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While our resident travel guru, The Roaming Gnome, has spent much of the past year tending to his home garden, he’s now ready to begin his worldly explorations again, and what better place to plan a toe-dip trip than Fort Lauderdale. The South Florida city offers no shortage of outdoor adventures, from kayaking to beach fun, as well as plenty of family-friendly hotels, attractions, and unforgettable dining options. Read on to follow The Roaming Gnome’s recent adventures in Fort Lauderdale, where he visited 17 top places, making friends and gathering wisdom along the way, as he’s known to do. He’s even thrown in a few insider tips for your travel enjoyment.
Waterfront dining at Boatyard
Nothing says “relaxing Florida vacation” more than dining al fresco on the waterfront. While the options in South Florida are numerous, The Roaming Gnome discovered Boatyard, a new dockside restaurant where the motto is, “Eat Local, Be Coastal.” Have a seat on the patio so the whole fam can enjoy a front-row view of the boats cruising down Intracoastal Waterway as you pick from daily catches, raw bar selections, and perfectly cooked steaks.
The more you Gnome: Our bearded traveler was especially fond of the Seafood Tower. “The seafood tower consisting of oysters on the half shell, jumbo shrimp, ceviche and an oyster shooter is how you do a tower right. Eiffel and Pisa take note.”
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
If the words “historic home” immediately make you think of stuffy parlors filled with subdued Victorian furniture, you’ve got another thing—a bright, quirky, beautiful thing—coming at Bonnet House. The estate, which was built in 1920 by Chicago-born painter Frederic Clay Bartlett and his wife, Helen Louise Birch, bursts with color and creativity, and is decorated with an eclectic collection of carousel animals standing guard at every turn. When Helen died in 1931, Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lilly, who continued to spend winters at Bonnet House until 1995. Once you’ve taken in the museum house’s eclectic artwork and striking decor, be sure to save time to explore the surrounding estate’s beautiful gardens, which include five different eco systems.
The more you Gnome: It’s no secret gnomes love gardens, but Bonnet House’s lush grounds and its Orchid House in particular was especially beloved by The Roaming Gnome. “I can’t remember the Latin name for orchids, but when it comes to these lovely flowers, I am truly Gnomus Mostus Impressiused.”
Park & Ocean Adventure Center
With gorgeous beach and cool canal views at every turn in Fort Lauderdale, you’re going to want to get out on the water as much as you can. There’s no better place to start your aquatic explorations than Park & Ocean Adventure Center, located right in Birch State Park. The outfitter is your one-stop shop to rent jet skis, bikes, paddleboards, pedal boats, and kayaks. If all that paddling works up an appetite, fuel up at the onsite restaurant, featuring Caribbean and Southern fare, served with ample oceanfront views.
The more you Gnome: The Roaming Gnome couldn’t resist Park & Ocean’s sunset kayak tour: “Fort Lauderdale’s 165 miles of navigable waterways are great to explore via kayak, especially when you’re feeling gnomadic.”
Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa
Ideal for families, this luxury oceanfront resort features large rooms, a kids club, game room, a palm-lined, lagoon-style pool, water sports like jet skiing and snorkeling, tennis courts, and more. With multiple restaurants onsite and so much to do, you could spend a whole week here without setting foot in the outside world. But if you decide to leave, the shops and restaurants of upscale Las Olas Boulevard are close by. Parents take note: A major highlight at Marriott Harbor is the 22,000-square-foot spa, which features its own private pool, whirlpool, sauna, and fitness center.
The more you Gnome: The Roaming Gnome’s reason for loving the hotel’s beach was not what we expected: “Happy to relax oceanside in sunny Fort Lauderdale again. An added perk? I found a beach chair that matches my coat.”
