From shoreline to shops, the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale provide an exponential array of vacation possibilities.
Florida’s southeastern seaboard, known as the Gold Coast, is home to two gems: The Palm Beaches and Greater Fort Lauderdale. Both offer gorgeous stretches of sand, year-round sunshine and Florida’s famous laid-back atmosphere. But they have very distinct personalities, too.
Palm Beach County adds a certain sophistication and cosmopolitan glamour to the vacation equation. Home to a tiny island of the same name, this area is a longtime winter playground of the rich and famous. Several cities here have vibrant downtowns with myriad options for dining, shopping, culture and nightlife. In all, its shore spans about 45 miles, from the village of Tequesta south to Boca Raton.
Greater Fort Lauderdale is a collection of traditional beach towns clustered around the city of Fort Lauderdale itself. The area boasts 23 miles of coastline, running from Deerfield Beach in the north to Hallandale Beach. The trendy vibe in Fort Lauderdale is a bit more accessible than its posh Palm Beach neighbor. Once celebrated as a spring-break mecca, the city has cultivated a more sedate, family-friendly attitude — while maintaining its fashionable reputation.
Each area has its particular charms, and every visitor will have specific favorites. Thankfully, their proximity means you can mix and match experiences to your heart’s content without wasting your precious vacation time on the road.
The Seaside Situation
Relaxing in a lounge chair, soaking up the sun, twirling an umbrella in an ice-cold drink, splashing in the Atlantic — these things come to mind when daydreaming about a vacation to the Sunshine State. But not all Florida beaches are the same. In fact, in just a few minutes by car, you can have several different coastal experiences.
If you’re hoping for a quiet, secluded interlude — but still want to be close to the action — the Palm Beaches is home to beautiful Delray Beach, named one of Florida’s Top 10 strands by the Travel Channel®. Instead of resorts, shops and restaurants right on the shore, you’ll find a swath of tall sea oats sheltering the waterfront (and you) from the rest of the world. Delray has plenty of ocean sports and daily chair rentals, and if you do decide to venture back into the urban milieu, the bustling Atlantic Avenue district is nearby.
Greater Fort Lauderdale
Arguably, the most stunning stretch here is the city’s namesake beach, which is bordered by a brick promenade perfect for walking, skating, bicycling and people-watching. According to U.S. News & World Report, it’s one of the state’s top three beaches, so it should come as no surprise that Fort Lauderdale looks exactly how a Florida beach should: green palms swaying in a warm tropical breeze and the blue sea intermittently washing over an endless stretch of sand. It’s a postcard come to life, and right across the street, there are shops, restaurants and bars that keep things hopping day and night.
Just 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale proper, Deerfield Beach has a charming, end-of-the-line, vintage-seaside-town feel — as if this is where all the world’s surfboard-sporting VW buses should be collected. Still, it’s an up-to-date spot, and a certified Blue Wave beach, demonstrating excellence in habitat conservation, safety services and water quality.
For a small fee, you can walk out on the 976-foot-long International Fishing Pier. For a bit more, you can cast a line. (Rod rentals are available.) The pier is the standout attraction, but you also can surf, join a game of sand volleyball, rent a cabana, or just watch all the action from one of the beachside cafes.
Wherever you dig your toes into the sand, at some point, you’ll have to brush off your feet and put on a pair of shoes (flip-flops, at least). And what better reason to do so than shopping? And, really, where better than either of these chic locales? Both have enough retail ground to cover that you could spend your entire week boutique hopping and still not cross everything off your list.
The Gardens Mall, in east Palm Beach Gardens, is home to more than 160 stores, including anchors Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. The shopping is upscale, but the atmosphere — thanks to its sweeping skylights and tranquil fountains — is refreshingly relaxed.
Want to mix your shopping with the fabulous Florida weather? Keep your sunglasses on to stroll the world-famous Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. It spans three city blocks and is peppered with high-end stores such as Armani, Cartier, Chanel, Gucci and — why not? — Worth Avenue Yachts. Go for the shopping or just to soak up the Rodeo-Drive-of-the-East ambiance. While you’re there, be sure to grab a bite at Ta-boo. This tropical-themed bistro has been a Palm Beach institution since it opened in 1941, and was popular with the likes of Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy.
Greater Fort Lauderdale
Las Olas Boulevard is Fort Lauderdale’s go-to spot for outdoor shopping. This quaint district has 65 stores, more than 30 restaurants (most featuring outdoor dining) and 10 international art galleries. Take a stroll, stop for an alfresco bite and then browse shops that range from clothing boutiques to home furnishings to a cigar emporium. When the sun goes down, Las Olas transforms into a hip nightspot, attracting locals and visitors of all ages.
Serious shoppers will want to reserve an entire day for Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise — and that might not even be enough. Boasting more than 350 stores, it’s the largest outlet center in the U.S. Aside from its jaw-dropping enormity (wear comfortable shoes!), Sawgrass makes its mark with store selection. You’ll happen upon all the usual suspects — Nike, Gap, and so on — but there are some other factory outlets you might not expect, including Burberry, Prada and the Salvatore Ferragamo Company Store.
More Than Beach Fare
A day of bargain hunting — or, conversely, walking Worth Avenue while mulling the pros and cons of purchasing a yacht — will undoubtedly work up a healthy appetite. There are innumerable quality restaurants and cafes throughout the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale.
Great culinary options abound throughout Palm Beach County. But that’s a lot of geography to cover, so dedicate at least a day’s worth of indulgences to Delray Beach’s restaurant row, particularly the stretch of Atlantic Avenue running from Swinton Avenue east to the beach. Mussel Beach, just a few blocks west of the Intracoastal Waterway, is a local favorite. The mollusks are flown in fresh from Prince Edward Island, and are used in 14 menu selections, including the Italian, which uses squid, fish, red wine-tomato sauce, roasted garlic and basil to create a savory, succulent dish.
Afterward, pull up to the bar at Saltwater Brewery. Located — quite literally — on the other side of the tracks, Saltwater is the latest addition to a burgeoning South Florida craft-beer scene that includes Due South Brewing Co. in Boynton Beach and Funky Buddha Brewery, which has locations in Boca Raton and Oakland Park.
Greater Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale has a variety of dining venues that feature cuisine from across the country and around the world. Well-known spots include Canyon Southwest Cafe, a chipotle- and jalapeño-lover’s dream; and 3030 Ocean, offering elegant American seafood.
Seafood certainly is easy to come by in South Florida, but why not try something a little more international? Check out the Greek Islands Taverna, which serves authentic Greek dishes such as lamb youvetsi, saganaki (flaming cheese in brandy) and souvlaki, as well as some original specials by chef Sotiri.
Like these restaurants and their plentiful menu items, South Florida is a smorgasbord of vacation options. The best part? This collection is just to get you started. With so much to see and do, you’ll soon take a fortuitous detour and be off on your own happy adventure, even if that involves no more than burying your toes deep into the sand and kicking back with a good book.
Where to Stay:
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the North America edition of Interval World magazine, published by Interval International, Inc., an indirect subsidiary of Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation. Any re-use of this content, or any portion of this content, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.