Until very recently, you only visited to Fort Lauderdale, on Florida’s Atlantic coast, for one of two reasons.
You were either passing through its busy port, to board a luxury cruise-liner – en route to far swankier destinations – or you were a beer-swilling college student in search of a good time.
But now this Sunshine State gem has finally come into its own as an up-market destination, attracting well-heeled couples and families, seduced by its 23 miles of stunning, white-sand beaches, fantastic shopping and thriving restaurant scene. And that’s just for starters.
Hop in a water taxi and you’ll get your first taste of Lauderdale’s glamorous clientele, as you zoom past mansions on the water’s edge, including Johnny Depp’s pad and the former house of Sonny and Cher.
Take a catamaran cruise
For more mansion-spotting, you take a catamaran cruise (tropicalsailing.com) through the waterways and into the ocean, where the legends of the people that live there continue to be told by the captain’s mate as you soak up the sunshine on the deck.
While you relax, the boat will stop off and water-loving kids can whizz down the boat’s slide and into the warm salty sea. If the water isn’t choppy, you can all get in and enjoy a spot of snorkelling, too.
For the more active and water-confident, try paddle boarding (sunrisepaddleboards.com) – teens will delight in getting up close to the boats of American pop stars.
Free surf lessons at Deerfield Beach every Saturday morning at 7am. (islandwatersports.com) will also appeal to big kids and adventure-loving parents.
Make sure you head to family-friendly Hollywood, a world apart from its LA namesake. At West Lake Park, active nature-lovers can kayak among the mangroves, learning about the different types of tree and the nature that lives among it.
Beginners will soon get the hang of it and enjoy the calming surroundings as you weave through the water trails – there may be a few bumps into the side along the way as you get a hang of the paddle though. Just watch out for the spider trail. It’ll make you speed towards the end as the dinnerplate-sized insects makes webs across the branches over your head.
Summer holidays are the perfect time to visit this little part of the Sunshine State, not only for fantastic weather, but also for the wild side of the Florida beaches. For more wildlife spotting, during July and August, as the sunbathers leave for the day and the sun goes down, watch as sea turtles crawl out of the water to lay their eggs on the sand in their ancient ritual of hatchling release. More info at sunny.org/beaches/sea-turtles.
Fancy a real thrill? Take them on an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades. As you skim across glassy water learning about the ecosystem, there will be no end of excitement and gasps as you spot alligators sunning their backs as they appear above the water.
The Sawgrass Recreation Park also has an impressive nature centre full of reptiles and big cats that children can marvel at, as well as the chance to hold a baby ‘gator’. Be warned, there’s a good chance you’ll get peed on by the little snapper!
At the beach
For a day beside the beach with kids head to Hollywood Broadway; slightly quieter than the central Fort Lauderdale beaches and the only one with a broad walk. It was also voted the best in America by USA today. It’s hard to get bored on these stunning beaches, but if little legs want to explore, head to Sun & Fun Cycles so you can explore the whole Broadway and stretches of beach, or to the kids water play area.
If you fancy getting a bargain, head to the largest outlet mall in the United States, the Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass Mills. From designer brands to highstreet shops, make sure you buy an extra holdall to take all your new good home!
Where to Eat
At Hollywood Broadway, try Ocean Alley restaurant where the views of the beach are clear and the service and food give you that all-American feeling – friendly, sunny and portions that would feed an army.
15th Street Fish Bar
By the water’s edge, try 15th Street Fish Bar, a favourite among the locals. The downstairs part of the restaurant is reserved for the casual diner and more relaxing for families, but if you’re planning to hire a babysitter, book a table at the more formal upstairs restaurant. Either way, you’re not likely to be disappointed with the fresh Florida fish they collect every morning.
Las Olas Boulevard
If you want more variety, head to Las Olas Boulevard, which sits at the exact centre of the city and is frequented by tourists and locals alike. There’s a whole host of bars and restaurants along the palm-lined street. It’s also the home of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest hotel, The Riverside, build in 1936 and still just as grand.
Where to Stay
Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa
Want to rub shoulders with the crème de la crème? Then head to the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood where its beachside location, palm tree lined lobby, huge suites and delicious steak restaurant will please luxury-seeking families.
Price: For families staying at The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, there are two room options that work well. A guest room with two double beds starts at $289 (£170) per night, based on availability. Another great option is a corner suite which has a king bed in the bedroom and a queen-sized sofa bed. A starting rate for a corner suite is $439 (£259) per night.
More info: diplomatresort.com
The Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel
For a more central Fort Lauderdale – but still with a prime coastal position – head to The Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel where you can explore the busier part of the city.
Price: Starting rates at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach are $149 (£88) for a standard room with two double beds. Another option is the Ocean View Suite, which is twice the size of other rooms and has a separate living room with a pullout couch. Starting rates for this room are $339 (£200).
More info: sheratonftlauderdalebeach.com
Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from London Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale twice weekly from £179 one way.
How to get there: Go direct with Norwegian Air Shuttle, which flies from London Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale every Monday and every Friday from the beginning of July. From £179 one way, including taxes.
Travel time: A flight from London to Fort Lauderdale takes around 10 hours, and on the way home takes 8 hours.
More info: For more information on Greater Fort Lauderdale visit sunny.org