Fort Lauderdale. There's no denying its full of luxury waterfront properties, high rise hotels and overpriced restaurants catering to tourists; however, that doesn't mean one can't travel to this beach resort city and have a great time without spending a fortune. In fact, the destination is full of budget-friendly experiences; you just need to know where to look. To help you plan your trip, here is a guide to Fort Lauderdale for the budget traveler.
1. Don't Travel Like Everyone Else
In Southern Florida, summer can get extremely hot. That being said, if you can handle the temperatures you could end up saving money on airfare, hotels and tour packages. If you'd rather go when its cooler, stay away from the luxury waterfront properties and move a few blocks from the main boulevard. You might also opt for a hostel with private rooms near to the beach like The Hotel Deauville, which offers air conditioning, WiFi, a communal kitchen and BBQ patio, a common room and heated pool with dorms starting at $35 per night and private rooms at $80 per night. Much of Fort Lauderdale can also be explored by bike -- you can rent a bike for an entire week for $140 from M. Cruz Rentals if you dont want to splurge for rental cars and taxis.
2. Hike Around Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is a beautiful haven for budget travelers who are also outdoor enthusiasts - especially with 180 acres of nature to explore and admission rates starting at $2 for walk-in/bike-in visitors (and only $4 for single car drivers and $6 for multi-passenger drivers). Once inside, you can choose to trek around the park - which has remained unchanged since 1893, taking you back in time to old Florida - relax or swim along the 3.5-miles of beach, or spend some money and do a bike rental or tour through M. Cruz Rentals. Bike rentals are $12.50 for one hour, $25 for four hours, $35 for 24 hours or $140 for one week. Personal watercraft rentals range from $75-$130, fishing poles from $10-$20, paddleboards from $30-$80, kayaks from $10-$40, roller blades from $15-$45 and Segway Tours from $50-$100 depending on length of time.
The most budget-friendly rentals are the canoes at $5 per hour. Some top experiences to have include cycling the rail trail, seeing manatees (mainly in winter) and luxury mansions along the Intracoastal Waterway, bird watching and turtle spotting, walking a 2-mile circuit using an audio tour as your guide and paddling along the onsite freshwater lagoon - one of the few coastal lagoons left in Broward County. On Saturdays at 1pm, live animal presentations are held at the Beach Gate Entrance where you can see and learn more about specific park creatures.
3. Gallery Hop On Las Olas
While the beachfront is full of chains and over-priced big brands, Las Olas Boulevard is the complete opposite. Here you'll find a large number of independently-owned restaurants, bars, boutiques and, the best part for a budget traveler, free-to-enter art galleries. There are 13+ galleries on this walkable strip - all on the eastern half - offering everything from fine art to sculpture to photography and beyond. It's also not uncommon to stumble into a free event, especially in the evenings, where complimentary wine and nibbles are served. Some recommendations include the Africas Native Visions Gallery (807 East Las Olas Boulevard), Las Olas oldest gallery and filled with nature-themed mixed media pieces; Las Olas Fine Art (701 East Las Olas Boulevard), where you'll find truly unique, bold stated pieces; and the Oggi Murano Gallery (803B East Las Olas Boulevard), where hand-blown Murano Glass fills the space.
4. Hit The Beach
In Greater Fort Lauderdale youll find 23 miles of certified beach, seven of which are in the city of Fort Lauderdale. This stretch of coast is free to enjoy, and one can easily walk over from any centrally-located hotel. Along with being lined with cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, beach-goers can enjoy the Atlantic through fishing, jet skiing, swimming, sailing, wind surfing and snorkeling right off the shore (no need to spend money on a tour). You'll also find people playing beach sports like Frisbee, football and volleyball.
5. Attend The FATVillage Art Walk
FATVillage - which stands for Flagler Arts and Technology Village - is a completely different world from beachfront Fort Lauderdale, despite being only 20 minutes away from the main drag by car. Here, artists and creative types have created a community of galleries, studios, cafes, design spaces, media firms and more committed to the concepts of collaboration, creating a better neighborhood and spreading the arts philosophy around the city. While you can always visit, the best time is the last Saturday of the month during the FATVillage Art Walk, when every venue turns into a free-to-enter gallery space serving complimentary drinks and snacks (although no trip is complete without baked goods, empanadas and Brazilian Coffee from One Sun Emporiums mobile food station). About 1,000-3,000 people partake in the event each month, and along with art there are food trucks, pop up shops, artisanal vendors and dance music blasting into the streets. Even if you're not there on the last Saturday of the month there are other events that take place in the FATVillage, such as performances at Andrews Living Art black box studio, poetry readings and performance art in World and Eye Studio, inspirational speakers on Fridays during lunch at Helium Creative and BBQ and Movie nights at C & I Studios.
6. Visit The Museum — For Free
While it's not easy to find museums that are free all the time - although the Plantation Historical Museum is - most have specified complimentary entry dates and times. On the first full weekend of the month Bank of America/Merrill Lynch cardholders enjoy free admission to the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science and the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. On the first Wednesday of the month the Coral Springs Museum of Art is free to enter, although even when it's not an adult ticket is only $6. And at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum enjoy complimentary access on the first Saturday of the month (although this one is also not expensive at $8 for an adult ticket, $6 for children and $2.50 for a train ride). These are just a few of the free museum events in Fort Lauderdale. If there is a museum or institution not listed here that you would like to visit without paying check their website or call for details.
What are some low-cost experiences you enjoy in Ft. Lauderdale?