Get ready, because there are lots of great things to do in Fort Lauderdale, Florida!
The city of Fort Lauderdale is named for a Second Seminole War fortification built on the banks of the New River in 1838.
That year, Major William Lauderdale led a detachment of Tennessee Volunteers south along the east coast of Florida. Their mission was to capture Seminole agricultural lands and battle the elusive Indian warriors.
Altogether, three forts named after Major Lauderdale would be constructed.
The first is at the fork of New River. The second is at Tarpon Bend. The third and the largest is on the beach at the site of Bahia Mar. None of the forts survive today.
Today, Fort Lauderdale is famous for its great weather, beaches, arts, culture, and events.
7 Best Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale, FL
The greater Fort Lauderdale area has twenty-three miles of sandy white beach to enjoy and with over 3,000 hours of sunshine every year and winter temperatures ranging from the 50s to the 80s.
It's a balmy, picturesque place to explore. In fact, it's a stop on the Best RV Road Trips in the U.S.
In the heart of downtown, the Riverwalk covers both the north and south banks of the New River.
Hundreds of years ago, settlers and Native Americans would bring their wares along the shores to be bought, sold, and traded. It was the birthplace of the city so it’s fitting that it is now the centerpiece of Downtown Fort Lauderdale.
We’re going to focus on the museums and historical buildings here but there are a ton of other things to explore. There's everything from fashion boutiques and art galleries, to remarkable restaurants, cafes, and cocktail bars.
You could spend all afternoon strolling along this famous street and riverfront, taking in all the city has to offer.
One of the best ways to get around is the free Riverwalk Water Trolley which stops at 8 points along the Riverwalk, 4 on each side. The trolley runs daily from 10 am-10 pm.
With two floors and packed with hundreds of interactive exhibits, the Museum of Discovery and Science explores a variety of different fields of science.
You can explore the wetlands of the Everglades with a ride on the Everglades Airboat Adventure. Then experience hurricane-force winds in the Storm Center.
Plus, understand Florida’s prehistoric past with a giant prehistoric megalodon, saber-toothed cat, and an Imperial mammoth.
And enjoy the playful antics of North American river otters in their two-story indoor/outdoor habitat. There’s also a spectacular six-story-high IMAX theater.
The museum is open year-round, Mon-Sat from 10 am-5 pm, and Sun from 12 pm-5 pm.
Our next stop is History Fort Lauderdale which houses a historic village with the largest concentration of historic buildings remaining in Broward County.
There are four different museums here that explore and preserve the local history including:
- Fort Lauderdale History Museum
- 1907 Pioneer House Museum
- 1899 Schoolhouse Museum
- Hoch Heritage Center/Research Library
The museum is open year-round, hours are 12 pm-4 pm Mon-Fri and 9:30 am-4 pm on weekends. There are guided tours daily at 1, 2, and 3 pm. Always call and check ahead.
The Stranahan House showcases the home built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan, Fort Lauderdale’s founding father and his wife Ivy Cromartie Stranahan, the area's first school teacher.
The house has served as a trading post, post office, community center, town hall, and home to the Stranahans. This is a place that has been pivotal to Fort Lauderdale since it was built and played a significant role in the economic and social life of this community.
Admission to the museum is by guided tour only. Tours are given daily at 1, 2, and 3 pm and last about 45-60 minutes.
Let's keep this going – Here are a few more things to do in Fort Lauderdale
To get some more local history, take the trolley north to its final stop at the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.
The Bonnet House was created by Chicago-born artist Frederic Clay Bartlett in 1920. The land where the house was built was given to him and his wife, Helen Louise Birch as a wedding gift from her father Hugh Taylor Birch.
Both lovers of art and ecology, they decorated and built this unique house to compliment the surrounding land. It served as a winter retreat where Helen could compose music and sing while Frederic, a talented and aspiring artist, could work on his art in a place full of inspiration and natural beauty.
Frederic’s art is one of the main attractions of the Bonnet House Museum, as well as the artwork that they collected over the years.
It is gorgeous here, the house gets its name from the beautiful Spatterdock Lily or Bonnet Lily and there are ponds with bonnet water lilies and tropical gardens surrounding this historic 35-acre courtyard-style waterfront home.
The inside is magnificently ornate as well. You can explore the Main House and gardens but don’t miss the Shell Museum Complex. It showcases shells from around the world, Orchid House, and the Bartlett’s private Bamboo Bar.
The Bonnet House is open 9 am-4 pm Tues-Sun and guided tours are available every day on the hour from 9:30 am to 3:30pm. Make sure you check ahead to verify the schedule.
6. The Beaches
After you’ve discovered the Riverwalk and Las Olas Boulevard, it’s time to head all the way down Las Olas Boulevard to the beach!
The easiest way to do this is to take the Sun Trolley along the Beach and Las Olas loop.
If you’re looking to relax at the beach, Las Olas Beach and Fort Lauderdale Beach offer miles and miles of sugar-sand beaches to enjoy.
And the last on our last, but not the last at all when you are looking for things to do in Fort Lauderdale – this beautiful State Park.
A short walk from the Bonnet House and the hustle and bustle of local restaurants, shops, and beachside condos is another gem in the Florida state park system, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park.
In 1893, Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch came to South Florida in search of a secluded area for his home. He settled in a small village called Fort Lauderdale that included a store, a few houses, and the remains of the old Fort Lauderdale Army Post.
Purchasing ocean-front property for about a dollar per acre, he eventually owned a three-and-a-half-mile stretch of land along the beach.
In his twilight years, Birch wished to preserve his subtropical paradise from the development springing up around it. He donated his estate for use as a public park on December 31, 1941.
Today, the park is one of the most unique features in Fort Lauderdale. It is frequently compared to Central Park in New York City as both are seen as an island of peaceful green vegetation in the midst of a bustling city.
There are several hiking and biking trails throughout the park as well as spectacular beaches.
The Exotic Trail runs through the middle of the park and traces a path through the exotic gardens of the former estate of Hugh Taylor Birch, Terramar. There are more than 200 species on display and the trail leads you past interesting botanical species such as Arjan from India, natal plum, and a Zulu fig tree.
Your Favorite Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We'd love to hear about your favorite things to do in Fort Lauderdale. Please share in the comments!
Mike and Jennifer's Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
Florida is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter.
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FAQ's about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida's Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida's Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you'll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.