Fort Lauderdale, FL
Fort Lauderdale’s nice beaches, warm weather, and laid-back vibe attract millions of tourists each year. If you want South Florida without the gaudiness of Miami or the sleepiness of Boca or West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale might be what you’re looking for.
I woke up early on the first morning and drove to Fort Lauderdale’s main beach, which borders a long stretch of restaurants and bars along Route A1A. After fumbling with the parking meter machine and accidentally paying for four hours when I only needed one, I walked along the beach and watched the waves smash against the surf as the sun rose up over the horizon.
I had the beach to myself, aside from a couple of joggers, some homeless guys, and a European dude in speedos taking a dip in the surf. I spent the rest of the day with Emily and family, ending the night with a great dinner at Grill 66 & Bar near the Hyatt Regency.
The second morning, after getting breakfast at Primanti Bros on A1A at Fort Lauderdale Beach, I spent a few hours at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a 180-acre rectangular stretch of subtropical forest nestled between the ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway, the inland waterway that runs up and down the Florida Peninsula all the way up to New Jersey. In 1893, Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch bought the land and donated it in 1941 to the state of Florida to ensure that it would be preserved from development.
I was impressed by the park’s seclusion despite its close proximity to the beach, a major highway, and a string of condos surrounding it. I walked several miles of trails that weaved alongside mangrove swamps and on old rail tracks. There are a variety of activities visitors can enjoy in the park, such as canoeing on the long narrow lagoons within the park, or fishing in the Intercoastal Waterway. I saw a lot of cyclists, roller-skaters, and joggers as well. I walked along the trails in the woods, and enjoyed viewing the trees and plants native to South Florida.
The next day, we took a boat trip up and down a stretch of the Intercoastal Waterway, getting a good look at some of the mansions lining the water and taking in a good sunset. The western sky was fired up in a deep orange hue.
In sum, while Fort Lauderdale is heavily suburbanized with strip mall after strip mall, the visitor can find refuge at the beach, parks such as Huge Taylor Birch State Park, or on a boat, motoring along the city’s waterway highways.
Rainbow Palace (2787 E Oakland Park Blvd Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306) – Probably the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from outside—it’s located in a small strip mall on a busy highway in suburban Fort Lauderdale. We ordered a lot of dishes off the menu and ate family style and I thought the food was excellent. I thought the high prices (> $30 per entrée) were justified given the quality of the dishes and the upscale but relaxed ambience of the restaurant. Extensive wine and cocktail list as well. No fortune cookies at the end—a telltale sign that this is not your ordinary Chinese food!
Primanti Bros (901 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304)- An small diner and sandwich shop one block away from the beach on A1A. I looked it up and part of the same chain of Primanti Bros restaurants in Pittsburgh. The place was buzzing with activity, crowded with diners. The restaurant is so close to the ocean that the restaurant the sand and salt of the ocean seems to seep into the chairs, the counters, and the tables outside. I got a takeout-breakfast sandwich and a coffee ($6.50) and was on my way.
The Floridian (1410 E Las Olas Blvd Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301) – This old-school diner in downtown Fort Lauderdale has been around for about 60 years. It’s one of those places that has photos of famous people framed on the walls, and older waitresses who call you “hon”. I ordered the 2-2-2 (2 pancakes, 2 strips of bacon, 2 eggs) and a coffee, running me about $13 including tip. I prefer no-frills diners like this one. They are my go-to restaurants for going through a few cups of coffee, raising my blood pressure with some salty bacon, and reading a newspaper or magazine.