Everglades Holiday Park
The Roaming Gnome’s always had an interest in all creatures great and especially small, so it’s no surprise his visit to South Florida included a stop at Everglades Holiday Park, about a half hour east of Fort Lauderdale. There, you can hop aboard an airboat for a guided tour along the “River of Grass,” a.k.a. the Florida Everglades, spotting snakes, turtles, birds and, of course, alligators, all in their natural habitat. Afterward, check out the live alligator presentation with the Gator Boys (whom you might recognize from their Animal Planet show) and snap a selfie holding a baby gator—if you dare.
The more you Gnome: The Gnome recommends stepping back for a moment just to enjoy the natural scenery. “Please do not disturb. I’m busy—make that swamped—staring at the mangroves, lily pads, and waterways at beautiful Everglades Holiday Park.”
If the idea of “tropical paradise” had an official mascot, it would have to be the flamingo. But as The Roaming Gnome learned, spotting the pink, stick-legged bird in the wild isn’t so easy, even in South Florida. Not to worry: If you head to Flamingo Gardens, a 60-acre tropical botanic garden and Everglades wildlife sanctuary, you’re guaranteed a close encounter of the pink kind. Check out the elegant birds, as well as the world’s largest collection of Florida native wildlife, including alligators, bears, bobcats, eagles, otters, panthers, and peacocks.
The more you Gnome: Explore the grounds via paved paths or, if you have Gnome-sized travelers in tow, opt for the tram tour.
Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center
Where do you turn when you need a quiet break from all the urban delights Fort Lauderdale has to offer? Nature, naturally. The 157-acre Long Key Natural Area features hiking and equestrian trails, a butterfly house, and elevated boardwalks surrounded by oak hammocks. (And just in case you’re thinking the latter is a swinging rope bed hanging between trees, keep in mind that in Florida, hammock also means a stand of hardwood trees!)
The more you Gnome: Kids—and short-legged gnomes—will enjoy the Long Key Natural Area Loop Trail. It’s only a half-mile long but includes stunning wild flowers, interesting birds, and elevated boardwalks.
Downtown Hollywood Mural Project
Just down the beach from Fort Lauderdale is the city of Hollywood, known for its charming downtown, which lends it a small-town feel with its lively restaurants and shops. Plan on coming for lunch or dinner, and then stick around to marvel at the colorful murals by local, national, and internationally recognized artists. Use the mural map on the city of Hollywood’s website to guide you or sign up for a guided tour.
The more you Gnome: Don’t miss Miami-native Tati Suarez’s ethereal mermaid mural.
Fisher Family Pier
You can’t drive around coastal Florida without spotting dozens of locals lining up along shores, bridges, and aboard boats, looking perfectly relaxed as they make a day out of fishing. This stress-killing pastime now has one more beautiful vista for it to be enjoyed, thanks to the opening of the Fisher Family Pier in nearby Pompano Beach. Gather the family and some rods, and head to the new fishing pier, which stretches 900 feet out over the water and includes an on-site bait shop.
The more you Gnome: The Gnome thinks the pier is an ideal setting for meeting other travelers. “Fisher Family Pier is a great place to drop a line. My favorite is, ‘Do you fish here often?'”
The Roaming Gnome never travels on a wing and a prayer—unless it’s to Butterfly World located in Tradewinds Park in nearby Coconut Creek. Open since 1988, the haven is now the largest in the world, housing more than 20,000 live butterflies from every corner of the globe. Entering their habitat is magical: You’ll want to hold perfectly still as they flutter around you and maybe even land on your shoulder. Butterfly World also includes aviaries loaded with exotic birds, plus the chance to marvel at the grounds’ beautiful waterfalls, botanical gardens, passion vines, and roses.
The more you Gnome: Don’t miss your chance to hand-feed lorikeets, brightly colored little birds in the parrot family.
DRV PNK Stadium
Fancy a little MLS soccer during your fun-in-the-sun visit? The new Inter Miami CF Stadium, named DRV PNK for sponsor AutoNation’s cancer-research fundraising initiative, is currently home to the professional fútbol team known as Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (but you can just call them Inter Miami). They’ll continue to play at the sleek, 18,000-seat venue until their permanent home—the David Beckham-led dream project, Miami Freedom Park—is completed, likely in about two year’s time.
