On Florida’s Gold Coast. along the A1A, is Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Just 30 miles north of Miami between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a barrier island. Only 1.6 miles around the perimeter, you can easily bike or walk the entire town. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the colorful Adirondack chairs, umbrellas, and sculptures in Anglin Town Square. This is the heart of this charming American beach town.
The Miami modern architecture gives the town a retro vibe, as if you’ve stepped back in time. To preserve the small town nothing taller than four stories is allowed in the village. You will find a couple of buildings that predate this moratorium but very few. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea provides a stark contrast to the beaches of Miami and Pompano Beach where high-rise buildings are the norm.
Things To Do In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is known as Florida’s beach diving capitol. A living coral reef located just 100 yards offshore is one of the top shore diving spots in the world.
If diving is your thing, be sure to visit the SS Copenhagen, a 19th-century British steamship that wrecked in May 1900 less than a mile offshore in 25 feet of water. Florida designated the wreck as an Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 1994, and in 2001, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service manages the SS Copenhagen.
Anglin’s Pier, built in 1963, offers fishing equipment rentals and bait for sale. It’s a fun place to go just for a walk or to check out the tropical fish that live around the pier. There’s a nominal entrance fee.
You don’t have to get under the water; there is plenty to explore while snorkeling on the surface. The town even constructed an artificial reef dedicated by Jean Michel Cousteau, the famous underwater explorer.
Fun In The Sun
Of course you can always opt to simply enjoy the 2.5 miles of beautiful beachfront that is Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Swimming, sunning, and walking on the beach are part of the fun.
Explore Nearby Attractions
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is close to many other popular tourist attractions. Here, I include some that are easy to access from town.
Bonnet House Museum And Gardens
If you love history and observing how the 1 percent lives, be sure to visit Bonnet House, designed by Frederic Clay Bartlett. Bartlett was an American artist from Chicago, Illinois. His father-in-law, Hugh Taylor Birch, was one of the visionaries and founders of Fort Lauderdale. Birch gave the land Bonnet House was built upon to Frederic Bartlett and his bride, Helen Birch, as a wedding gift. Construction of the house began in 1920. Unlike many other homes of wealthy families from that era, Bonnet House was not built to be the family's full-time residence; it was to be their winter home. While there is a formal dining room, the house does not have grand stairways and ballrooms. And though the family was quite wealthy, the house is not lavish. It is, however, very unique and whimsical.
The Bartletts filled the house with art from their travels around the world. Sadly, the bride died in 1925, leaving Bartlett a widower for the second time. Hugh Taylor Birch graciously sold the house and land to Bartlett for $1.
Be sure to take one of the docent-led tours as there are many quirky and interesting facts about the house and the area that you probably wouldn't discover otherwise. Allow about 1.5 hours and maybe a little more time to linger outside. I would also suggest that you might want to walk the trail to the beach.
Bartlett did marry a third time, but I’ll leave that story for the docent to tell.
Las Olas Boulevard
A walk down Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale will transport you to Europe. It’s a shady street lined with shops, galleries, and cafes. A focal point of the boulevard is the Riverside Hotel, a historic hotel with Old-World charm constructed in 1936. Built on what was then called the New River, it was one of the first hotels to open in the area and originally had 80 rooms. Be sure to visit Gran Forno Bakery, just a few doors away, for a little taste of Italy in Florida. They are known for their freshly baked bread and paninis. The espresso is darn good, too!
What better way to explore a city built upon canals and rivers than by water? The Water Taxi offers several options such as the Hop-On, Hop-Off tour of Fort Lauderdale, which is the tour I took. There are many stops, but if you’re in Las Olas, for example, you can catch the water taxi at the Riverside Hotel. The tour guides share their knowledge of the area including fun facts about all the million-dollar yachts and real estate lining the canals. Remember Miami Vice? That house is part of the tour. You can also hop off at the beaches and then take a taxi back to your start point. This is a fun and easy way to get around Fort Lauderdale and something unique to the area.
Best Restaurants In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
Though Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is small, there is no shortage of places to eat or cuisine to try.
No matter where you go, the vibe is beach casual, and flip-flops are welcome.
Delacaseas Cafe is a cute and cozy cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fresh juices and wine are also available. Locals flock to Delacaseas for anything from comfort food to a fine dining experience. The restaurant also offers catering and will deliver to your door. I tried the lobster bisque, which was thick and creamy along with the sea scallops in white wine and garlic -- perfectly cooked and delicious.
Pump Sushi and Thai is open for lunch, dinner, and takeout. Fresh sushi, rolls, curries, and soups are expertly prepared. They use premium Norwegian salmon for their sushi and rolls and local-caught fish when possible. Or, try a delicacy like salmon skin or Thai-style snapper. A refreshing Thai iced coffee for a midday or late-night pick-me-up would make a nice dessert, too.
Try Alexsandra’s Caribbean Cafe for Jamaican jerk chicken -- which is not crazy spicy -- cooked up in a tiny kitchen by the owner and chef. If you want spicy, you can get it! I love these small homegrown-style places.
Pan’E Dolci is my pick for Italian coffee and pastries. The foam on my cappuccino was perfect. You’ll be tempted to take home one of everything in the case, which is huge.
Best Hotels In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
Since there is a moratorium on building height in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, most of the accommodations are small, mid-century, boutique-style hotels. There are many locals and regular visitors who return to the same place year after year, which means you’ll want to book in advance. But don’t worry, because any time of year is a good time in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Elmar Boutique Hotel
The Elmar Boutique Hotel was remodeled in 2019. It is an excellent example of Miami modern architecture built in 1958. The rooms are more like small apartments, and guests tend to rent them for longer-term stays of a week or more. The open-air design is typical of many you’ll see in Florida in general and all along the beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Elmar rooms are outfitted with all the necessary amenities including complimentary Wi-Fi. Please note that due to the design of the hotel it is not ADA compliant. There are no elevators or wheelchair-accessible shower facilities.
The only full-service hotel on the island is Plunge Beach Resort. Plunge offers all the amenities of a much larger hotel, but with only 163 rooms it maintains a personal, fun, and friendly atmosphere. It stretches across three buildings. Each is bright, eclectic, creative, and beach casual.
There are two swimming pools at Plunge. One is located adjacent to the beach bar and restaurant, Backflip; the other is at the bungalow property next door. Both are handicap accessible. And, of course, the beach beckons just a few steps away.
A nightly resort fee covers complimentary valet parking and Wi-Fi, bike rental, and resort beach service that includes two beach chairs and umbrellas.
The furnishings vary slightly from room to room but the overall aesthetic is modern and artistic, with original art painted on the walls of each room. It’s a mix that appeals to all ages and genders. Plunge Beach Resort is ADA compliant.
Whether you’re staying for a weekend or a week, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a destination that offers something for everyone. Park your car and relax.