Fort Lauderdale deserves to be explored beyond its fabulous beach. Consider a boat ride through its weaving canals, lunch and shopping on Las Olas Blvd. and a trip into the nearby Everglades where Florida's state reptile is king.
STAY: Make the new B Ocean Fort Lauderdale boutique hotel your home base for exploring this South Florida city. Its location on the quieter end of the famous beach stretch, jampacked with bars serving frozen piña coladas and shops overflowing with umbrellas and sand pails, is a plus. It’s one of the few hotels here that actually has a grassy front yard with benches and feathery palm trees, and guests have only to cross Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard to unroll towels on the sand. The cool vibe at B Ocean (think wavy, abstract lobby walls that turn to neon-lit hot pink and royal blue after dark) gives the hotel youthful energy. The rooms’ white-on-white decor, from the contemporary beds and furniture to the draperies and walls, allows the Atlantic Ocean, seen through floor- to-ceiling windows, to be the wow centerpiece. The view extends for miles, over puffy deep-green treetops of the neighboring Hugh Taylor Birch State Park to the glistening sand and sea. You can even watch the sunrise from your bed.
PLAY: A short walk over an Intracoastal drawbridge takes you to Water Taxi stop no. 2. Much more than a means of transportation, this open-air sight-seeing boat provides a crash course on Fort Lauderdale. Maps with attraction and restaurant listings for each of the 12 stops are found on board. Plying the water through Millionaire’s Row, you’ll pass Mediterranean-style mansions tucked in the canals and the latest yachts docked at just about every property. The guide’s commentary on the homes goes something like this: “The Canadian family who invented the scratch-off ticket lives here ... Merv Griffin’s house has the blue roof ... Wendy, of Wendy’s hamburgers, bought ... This $18 million home with two towers and elevators ...” and so on.
At day’s end, a stroll on Beach Boulevard, where convertibles cruise and pedestrians bar-hop, is a Fort Lauderdale ritual. However, depending on how adventurous you are, another Florida experience to consider is a nighttime airboat ride through the Everglades. With flashlights in hand, captains at Sawgrass Recreation Park (a 30-minute drive from the beach) search for the glowing eyes of alligators in the tall grass. You’d be amazed at how much you can see when a light is shined on the crystal-clear water as the gator kicks up the sandy bottom and turns to swim away. When the airboat starts up again, hold on, because these vessels, propelled by huge fanlike motors, really fly. Bonus: The cool, breezy ride in the evening air is refreshing on a hot night.
EAT: B Ocean's B’stro on the Beach’s oatmeal crème brûlée — golden raisins buried in creamy oats and topped with torched brown sugar — is a healthy way to start the day. Kudos to the chef for elevating oatmeal to gourmet status. Lunch is on Las Olas Boulevard (a water-taxi stop). Bright-colored fashions fill the windows of upscale boutiques, and places like Cheese Culture, marked by a cheery, yellow-striped canopy and European-style cafe tables, tempts with specials written on the outdoor blackboard: the grilled cheese sandwich of the day is raclette and Gruyere on rustic white bread. Susan Phipps and her husband opened the cheese shop a year ago. “Traveling Europe, we enjoyed the eating experience so much that we wanted to re-create it here,” Phipps says. In the charcuterie and cheese display, find the sweet and salty Wyngaard Chèvre Affiné, a goat Gouda from the Netherlands, along with other imports and domestics, while in the cooler, unusual beers, like Wells Banana Bread Beer from England, will quench your thirst.
A before-dinner stop is the bar in B Ocean’s Saia restaurant. Putting on a show, bartenders use fire to caramelize the oils of the orange peel when creating the flaming Oh My Cosmo, made with Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka. Thai chef Subin Chankesorn’s amazing sushi rolls are reason enough to stay for dinner. Order his tempura-fried Ocean Blue Roll with eel and Boursin cheese, followed by his miso scallops, prepared with a honey miso that provides a lovely sweetness. Conclude your meal with a banana spring roll served with dolce de leche and coconut ice creams, and then step outside to the pool area, where you can count the stars from a cabana bed.