myriad of butterfly species.
If you’re looking for a longer day trip or perhaps a weekend stay then Islamorada is another great Upper Keys destination. First stop, visit The History of Diving Museum. It’s a cool spot to see collections, artifacts and photos related to the history of diving and how the Florida Keys plays an important role in that history.
While you are in Islamorada make sure to visit the Theater of the Sea. Home to dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, sharks, stingrays, alligators, and birds. Here you can swim with dolphins, meet a sea lion or meet a sea turtle! It’s a great place to spend some time out of the heat.
Robbie’s Marina is a another must stop when visiting Islamorada. Rent a boat for the day or half day, have lunch and a cocktail and do some island shopping. However, what Robbie’s is really known for is feeding the Tarpon. Take part in the feeding frenzy but be careful of those huge pelicans on the docks. When you’re not paying attention they will come right up to you and steal your fish!
If you really want to experience something other than the beach I would recommend visiting Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound near Jupiter, FL. It’s about 1 hour and 15 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale and you will feel like you are a million miles away! Here you will experience the wild side of Florida as you explore the Loxahatchee River with it’s beautiful wildlife and surroundings. Bird watching and wildlife viewing are plentiful throughout the park. Jonathan Dickinson State Park is open 365 days a year and there is a small fee to enter the park. Camping is available, but plan ahead since this is a popular campsite.
Take a 90 minute boat tour on the Loxahatchee Queen pontoon boat. Tour the river and take in the history of this place, with a stop at the restored 1930s camp of Trapper Nelson, the Wildman of the Loxahatchee. Park staff lead visitors around the grounds and buildings of a true Florida original, who made his living off the land as a trapper and fur trader. He eventually turned his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions, Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens. Trapper’s unsolved death in 1968 is still a mystery to this day.
Bring your bike or rent one. There are both paved and off road trails for all levels of riders to enjoy. There are stops along the way with picnic tables and benches so that you can take a break and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the park. Are you into mountain biking? The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System is a 9-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops rated for beginners all the way to “black diamond, experts only.” Each trail is marked by difficulty level and distance.
Now that is something that you won’t find at the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Take a guided horseback ride through the park. Tours last about 1 hour and they leave several times a day.
The Loxahatchee River is a beautiful river for canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding. Paddlers may launch using the park’s boat ramp. If you don’t have your own equipment then you can rent from the park concessionaire.
The Beaches of Naples
Ever been to the west coast of Florida? The gulf and its expansive beaches are a beautiful sight to see. Located just about 1 hour and 45 minutes due west of Fort Lauderdale, Naples makes a great day trip. You will have to cross the well known Alligator Alley and you may even see some alligators along the way. Once you arrive in Naples you must head to the beach and see the beautiful white, sugar sand and calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Beach at Naples Pier is a great place to relax with nearby restaurants, a fun vibe and public restrooms. The pier extends about 1000 feet into the ocean and you can catch a beautiful sunset here. You can easily spend the day here. Just a few blocks away is the happening area of 3rd Street, featuring restaurants with outdoor patios, interesting shops, and a farmers market on Saturdays.
Another great beach is Vanderbilt Beach Park. This spot has a busier vibe if you are looking for more crowds and excitement. Delnor- Wiggins Pass State Park is just north of Vanderbilt Beach Park and has beautiful, pristine white sand beaches. Unlike other built-up beaches, wildlife is abundant here. Frequent sightings of ospreys, owls, and eagles are common, along with a wide variety of shorebirds. Naples isn’t just about the beaches. There are plenty of high end hotels that line the gulf shore beaches. Maybe get a day pass for the Ritz Carlton and spend the day pampering yourself and enjoying the amenities and spa at the Ritz.
Whether you are a local resident here in the Fort Lauderdale area or a visitor, these are just a few of the day trips that are just a short drive away. I would encourage everyone to take the occasional day trip and make the most out of your time here in our beautiful and wild state of Florida.
Be a Day Tripper!