Fort Lauderdale Travel Guide

Fort Lauderdale Travel Guide

Once overrun with Spring Breakers and outshone by neighbouring beach babe Miami, the tides are turning for Fort Lauderdale, a city fast becoming the go-to LGBTQ travel destination in the US, thanks to a recent upsurge of gay-owned businesses and vast gay-friendly offerings such as male-only resorts, gay beaches and myriad gay events, from Stonewall Pride to FlockFest. While gay clubs and bars are scattered around the city, the epicentre of Fort Lauderdale’s gay scene must be Wilton Manors, home to a vibrant gay nightlife scene that even Miami can’t live up to. The best-known city in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, Fort Lauderdale is a chill beach town at heart with borderline perfect weather and countless attractions. To find out more about what to do in Fort Lauderdale, read Mr Hudson’s ultimate Fort Lauderdale gay travel guide.

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The best hotels in Fort Lauderdale

With so many options for hotels and guesthouses within the county, choosing a place to stay in Fort Lauderdale all depends on what type of traveller you are and your preferred vibe. In the ven diagram of desired locations however, the beach strip sits right in the middle, as the place where most people want to be, regardless of personality. All types can make themselves at home at The Pillars Hotel, a funky, converted Caribbean-Colonial residence fitted elegantly with art-deco inspired interiors, boasting water views and a courtyard area with a pool. Based on Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway, all the main Fort Lauderdale points of interest such as the Las Olas Boulevard are easily accessible via the hotel’s private Water Bus, or stay on-site to enjoy the Secret Garden Restaurant, full spa facilities, library and more.

A refreshing take on the urban resort trend is lifestyle hotel The Dalmar where Guests can make the most of morning yoga classes, beachside lounge area and its sophisticated rooftop bar. Fast becoming a modern landmark of the city, The Dalmar is great for traditionalists looking for a slightly edgy version of mid-century glam. Standing since the 1930s and remaining an institution in the city (and around the world) is the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club. It’s 5 stars all the way of course, with the sleek oceanside property hosting chic Italian dining, a world-class spa and timeless interiors. Step outside of your room or cabana bungalow onto 1,000 feet of pristine Atlantic beachfront just minutes from Miami Beach and Bal Harbour boutiques. Life doesn’t get much better!

For understated seclusion, however, consider the Deco Boutique Hotel. Set in a perfect hidden location, here you’ll find modern poolside lodgings with all the amenities (including a kitchen if needed), as well as a private rooftop terrace, barbecuing facilities and a bar lounge area. One more alternative for the books is Elita Hotel, notable for its ritzy landscaped gardens, ocean views and a Nespresso machine in each room for that perfect morning bliss. Located right on Fort Lauderdale beach, Elita is an intimate choice mixing mid-century styles with chic 21st-century design.

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Recommended hotels in Fort Lauderdale
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Photo: Lance Asper

Photo: Lance Asper

Things to do in Fort Lauderdale

It would be hard to visit Great Fort Lauderdale and not spend some time at the beach; it’s kind of hard to miss. There’s a “gay” beach directly in front of the Ritz-Carlton, named Sebastian Beach, but really, anywhere you can find a good spot will be a great time. Beyond the beach, Greater Fort Lauderdale has lots to offer, such as unique neighbourhoods with boutique shopping and small cafes to explore. The NSU Museum of Art is an excellent way to spend a morning or afternoon. The museum’s 83,000 square-foot building contains 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, including a 256-seat auditorium, store, and café. But for something a bit unique and out of the ordinary, take a trip to the Everglades to Sawgrass Recreation Park. There you can experience the reptiles and exotic wildlife, as well as see a show from expert caretakers (ask for Gator Tim) of exotic animals. But the highlight here is taking an airboat tour, offered during the day and at sunset – the rides are both adventurous and different, and will make your trip to the Greater Fort Lauderdale as authentic as it can get.

Sawgrass Recreation Park | Photo: Andrew David

Sawgrass Recreation Park | Photo: Andrew David

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Recommended experiences in Fort Lauderdale
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Exploring Greater Fort Lauderdale

Seriously, one of the best things about Greater Fort Lauderdale is that Uber is readily available, and when compared to NYC prices, it’s seriously cheap. Nightlife here is excellent, and there’s no reason to drive, so whip that phone out and get your ride down to Wilton Manors, where the best gay bars happen to be. Wilton Manors is just north of Downtown Fort Lauderdale and is the proud home to many bars, restaurants, and businesses geared towards gays and owned by gays. There are lots of watering holes to choose from, but your best bet will be to hit up Georgie’s Alibi and its adjoining Manchester Room. Alibi has a great outdoor patio and a massive indoor area with plenty of bar space, making waiting in line for drinks not so tedious. The classier Manchester Room, which is accessed via Alibi, is more of an intimate setting with popular live shows, including one of the best drag shows in town. Across the street is the newest bar on the scene, The Village Pub, for those who like the setting of a more casual sports bar.

Photo: Andrew David

Photo: Andrew David

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If you can only go to one place for dinner, take the trip out to Hollywood, to Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and enjoy a meal at Kuro

Where to eat in Fort Lauderdale

After checking out the pool at the W, be sure to make a reservation downstairs at Steak 954. Arrive with a big appetite, though, as the portions are large, but so very much worth every bite. If steak is a bit too much, try S3 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale, where they do offer steak, but also specialise in seafood and sushi, all in a unique shareable concept. The island-chic indoor/outdoor atmosphere is the ultimate in oceanfront dining. For some Italian cuisine, Louie Bossi is your best bet, and visually, the atmosphere will make you want to snap photos non-stop as the outdoor patio area is just too cute to describe, so just go. Headed back to the Ritz, a meal at Burlock Coast is a good idea, not only because it’s a new and fresh restaurant, but also because the food is ridiculously amazing. It’s also rather casual; so don’t let the location within the Ritz-Carlton be intimidating.

All those suggestions aside, if you can only go to one place for dinner, take the trip out to Hollywood (about $12 in an Uber), to Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and enjoy a meal at Kuro. The new-style Japanese restaurant features both locally sourced and ingredients imported directly from Japan. Select your cocktails and let your server design your meal experience, as it’s best to just sit back and eat a little bit of everything. Plus, since you are in a casino, try your luck on the slots after that big meal – you never know. And when it comes to breakfast, your hotel will most likely be a good option, but try and make it out to OB House if only just to sample the baked pancakes, as they are heavenly, although they are massive, so plan to split one if you can.

Photo: Ameer Basheer

Photo: Ameer Basheer

Shopping in Fort Lauderdale

While in Fort Lauderdale you’ll want to take some time to splurge in style. The Las Olas Boulevard is perhaps the most popular shopping street in the city offering one-of-a-kind boutiques, lifestyle stores, galleries and restaurants, not to mention amazing nightclubs. Las Olas has a full calendar of events such as the Las Olas Art Fair and the Las Olas Food and Wine Festival, where artists and foodies indulge big time in their respective passions. The architecture is not to be sniffed at either, as Las Olas boasts Mediterranean influence and landscaped gardens, giving the perfect backdrop to browse the latest styles among Florida’s most upscale fashionistas.

For menswear on Las Olas Boulevard, we’re eying up Maus & Hoffman, a long-running boutique specialising in quality European styles from Italy, France and Switzerland with brands such as Solemare, Hickey Freeman and Paul & Shark. The store itself is also a stunner, featuring wood panelling and brass accents. KULT meanwhile is for the more casual fella, showcasing latest trends in men’s fashion from graphic tees to well-fitting denim from brands including Huntees, 10Seven, Alcott and Garcon Model. The homely space comes complete with a café from Warsaw Coffee Company and grooming services from Buck & Beard. If a replacement for your raggedy old swim trunks is what you’re after, BALL Beachwear is the place to go. Selling the perfect collection for all your pool party needs, BALL Beachwear stocks the likes of Sauvage, Ruff Riders and Nasty Pig, as well as their own swimwear line.

