Fort Lauderdale has successfully shed its image as a Spring Break circus and become a more tranquil family resort. But something of the old song Where the Boys Are still applies, as the city is regularly voted one of the top vacation destinations for gays. In recent years tall buildings have sprouted -- luxury hotels on the beach, luxury condos downtown -- but they haven't totally altered the beach town feel. And now, in addition to salt water, you get a few more urban pleasures.
The high season is November-April, which means higher prices, heavier traffic, more events and festivals. In summer, temperatures rise and prices drop, and it's far from empty. Europeans, for some reason, seem to have no fear of hurricanes (the season is June-November, but the big months tend to be August and September).
Remember, there's the Fort Lauderdale with the beach and the Fort Lauderdale with the downtown. There's the city seen from land and the city seen from water. Make sure you take in all four.
The southern end of the beach, south of Las Olas Boulevard, has basketball courts, volleyball nets, grills and picnic tables. At the northern end (Sunrise Boulevard), just across A1A, sits Birch State Park with canoe rentals, playgrounds and nature trails (popular with skaters and cyclists). Just south of the park, nestled in lush surroundings west of A1A, sits the colorful, art-filled Bonnet House, formerly a private home now open to the public. Also, on the barrier island facing the Intracoastal, there's the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Yes, it has exhibits, but it also is where Olympians train and the public swims. When's the last time your kids used a diving board?
If the beach gets too much, cross the bridge over the Intracoastal toward downtown. Stroll Las Olas Boulevard, a prettily landscaped street lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale puts on occasionally unorthodox exhibits, which could make kids see museums in a whole new light. The lobby includes a nifty gift shop and cafe, which has at times doubled as a wine bar in the evening.
Venture a little farther west, just across the railroad tracks, and you'll find a lively block (Southwest Second Street) of restaurants and bars. (This is where the locals hang.)
Between Southwest Second Street and the New River sits the modest historic district. It is the loveliest part of the city, with a few old structures (including a schoolhouse) and the old New River Inn, now a museum. Take a seat on a bench under a live oak tree on the city's Riverwalk and watch the gleaming yachts sail by.
Follow the Riverwalk west and you'll find the Museum of Discovery and Science, which is very much geared to children with lots of interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater. Nearby stands the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, hosting everything from classical concerts to Broadway musicals.
The best way to see the city dubbed "The Venice of America" is from the water. Take a water taxi, small boats that travel through downtown on the New River and along the barrier island on the Intracoastal Waterway. Captains point out mansions and give a lighthearted commentary.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun