With miles of Venice-like canals, this coastal city boasts beautiful beaches, high-end shopping, and bountiful seafood, no transatlantic flight required.

By Elaine Glusac
March 18, 2009

Like Venice, this South Floridian city is permeated with waterways―300 miles of navigable channels that are the marine alleys of the city, allowing residents the option of commuting by boat. And just as Venice offers beach escapes at Lido offshore, Lauderdale counts 23 miles of Atlantic oceanfront on its barrier island. Those beaches were once spring break central for college students, but in recent decades Fort Lauderdale has grown up, adding a new Ritz-Carlton hotel among others and supporting a strong local culinary scene.

Eat smart: South Floridians have access to year-round market produce resulting in fresh dine-out fare. Feast on Mediterranean specialties such as grilled baby octopus, bouillabaisse, and lamb flatbread while overlooking the ocean at Trina. Downtown on pedestrian-friendly Las Olas Boulevard, Chef Johnny Vinczencz mingles Caribbean and American cultures at Johnny V. His signature zesty dishes include ancho cinnamon grilled pork tenderloin with papaya-mango chutney and barbecue-glazed salmon.

Be fit: Instead of letting the gondoliers do all the work, in Fort Lauderdale you can get a workout on―and in―the water. Take a romantic full-moon kayak tour held monthly in the neighboring community of Hollywood by Blue Moon Outdoor Center. Dive in to snorkel amid parrotfish and trumpetfish in clear 10-to-20-foot ocean depths with Sea Experience on their twice-daily outings aboard a glass-bottom boat. Back on land, rent a bike from M Cruz Rentals to breeze around downtown’s Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and along the 1.5-mile beachfront path.

Live well: As in Venice, you can get around Ft. Lauderdale by public boat. The Water Taxi serves more as a floating bus than a private taxi with regular stops at city hotspots. Make a cultural one at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale to view the prized Glackens collection of early 20th-century American art. From the museum it’s a short trek down the waterside River Walk to the historic Stranahan House, a 1913 plantation-style house open for tours. On nearby Las Olas Boulevard, shop for European garden pottery and linens at Côté Provence among the many independent boutiques.

Where to stay: Fort Lauderdale boasts many opulent and expensive hotels, with more budget-friendly finds in out-of-the-way places. In keeping with the Venetian theme, book a room on the Isle of Venice tucked in the back canals at Villa Venezia. Its studios and apartment-sized units, many with kitchens, surround a lush courtyard and swimming pool. For bigger budgets, the new Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale evokes a 1940s ocean liner with vintage black-and-white photos in 192 water-view rooms where the beds are dressed in Italian Pratesi linens.