Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Wed April 20 2016

5 Things You Must Check Out in Sunny Fort Lauderdale

Destination & Tourism | John Roberts | April 20, 2016

5 Things You Must Check Out in Sunny Fort Lauderdale

Photos by John Roberts

I had rarely thought of Fort Lauderdale for anything other than a city that serves a major cruise port. Therefore, it was always a place for a quick stopover, a one-night stay at a hotel after flying into the airport before departing the next morning for my cruise ship.

But I finally gave Fort Lauderdale a fair shot, staying a week and falling head over heels for this rising destination. Fort Lauderdale is Miami's more laid-back cousin who is far less concerned with what others think — a happy dude who just wants to have a good time.

I found five reasons that I will keep going back to sunny Fort Lauderdale and why you should check it out, too.

The Beaches. I spent most of my time at Fort Lauderdale Beach, running along its wide sidewalks at daybreak and jumping in the clear waters to cool down. Check out Las Olas Boulevard for all the shopping boutiques and a wide range of eateries, from fast-casual joints serving pizza to restaurants featuring Italian, Mexican or seafood dishes — and much more.

READ MORE: A Flourishing Greater Fort Lauderdale

This beach, with shady-treed family picnic areas, playgrounds and basketball courts and outdoor gyms, is just one of several Blue Wave-certified public beaches in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. Dania Beach, Hollywood Beach, Pompano Beach and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea are other spectacular options.

The Boating Life. Fort Lauderdale is also known as the “Venice of America.” Take a dinner cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway, and you'll see why. Gorgeous mansions and palm trees line the canals that branch off the waterway. A sunset dinner cruise is an ideal way to relax at the end of a day on the go, or you can opt for a simple sightseeing cruise on the New River or Intracoastal. 

John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. The park offers an abundance of things to do. Spend the day at the beach, having a picnic, going on a bike ride, fishing, kayaking or just relaxing. Make sure to get to the fishing jetty in late afternoon to watch the big cruise ships pull out to sea. It's quite a scene as people gather with lawn chairs and coolers full of beverages and snacks to bid bon voyage to the massive vessels. We watched six pull away in one evening, with two Princess Cruises ships blasting the theme to the "Love Boat" over their horns to the delight of both its passengers onboard and the well-wishers ashore ($6 per a carload).

The Everglades. Take an airboat tour to venture into the wilds of Florida Everglades, a 1.5 million-acre wetlands preserve that is filled with alligators, American crocodiles, dozens of snake and bird species, 300 species of fish, panthers, black bear, pigs, deer and all kinds of plants.

You're not likely to see all these creatures, but you'll probably spot a few gators. And you'll have a blast skimming the waters while navigating through narrow channels and hanging on tight while the boat goes all out in open spaces, flying past the tall grasses, mangroves and cypress in the swampy ecosystem.

Bonnet House Museum. The Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is a historic estate in Fort Lauderdale that dates to 1920 when Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett began building and beautifying 35 acres of waterfront land given to him and his second wife, Helen Louise Birch, by her father. The efforts continued for 70 years by the Bartlett and Birch families, and the home today is an important piece of Fort Lauderdale heritage.

READ MORE: Port Everglades Sets New One-Day Cruise Guest World Record

The museum is dedicated to environmental and historical preservation, and the property features an immense orchid greenhouse, lush gardens and a house filled with artwork. It's most distinguishing because the estate allows a look at a glorious vintage era smack in the middle of the fast-developing, condo-heavy region around it ($20 entry fee).

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