The Ultimate South Florida Travel Guide
We’re big fans of Miami here at The Manual, but sometimes you want to experience the beautiful beaches, delectable food and world-class shopping sans the hustle and bustle of big city life.
To discover what the rest of South Florida has to offer, all you need to do is travel one hour north to Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding areas of Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton to indulge in gorgeous nature, an outstanding bar and restaurant scene, and some of the most breathtaking beaches in the country. Check out our guide for the best places to shop, eat and stay the next time you find yourself on this fun-filled stretch of the Atlantic coast.
If you’re looking to add a little nature to your trip, this animal and plant sanctuary is the perfect daytime activity for all ages. It was originally founded as a citrus orchard in 1927 and today it’s one of the last natural jungle growths in South Florida with more than 3,000 tropical and subtropical plants and trees. The main attraction is—of course—the flamingos, a friendly bunch that will come right up to you and eat out of your hand. But you’ll also find habitats for a number of other native creatures including Florida panthers, otters, alligators, and peacocks, most of which are too injured or endangered to be released back into the wild. Proceeds from ticket sales help care for the park and animals, so it’s a fun activity that’s also a great cause.
Island Water Sports
This family-owned shop has been serving the Deerfield Beach surf and skate crowd since 1978 and it’s our go-to spot for everything fun and sun related. If you’re in the area and want to hit the waves, they offer surfboard, stand-up paddle, skim and body board rentals from one hour up to one week. They have a great selection of menswear if you’re shopping for board shorts, sneakers or a bright, printed button down. If you’re looking to brush up on your skills, check out Island Camps where you can learn alongside pro surfers and skaters. Early risers can take advantage of free surf, skim and stand-up paddle board lessons every Saturday at 7 a.m. But the best part about Island Water Sports is the staff who are friendly, knowledgeable and genuinely love what they do, so you’ll always have a special experience when you shop with them.
Audiophiles can get their fix at this independent record store that specializes in new and used vinyl, turntables and accessories. Their well-curated selection is thoughtful and organized, perfect if you’re looking for something specific or if you want to discover an unfamiliar sound. The employees are helpful, knowledgeable and will let you play records on the in-store system before you buy them. We found a cool 1960s Cambodian pop compilation that’s been spinning on our turntable nonstop.
Eat & Drink
Housed inside the stunning Ritz-Carlton on Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront, Burlock Coast’s sweeping modern space makes it the perfect special occasion restaurant during your trip to the southern city. Dive into a specialty cocktail like the Rita Lavender—tequila, lime, lemon, lavender, orange liqueur, salt froth—as you snack on spicy pork rinds and marlin ceviche tacos with pickled peppers and pineapple. After you’ve perused the well-curated wine list, enjoy a main course like the black grouper with cannellini beans, kale, olives, tomato and artichoke. Burlock Coast cares about supporting local family farms and purveyors, so you know you’re getting the best produce, meat and fish in every bite.
The Rebel House
You can’t make a trip to South Florida without paying a visit to one of Chef Michael Saperstein’s excellent restaurants, and we think The Rebel House is the best of the lot. A long list of munchies like pimento cheese-stuffed chicken poppers and a mini corned duck reuben pave the way for larger dishes like a braised brisket meatloaf and country ham shank for two. The cocktails are excellent, so make sure you order one with a chaser of homemade fireball. If you get the post-drinking munchies, grab a burger—made with white American cheese, Charm City sauce, pickled tomato and crispy onion—from the late night menu.
Wind your way through Pizza Craft in downtown Fort Lauderdale’s bustling Himmarshee District, and you’ll find a pleasant surprise awaiting you in the back of the restaurant. Apothecary 330 is one of those speakeasies that you probably know is there, but entering the cavernous lounge will always be thrilling. Dark wood, velvet wallpaper and oxblood leather banquettes set the mood for picking your poison, which may prove difficult considering they stock about 250 bottles with a healthy focus on bourbon. Their classic cocktails are expertly made, so you can’t go wrong with an Old Fashioned or New York Sour if you’re feeling nostalgic. But you can’t leave without trying a specialty cocktail like Apothecary’s signature RX, a sweet-tart libation made with gin, rhubarb tea liqueur, charred strawberry, lemon juice, egg whites and vincotto—a dense, aged balsamic vinegar that gives this drink an edge.
The American tiki bar has experienced a revival in the last decade, and we couldn’t be more excited. But it’s spots like Mai-Kai, which opened in 1956, that started it all. Each room in the massive restaurant is decorated to represent a different region of Polynesia with over-the-top tropical decor like waterfalls, tiki sculptures and bamboo bridges. Mai-Kai still offers dinner and a show every night (except Monday) where you’ll see traditional Polynesian dances, a Tahitian drum competition and bright, handmade costumes that reflect the spirit of the South Pacific. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, stop into Molokai Bar where you can sip classic tiki drinks like Planters Punch or the Jet Pilot while snacking on a traditional pu-pu platter.