The more you Gnome: Look to the North Stand, a standing-room only section reserved for the team’s three official Supporters Groups, Vice City, The Siege, and Southern Legion. The clubs of super fans, known collectively as La Familia, chant, drum, and wave flags at every match to cheer the team to victory.
Gulf Stream Brewing Company
The Roaming Gnome’s known to imbibe now and then, but he’s also known to be a bit…discerning. Fortunately, craft brew mecca Gulf Stream Brewing didn’t fail to impress with its variety of perpetual fan favorites, as well as special small-batch brews, all crafted onsite. Cool off indoors or enjoy the breeze with a seat outside and order a delicious pizza to compliment your brew.
The more you Gnome: The Gnome picked the Everyone Under the Sun hefeweizen, a velvety, German-style wheat beer that’s named after @VisitLauderdale‘s super-inclusive new tourism tagline.
High above Fort Lauderdale’s famed Las Olas Boulevard, you’ll find the garden-like Rooftop @1WLO, where comfy chairs are set among lush trees and plants. Sit back and take in sweeping views of the city as you sip a craft cocktail or nosh on light fare.
The more you Gnome: While every hour traveling is a happy hour for The Roaming Gnome, Rooftop @1WLO’s Sip Set happy hour is an especially festive event for our wandering friend, thanks to generous food and drink specials.
W Fort Lauderdale
Breezy balconies, floor-to-ceiling ocean views, and chic design are only the beginning at this luxury oceanfront resort. The W Fort Lauderdale also boasts a spacious fifth-floor pool deck overlooking the ocean, a fitness center, a sleek cocktail lounge called the Living Room, complete with expansive balcony seating, and numerous onsite restaurants.
The more you Gnome: Families take note: Pets are welcome here—ask about their special doggy menu and doggy beds!
Brew Next Door
Keeping up with The Roaming Gnome on his 17-stop Fort Lauderdale adventure takes some caffeine. Lots of caffeine. And Brew Next Door, located just across the street from Sistrunk Marketplace in the FATVillage arts district, is one of the most enjoyable and interesting places to get it (plus it turns into a bar at night). Besides strong java drinks and a local, organically driven menu, expect occasional live music, movie screenings, art shows, and shop pop-ups, all surrounded by book shelves and comfy couches.
The more you Gnome: For an extra-memorable experience, time your visit to the FATVillage ArtWalk (the last Saturday of every month), and take your coffee to go as you stroll around the neighborhood’s art galleries, open studios, and small businesses.
Sistrunk Marketplace & Brewery
Long-awaited food hall and brewery Sistrunk Marketplace is now open, drawing locals, visitors and gnomes alike with restaurant vendors serving everything from poke, craft tacos, and Italian cuisine to crepes, empanadas, and Southern fare. And that’s just the start. Khoffner Brewery is also on site, plus Sistrunk serves as a home for local art and live music events. Note: At the time of writing, reservations for both indoor and outdoor seating were required; check the Sistrunk website for the latest policies, or to reserve a table.
The more you Gnome: Sistrunk is located right in the FATVillage arts district, so you can walk off all those delicious eats while you take in the neighborhood’s colorful murals.
Museum of Discovery & Science
If you need a break from all that sunshine, cool off in the wonderfully air-conditioned Museum of Discovery & Science, which you’ll find loaded with kid-pleasing interactive exhibits. Don’t miss the new EcoDiscovery Center, where visitors can take a simulated Everglades airboat ride, experience hurricane force winds, or dig for fossils in the shadow of a giant prehistoric megalodon. Plus, check out live science demonstrations, a ride to Mars, an FA-18 cockpit simulator, and an immersive IMAX 3D Theater, all designed to keep kids riveted and spark their curiosity about science.
The more you Gnome: The Great Gravity Clock, the big time piece you see at the museum’s entrance, is the largest kinetic energy sculpture in Florida.
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