Despite its longtime reputation as a spring break destination, the South Florida coastal city of Fort Lauderdale is home to a wealth of cultural attractions, scenic beaches, luxurious resorts and spectacular places to drink and eat. What’s more, an off-season visit to Fort Lauderdale — whether you’re bringing the family or on a quest to pamper yourself — means a quiet and relaxing vacation, free from cluttered beaches and crowded nightlife. If you find yourself in the mood for some urban bustle, take a daytrip to Miami; the Atlantic metropolis is just a 30-minute drive away. And with nonstop service from Nashville to Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue and Southwest, you can be on the beach in roughly two hours.
Pelican Grand Beach Resort
With its food and drink options, spa treatments, and well-appointed guestrooms, suites and premier suites, the oceanfront Pelican Grand is one of the more versatile luxury resorts in Fort Lauderdale. The Pelican’s boutique Swedish-inspired rooftop Pure Spa provides indoor and outdoor treatments with a remarkable ocean view. There’s a zero-entry pool with a lazy river as well as a veranda-boasting restaurant, a cocktail bar and an ice-cream parlor. 2000 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, pelicanbeach.com.
Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
A large all-suite hotel with a touch of familiarity, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort features an exceptionally attentive staff and spacious rooms. The Hilton bills its event venue and lounge, BalQony, as an “adults-only hideaway,” and its truly striking sixth-floor Sunrise Terrace offers private cabanas and poolside service. There are several drinking and dining options — including Le Marché Gourmet Market, S3 Restaurant and Ilios — as well as indoor and outdoor treatments at Spa Q. 505 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, hilton.com.
The W Hotel’s boutique steakhouse, Steak 954, is among Fort Lauderdale’s luxe restaurants. From fresh seafood to craft cocktails, an excellent wine list and immaculately prepared cuts of steak, 954 provides fine dining with an oceanfront view — not to mention a beautifully lit 2,000-gallon jellyfish aquarium. And the dessert menu? See for yourself. 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, steak954.com.
Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar
As tasty as the Mexican dishes at this downtown restaurant are — hearty entrées and fresh made-at-your-table guacamole — it’s the specialty drinks and unbelievably vast tequila selection that make Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar special. Ask your knowledgeable server or bartender for a recommendation from hundreds of tequila options, or sample one of the Rocco’s many margaritas, including the Black Diamond, made with Maestro Dobel Diamond tequila and black-cherry purée. 1313 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, roccostacos.com.
While Mai-Kai’s extensive dinner menu and phenomenal tiki drink selection are more than worth the trip, the true draw of this restaurant in Fort Lauderdale’s Oakland Park neighborhood is its Polynesian dinner show. Mai-Kai’s performers offer dances and demonstrations from around the South Pacific, including elaborate fire dances. 3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, maikai.com.
This unassuming coffee shop in nearby Wilton Manors offers not only quaint and quirky décor but also one of the best and freshest cups of coffee in the area. The menu is made up primarily of light fare — English muffins, croissants and open-faced half-sandwiches called “slicers” — and The Alchemist’s outdoor seating offers a pleasant option for a casual bite and dose of caffeine. 2430 NE 13th Ave., Wilton Manors, thealchemist.cafe.
Pelican Grand’s in-resort bar, O2K Lounge, is a fine place for a seaside cocktail — mojitos, margaritas and mai tais are poured tall and strong. The bar, which overlooks the Pelican’s zero-entry pool, hosts a daily happy hour and other special events — but who needs more incentive than tall and strong cocktails? 2000 N. Ocean Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, pelicanbeach.com.
Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
Built in 1920 by affluent Chicago couple Helen Louise Birch and Frederic Clay Bartlett — an heiress and a noted artist, respectively — the historic Bonnet House is a carefully preserved home and studio tucked away on 35 lush acres. Open to public tours, the property features stunning plant life and wildlife, and the house itself — named for the Bonnet Lily, which shares a similar yellow hue — is home to Bartlett’s collection of artwork from the Art Deco period and beyond. 900 N. Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale, bonnethouse.org.
A short drive west from Fort Lauderdale, Flamingo Gardens features 60 acres of tropical botanical gardens, a wildlife sanctuary and the historic Wray Home Museum. An extremely knowledgeable staff, wildlife encounter shows and narrated tram tours — where you can see the state’s largest collection of native Florida wildlife including panthers, alligators, otters and flamingos — provide an authentic Florida experience. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a bear named Josh who likes French fries and has his own Facebook page. 3750 S. Flamingo Road, Davie, flamingogardens.org.
NSU Art Museum
The NSU Art Museum in downtown Fort Lauderdale is home to a permanent collection of more than 7,000 works, including pieces by William Glackens and works gifted from the contemporary collection of David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good. Exceptional recent, current and upcoming exhibits in the sleek 83,000-square-foot building include: Kahlo, Rivera + Mexican Modern Art,Chuck Close Photographs and Francesco Clemente: Dormiveglia. It’s a beautiful space and a beautiful way to spend a leisurely afternoon. 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, nsuartmuseum.org.
Photos courtesy of Doug Castanedo, Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB, Pelican Grand Beach Resort and Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort