Although I grew up in South Florida I didn't spend much time hanging around in Fort Lauderdale, so my recent visit was like a whole new world to me. I was anxious to explore this gorgeous city and learn more about it. Some how with Fort Lauderdale's glitzy reputation it was a refreshing surprise to discover the city's rich historic heritage lying beneath its glam facade.
Seminoles and planter pioneers settled along the banks of the New River in the 1820's. Prior to their settlement, the Tequesta Indians were amongst the earliest inhabitants drawn to the area's rich abundance of natural resources along the New River. The prehistoric people of South Florida were known as the Glades Culture and lived in the area for 5,000 years.
Fast forward and now Fort Lauderdale is total heaven with 3,000 hours of sunshine year round - and with 300 miles of inland waterways it's known as the "Venice of America." Imagine 23 miles of white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and sparkling turquoise water along inviting A1A. Outdoor cafes line A1A across the street from the pristine beach. It sort of feels like being on the French Riviera.
Connie Francis and "Where the Boys Are" is long gone; Fort Lauderdale has grown up and transformed from a rowdy "Spring Break" town into a sophisticated international destination. "Spring Break" brought as many as 350,000 college students to the area at its peak in 1985.
Fort Lauderdale is the yachting capital of the world.
With so many canals, Fort Lauderdale is known as "Ameica's Venice."
This stunning city has more mega-yachts (42,000) than any place else in the world hence it's the "Yachting Capital" of the world. With miles of scenic canals, a ride on the famed Water Taxi is the best way to get a good narrated overview of Fort Lauderdale where you'll see mansions and mega-yachts and get a glimpse into how the ultra-rich live.
I was interested in delving beneath the surface and learning more about Fort Lauderdale's heritage. I visited the Fort Lauderdale History Center where history comes to life along the banks of the New River. This complex features 5 restored historic buildings including an 1899 replica of a one-room schoolhouse. The Museum of History is housed in the New River Inn and documents the town's early days, real estate boom and bust, the devastating 1926 hurricane, WW II with excellent photos and memorabilia. Built around 1905, it was the first building in Broward County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hats off to the Fort Lauderdale Junior League for an outstanding job preserving and restoring these historical properties.
To gain even more insight into the city's past, I visited the Stranahan House Museum and took a guided tour with Merry, one of the docents. Merry explained that the Stranahan House served as a trading post, community center, post office, bank and home. This 2-story pioneer-style building built out of Dade County Pine stood the test of time, weathering many hurricanes and was resistant to rot and termites. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Seminoles traveled for days from the Everglades in their dugout canoes to get to the Stranahan House. They camped out on the elevated porch to rest from their long hard trip. The Seminoles sold their fur, gator hides, and egret feathers to Frank Stranahan and then used the cash to buy colorful calico fabric, tools, patent medicine and sewing machines to take back to their thatched chickee huts in the Everglades.
The Stranahans had a good relationship with the Seminoles; Frank, known as the "Father of Fort Lauderdale," treated them fairly and honestly. Ivy, Frank's wife and the area's first school teacher was an advocate of the Seminoles and taught the children how to read and write. Many of the Seminoles to this day remember that she bought them their first pair of shoes.
And of course no visit to Fort Lauderdale is complete without strolling along beautiful Las Olas Blvd. This 10 block long strip in the heart of Fort Lauderdale is lined with outdoor cafes, nearly a dozen art galleries and many designer boutiques. Fort Lauderdale is no slouch when it comes to art and has a vibrant art scene with nearly 14 museums. Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale has a reputation for showing dynamic and edgy exhibitions ranging from contemporary photography to art glass.
Sight of Connie Francis on the beach.
If you're a single gal and want to snag a rich guy, then mark your calendar for October 25 - 29th, 2012 to attend the 53rd Annual Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. This is your big chance, ladies, when billionaires flock to town to select and design their custom yachts.
Now if you're more of the crafty type, head over to Yarns & Arts, a delightful yarn shop located off of A1A and Oakland Park Blvd - it's packed from floor-to-ceiling with yummy designer yarns. Let Alex and Maria show you some of their gorgeous novelty yarns and get you started on a project. If you don't know how to knit, don't worry - they'll gladly sit you down and give you free lessons. Alex and Maria warmly welcome their customers with a big hug and cup of real Colombian coffee. There's even a popular men's knitting group on Thursday nights known as the Mi"KNIT"men," who excel at their craft. Take an advanced workshop with nationally known knitting diva, Brigitte Elliott who raises alpacas in Colorado when she's not in Fort Lauderdale.
So, whether you're artsy-fartsy, a history buff, sun- worshipper, yachting enthusiast, or a serious foodie, you'll have fun in the sun in breathtaking Fort Lauderdale.