The Whale’s Rib Raw Bar
This seaside seafood spot has been serving the Deerfield Beach community for more than 30 years, and it’s a true favorite for locals and snowbirds alike. Knickknacks and license plates adorn the walls, which makes it a perfect no-frills atmosphere for getting down to the business of eating really amazing seafood. Start with a cup of homemade conch chowder or lobster bisque, and be sure to grab fish dip and whale fries—their signature freshly cut potato chips—for the table. Peel and eat rock shrimp are a must and you might as well order some oysters while you’re at it, too. Finally, sink your teeth into the Fresh Dolphin Key West sandwich, which is topped with Swiss, purple coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing. Life hack: it’s great for breakfast the next day if you can’t finish it in one sitting.
Riverside Market and Cafe
When you walk into this laid back hangout, it feels like you’ve found a secret craft beer clubhouse where the people are friendly, the food is delicious and there are more than 550 cold brews waiting to be sipped. Peruse the self serve coolers, divided by types of beer, for your perfect bottle or can and enjoy the outdoor picnic tables or overstuffed armchairs and couches in you’re in need of AC. Come hungry to enjoy one of Riverside’s excellent pizzas—we recommend the barbecue chicken—or go for one of the overstuffed sandwiches that will no doubt get you through two meals.
Surf and turf is the name of the game at this brand new restaurant in the B Ocean Resort. Helmed by Chef Ralph Pagano—who’s competed on Iron Chef and already has two successful Miami eateries—the menu focuses on quality ingredients and a wide variety of dishes to please everyone in your party. The menu is a shellfish lover’s dream. Guests are presented with a daily “Fish Scorecard” for the self-serve seafood bar that is packed with oysters, clams, lobster and seasonal crab; you can also opt for a three-tiered seafood tower that ranges from $50-100. Carnivores can choose from seven different cuts of steak and add a lobster tail or king crab for only $10 more. If you want to splurge, try Chef Pagano’s Crabster, a two-pound king crab stuffed with shrimp, lobster and more crab.
JB’s on the Beach
This beautiful oceanfront restaurant is everything you could possibly want on a warm Florida day. We suggest gathering in the sunny dining room for a weekend brunch with family and friends, or post up on the patio if you want to catch a live band. Start with crispy calamari and the tuna poke stack before indulging in the lobster and shrimp salad or a massive plate of fish and chips. Ask which catch is the freshest that day because those dishes are always the best.
B Ocean Fort Lauderdale
This iconic oceanfront resort has a storied history. Formerly known as the Yankee Clipper, it was a hangout for stars like Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe back in the day. Although some of the historical elements remain, the property was completely renovated in 2016 and boasts stylish new designs and buildings, comfort-driven amenities, and a brand new restaurant from Chef Ralph Pagano, Naked Crab. The B Ocean staff is warm, helpful and always willing to do anything necessary to make your stay more comfortable. Guest rooms offer views of the crystal blue Atlantic or the Intracoastal Waterway (we recommend a corner room—it’s breathtaking) and are equipped with comfy Blissful Beds, Aveda bath products, flat screen TVs and a mini fridge to house leftovers or libations.
It’s easy to relax and unwind at B Ocean. The property is designed with a plunge pool on a sun-drenched patio and infinity pool that overlooks the hotel’s private beach. If an afternoon of sand and surf is on the agenda, take advantage of the chair and umbrella service and have drinks delivered directly to your towel. Treat yourself to B Ocean’s spa suite where you can customize a package with treatments like massages, hot stone therapy and aromatherapy.
When cocktail hour comes around, make your way to the historic Wreck Bar, which was left unchanged during the hotel’s renovation, and catch the famous mermaid show on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s a family-friendly show at 6:30 and an adult-only burlesque version after 9 p.m. The lobby bar serves up killer tropical cocktails and a blackberry Old Fashioned that was a perfect pre-dinner aperitif. Grab a bite at Naked Crab, the poolside eatery Salty Siren or at the grab-and-go coffee bar Clipper Express that serves light bites and fresh juices. Rest easy knowing that B Ocean is committed to green initiatives and sustainable solutions.
A huge thank you to Chevrolet for lending us a brand new 2017 Trax for this journey. The small SUV has an adventurous, utilitarian spirit with all of the modern technologies we’ve come to expect from Chevy. It’s equipped with phone integration so you never miss a call or beat, and wi-fi connectivity ensures you’re never without service on the open road. Safety is a top priority for the Trax as it’s designed with 10 standard airbags, forward collision alert, a blind spot signal on the wing mirrors, and a rear vision camera and park assist. The 1.4L turbocharged ECOTEC engine offers 33 MPG on the highway to suit all of your long distance adventure needs.
Images courtesy of Max Schwartz, B Ocean and Apothecary 330