Mention Fort Lauderdale and two words might come to mind: spring break. Okay, maybe four words: crazy-wild spring break. But this beach city’s burgeoning downtown — where a polished mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues is steadily on the rise — is turning the party persona upside down. And a wealth of natural and historical attractions proves there is so much to be learned about this lush oceanside community.
So go ahead and explore beyond the beachfront. There’s so much to see in this city that has more waterways than Venice, Italy. Here are our top five picks, all within easy reach of the shoreline stretch and Kimpton’s newest hotel, The Kimpton Shorebreak Fort Lauderdale Beach.
For a tropical escape:
Some sixty acres are host to some of the last natural jungle growth in South Florida. Put yourself in explorer mode and dive in. At this nonprofit botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary, you’ll get up-close with a free-flight aviary featuring wading birds, a crocodile lagoon, river otter and bobcat habitats, wetlands, and a citrus grove. Did we mention the flamingos? You can stick to the picturesque paved path or hop on a narrated tram tour.
For a history lesson:
Featured on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens was built in 1920 as the winter retreat of the Birch/Bartlett family. It’s a vast estate that immerses you in the natural beauty of South Florida, being situated on one of the last examples of a native barrier island habitat in the region. Wander around for a feel of what life was like on a beachfront estate in the 1930s and ‘40s. In the Main House, you’ll encounter a whimsical collection of decorative and fine art. Be sure to wind your way back to the nature trail and hibiscus garden.
For hands-on fun:
Bring the kids with you to this gem of a spot, where tinkering is just allowed — it’s encouraged. In the EcoDiscovery Center, you can stimulate hurricane-force winds and simulate an Everglades airboat ride. Other exhibits focus on space, minerals and Florida wildlife (hello, alligator lore). You can even check out a living coral reef. Don’t leave without dropping in the IMAX theater, where nature flicks and Hollywood blockbusters are larger than life.
For a fresh perspective:
Riverfront Gondola Tours
The best way to experience the city’s legendary canals is to sail right through them. These private gondola tours (which max out at an intimate six passengers) get you close to luxury yachts and the stunning mansions the line the Intracoastal Waterway. Your driver has plenty of tips and local stories, so you’ll learn a lot along the way. Opt for a dinner cruise or bring your own food and drinks on board.
For a shopping spree:
Las Olas Boulevard
This bustling commercial stretch has a mix of indie and well-known boutiques, plus a sprinkling of cheerful sidewalk cafes. Grab lunch (we love Suviche for excellent ceviche and pisco sours) and get your browse on. If you’re shopping for a big-night-out look, head to Zola Keller for glittery dresses and Maus & Hoffman for the perfect tie-jacket look. If you’re shopping for the littles, Flora Ottimer Children’s Boutique has everything from jumpsuits to sunhats for ages 0-14. And should you find yourself in need of a swimsuit, head to Swimland for bikinis and one-piece wonders alike. Keep your eyes open while you stroll: Where the boulevard rises over the Intracoastal Waterway, you’ll get a sweeping view of canals and gorgeous waterfront homes — definite real-estate envy material.