Gallery XO

Gallery XO

Mixing gay culture, high culture and the joys of retail is Gallery XO, located in Wilton Manors and presenting one of the largest gay art collections in the world. As well as being the first stop for those in search of male figurative art, Gallery XO sells the most diverse range of gay art anywhere, from internationally acclaimed artists such as Steve Walker, Maciel Cantelmo, Michael Breyette and more. Your perusal of gay art doesn’t end there, however, because Fort Lauderdale is also home to Art Frenzie, an art gallery and gift shop selling originals, lithographs, prints and posters of Steve walker and other renowned artists. They also make custom framed mirrors, if you’re in the market for that kind of thing. Lastly, to help stuff your suitcase to the brink with gifts and souvenirs, To The Moon Marketplace is your best bet. Selling various snacks, imported goods, toys and collectables since 1806, To the Moon is a one-stop shop for novelty items and sweets from over 65 countries.

Photo: SGD

Photo: SGD

Photo: Luiz Centenaro

Photo: Luiz Centenaro

Photo: Andrew Becks

Photo: Andrew Becks

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Having evolved into the gay capital of Florida over the past few decades, this city is one of the best LGBTQ destinations in the US

Fort Lauderdale nightlife

While Miami may steal its thunder on occasion, Fort Lauderdale’s nightlife refuses to be put in the corner. Having evolved into the gay capital of Florida over the past few decades, this city is one of the best LGBTQ destinations in the US, and its nightlife definitely reflects this, filled as it is with gay-owned bars and clubs dedicated to giving the LGBTQ community the night of their lives every day of the year. To ease into your night, start out at Stache, a cocktail lounge, coffee bar, nightclub and concert hall all rolled into one. Their bartenders are second to none, creating signature cocktails, brewing fine coffee as well as waxing lyrical about whiskey from time to time. If the drinks weren’t enough to excite you, then the live entertainment of burlesque, cabaret, bands and DJs surely will!

Of Fort Lauderdale’s speakeasy-inspired bars, the upscale Apothecary 330 is our favourite, despite being pretty secretive. Accessible via a side door of Pizzacraft in Himmarshee Village, Apothecary 360 presents a diverse menu of craft cocktails and over 300 types of whiskey in surroundings of red leather, exposed brick and glam crystal chandeliers. A mysterious hub with no social media presence, here you’ll find entertainment from various bands, DJs and jazz artists, as well as a regular open mic night. A wonderfully odd one out in the crowd of typical bars is Rhythm & Vine, an off-the-beaten-track type place in the upcoming Flagler Village. Based out of a warehouse, this unpretentious yet effortlessly trendy beer garden has become a hotspot for the area’s fast-growing, nightlife-loving crowd. Like a backyard party with a full stocked bar and skilled mixologist, Rhythm & Vine is as chill as it gets, home to an eclectic mix of vintage décor and thrift store finds, offering the perfect space to socialise with friends both old and new. Choose between the picnic tables outside or the indoor low-lit lounge area where the bar is made of repurposed shipping containers, colourful art lines to walls and local DJs spin chill tunes.

Photo: Frankie Cordoba

Photo: Frankie Cordoba

Over in the delightful gaybourhood of Wilton Manor lies the treasured gay bar Rumors, serving up a social environment accompanied by a range of tasty bar food in a convenient locale near to all the happening gay clubs. Speaking of gay clubs, our Fort Lauderdale gay nightlife guide would not be complete without mentioning one or two. First is Scandals Saloon, a country-western style gay dance bar with a large space to kick up your heels and practice your two-stepping and line dancing among fun-loving, gay-friendly patrons. Second is Hunters Nightclub, a more customary gay club featuring contemporary décor, tasty cocktails, pool tables and DJs, making it the perfect place to socialise and dance among the frequently shirtless gay clientele in their 20s and 30s. Of Hunters’ events, the Sunday Classic 54 Tea Dance is unrivalled in the city for disco-era throwback fun!

Photo: Nikola Jordanov

Photo: Nikola Jordanov

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