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Fort Lauderdale See And Do

Beaches in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale , Florida

Fort Lauderdale's 23 miles of beaches are, of course, its prime draw. It's usually easy to stake out a spot on the wide sands, hemmed in by swaying palm trees and a low-rise, wavy white wall (the inset strip of neon lighting that has long languished in disrepair has finally been switched back on); if the main drag's busy, head south, as the beach widens in that direction. The water here has been certified Blue Wave for its cleanliness and safety, and there aren't many risky riptides. As for facilities, look for showers at the end of Las Olas Boulevard and restrooms at the junction with Sunrise Boulevard; the unofficial gay beach is around Sebastian Street.

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The Bonnet House
900 N. Birch Road
Fort Lauderdale , Florida
Tel: 954 563 5393

Undoubtedly one of the city's biggest draws, the Bonnet House is a pioneer oddity among the beachside high rises. Built by two wealthy settlers, artist Frederic Bartlett and his wife Evelyn (whose own massive fortune derived from her first marriage to prescriptions pasha Eli Lilly), the attraction is a pioneer-style bungalow set around a courtyard and populated with a vast collection of trinkets, from whimsical carved animals to merry-go-round menageries. Almost every surface was decorated, whether with a wooden trunk or a stucco ceiling, often by Bartlett himself. The house is stashed at the center of sprawling gardens that are filled with random amenities also built by the Bartletts to while away the time—the thatched tiki-style Island Theater was a private movie house, for instance. If it's hot, don't bother walking through the mangrove thickets, as there's a tram chugging through the park for only $1 per person. As for the name, it's flora-related rather than fashion-inspired: The bonnet is a yellow water lily that grows everywhere on the estate.

Closed Monday and all of September.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
3019 E. Sunrise Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale , Florida
Tel: 954 564 4521

Birch, a Chicago lawyer, raked in money as the legal counsel for Rockefeller's Standard Oil and used it to buy vast chunks of $1-per-acre land down in newly settled Florida at the end of the 19th century. Birch deeded most of it to the state on his death, and it's now a glorious park, centered on a shady freshwater lagoon with forests of sea grape and hardwood trees—an ideal break from sunning on the beach. And though Birch's estate may have been huge, his still-standing house at the center of it all was surprisingly modest.

Visitors center open only on weekends.

Museum of Art
1 E. Las Olas Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale , Florida
Tel: 954 525 5500

Housed in a postmodern building shaped like a slice of pie, this museum is now attracting big-name temporary shows thanks to its well-connected new director, Irvin Lippman, who's spent time at the National Gallery in D.C. Until March 2010, it's home to the "With You I Want to Live" an eclectic exhibit of art from the 1960s and 1970s; the King Tut exhibit was on view in 2006, and it was one of only two North American pit stops for the 2004 Princess Diana dress exhibit. The permanent collection is heavy on Pop Art (plenty of Warhol) as well as the Abstract Expressionist CoBrA movement, with artists like Asger Jorn and Karel Appel known for their intensely colored canvases.

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Museum of Discovery and Science
401 S.W. Second Street
Fort Lauderdale , Florida
Tel: 954 467 6637

The interactive exhibits are engaging and educational, including Gizmo City on the second floor (which explains the principles of physics through everyday machines) and the Florida EcoScapes exhibition near the atrium, which houses native Everglades critters such as fish and turtles, plus a huge living coral reef. The $15 admission includes one IMAX film showing at the theater, which shows a rotating schedule of 3-D films (call 954-463-4629 for show times and current movies).

Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Sundays noon to 6 pm.

The Stranahan House
335 S.E. Sixth Avenue
Fort Lauderdale , Florida
Tel: 954 524 4736

This Florida pioneer-style mansion was the home of Frank Stranahan, known as the Father of Fort Lauderdale, and his proto-feminist, yoga-crazy wife Ivy; they set up a trading post and bank here in the town's early days. Its interior has been lovingly restored and filled with period-specific ephemera—though it's the friendly, enthusiastic docents who really make a guided visit worthwhile. The exterior has also been carefully preserved, including the wide wraparound porch so typical of early Florida settlements; the forward-thinking Stranahan included an area outside where the Native Americans with whom he traded could pitch tents and bunk down for the night.

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.