With its beautiful beaches, luxury hotels, and upscale restaurants, Fort Lauderdale is a dream vacation for travelers. After you’ve tapped out all the South Florida city’s charm, embarking on some of the best day trips from Fort Lauderdale will help round out your experience.
Within a short drive from the coastal city, you can sip cocktails with an Art Deco backdrop in Miami Beach or explore the wilderness of the Florida Everglades. Venture further afoot for an epic road trip down to Key West, ending the day with a sunset at the southern tip of America. Or slide over to Florida’s Gulf Coast to enjoy the sunshine at Fort Myers Beach.
Whatever you’re craving, maximize your South Florida visit with this complete Fort Lauderdale side trip guide!
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Driving down the Overseas Highway (US 1) to Key West is a rite of passage for many and an absolute must-do among the top day trips from Fort Lauderdale. Before you even reach the famed pointy end of the USA’s East Coast, you’ll pass over turquoise waters thanks to a series of bridges that once carried sugar to the mainland.
The four-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to the western tip of the Florida Keys is best experienced with the rooftop down as the salty winds race by and the pristine blue sky shines above. Nevertheless, the trip is picturesque however you choose to do it. Once you’ve arrived, there’s no time to waste; a ton of fun activities and places to visit await.
Key West may be small, but it packs a punch. Begin in Mallory Square, the heart of Key West’s historic center. At Mallory Square, you’ll find a lively atmosphere with street performers, live music, and delicious street food. Come back as the sun falls for a legendary sunset.
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A trip to Key West wouldn’t be complete without trying Key Lime Pie in the place it was invented. You’ll find them all over, but you can’t beat heading to the Key West Lime Pie Co. or Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe.
Once you’re all sugared-up, venture down to the southernmost point in the contiguous USA. Later toast to an epic day trip in one of the many bars down Duval Street.
Everglades National Park
Just an hour away from Fort Lauderdale is one of Florida’s most popular national parks: Everglades National Park. The famed wilderness park is home to a unique ecosystem featuring vast mangroves, wetlands, and wild spaces. The park’s natural beauty and importance are recognized by UNESCO. It’s well worth the short journey from Fort Lauderdale.
One of the top ways to experience Everglades National Park begins at the Shark Valley Visitor Center. From here, you can embark on stunning tram tours through the valley. Your naturalist guide will take you along a scenic drive featuring 15 miles of paved trail, ending at an overlook and the best view in the park.
For a bit more of an adventure, trade the tram for a bike. Bring your own or rent from the Shark Valley Visitor Center before following the same paved trail.
Once you have soaked in the park’s best views, it’s time to explore the swampy wetland and get the adrenaline pumping. Embarking on 1-hour airboat ride is a much-loved activity within Everglades National Park. It’ll allow you to see a variety of wildlife and unique habitats that make the Florida Everglades such a popular attraction in South Florida.
Finish up with a drive down the historic Tamiami Trail that cuts through the park on its journey between Tampa and Miami.
Even if you only have one day in Fort Lauderdale, a trip to Miami Beach should be on your itinerary. Miami Beach is a top destination in Florida and the area most choose to call home while traveling to the vibrant city of Miami.
In Miami Beach, locals and tourists mix to create a culture and atmosphere unmatched anywhere in America. Begin your day lazily traversing the sugar-sand South Beach. Once you’ve found your spot, enjoy the mid-morning sun and the views.
But Miami Beach is so much more than a stretch of white sand and classic lifeguard towers. Along Ocean Drive in South Beach, you’ll see a series of vibrant Art Deco buildings. Today, these striking heritage buildings along Ocean Drive are home to some of the best restaurants and nightlife in the city. To fully experience Miami’s fascinating architectural heritage, make your way to the Art Deco Welcome Center.
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From there, it’s time for some shopping. Ocean Drive and the pedestrian-only Lincoln Road have a great selection of boutique stores, but you can’t beat eclectic Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. The former is home to designer shops, while the latter is a local go-to for vintage wares.
End your day trip to Miami Beach by enjoying a beachfront cocktail or relaxing in Bayfront Park across Biscayne Bay in central Miami.
If you’ve ventured down Highway 1 on your way to Key West, you’d have passed the first island in the Florida Keys, Key Largo. The shorter, 1-hour-and-40-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale makes Key Largo a great island alternative if you’re short on time.
Locals claim Key Largo to be the Dive Capital of the World. Now, we’ll leave that up to you to decide, but there’s no doubt that the diving here is exceptional. Begin at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, home to the only living coral reefs in the United States and the country’s first undersea park.
At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you can snorkel or dive the beautiful reefs with uninhibited views thanks to the clear waters. You’ll find an abundance of sea life here. You’ll also have the option of viewing the underwater world thanks to a two-hour glass-bottom boat cruise. For those who prefer to stay above water, you can hire kayaks or SUPs and explore the calm waters.
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After exploring the incredible nature in the state park, head to Harry Harris Beach for a relaxing afternoon under the palm trees. Although the island isn’t known for its beaches, Harry Harris Beach is one of the most popular beaches around Key Largo.
For a glorious end to the day, dine at Market 88. Right on the beach, feel the sand dance between your toes as you face west for a beautiful sunset.
