If sun and sand are top priority for your next trip, Fort Lauderdale is your town. This Florida city has several family friendly beaches, many of which offer public restrooms, parking, picnic areas and playgrounds. And that”s not all. You”ll also find unique museums, wildlife, cultural attractions, charming neighborhoods and more. Use this itinerary to plan a perfect Fort Lauderdale weekend getaway with your family.
Written by Amanda Geronikos
Day One: Stroll Down the Boulevard
Even with a slight chill in the winter months, you'll enjoy starting your Fort Lauderdale weekend getaway with a walk along A1A"s pink-bricked pedestrian pathway that flows along the beach. Head north to find the historical Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, which encompasses five ecosystems. You"ll see Amazon parrots and a troop of Costa Rican squirrel monkeys! If you visit in December, check out the Orchid Festival, which offers Hawaiian dancing, face painting and more for kids. Bonnet House Museum and Gardens opens at 9 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
Next, visit the Museum of Discovery and Science, a combination children"s museum and hands-on discovery science center for kids of all ages. (Don"t worry, we have a beach day scheduled!) Kids will love the giant, musical kaleidoscope, and the museum also features an IMAX theater.
The museum is located near the start of Fort Lauderdale"s renowned Las Olas Boulevard. Spend an evening here, where you"ll find a plethora of charming shops, galleries and restaurants in which to have dinner, many include plenty of kid-friendly, al fresco options. Afterward, indulge in ice cream at Gran Forno or Udder Sweets.
Day Two: Get on a Boat and Go to the Beach
Start day two of your weekend in Fort Lauderdale with a ride on the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi, which navigates the Intercoastal Waterway and provides the best view of Fort Lauderdale and its hidden mansions, tucked away on private islands. The taxi travels several different routes, and you"ll have a chance to hop off and on whenever it stops -- it"s like a trolley in the water. Children ages 5 to 13 cost $13 to ride, and those under age 5 are free of charge. Adult fare is $20.
Since the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi takes you to several different beaches, you might as well spend an afternoon in the sand. Soak up the sun on Fort Lauderdale Beach, or even the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area"s other family-friendly beaches, such as Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach and Hollywood Beach. All four beaches provide public restrooms, showers, lifeguards and picnic areas, and all are near restaurants to get lunch. Pompano and Deerfield Beaches have piers with snack shops, Hollywood Beach has a boardwalk, and Pompano and Fort Lauderdale Beaches have playgrounds.
Let the kids blow off some steam (and tire out) at Funderdome, where they"ll climb a rock wall, engage in laser tag and negotiate a ropes course. For those who are too young for all the action, there"s Toddler Zone, a cushioned area with puzzles, games, books and more. Funderdome also offers Kids Night Out, a program in which parents drop their kids off to play for three hours. Funderdome is open until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and until 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
Day Three: See the Everglades
For another unique experience, set sail on the historic Jungle Queen Riverboat, which travels to a small island at 6 p.m. nightly. On the island, families enjoy a BBQ dinner beneath the stars. The moonlit ride back might just be the best part.
Where To Stay With Kids: Luxury Fort Lauderdale Hotel
Where To Stay With Kids: Mid-Priced Fort Lauderdale Hotel
Your family will get luxury -- without the price tag -- at this Fort Lauderdale hotel, which features a tropical lagoon-style pool and private beach. Other highlights include a spa, three onsite eateries and three bars for parents to enjoy. Connecting rooms and suites are available, as are cribs and rollaway beds. Many units have balconies. The hotel is located just five miles from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Where To Stay With Kids: Budget Fort Lauderdale Hotel
Top 5 Fort Lauderdale Restaurants Not To Miss
This place doesn"t have a children"s menu, but offers plenty of kid-friendly fare, including burgers and macaroni and cheese. Grown-ups will enjoy the wide selection of seafood and steaks. If you have a long wait (get there before 5 to avoid one), you can walk along the deck and watch boats. Pets are welcome.
2. The Floridian Diner
This is a casual, kid-friendly diner located in the heart of town. Large portions are served 24/7, and outdoor seating is available. Breakfast is popular, so arrive early to avoid a long wait in line.
3. Deck Restaurant at the Sea Club
There"s nothing fancy about the Deck, but that"s why it"s perfect for families. Located right on the beach, it serves casual fare (burgers, sandwiches, salads and the like) in a laid-back atmosphere. Come for lunch or an early dinner to avoid the party crowd.
4. La Bonne Crepe
This is another good choice for breakfast, with French toast, waffles pancakes and, of course, crepes on the menu. Crepes are also available for lunch and dinner, and are stuffed with chicken, vegetables and even seafood.
5. Jaxson"s Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant
Featured on the Food Network and Good Morning America, Jaxson"s has been in business since 1946. Its delicious recipe for ice cream dates back even further, and families flock here for the sweet treat, made fresh on the premises daily. Jaxson"s also offers casual lunch and dinner options, such as burgers, wraps and hot dogs.
Planning & Tips
In any given month throughout the year, you"ll find several events in Fort Lauderdale. For Independence Day, the city hosts a 4th of July Family Celebration with free entertainment and fireworks. For Halloween, it hosts a Halloween Spooktacular with a costume contest, bounce house, face painting and trick-or-treating. And for Christmas, it holds the Candy Cane Parade, Holiday Fantasy of Lights, Pompano Beach Holiday Boat Parade, Christmas on Las Olas and Christmas on the Beach. One of the biggest events of the year is the Las Olas Arts Fair, which has been taking place every March for 25 years.
Driving is really the best way to get around during a family weekend in Fort Lauderdale, unless you plan to stick close to the beach. In that case, take a taxi to and from the nearby airport -- it won"t break the bank. If you"re traveling by car, consider purchasing a Fort Lauderdale City Card. It"s a reloadable card that can be used for parking at any meter or pay station. The City Card is available in $10, $20, $30, $40, $50, $100, $200 and $300 increments.
Fort Lauderdale"s bus system is called Broward County Transit. One-way fare is $1.50. Day passes are available for $3.50.
The best part about the Sun Trolley is that it"s usually free or very cheap (around 50 cents). Popular routes include Las Olas Boulevard, beaches and shopping areas.