I first discovered Fort Lauderdale, Florida, back in both my and the city’s youth. We were both on spring break — so to speak — as it had a Where the Boys Are reputation back then. It was all about the beach.
Through the years, we’ve both matured. We went through our family stages, passed our midlife identity crises, and settled into a generally more sophisticated persona — but one that still likes to party, have fun, and, of course, hit the beach.
The Fort Lauderdale (FTL) I’ve discovered lately pulls some new punches that the average winter visitor — blinded by the sun and sand — may miss. But I should not.
Accommodations and costs of many of the listed attractions were covered by Hyatt Centric, but all opinions are my own.
1. Sneak Into A Speakeasy
Okay, I have a thing for speakeasies, owing to my fascination with flappers, bathtub gin, and The Great Gatsby. The taco de birria is reason enough to visit Bodega Taqueria y Tequila for lunch ordered from the Airstream trailer kitchen. But come noon, you can open a door to the port-a-potty back in the corner and enter a spacious flashback to the speakeasy era. As rustic as 901 is elegant, this rendition draws in crowds for its special events and tequila-heavy cocktails. Don’t want to stand in line? Reserve ahead online.
Pro Tip: Order the Fiesta Tower for four during happy hour, 4–8 p.m., in the speakeasy. It consists of elote, yuca frita, quesadilla with rajas, nachos, chili queso, salsa ranchera, and guacamole.
2. Sistrunk Marketplace & Brewery
On the topic of FTL good eats, I recently discovered one of my favorite dine-out genres. Fort Lauderdale’s first food hall, Sistrunk Marketplace & Brewery, collects vendors of food groups from sandwiches and coffee to empanadas and ceviche. Artists, musicians, and a co-op retail operation add a bohemian vibe that appealed to my inner hippy.
3. Java & Jam
My new favorite jam in the Las Olas neighborhood, Java & Jam has its own bohemian character with indoor-garden spaces designed in what can only be described as creatively-random chic. On the coffee menu alone, there’s butterbeer iced latte, salted caramel cappuccino, and crème brulee cappuccino; to name a few. Java & Jam serves lunch and breakfast, but I opted to start my day with taco eggs — served with avocado and a medley of sauces including peri-peri.
4. Yot Bar & Kitchen
Still, on the topic of food, Fort Lauderdale’s dining reputation meets its yachtie personality at the cleverly named Yot Bar & Kitchen, anchored at the Safe Harbor Lauderdale Marine Center. This town has its fair share of marina restaurants where views take in magnificent hulls bobbing serenely on the waterside, but this one is a hidden treasure with 360-degree harbor views.
Pro Tip: I suggest the YOT & The Whale craft cocktail and Fig & Truffle Flatbread for lunch.
5. SUP PUP Paddleboard
On the topic of yacht-watching, I combined my fascination with some good, on-the-water exercise at an off-the-beaten-path operation known as SUP PUP Paddleboard. Natasha Baker Williams runs her operation out of a funky houseboat on a local canal. Her corgi, Mr. Beaches, who accompanies her on the tours she guides, provides the “pup” quotient. Their 75-minute Las Olas Canal Tours skim right alongside dwarfing monumental yachts anchored in front of monumental homes.
6. Nighttime Riverfront Gondola Tour
If your short, neighborhood scan of yachts whets your appetite for more yachts, Riverfront Gondola Tours cruises along the legendary canals and Intracoastal Waterway throughout the day, but the nighttime tour is the most dazzling. The guides not only are conversant about local history but also about real estate prices for the most impressive, bank-breaking homes you will pass. The modern-day gondolas (do not expect pole-propelled vessels or serenading) accommodate up to six people for an intimate experience.
Pro Tip: You can bring your own food and drink aboard. Or the nearby Casa Sensei will arrange to serve dinner on board before departure for you to enjoy during the excursion.
7. Chops + Hops
Another thing Fort Lauderdale has achieved recognition for, its nightlife and party scene began during its spring break days. Its grown-up bars continue the legacy, but Chops + Hops adds a playful twist by mashing up two popular national trends: axe throwing and drinking craft beer. I didn’t even know I wanted to drink beer and throw axes. To be truthful, I ordered the Spicy M.F. (yep, that’s what it stands for alright) Margarita rather than a beer, but axe flinging I did. I did not, however, manage to get one ax to stick to its target, despite the patient tutoring of my “axe-pert.” Perhaps, I never really did want to throw axes, either. But it was sure fun watching and trying, and my margarita was delicious.
Pro Tip: Besides beer and clever craft cocktails (i.e. “Berry the Hatchet,” a strawberry mojito interpretation), Chops + Hops also serves snacks, sandwiches, and desserts.
8. Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale
Running parallel to Las Olas Boulevard, New River and its Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale are the main arteries into the heart of the city. Besides a scenic, 1-mile stretch of the linear park, they provide the most pleasant way to travel from shops, hotels, and restaurants to museums and parks. Free water taxis and tour boats provide transportation on the river, but walking or biking the riverwalk brings surprises every time at every turn. It hosts cultural events, including a free first Sunday jazz concert, and provides art installations to admire, leading to the city’s cultural hub including the art museum, Museum of Discovery & Science, and Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Pro Tip: Fort Lauderdale has a lot to offer families still today. Besides the beach, parks, and attractions — such as the hands-on Museum of Discover & Science and its IMAX theater — keep the kids and grandkids engaged.
Where To Stay
Hyatt Centric Hotel Las Olas Boulevard
In addition to the beach, Las Olas Boulevard is central to the quintessential Fort Lauderdale experience. Where it intersects with the beach (that “avenue that’s known as A1A,” as Jimmy Buffett memorializes it) bustles with tourists living their best vacation. Head west, away from the sunscreen fumes, where the chic, sleek Hyatt Centric Las Olas Boulevard opened in April 2020. With its riverfront views and yachtie design elements, it fits right into the downtown Fort Lauderdale scene.
From its Harborwood Kitchen and Bar (don’t miss the ropa vieja benny for breakfast) and Elev8 eighth-floor pool and bar to its Peloton-equipped fitness center and a vending machine that dispenses demi bottles of champagne and wine, the Hyatt Centric spells luxe and originality. My favorite element, however, hides in an erstwhile guest room on the ninth floor.
The hotel invented a speakeasy called 901 during the COVID-19 lockdown, so it was a speakeasy in the true sense of the word — a secret spot where locals could get an adult beverage when it was verboten in public bars. The Hyatt Centric came up with the idea to keep staff employed, and it didn’t take long for the secret to get out. Guests and non-guests alike can book dinner and drinks at the eight-seat 901 any night from Thursday through Sunday. True to form, you’ll receive your secret password when you reserve. You must speak to a front-desk receptionist (in whispers, if you really want to get in the mood), to receive a key to room 901. Enter a wormhole into Roaring ‘20s decadence, fine food, and classic cocktails.
Pro Tip: Hyatt Centric Las Olas has a partnership with the nearby NSU Art Museum, a class-act showcase of traveling fine-art exhibits. Guests enjoy a special buy-one, get-one discount at the museum — known as the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art in my earlier days of exploring the neighborhood.
Learn more about Fort Lauderdale in these articles: