A Weekend in Fort Lauderdale

It doesn’t really matter what time of the year you head to the beach in Fort Lauderdale. I can’t think of any month that I have visited and not found State Road A1A (AKA Ocean Boulevard) to be one of the most entertaining beach strips in Florida.

In the morning its serpentine path is bathed in a sunrise glow as a brisk parade of fitness devotees — some in colorful form fitting leggings, others in baggy khakis — welcome the morning breeze off the Atlantic Ocean. In the evening it offers up options of party central with crowded alfresco bars outlined in neon lights and packed with couples sipping frozen 45 ounce rainbow hued concoctions from fishbowl glasses — with two straws, of course. Or it’s a front row seat on The Ritz Carlton’s Burlock Coast patio where the night’s sultry air and intoxicating drinks from its rum bar provide a totally different vibe.

This particular visit I’m excited because I am staying at one of the most beautiful resorts, one that I have admired for years, The Pelican Grand Beach Resort. Its Victorian architecture, complete with corner turrets, and its pale yellow exterior, accented with fresh white trim, are stunningly elegant in a comforting Old Florida way.

Slipping into a good pair of walking shoes, my friend and I set out to power walk and discover what’s happening on this famous strip. A white half wall curves along the sidewalk separating us from the sand. I spy a fisherman casting a line into the surf, and then two divers in shiny black wet suits emerging from the water. They’re carrying a conch shell and a lobster. When I inquire what they are doing they tell me that people pay a lot of money to get on the dive boats, but right here you can swim out to a dropoff point that’s perfect for diving and viewing corals.

Continuing on we pass private homes boasting Mediterranean architecture before reaching Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Inside the green swath of tropical hammock you can rent Segways and bicycles to explore along the pathways.

A block or so down sits the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property, hidden by thick foliage, belonged to Birch who gave it to his daughter Helen and her artist husband Frederic Clay Bartlett as a wedding gift in 1919. The house they built now serves as an art museum displaying paintings, sculptures and decorative items collected by Bartlett and his second wife.

We continue to power on past a lot with a sign announcing the future home of the Four Seasons hotel and residences, the W Hotel and The Ritz Carlton. Just beyond these high end properties is a cluster of bikini shops overflowing with beach chairs and sand pails, and a mishmash of open air bars and cafes. When we reach Las Olas Boulevard, one of the main arteries connecting the barrier island to the mainland, we turn west then north to backtrack along the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s time for a break and we poke into Coconuts, a restaurant known for its waterfront tables where viewing the boat traffic is a favorite pastime. In fact, Coconuts is a water taxi stop, which explains the long lines of folks waiting for tables.

At the adjacent G&B Oyster Bar, we get lucky and find vacant stools. It just so happens that the drink of the  day (every day) is the G&B Bloody Mary, made with Zing Zang and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, then adorned with two plump green olives, a crisp green bean and lime wedge on a toothpick. The bartender swears the Zing Zang makes the difference.
Seems everyone is drinking the same thing, including the couple next to me. “Did you come by boat?” I ask them. Their reply: “How’d you know?” Well I really didn’t but with so many watercraft docked along the Intracoastal it seemed a logical question. Turns out the couple are from Michigan and have a home and boat in Fort Myers on the Gulf side of the state. Their captain brings the boat across the peninsula through Lake Okeechobee to Fort Lauderdale for them.

Back at the resort after spa treatments, we are glowing — and hungry. The Casablanca Café, midway down the strip, was recommended to us so we grab a cab. Tucked in an old mission style house with a barrel tile roof, the restaurant has a decorative fireplace and open windows that allow the cool night air to enter.

The Moroccan beef kabobs with roasted vegetables gets kicked up a notch with a spicy harissa yogurt sauce, and the Key West red snapper with caper basil butter is exactly what you want to order when dining near the sea. As we enjoy our meal we can hear the piano player singing “Saturday in the Park,” and I can’t help but think maybe it should be "Saturday on the Beach.”

Read the complete article as it appeared in the Orlando Sentinel by staff writer, Patricia Letakis. Image courtesy of The Pelican Grand Beach Resort.