Ft Lauderdale vs Miami:
Why Travelers Shouldn’t Overlook
The “Venice Of America”
Ft Lauderdale vs Miami: Why Travelers Shouldn’t Overlook The “Venice Of America”
Published May 22, 2021
Are you considering a South Florida getaway? If so, you’re in for a great time no matter where you go or what you do! However, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is whether to visit Miami or Fort Lauderdale! While Miami is certainly the more famous of the two cities, Fort Lauderdale has a lot to offer too.
Known as the “Venice of America” because of its extensive network of rivers and waterways, Fort Lauderdale is a more laid-back and relaxing destination than Miami. It’s also more affordable for the average vacationer. In general, Fort Lauderdale feels like a very family-friendly destination, although that’s not to say that Miami is only for spring breakers!
On the flip side, Miami is better for partying. It’s also a more convenient starting point for anyone planning to drive down to the Florida Keys. To learn more about Miami (and the Florida Keys), click or tap the image link below to read a blog post I wrote after visiting both areas with friends in 2018!
There are also some nice views further north, for example at Earl Lifshey Ocean Park. The Atlantic beaches in Fort Lauderdale are amazing, but I do have to say that South Beach in Miami is just slightly more impressive.
Historical & Cultural Attractions
1. Bonnet House
This historical mansion with a large open courtyard is conveniently located right next to the ocean, so be sure not to miss it! As the former estate of artists and art collectors Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett, Bonnet House has something for everyone: history, an impressive collection of art, and truly spectacular architecture.
After you see the interior of the home, spend some time wandering the grounds. There are some reflecting ponds, a tiki bridge, local foliage, and an orchid greenhouse. Even if historical tours aren’t your thing, Bonnet House won’t disappoint.
2. Water Taxi
Address: 335 SE 6th Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (Stop #1 of 10, other stops in various locations; consult website for route map)
Ticket price (May 2021): $28 per adult for an all-day pass
Remember that Fort Lauderdale’s nickname is “The Venice of America”? In order to see why, you have to take the water taxi! This tour boat will allow you to see the city’s most extravagant homes and massive yachts that line the waterways. You won’t be able to get these views on foot or by driving!
The boat captains and tour guides did a great job of pointing out noteworthy mansions and can answer any questions you may have. They’ll also talk about what attractions can be reached on foot at each water taxi stop.
The water taxi has a complete route map on their website, but an easy way to do it is to get on at Stop #1 downtown, then stay on until it reaches Stop #10 (the final stop). From here, you’ll have a very good sense of where the boats go and you could get off anywhere to explore as you make the return trip towards downtown.
Since the water taxi ticket is valid for an entire day, be sure to go in the morning and take full advantage of the service! There’s no reason to spend extra on an Uber or Lyft to get around town if you’ve already paid for the water taxi.
3. Historic Stranahan House Museum
This historic home located downtown might not look nearly as impressive as Bonnet House, but there is a lot of history here, and the group tour I did was top quality. This home belonged to Frank and Ivy Stranahan, who set up a trading post right along the New River that runs through the heart of Fort Lauderdale.
One fascinating thing you’ll learn if you do this tour is that Fort Lauderdale is a significantly younger city than neighboring Miami and West Palm Beach. The Stranahans, who were some of the first settlers in the area, only established their small business around the beginning of the 1900s, meaning Fort Lauderdale is only about 120 years old!
Today, the Stranahan House is surrounded by high-rise condos and office buildings, but the inside is immaculately maintained and furnished with period pieces along with some originals. In addition to the Bonnet House and the water taxi, I highly recommend doing this one-hour tour.
4. History Fort Lauderdale
This museum housed in a converted historic hotel is interesting but I honestly did prefer the historic home tours a bit more. I recommend doing the group tour here instead of the individual (self-guided) tour. That’s because the group tour is the only way to see the nearby King-Cromartie House and the one-room schoolhouse replica.
If you do visit this museum, be sure to check out the art collective on the third floor to see some really unique works from local artists. This is a great place to pick up some unique souvenirs and gifts as well.
5. NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
If you’re on a roll and want to see one more museum downtown (only a short walk from Stranahan House as well as water taxi Stop #1), consider the NSU Art Museum. Right now, they’ve got an exhibit featuring the work of fashion designer Anna Sui.
The second floor also has a wide variety of pieces with a focus on Latin American art and local artists.
How does the historical & cultural scene compare to Miami?
When I visited Miami in 2018, we actually didn’t do a lot of museum hopping. Miami beach is famous for its Art Deco Historic District though, so I’m sure architecture and history enthusiasts would be able to find a lot of interesting things there. Miami is also home to the famous Wynwood Walls.
With that said, the Bonnet House and Stranahan House are truly unique. I’m personally not the biggest fan of museums, but I still loved both tours. These two historic sites alone are more than enough to justify a visit to Fort Lauderdale!
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Neighborhoods of Fort Lauderdale
This is more or less the city center of Fort Lauderdale. Its biggest avenue is East Las Olas Boulevard, which is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and art galleries. It’s got a very casual vibe, and it’s a great place to eat before or after visiting museums downtown.
