Downtown Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant, exciting, and sometimes eclectic location with plenty to do and more to see. While Fort Lauderdale is—appropriately—famous for its beaches, the city's downtown is an experience with shopping, dining, and scenic canals.
Sometimes called the "Venice of America," Fort Lauderdale invites visitors to ride on a gondola or water taxi, step into the imaginations of artists, and even find themselves fully immersed in Florida's rich history and exciting history at any of several museums.
Take a look back in time
The Historic Stranahan House Museum in downtown Fort Lauderdale is the oldest surviving home in Fort Lauderdale. Perched along the New River waterfront, the home was built in 1901, years before Fort Lauderdale became a vacation and tourism destination. The home's original owner, Frank Stranahan, is considered to have founded Fort Lauderdale and met his wife, Ivy, when she came to the area to serve as Fort Lauderdale's first school teacher.
Today, visitors can learn not only the history of Fort Lauderdale at the museum but also how early settlers to the area lived and take a guided tour of the original homestead. Not only did the building serve as home to the Stranahans, but at points housed a trading post and community hall, and after Frank's death, Ivy even rented out space on the lower floor to a series of restaurants.
Tour the canals
If you wonder what to do in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the best place to start is often with a ride on the canals. Fort Lauderdale is home to more than 300 miles of canals, including 165 miles of designated residential canals. These waterways were first established in the early part of the 20th century as a way to define the city and set it apart from other communities such as Miami. The objective was achieved, and Fort Lauderdale's canals remain a defining feature, serving as functional transportation infrastructure and adding to the city's visual appeal.
There are multiple ways to experience Fort Lauderdale's canals, but perhaps the most romantic is to take a gondola ride with a service like Riverfront Gondola Tours or Las Olas Gondolas—the latter of which boasts an authentic Venetian gondola as a part of its appeal.
For those who want to use the canals to get around, Fort Lauderdale's canals can also be experienced from the Water Taxi, which has 11 stops around the city. Visitors can buy an all-day pass, ride the canals from morning to night, or even opt for a multi-day pass. In addition, Water Taxi operates the city's free Water Trolley service with eight stops along the Riverwalk. Fort Lauderdale's Water Taxi also offers private charters for special occasions, accommodating groups ranging from 15 to 125.
Stroll along Las Olas Boulevard
No trip to Fort Lauderdale would be complete without a stroll down Las Olas Boulevard. First completed in 1917 as an improvement to an existing dirt road, Las Olas is at the heart of Fort Lauderdale's past and present. Today, the boulevard features specialty stores, fashion houses, cafes, galleries, and many well-regarded fine-dining options.
With a wide variety of experiences spanning its length, Las Olas has more to offer than could ever be seen in a single trip, making it a favorite repeat destination for tourists and locals alike. Renowned for its eclectic and unique architecture, the boulevard is lit with strings of white lights each night, creating a special ambiance.
Visit the museums
Fort Lauderdale has numerous varied museums, including two along Las Olas Boulevard. Much like the Historic Stranahan House Museum, the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens provides opportunities for quiet reflection as visitors step back into the city's early days, punctuated by natural beauty and guided by its mission to promote artistic expression.
Historical museums and art may put the kids to sleep, but the Museum of Discovery and Science and Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum are guaranteed to pry those eyes wide open. Kids can stay entertained for hours with plenty of interactive exhibits at the Museum of Discovery and Science. And the vintage aircrafts of the WWII era at the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum are sure to catch their interest.
Depending on your interests, Fort Lauderdale also boasts the International Swimming Hall of Fame and a scenic 1927 firehouse converted into the Fort Lauderdale Fire and Safety Museum. The NSU Art Museum is also in the city's growing downtown art district.
When determining what to do in downtown Fort Lauderdale, you don’t have to visit a museum to see art. The Downtown Hollywood Mural Project features a series of outdoor murals spread around downtown Hollywood. The contemporary art pieces are intended to highlight Fort Lauderdale's local art culture and vary greatly in theme, scope and size, with contributions created by various artists.
Fort Lauderdale also hosts many annual, art-themed events, such as the Las Olas Art Fair and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
There is always plenty of options for those wondering what to do in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The city's diverse history and motley influences have created a downtown overflowing with sights to see and experiences to relish. The best way to get the most out of downtown Fort Lauderdale is to simply explore for yourself.
However, there is not enough time to see Fort Lauderdale without living there. The best guide when looking for your own piece of the downtown is always a real estate agent, such as Tagliamonte & Associates
, who has the experience and local knowledge to ensure you find a home you are happy to call your own.*Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock