Once famed for wild spring break frolics that saw thousands of college kids descending here for an orgy of drunken round-the-clock partying, Fort Lauderdale (pop. 165,651) is a surprisingly residential city, brought to a more human scale by the many waterways that cut through it. One of the largest cargo ports in the state, Fort Lauderdale also boasts more boats per capita than just about anywhere else in the United States, and over 165 miles of canals, inlets, and other waterways flow through the city.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale has a few big, dull office towers, but along the New River there are some well-preserved historic buildings dating back to 1905, when the city first emerged from the swamps. Find out more by visiting the Fort Lauderdale History Center (219 SW 2nd Ave., Tues.-Sun. noon-4pm, $10), west of US-1, which has lots of old photos and walking-tour maps, or the nifty Stranahan House (335 SE 6th Ave., daily, $12), off Las Olas Boulevard. This circa-1901 trading post and home, with broad verandas and high ceilings, is one of the most evocative historic places in the state.
Fort Lauderdale’s main beachfront bar and nightclub district is along Atlantic Avenue and Las Olas Boulevard, where you’ll find some nice sidewalk cafés and fast-food restaurants. One culinary landmark is Johnny V’s (625 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954/761-7920), a popular and stylish haunt where traditional American dishes are enlivened by a canny blend of exotic ingredients. For a change of pace from the frenetic tourism, or simply to enjoy good basic fried seafood, cold beer, and live blues, head south down US-1 to Ernie’s BBQ Lounge (1843 S. Federal Hwy., 954/523-8636), famous for its conch fritters, calamari rings, and rooftop deck.
Miles of inexpensive motels line Hwy-A1A north of Fort Lauderdale, and unless there’s something big going on you shouldn’t have trouble finding a room for under $100—half that in summer. One of the nicest places is the moderately priced, family-friendly TropiRock Resort (2900 Belmar St., 954/565-5790, $90 and up), with tennis courts, a tiki bar, and a pool, just a short walk from the beach.
North of Fort Lauderdale, Hwy-A1A winds in along the coast through a series of funky, friendly beachside communities. South of Fort Lauderdale, Hwy-A1A heads inland and merges into US-1, returning to the coast for the run south to Miami Beach.