This little commercial district on the north side of the city’s waterfront is another quaint area. I would’ve loved to try some of the seafood restaurants near the ocean, but I just had so many other dishes and cuisines I had to have while in Florida! To learn more about dining, click or tap here to skip to the section below!
Centered around Wilton Drive, this area is Fort Lauderdale’s main gayborhood. It doesn’t really come alive until happy hour, but like both areas mentioned above, Wilton Manors is home to lots of good restaurants. I especially enjoyed happy hour at Apt 9f, where I tried an amazing peanut butter old fashioned and a mouthwatering charcuterie board.
Central Beach is the touristy strip right next to the ocean. While I did find a couple good restaurants here, they were just a bit more expensive than elsewhere in the city. On the south end of Central Beach is Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, which seemed to be a little quieter than the bar street only a short walk away.
How do the neighborhoods compare to Miami?
When we visited Miami, we actually spent almost all of our time in Miami Beach instead of Miami proper. In contrast, Fort Lauderdale is pretty spread out, and I found myself taking Ubers and Lyfts all over town to see different things. Although this was still cheaper than renting a car, this is something worth keeping in mind when deciding which city to visit.
A Truly International Food Scene
If you’re a foodie and South Florida isn’t on your radar, it needs to be! That’s because it’s so easy to find international cuisine, and as you might expect, there are many authentic specialties from Latin America and the Caribbean to choose from.
Every meal I had in Fort Lauderdale was a treat, but there are a couple things I recommend you try while you’re here. Check out my list below to see what I ate and where I got it!
It should be no surprise that Cuban food is at the top of my list! If you’ve never had it before, Fort Lauderdale is the place to get it! There are lots of options, including Padrino’s, a local chain with a branch in Fort Lauderdale. I ordered their pollo asado with a mojito and flan.
A slightly more interesting place to check out (although it’s a bit further inland) is 925 Nuevos Cubanos. They have a beautiful open-air patio in the back, and the ropa vieja I had here was excellent.
There seemed to be fewer Puerto Rican restaurants than Cuban places in Fort Lauderdale, so I’ll say off the bat to go check out La Empanada Loca. It’s a bit of a drive but absolutely worth it. If you’re familiar with comida puertorriqueña, then you could probably guess that I’d be recommending their mofongo, a mashed green plantain cake.
However, when I saw a variation of the dish on their menu called trifongo, I had to try it. Trifongo doesn’t look any different from mofongo, but it’s made with green and sweet plantains, as well as yucca. It was absolutely amazing and I’d say you can’t go wrong with either, but I did find that the trifongo had an even fuller range of flavors than mofongo!
Colombian food is hard to come by in much of the United States, so I’ll always jump at the opportunity to get it. Colombian Mountains Cafe was not only delicious, but they had amazing service as well.
If you’ve read my post about my trip to Medellín, you might remember that I featured a dish called bandeja paisa. It’s a massive meal with sausage, steak, egg, rice and beans, avocado, chicharrón (pork skin), an arepa, and sometimes more. This is what I was hoping to find at Colombian Mountains Cafe, and I was in luck.
Everything was on point, and their chicharrón (sitting on the very top in the picture above) might’ve been the best I’ve ever had. It was so crunchy and soft at the same time! If it’s not cooked perfectly, it can be very tough and hard to chew. Not here! If you’ve never tried Colombian food before, bandeja paisa is an excellent introduction to it.
I had a delicious gyro and saganaki appetizer from Greek Islands Taverna, which is right across the street from Colombian Mountains Cafe.
My cousin Kailyn recommended that I try Casablanca Cafe in Central Beach, and I’m glad she did! I wanted a light dinner that night, so I ordered scallops and a key lime martini. Both were so good, and their patio area with a view of the ocean is top notch. I would recommend either going for an early dinner or making a reservation; they seemed busy almost all the time!
Casa Sensei was an interesting Pan-Asian restaurant with Latin influences. On my last night in Fort Lauderdale, I had a happy hour dinner of wonton soup and shumai. It was the perfect way to end my trip after a couple days of heavier meals!
How does the food scene compare to Miami?
Both Fort Lauderdale and Miami have amazing dining options. Foodies are sure to love both! The main difference is that dining in Miami is a lot more expensive. Pay particular attention to restaurants in Miami charging a service fee (like a mandatory tip), which can be confusing. In Fort Lauderdale, I never came across this.
Ft. Lauderdale vs. Miami: Have you decided yet?
When I decided to spend five nights in Fort Lauderdale on a whim, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now that the trip is over, I’m so glad I went! Fort Lauderdale is a fun, culturally rich destination. You also can’t go wrong by choosing Miami (and I think all travel lovers should eventually visit both). But if you’ve already been to Miami once or twice and are looking for something different, I highly recommend checking out this beautiful city just about 30 miles to the north!
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Do you have any questions about Fort Lauderdale? Have you been before? Did I miss anything that I should go see on my next trip to the area? Leave a comment below and let me know! Thanks for reading!
This post was published on May 22, 2021