Source: Southern Living | Published: July 28, 2023 | Reporter: Tara Massouleh McCay

Brightly hued beach umbrellas, gently crashing crystal-clear water, and seafood shacks planted in the sand just steps from the ocean. Seagulls cooing, children laughing, and the gentle rustle of the wind passing through palm leaves. These are the sights and sounds of a perfect day at the beach—and it’s exactly what you’ll see and hear in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida.

The charming beachside village is the epitome of a nostalgic Old Florida escape. Now we have a name to put to our beloved sun-kissed daydreams and it’s Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. Located between bustling Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, the minute you enter this tucked-away pocket of sea and sand, you’re instantly transported. Retro mid-century modern condos dot the shoreline, and a walkable downtown emanates from an Adirondack chair-lined pavilion overlooking the water. The only thing that could make the scene more idyllic would be an ice cream cone in hand and a gorgeous sunset. After spending a long weekend in this feel-good community, I’m happy to report that Lauderdale-By-The-Sea suffers no shortage of either. Here are the best things to do when visiting Florida’s sunny Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.

The Best Things To Do In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea

Vacation mode hits hard the moment you cross over the bridge from Fort Lauderdale into Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. It’s easier to exhale. It’s easier to say yes. One thing you’ll want to say “no” to? A car. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is small enough that you can get most places on foot, but if you want to feel the wind in your hair, snag some wheels at Big Cat Electric Bikes. Leave the bike on manual and get your exercise in; when you’re ready for a boost, all you have to do is turn on the assist. In true resort town fashion, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea also offers a completely free shuttle service that runs seven days a week. Simply request a ride via the Ride Circuit app, and Circuit-By-The-Sea will have an electric shuttle to you in a matter of minutes.  

Of course, the main attraction in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is the beach, and it couldn’t be easier to enjoy. Getting to the beach is as simple as walking a couple steps off your low-rise condo’s pool deck, finding the easy entrance through downtown’s Anglin Square pavilion, or stopping at any of seven public access points in town. Larger accesses with tables and other amenities can be found at El Prado Park and Laura Ward Park, or check out the five other beach portals that span 2.5 miles on El Mar Drive.

Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is known as Florida’s Beach Diving Capital, so you’ll want to take advantage of the excellent diving and snorkeling in the area. There are reefs as close as 100 yards off the coastline, so all you have to do is grab a snorkel and embrace the underwater adventure. However, if you’re looking to dive a little deeper, schedule a BLU3 guided dive tour through Gold Coast Scuba. A cross between scuba diving and snorkeling, you’ll have the opportunity to explore reefs up to 25 feet underwater without the hassle of heavy scuba equipment or the need to be certified. A diving professional will lead you out to see all kinds of colorful fish, vibrant coral reefs, rays, and sea turtles.

If you’re able to drag yourself away from the water (and trust me the hypnotic pull of the turquoise expanse is quite strong), there’s plenty to explore on the sunny streets of downtown Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. Snap a picture in the giant Adirondack chair outside the Visitors Center, then make your way to Gug Underwater Gallery to see the truly awe-inspiring works of world-renowned underwater photographer Chris Gug. Once you’re sufficiently inspired, head to locally owned Coast Boutique or Beach King to pick up thoughtful souvenirs and apparel to commemorate your time in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. When it’s time for a mid-afternoon treat, you’ll find plenty of options at Jan’s Homemade Candies or Sloan’s Ice Cream

The Best Places To Eat In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea

Cooking on vacation should be a choice not a necessity. And while we can’t argue with the nostalgia of a fish dinner or shrimp boil at the beach, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea has visitors covered with dozens of delicious places to grab a bite to eat any time of day.

Start your morning with a classic breakfast at El Mar Café (the country fried steak will keep you full clear through lunch), or visit farm-to-table Delacasesas Café, where the fruit juice is cold-pressed in house and produce is sourced from a local community garden. If you’re looking to indulge, there’s no better way than the all-you-can-eat weekend brunch at Blue Moon Fish Co. Located on the Intracoastal Waterway, the only thing more impressive than the views here is the expansive buffet. It includes a raw bar with oysters, shrimp cocktail, and crab legs; a carving station; and the most decadent dessert display you’ve ever seen, among dozens of other options.

If you want to enjoy lunch with your toes in the sand, pick up an overstuffed sub at Laspada’s Original Hoagies for a picnic meal, or snag an outdoor table at Aruba Café. The expansive eatery located right on the beach is known for its live music, tropical drinks, and Caribbean-inspired seafood. Be sure to start your meal with a loaf of the restaurant’s fresh-baked Bimini Bread with Aruba Glaze.

Get cleaned up for dinner and take your pick from three great spots that each offer an entirely unique experience. At Sea Watch on the Ocean, you’re privy to sweeping ocean views from the top of a bluff just 50 yards from the shoreline. The classic Old Florida restaurant has been around since 1974 and is known for its unmatched ambiance and supremely fresh seafood. The Boathouse Baked Oysters are a must, as are the buttery sweet grilled scallops.  

While Sea Watch on the Ocean provides a traditional beachside experience, Mickey’s Downtown Bistro and Frenchy’s Table each transport you somewhere new. The vibe at Mickey’s is right on par with a sleek downtown restaurant in a big city thanks to nightly performances from dueling pianists. While the music and live requests are always entertaining, the real star of the show here is the food. Mediterranean-inspired dishes range from an oversized mezze platter with homemade hummus, baba ghanoush, and falafel to Italian Spaghetti Vongole with littleneck clams. At Frenchy’s Table, enjoy a set two- or three-course French meal prepared by chef-owner Edith Barthelemy who was born and raised in France. Options include classic Steak Au Poivre, Duck Breast Magret, or Red Snapper baked with mustard sauce and beurre blanc.

The Best Places To Stay In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea

You won’t find any 30-floor high rises in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, meaning you can rest assured nothing will block your sacred view of the water. In fact, no building in the entire town can be built over four stories tall. Instead, family-owned boutique hotels and charming beachfront condos are the speed. The town is home to 35 different accommodations sprinkled along oceanfront El Mar Drive and its surrounding streets.

Plunge Beach Resort effortlessly combines retro touches with modern amenities in resort-style rooms, as well as adult-only bungalows. The property also includes a coffee shop and café called Bean & Barnacle, a poolside bar, and a hip gastropub. Other great beachfront options include Tropic Seas Resort MotelTides Inn Hotel, and High Noon Resort. After serving the area for 60 years, High Noon Resort recently underwent a major renovation to maintain its idyllic setting. Lounge by the pool under a palm frond umbrella, then head just outside the gate to the beach. The resort offers hotel rooms, as well as one- and two-bedroom efficiency apartments where you’ll be comfortable for as long as you’d like to stay.

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