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Fort Lauderdale on a Budget: Spend a Day on Las Olas Boulevard

I've lived in Fort Lauderdale for over 20 years now, and I want to share tips on how to enjoy my city without emptying your wallet!

Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Las Olas Boulevard Is for Everyone

If you've heard about this wonderful South Florida boulevard, the chances are that you've read about its exclusive boutiques, the gourmet restaurants overseen by celebrity chefs, the intimate and expensive galleries and a host of other features that make the area an ideal playground for the super-wealthy.

But if you're like me and on a budget, that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the boulevard too. I've lived here for over twenty years now and I'm delighted to share with you some great ideas to help you enjoy our area without breaking the bank.

You'll have just as much fun and when you come to Fort Lauderdale, the boulevard is absolutely not to be missed. Let's start with how to get here.

The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi

The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi

Cruise the Venice of America in a Water Taxi

Since its early days, Fort Lauderdale has been known as the Venice of America. Scroll down to the map below and you'll see why. So it's only natural that the only way to travel throughout Fort Lauderdale. The concierge at your hotel will direct you to the nearest water taxi stop.

The boats arrive every fifteen minutes or so—you won't have long to wait—and the crew is invariably friendly and helpful. Many of the captains will tell you about points of interest as you travel, making this a sightseeing tour in addition to a budget-conscious mode of travel.

Tip: If you're intending to spend the day travelling extensively on the water taxi, ask about the all-day, unlimited travel pass. There are reduced rates for children and seniors. Also, retain your tickets as these entitle you to discounts at various Las Olas locations.

The Floridian diner

The Floridian diner

Hungry? Try Our Authentic American Diner

Now you've arrived at the boulevard, your first priority could well be breakfast and what better place than our traditional American diner? The Floridian first opened in the nineteen thirties and I don't think I've ever seen it closed. Even during hurricanes, it's been open, albeit boarded up against the weather.

The diner is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so if you're looking for breakfast at ten in the morning, or in the early hours after partying, this is the place to go. Don't expect luxury—this is a diner after all—but believe me, this is and always has been a haunt for the rich and famous.

Tip: The Floridian works on a cash-only basis so be prepared. (There is an ATM in the diner but regular charges apply). Don't be fooled—many multi-million dollar deals have been concluded here; high-powered business people congregate here on a regular basis. You might also see celebrities, such is the popularity of this cheap and cheerful diner.

Colee Hammock Park

Colee Hammock Park

Visit Colee Hammock Park

Few visitors to Fort Lauderdale have been to Colee Hammock Park but this is the perfect place to sit and enjoy watching the boats go by. It's an historical area too—even before the first permanent settlers arrived in Fort Lauderdale, a massacre took place here. (But I've been here so many times and never seen ghosts!)

It's a wonderful place for a picnic lunch and there are several places nearby where you can buy excellent (budget) takeout food. You might have to share a little with the many squirrels who live there but that's cool.

This small park totally restores the spirits. Watch the boats go by and enjoy the ancient trees dripping with typically Floridian Spanish moss. This is truly a private oasis and yet is in the heart of Fort Lauderdale.

The Riverside Hotel

The Riverside Hotel

The Las Olas Village and Shops

The Floridian diner and Colee Hammock Park are in the eastern side of Las Olas—the area we call 'the village'. But as you move further west, you'll discover the shops of Las Olas. This is the area in which, should you have won the lottery recently, you could spend a fortune on artworks, antiques, wonderful clothing and expensive jewellery.

But that doesn't mean that there's nothing here for people who are on a budget. If you'd like a treat (and why not?) check out the wonderful bakeries, the ice cream parlours and of course, the window shopping.

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If you have room for lunch after your magnificent Floridian breakfast, I recommend Mangos Restaurant and Lounge. Or take a look at the menu at the historic Riverside Hotel (pictured above) which also dates from the 1930s.

Fort Lauderdale's historic Stranahan House Museum

Fort Lauderdale's historic Stranahan House Museum

The Stranahan House: Where Fort Lauderdale Began

Just a few steps west of the Riverside Hotel, you'll find the building where Fort Lauderdale has its roots—the Stranahan House Museum. This is the preserved building which was the first permanent structure in our area, now the most wonderful museum.

The house was originally a trading post; Seminole Indians would paddle up the New River in their dugout canoes to trade furs and produce. Fort Lauderdale's first permanent settler, Frank Stranahan, was its founder and proprietor,

In 1900, he married the area's first schoolteacher—she was just a teenager when she first arrived here—and together they became known as the mother and father of Fort Lauderdale.

There is a fee to join one of the guided tours (at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. every day) but you can stroll in the gardens and grounds absolutely free, soaking up the atmosphere.

Shaded walkways on Las Olas Boulevard

Shaded walkways on Las Olas Boulevard

Other Points to Note

These might also interest you:

  • See the image above. The boulevard has many 'secret' breezeways and passageways. Keep your eyes open! These are wonderful places to sit in the shade or enjoy an ice cream or treat
  • Las Olas Boulevard is incredibly dog-friendly. All restaurants with outside dining areas will be pleased to accommodate your furry friend. Many businesses along the street have bowls of water for your thirsty dog
  • To the west of the boulevard, you'll find the Museum of Discovery and Science which is a wonderful attraction (as they say 'for children of all ages'). It also houses an IMAX theatre
  • A hidden gem just off Las Olas is Cinema Paradiso—an arthouse theatre that shows indie and foreign films and is the host of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in October every year
  • Las Olas Boulevard starts at the beach and ends at the Museum of Art. The distance between the two is just over two miles. It is a lovely walk but in warm weather, you can travel the boulevard on the Sun Trolley. Just watch for the bright red trolley and hail it as you would a cab
  • The boulevard is divided into four distinct areas. See below.
The Four Areas of Las Olas

The Four Areas of Las Olas

Experience the Four Areas of Las Olas

Modern, glamorous, quirky and luxurious, Fort Lauderdale has much to offer, but you have to know where to look!

1. The Modern Business District

Although we refer to the western side of the boulevard as the 'business district' there is still much to offer the visitor. The Museum of Art is well worth visiting (don't miss the lovely café) and you'll see public art in this area too. The modern architecture is fabulous, with many fountains and water features.

Tip: For breakfast or lunch, CJ's Café has budget-conscious, delicious daily specials.

2. The Shops

This is the area that most people think of when they recall their visit to the boulevard. The shops are mostly privately-owned (no chain stores) which means that they are highly individual. Many of the buildings here date from the 1930s and have a distinctly Mediterranean feel

Tip: For a splendid evening glass of wine, visit Preston's Bar in the Riverside Hotel. There's a lovely tropical garden there, which is great fun.

3. The Village

If you're familiar with Key West, then you'll know what I mean when I say that this part of the boulevard has the same feel to it. There are small, quirky stores plus great budget-conscious dining options. You'll find utilities here too, such as the post office, dry cleaners and our local chemist shop.

Tip: You'll find the best budget dining options in this area. Surroundings are unpretentious, but from pizza to tacos, you won't be disappointed

4. Millionaires' Row

It's in this area that you'll see the most luxurious waterfront home, many with their own sleek yachts moored right outside. There are also the Las Olas Isles—residential areas that mix multimillion-dollar homes with quirky Mid-Century Modern architecture. It's a lovely walk from here down to the beach.

Tip: Two of the Isles (Hendricks and Venice) offer waterfront vacation accommodation that might suit your budget . . . and what better location? Midway between Las Olas and the beach—perfect.

© 2014 Jackie Jackson

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