You're bound to pass through Fort Lauderdale at some point. Whether you're laying over on your way to the Caribbean or South America, or using it as your departure point for a cruise, this sprawling beach town has plenty of its own charms. You could easily spend a full week exploring, but it’s also possible to have rich, relaxing experience in just a few hours. Here are itineraries for one, three, and five hours in Fort Lauderdale.One Hour
If you’ve got three hours, head to the 180-acre Hugh Taylor Birch State Park from the beach, accessible near lifeguard stand 15. Unchanged since 1893, the park was donated to the city by Chicago attorney and Standard Oil founder Hugh Taylor Birch, who didn't want development to ruin the subtropical paradise of his former home. Thanks to him, visitors can enjoy fantastic cycling and hiking trails, waterways, and greenery -- all of which is inhabited by wildlife like turtles, birds, and lizards. Some of our favorite paths include the two-mile loop around the park, which takes you to one of Broward County's only remaining coastal lagoons, and the trail that was once the local railroad. Other activities: segway tours, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, and jet skiing. (Try M. Cruz Rentals for any necessary gear.) For those who just want to relax, head over to the Atlantic and Intracoastal Highway in the park, where you can spot both manatees and mega-yachts. General park entry is $2 per pedestrian, $4 for a single-driver vehicle, and $6 per vehicle with more than one passenger.
With your remaining time, head across the street to the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, an estate built in 1920 by artist Frederick Clay Bartlett and art-enthusiast Helen Birch (daughter of Hugh Taylor Birch). Start by wandering the 35-acre estate’s beautiful themed gardens, home to three cheeky monkeys and an array of bird life and lizards. To escape the heat, tour the home, which showcases an eclectic art collection that includes everything from carousel animals, to an early 19th-century Persian Qajar painting. If you're pressed for time, the 20-minute tram tour ($2) is a good way to see the property and learn some history. If you have a little extra time, the house tour lasts about 75 minutes. Adult admission is $20 for the house and gardens and $10 for the gardens only.
With five hours, you'll have time to explore the cultural mecca that is Las Olas -- home to boutiques, bars, galleries, and restaurants. While you can simply wander without an itinerary, some notable stops include a number of free-to-enter galleries featuring regional and renowned artists alike. We recommend Forre & Co, Wentworth Gallery, Art Connection, and Jamali Gallery, which are all within walking distance of each other. Feel like a shopping? For classic South Floridian souvenirs, Elektrik boutique boasts handpicked fashion and accessories that are both fun and accessible. To channel the region's sunny spirit, Fresh Produce is all about bright women's clothing.
To squeeze in a sit-down meal, head to Sweet Nectar Charcoal Grill and Spirits, also in Las Olas near the aforementioned shops. It focuses on Southern-style tapas with a well-regarded raw bar and charcoal grill. Grab a smaller table with friends or make new ones at the communal table, then start off with chorizo-stuffed dates and deep fried "lobster popcorn" with a side of lemon truffle honey. From there, fill up with creative entrees like a coal-fired pterodactyl (turkey) wing dressed in a sweet habanero glaze, or Korean-style beef short ribs simmered for five hours with a kimchee base. Dishes typically start at $6 and handcrafted cocktails at $14. During happy hour, from 4-7 p.m. daily, wine and well drinks are buy-one-get-one-free and craft cocktails are $10.
Bonus: Beachfront Digs
Just in case you decide to stay overnight, this is a great season to nab deals at the four-diamond Lago del Mar, a 10-acre resort with a boutique-y feel and a relaxed ambiance. The property is home to a 500-foot private beach, two heated fresh water swimming pools (often with live poolside music), tennis courts, a European-style spa, and six restaurants and bars. In the spacious rooms themselves, guests will find pillow-top mattresses, 32-in flat screen TVs, and -- drumroll -- complimentary wifi. Considering all the amenities and the 4-diamond rating, the $350-$400 rates in high season are understandable. During the summer and early fall, however, you can find rates as low as $185 on weekdays and $205 on weekends.