Biscayne Bay National Park
Just over an hour south of your base is the memorable Biscayne Bay National Park, one of the best side trips from Fort Lauderdale. The park has four distinct marine ecosystems. It’s home to some of America’s most unique wildlife, including local crocodiles. All told the national park is 95% underwater and the largest marine park in the country.
Before exploring the many natural attractions in the Biscayne Bay National Park, begin at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Embark on a virtual journey through the park or enjoy the series of interactive exhibits on offer. Many boat tours into the park also leave from the visitor center.
Biscayne Bay National Park is home to shipwrecks, incredible reefs, and diverse sea life. One of the best ways to explore the waters is, of course, by boat. While you can use your own, you’ll be happy to know there are several fantastic boat tours on offer, too. Most will take you to Elliott Key, once home to pioneers and pineapple farming.
Despite being mostly underwater, there are some walking opportunities here as well. The main hiking trail leaves from the visitor center. It’s a short trek to Convoy Point, ending with beautiful coastal views.
West Palm Beach
One of the closest Fort Lauderdale day trips is the nearby city of West Palm Beach. With its picture-perfect waterfront, vibrant entertainment, and outlet malls, West Palm Beach is a year-round paradise.
Start off your day with a trip to Mounts Botanical Garden near the Palm Beach airport. The gorgeous oasis is a manicured space of tropical and subtropical plants. Explore the butterfly and rose gardens before stopping by the relaxing alongside the reflective pond.
From there, venture to McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the top attractions in West Palm Beach. The sanctuary looks after over 200 animals as a part of their rehabilitation. On a hands-on tour, you’ll get up close or hold the park’s most interesting animals.
Later, enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the sandy beaches of Ocean Reef Park or peruse the shops at Palm Beach Outlets.
Stick around West Palm Beach for a fun evening on Clematis Street. Here you’ll find yourself in the town’s historic district and the heart of West Palm’s thriving nightlife. With several nightclubs and live music venues tucked under the street’s palm trees, there’s no better place to be in West Palm Beach when the sun goes down.
A 30-minute drive north of Fort Lauderdale is Delray Beach, Florida’s “village by the sea.” Here, you’ll discover an easy-to-love small-town vibe with a hint of oceanside glamour. The wonderful Atlantic Ocean beach town may be small, but locals rate it as one of the happiest seaside towns in the state.
Begin by cruising the pedestrian-friendly Atlantic Avenue, the heart of the town and home to many of the top tourist attractions in Delray Beach. The sidewalks are paved with bricks and lined by oak and palm trees, providing a hearty sense of ambiance among the shops, galleries, and restaurants. Return to Atlantic Avenue at night for a lively bar scene.
Delray Beach is home to some interesting attractions, none odder than the Silverball Museum. Featuring over 150 video games and pinball machines, this museum provides a heavy dose of nostalgia. The two-floor Silverball Museum also comes with original skeeball machines from Coney Island.
Outdoor activities include the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Home to six authentic gardens inspired by different Japanese eras, it’s a great place to stretch your legs.
For some more Florida sunshine, head to the Municipal Beach. Enjoy the bright sand and blue water, or venture out on a stand-up paddleboard. When you’re feeling peckish, there are several beachside restaurants in the area, too.
Fort Myers Beach
If you’ve spent enough time on the East Coast and want to experience the other side of Florida, scoot across the state to Fort Myers Beach. From one coast to another, the journey to Fort Myers Beach is roughly a two-hour drive and one of the most amazing Fort Lauderdale side excursions.
The small town of Fort Myers Beach is a tropical paradise, with the more relaxing Gulf Coast providing a welcoming difference to the oft-surging Atlantic Ocean. The white-sand beaches around Fort Myers are shallow and welcoming for people of all ages, providing the perfect place to swim. You may also spot parasailers and kayakers enjoying the pristine Gulf.
You could spend all day among the beach bums, but the town has more to offer. You can enjoy a sightseeing cruise that leaves from the marina in Fort Myers Beach. The cruise will take you out into the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, where you can spot dolphins and manatees.
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For those with kids in tow, check out the Imaginarium Science Center. Here the young ones will love the interactive displays that explore history, technology, science, and nature. You can also take a step back in time with a virtual reality experience that explores Fort Myers Beach as it was 150 years ago.
Sawgrass Recreation Park
There are many things to see & do in Fort Lauderdale itself, but just a half-hour away is Sawgrass Recreation Park. This park is the place to go for an airboat ride through the Everglades. Although it’s technically outside the national park, you can still skim across the wetlands and explore the region’s habitats along with significant wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Another popular way of exploring Sawgrass Recreation Park is on a Jon boat. You can rent these for your party and roam the park, enjoying a spot of fishing, or even stick around for primitive camping on a rented island. You can also take part in private, guided fishing tours.
On land, there are several fun exhibits to see, including the reptile exhibit. Meet a baby alligator or see the resident 1,000-pound alligator, Cannibal. There are over a dozen species here, including turtles and iguanas. Once you’re done, experience the Glades Exhibit for an excellent background into the history of the area. You can also mine for gems and shark teeth.
After exploring Sawgrass Recreation Park, stop by the craft stand for a selection of memorable souvenirs to take home. You’ll also find the Gator Grill, Sawgrass Recreation Park’s gourmet food truck.