Fort Lauderdale: Where the Deals Are America's former spring break capital offers the best combination of beaching, dining, shopping, sightseeing, partying, and budget lodging in Florida Budget Travel Tuesday, May 1, 2001, 12:00 AM Budget Travel LLC, 2016
 

 

Fort Lauderdale: Where the Deals Are

America's former spring break capital offers the best combination of beaching, dining, shopping, sightseeing, partying, and budget lodging in Florida

If you've ever driven through Fort Lauderdale, chances are you've experienced Florida's second largest metro area as an endless sprawl of strip malls, car dealerships, and freeways, with some standard-issue suburban tracts stirred in. But discerning visitors (plus a tiny remnant of the once-notorious spring-break hordes) in search of an ideal warm getaway know Fort Lauderdale's secret: Buried amid it all is a highly engaging "vacation corridor" that provides all the fun, relaxation, and stimulation you could ask for. This corridor - which resembles the letter L laid on its back - is formed by Las Olas Boulevard, running east to the sea and the palm-fringed beach from the highrises of downtown, then turning north along a two-mile north-south stretch of Highway A1A, hugging the beach and the Atlantic. This area includes not only plenty of surf, sand, shopping, dining, nightlife, and a slew of fabulous museums and performing arts venues, but (at its upper tip, the north end of this stretch of beachfront A1A) also Lauderdale's largest concentration of budget lodgings, starting as low as $65 a room in high season, $33 in low.

The "sleeping L" is the place to come for a modestly priced vacation that's more diverse and multilayered than any other in Florida. And as word gets out, as a holiday magnet it's catching up fast to Miami Beach, just a half hour south. South Beach in particular still gets most of the media hype, but in this writer's opinion, it's long on glitz and high prices while not measuring up to Fort Lauderdale in terms of cultural offerings, beach quality, budget options, and all-round accessibility - even the parking's less of a hassle.

Beyond the sand

Apart from its many beachy, watery pleasures-including superb boating on loads of scenic canals and waterways such as the New River and the famous Intracoastal Waterway - not only does Lauderdale have a pedestrian shopping/dining district (rare for Florida), but it's one of the state's prettiest; Las Olas Boulevard's tree-lined stretch of elegant, mostly Spanish-style buildings houses an ever-growing number of chic shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants (often pricey but sometimes surprisingly affordable). At its westernmost end is the downtown Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District, the site of a remarkable cluster of top-notch cultural institutions: a Museum of Art with everything from pre-Columbian treasures to today's cutting edge; a performing arts center with 500 events per year; a kid-popular Museum of Discovery and Science, including a 3-D IMAX theater, and the charming Old Fort Lauderdale Historical Museum. Outside this last, a lovely lane lined with live oaks and a handful of grand old homes leads to Riverwalk, a new shop-eat-and-play complex on the New River (stroll the winding brick walkway along its banks and take a cruise for $10.95; $5.95 for kids under 12). Just south of Las Olas' eastern end, the Swimming Hall of Fame makes for a fun morning visit.

Farther afield, hardcore shoppers head west of downtown to the gargantuan Sawgrass Mills Mall (whose 350-plus stores include outstanding discount outlets) or the 80-acre Swap Shop (a kind of daily flea and farmer's market with a little bit of circus thrown in) - or south for some decent antiquing in the town of Dania's 150 consignment shops (just below the airport). Then of course there's always the Latin flavor and art deco jewels of the Miami area, about a half hour down the coast.

Finally, not all of the surprises hereabouts are man-made. A wonderful place to appreciate the area's pristine beauty sits right on the A1A beachfront boulevard. The Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area is a rambling preserve with lush virgin hammock woodlands, freshwater lagoons, picnic facilities overlooking the posh mansions along the Intracoastal, and several easy hiking trails. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (W. Boundary Rd., Clewiston, 863/902-1113, seminoletribe. com/museum), deep in the Everglades about 90 minutes west of the beach on the Big Cypress Reservation, offers not only a look at the way of life of the much put-upon Seminole Indians, but also the flora and fauna of the swampy "river of grass" that covers most of South Florida.

Lauderdale lodgings

For the budget traveler, though, ground zero is a compact four-by-seven-block nabe at the top of our "sleeping L," bounded by A1A and the Intracoastal Waterway on the east and west, and Riomar and Vistamar Streets on the south and north respectively (many street names here end in mar, Spanish for "sea"). It's an ideal base - never more than four blocks from the beach, and a short drive from the browsing, grazing, and ogling of Las Olas.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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