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Local Secrets: Revealing Fort Lauderdale’s Hidden Gems

Hidden treasures of Fort Lauderdale
Photo by Lostangelino from Pixabay

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Fort Lauderdale, a city known for its pristine, white-sand beaches and popular nightlife, is often the go-to destination for tourists seeking sun, sea, and sand. While Fort Lauderdale’s beach is undoubtedly a draw for travelers, this city has so much more to offer than meets the eye. Beyond the well-trodden tourist paths lie treasures that only the locals seem to know about. Let us take you on a journey through the hidden gems in Fort Lauderdale, unveiling its best-kept secrets and inviting you to experience this beautiful city’s lesser-known side, where history comes alive and artistic vibes thrive in unexpected places.

1. The Whimsical Bonnet House Museum & Gardens

Tucked away amidst the bustling streets of Fort Lauderdale is the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, a true hidden gem that boasts both history and natural beauty. This inviting estate is a well-preserved piece of old Florida, with its perfect blend of art and nature.

With its Mediterranean-style architecture and lush gardens, it was once the winter retreat of Frederic Clay Bartlett, an artist who fell in love with the area’s charm in the 1920s. Today, visitors can wander through its art-filled rooms and the whimsical gardens, complete with swans, monkeys, and even a majestic banyan tree that will transport you to another world. 

2. The Secret Hideaway: Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

Just a stone’s throw from Fort Lauderdale Beach lies an oasis known as the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. This lush, 180-acre park is a tranquil paradise offering an abundance of activities for nature lovers. Whether you’re into picnicking, hiking, cycling, or simply lounging by the freshwater lagoon, this park has something for everyone.

One of the park’s best-kept secrets is the Terramar Visitor Center, which houses informative exhibits about the park’s history and ecosystem. It’s the perfect place to learn about the local flora and fauna before embarking on a scenic hike or bike ride through the park’s winding trails.

3. Dine Like a Local at Coconuts

No trip to Fort Lauderdale is complete without savoring some fresh seafood, and Coconuts is where the locals go. Tucked away on the Intracoastal Waterway, this hidden delight offers a laid-back atmosphere with breathtaking views of the water.

The menu is a seafood lover’s dream, featuring everything from succulent crab cakes to perfectly grilled mahi-mahi. But it’s not just the food that makes Coconuts special; it’s the experience of dining on the outdoor deck as the sun sets, creating a magical ambiance that captures the essence of Fort Lauderdale.

4. A Unique Shopping and Entertainment Experience at the Swap Shop

If you’re looking for a shopping and entertainment experience like no other, you won’t want to miss the Swap Shop. This iconic attraction is not your typical shopping mall; it’s a bustling flea market, drive-in movie theater, and carnival all rolled into one.

One of its standout features is its massive drive-in movie theater, one of the largest in the world. You can catch the latest blockbuster or a classic film from the comfort of your car, just like in the golden age of cinema. So, whether you’re hunting for bargains, craving some classic movie magic, or seeking a fun-filled day with the family, the Swap Shop has it all.

5. Escape to the Anne Kolb Nature Center

For nature enthusiasts, the Anne Kolb Nature Center boasts a 1,500-acre coastal mangrove wetland that’s often overlooked by visitors. Situated on West Lake Park, this center offers a serene escape into the natural beauty of Fort Lauderdale.

Navigate the park’s winding boardwalks, which take you through lush mangrove forests, providing excellent opportunities for bird-watching and wildlife photography. There’s also a kayak rental facility, allowing you to paddle through the calm waters and get up close to the diverse aquatic life that calls this area home.

Gay Florida Travel Road Trip Guide to Fort Lauderdale

6. Dive into History at Stranahan House

Fort Lauderdale’s history runs deep, and one of its most significant historical treasures is the Stranahan House. Nestled along the New River, this charming house-turned-museum is the oldest surviving structure in the city and a must-visit for history buffs.

Built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan, one of the city’s founders, the house now stands as a testament to the pioneer spirit of Fort Lauderdale. Take a guided tour to learn about the city’s early days and the fascinating stories of the Stranahan family, who played a vital role in the development of Fort Lauderdale.

7. Experience the Intriguing Museum of Discovery and Science

Unleash your inner scientist at the Museum of Discovery and Science, where hands-on experiences provide fun for visitors of all ages. Explore interactive exhibits that cover topics ranging from space exploration to the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Immerse yourself in the museum’s IMAX theater, which showcases stunning documentaries on a massive screen. The Museum of Discovery and Science is a fantastic place to fuel your curiosity and have a blast while learning.

8. The Allure of Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale

Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale is a picturesque promenade along the New River, often overlooked by visitors in favor of the beach. Locals, however, know that this area is an untapped treasure, offering a perfect blend of culture, recreation, and relaxation.

Wander along the lushly landscaped Riverwalk, taking in the stunning views of the river and the city’s skyline. You’ll find delightful cafes, cultural institutions like the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and beautiful parks along the way. Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale is a place to savor the city’s charm at a slower pace.

9. Tour Historic Sailboat Bend

Nestled along the New River, Sailboat Bend is a historic neighborhood that exudes charm and character. Sailboat Bend is a step back in time, with its well-preserved architecture and cobblestone streets.

Take a leisurely stroll through this quaint neighborhood, admiring the historic homes and enjoying the peaceful ambiance. Sailboat Bend offers a glimpse into Fort Lauderdale’s past and is an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.

10. The Enchanting Butterfly World

Nestled within Tradewinds Park in nearby Coconut Creek, Butterfly World will excite nature lovers of all ages. This tropical paradise is the largest butterfly park in the world and offers a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Walk through lush gardens filled with colorful butterflies from around the globe. You’ll be surrounded by a kaleidoscope of fluttering wings as you walk through this magical sanctuary. Butterfly World also features bird aviaries and a fascinating hummingbird garden, adding to the charm of this hidden gem.

Exploring Fort Lauderdale Like a Local

Fort Lauderdale is undoubtedly a popular tourist destination. But if you’re willing to travel beyond the well-known attractions, you’ll discover a city filled with hidden gems that only the locals truly appreciate. From captivating museums and serene nature centers to mouthwatering seafood and artistic districts, Fort Lauderdale’s secrets are waiting to be uncovered. So, the next time you visit this beautiful city, take a detour from the usual tourist spots and embrace the hidden treasures that make Fort Lauderdale a true gem of the Sunshine State.

If you are looking to stay a few days in the area, make sure to check out our Fort Lauderdale Travel Guide for more tips.


**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida and beyond, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

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