Photograph by Simon Dannhauer, Getty Images
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Palm trees cast shadows on a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Photograph by Simon Dannhauer, Getty Images

Discover the Best of Fort Lauderdale

Go beyond spring break with these top 10 tips.

Fort Lauderdale’s pearly white beaches may steal the spotlight, but the city’s soul isn’t only on the shore. Hop on a gondola and venture through the labyrinth of canals, where you can spot as many manatees as mansions lining the Intracoastal. Fried gator tail bites may be a Florida specialty, but if you’d rather see alligators in the wild than on your plate, visit the swamp-filled Everglades, which cover two-thirds of the city, for an experience as wild as the Amazon.

National Park

The gateway to Everglades National Park, Fort Lauderdale’s mangroves and swampland are best explored up close. Take a park boat or tram tour; you’re sure to spot alligators, the king of South Florida’s sawgrass-filled “jungle.” Kayak or canoe your way along one of the dozen starter trails snaking through the park or tackle the more challenging 99-mile Wilderness Waterway.

Cultural Site

Some of the city’s best art isn’t on display at traditional museums—it’s sitting inside the 1920s Bonnet House, built on a coastal barrier island off Fort Lauderdale Beach. Artists Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett turned this one-time winter home into a living museum and art studio, which now opens up for drawing workshops and orchid care classes inspired by Evelyn’s own collection.

Best Day Trip

The trip down to Key West is tough to tackle in a day, but just a two-hour drive south will drop you in one of the top dive spots in the state: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea park—and home to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S.

Off the Beaten Path

Blue Moon Fish Company draws a well-heeled crowd (and their yachts) to its waterfront bottomless Champagne Sunday brunch spread, but the real local legend is farther north at Cap’s Place on an island off Lighthouse Point. The Rockefellers, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Harrison are some of the fashionable faces who used to frequent the one-time rum-running restaurant where the fish is so fresh, you have to call ahead to see what’s been caught (and still available) that day. Part of the charm is how you get there: Cap’s is only reachable by its boat shuttle.

Most Iconic Place

Once home to five-and-dime shops, chemists, and countertop eateries, Las Olas Boulevard has morphed into a modern-day main street with fashion boutiques, buzzy bistros, and riverside restaurants stretching from the beach to downtown. Grab a cup of locally roasted Panther Coffee at Ann’s Florist & Coffee Bar’s sidewalk café or grab a drink at Elbo Room, one of the dive bars that made Fort Lauderdale famous, thanks to its appearance in the 1960s film Where the Boys Are.

Neighborhood to Explore

The four-block FATVillage is like a mini version of Miami’s Wynwood, with warehouses converted into contemporary art galleries and sleek co-working spaces like the saloon-inspired General Provision. If you’re in town the last Saturday of the month, swing by for the evening ArtWalk, when galleries debut their latest exhibits and local artisans place their handcrafted wares on display at the GOODS curated makers market.

Late Night

Downtown’s nightlife scene was once dominated by sportsbars and lounges lining Las Olas Boulevard and Riverwalk, but things are shifting farther north to Flagler Village’s retrofitted warehouses. Order a craft brew from Rhythm & Vine’s backyard Airstream bar or head straight to the source, sampling a flight at food truck-filled beer gardens and breweries like Invasive Species or the Brass Tap.

Local Quirk

Nicknamed the Venice of America (a title splayed across the city’s seal), over 300 miles of mansion-lined canals crisscross through Greater Fort Lauderdale. Admire megayachts docked along Millionaire’s Row on a guided sightseeing cruise onboard the double-decker Jungle Queen riverboat (whose claim to fame is all-you-can-eat BBQ and shrimp dinners) or happy hour-hop your way through downtown on a Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi.

Historic Site

Fort Lauderdale’s founding father, Frank Stranahan, built the wood-framed Stranahan House on the New River over a century ago, where it’s served as everything from a trading post to makeshift schoolhouse for Seminole children. Get a sense of where the city got its start by visiting the historic Victorian home, the first stop on a Water Taxi tour through town.

People-Watching Spot

Head up to the second floor of Beach Place and take a seat at Lulu’s Bait Shack, where you can sip on kitschy-but-cute banana colada cocktails served in hand-carved coconuts while eyeing the tourists strolling the beach boardwalk below. For something more refined, Louie Bossi is always a scene; snag a seat on the bustling sidewalk for one of the best people-watching perches on Las Olas.

Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Lane Nieset is a travel writer who now calls Nice, France, home. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.