Fort Lauderdale, Florida–a short hop to urban and tropical delights
Why leave one great beach town to visit another? Because variety is the spice of life. And with numerous and affordable direct flights from Myrtle Beach to South Florida, any time of year is a great time to visit the tropical splendor that is so uniquely Florida.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been a famed destination for travelers from around the world for decades. Its sugar sand white beaches, aquamarine water, temperate climate, tourist-friendliness and distinctly tropical ecosystems make it an otherworldly, quick getaway from the Grand Strand. How quick? You can fly to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) non-stop from Myrtle Beach (MYR) in about in about an hour and 45 minutes—faster than it would take you to drive to Florence or Charleston. If you’re a dedicated road warrior, the drive takes just over 10 hours. Looking for another get-there option? Amtrak offers travelers a 15-hour train ride from Florence to Fort Lauderdale on its Silver Meteor, with private, but pricey, sleeper car accommodations available.
Why Fort Lauderdale?
Besides the aforementioned beaches and oddly beautiful water, this part of Florida’s coastline is night and day different from the Grand Strand. As a billionaire’s playground and medium-sized city, just 30 minutes north of another famed Florida city, Miami, Fort Lauderdale has been dubbed the “Yachting Capital of the World.” The hundreds of mega-yachts that call Fort Lauderdale home, some of which are more than 300 feet in length and valued at more than $30 million, are easy to see and gawk at via the multiple water taxis that shuttle tourists and locals from one bar to the next along many miles of canals and The New River. Want a closer look? The five-day, 62nd Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (October 27-31) will host an estimated 125,000 visitors there to explore and buy from among the hundreds of yachts and boats of all sizes.
Another nickname, “Venice of America,” is part of the city’s official seal. The city boasts some 165 miles of inland waterways (300 miles in the greater metro area), filled with watercraft as small as kayaks and canoes to jet skis, ski boats, cruisers, and sailboats to the yachts for which the city is so famous. On the banks of these canals you’ll find small bungalows and jaw-dropping mega-mansions, many owned by the world’s wealthiest, such as late Blockbuster founder Wayne Huizenga, whose 21,000-sq foot, 10-bedroom, 18-bath mansion recently listed for sale at $27 million.
Big city shopping is available in the area, and a little further south to Miami, international playboys and playgirls have made the region home and playground to jet-setting Hollywood elite and billionaire snowbirds who migrate south each winter.
The greater Broward County metro area boasts nearly 2 million residents and easily that many tourists in the high season, but getting around is not terribly difficult. All the ride share companies, Uber and Lyft drivers, and taxis compete for your fares, and a robust city bus and rental car business covers most of the rest of your transportation needs. A bicyclist’s paradise, you’ll find nary a hill as you navigate the flatlands, and bikes are easy to rent. Even the waterways are bustling with private and public boat traffic.
Though the Caribbean cruise boat industry has its headquarters north of Fort Lauderdale near the Space Coast, countless public water taxis cruise the inland waterways with the boat captains acting as tour guides, pointing out areas and attractions of interest. The “hop on, hop off” all-day ticket (around $30) allows for the most fun, with frequent stops at favorite restaurant and bar spots, some of which are just across the street from the Fort Lauderdale beaches, as well as stops at the trendy dining district of Las Olas and the Galleria Mall. Most water taxis also sell beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks. Additionally, tour boats, guided historical excursions and ocean-going trips are all readily available. Several sailing schools offer instruction for the novice to experienced sailor.
Local fishermen know it can take two to three hours or longer to reach the Gulf Stream from points along the Grand Strand. This fish-rich, 45-mile wide, fast-flowing river of warm water is so close to Florida’s southern coasts (16 to 20 miles out), you can sometimes see it from the top of your hotel, and reach it by boat in 20-30 minutes. This makes South Florida a sport fisherman’s paradise.
Fort Lauderdale and surrounding coastal cities offer hundreds of fishing charters for the serious trophy-seeking fisherman, or the casual sportsman looking for a day on the water and a few fish stories to take home.
Where to Stay
As you might imagine, like the Grand Strand, Fort Lauderdale has learned to accommodate the millions of tourists who visit year-round. Airbnb, VRBO and dozens of reputable booking websites will help you find the perfect balance of your most requested amenities, from oceanfront and ocean view luxury hotel rentals, to budget-friendly quaint bungalows a short drive from anything you might want to see or do.
Roll the Dice
At the Seminole Hard Rock Casino Resort, just 10 miles from Fort Lauderdale, rooms average $230 to $400 per night (sometimes more), plus packages that include spa and dining options. During your visit, Lady Luck may or may not be overseeing the heart and center of the resort, a giant Vegas-styled casino. Don’t want to gamble away your hard-earned money? Spend it instead within the 26,000-square-foot promenade, which offers boutique shopping of the highest caliber. Three waterfront areas offer poolside relaxation, and guests enjoy entertainment at an on-site comedy club, a 7,000-person capacity theater (comedian Bill Burr performs there on August 28), nightclubs, bars and lounges. The iconic guitar-shaped hotel with a light show reaching 20,000 feet into the night sky is the centerpiece of this adult playground.
Maybe the multi-million dollar yachts, celebrity mansions, fishing charters and high stakes gambling aren’t your thing. In that case, Fort Lauderdale boasts a few beautifully scenic parks and natural recreation areas throughout the city that reflect the flora and fauna of the region.
For a particularly scenic stroll, be sure to visit the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, where exotic birds and fantastic plants and flowers stimulate the senses.
In greater Fort Lauderdale, you’ll find an immense variety of delectable cuisine, including the blue collar Primanti Bros., which serves Pittsburgh-style sandwiches, along with fine dining steak houses, seafood dives and all points in between. You're also so close to Little Havana, about 45 minutes into Miami, so be sure to visit during the daytime for an authentic taste of Cuban fare and culture. Fort Lauderdale proper has a half-dozen highly rated Cuban restaurants as well.
So there’s your Getaway plan: cheap, fast flights, plenty to do and see, and a vacation customizable to almost any budget. Consider opting for the three-night stay, Saturday through Tuesday, using Spirit Airlines’ standard schedule. Speaking from my experience in May, the flights leave MYR early, around 7 a.m., arriving at FLL around 8:45 a.m., giving you a full day of vacation on your travel-down day. Flights typically leave FLL late-ish (around 6:30 p.m.), leaving most of your travel-home day open for a last full day of Florida fun.
We’ve just barely scratched the surface in describing this uniquely Floridian city and its many tropical charms, scenic beauty and glitzy nightlife.
Life is short, travel often.
Photographs by mia2you/shutterstock.com; Jillian Cain Photogrsaphy; Gagliardi Photography; Sean Pavone; JJW Photography; Kamira; Yingna Cai