Weekend in Fort Lauderdale: A Great Getaway

We all need a break from work and the status quo — and a chance to walk on the beach, to clear our minds, to connect with ourselves. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, then Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, might be your perfect ticket.

Ft. Lauderdale Getaways: Sunrise on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Sunrise on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We all need a break from work and the status quo — and a chance to walk on the beach, to clear our minds, to connect with ourselves. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, then Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, might be your perfect ticket.

Upscale, American

And surprisingly affordable.

Ft. Lauderdale is a quick and inexpensive flight from many locations around the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom — making it a wonderful place for a quick get-away.  With a broad range of restaurants, and multiple activities available, you’ll have the opportunity to do as much — or as little as you like.

Right in the middle of Florida’s Gold Coast, an area on the Atlantic that stretches from Miami up through West Palm Beach, you’ll find Ft. Lauderdale more laid back than Miami, its neighbor to the south. As the morning sun turns the sand golden and warm, it’s natural to think that this is how the area got its name, but you’d be wrong. Florida’s Gold Coast derives its name from the Spanish treasure galleons that wrecked just offshore.

Attractions and activities in the Ft. Lauderdale area include gorgeous beaches, surfing, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, shopping, a wide range of great restaurants, opera, and an arts district.

Ft. Lauderdale has a lot to offer — so get ready to get your beach on!

Stone crab claws, fresh lobster, and raw oysters at Blue Moon Seafood Company, Ft. Lauderdale.
Blue Moon Seafood Company, Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Average monthly temperatures for Ft. Lauderdale Florida
Connect to the U.S. Climate data site for more information about weather in Ft. Lauderdale.

Weather in Ft. Lauderdale, particularly in the winter and spring, is sunny and temperate. It’s a wonderful place to escape freezing days and snow in other parts of the country.

There are two seasons: rainy (June through September) and dry (October through May). During the rainy season, Ft. Lauderdale is hot and humid, but definitely helped by the steady breeze blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. During the dry season, I’d say Ft. Lauderdale is close to perfect.

But what about Ft. Lauderdale’s history of being a spring break party town?

After the 1960 film, Where the Boys Are, Ft. Lauderdale had a certain reputation for a long time, but in the 1980’s, the city chose to walk away from spring break madness. It outlawed alcohol on the beach, and the craziness migrated elsewhere. Today, this is one of the loveliest beach cities in Florida.

Beach Time

You may simply be looking to wiggle your toes in the sand and listen to the sound of breakers on the beach.

Whether you’re a late sleeper, or an early riser, beach vacations are the ultimate in relaxation. Watching the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean, sipping coffee, and getting in an early walk were at the top of my favorite things in Ft. Lauderdale.

Sun on the sand on Ft. Lauderdale Beach
Sun and sand on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Yachting Capital of the World

With hundreds of miles of navigable waterways, Ft. Lauderdale is often called the Venice of America. You really haven’t seen the city unless you see it from the water: cruising the Intracoastal waterway, New River, and Millionaire’s Row.

The dry dock facilities here are capable of handling some of the largest, most expensive mega-yachts in the world — and you’ll certainly be looking at some of the most amazing boats you’ve ever seen.

One way to get off dry land and onto the canals is to use the Water Taxi. There are several routes to choose from, so you simply find a Water Taxi stop, pick a direction, and go exploring. We were in town right before Ft. Lauderdale’s massive boat show (the largest in the world). We had a wonderful trip through the mega-yachts, found a dockside restaurant for lunch,  then took a regular taxi back to hotel.

Aerial view of Ft. Lauderdale's waterways - the Venice of the United States

About Ft Lauderdale: All you have to do is look at a map to see what a significant network of waterways this city has.

Airboat Ride into the Everglades

Florida is home to 20% of all wetlands in the United States. The Everglades National Park comprises more than 1.5 million acres which includes vast sawgrass marshes, sloughs, wet prairies, cypress swamp areas, mangrove forests, and hammocks of hardwoods. Did you know? There are only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, and the Florida Everglades are one of them.

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades.
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades. I was lucky, and we caught this big girl out sunning herself on my trip into the Everglades. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ft. Lauderdale is a perfect home-base for exploring the Everglades, whether you head to the one of the National Park Visitor’s Centers, or choose to do an airboat tour from one of the many tour operators.

I booked a two-hour private airboat tour with Everglades Swamptours. On our first meeting, they were unable to take us out due to a malfunctioning starter on the airboat. We were fortunate to meet a couple of guys with a private airboat, and Bob and David got us out into the Everglades — such a kindness!

Because I was staying several days in the area, I was able to get back out to meet the Swamptour folks another afternoon, and that time everything went perfectly. If you’re interested in checking out different Everglades tour operators, start with Hello Sunny! (Ft. Lauderdale Tourism Board) and read through their listings.

Airboat ride into the Everglades
Airboat ride into the Everglades, then drifting. Wind in the sawgrass, play of light & clouds on the water. It’s easy to visit the Everglades from Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Two hours was SUCH a short time here! A twenty-minute ride in, then time looking for gators and then checking out some of the small islands and sawgrass marsh areas. It seemed barely a snap of the fingers and we were headed back towards the car.

Amazing Seafood

Stone crab at the Blue Moon Fish Company
Stone crab at the Blue Moon Fish Company. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We knew we wanted to eat along the Ft. Lauderdale waterways, and the Blue Moon Fish Company came highly recommended. It was a quick drive from the Sonesta, and before long, we were at a table right on the water. Sunset, stone crabs, and a dry rose wine — perfect end to the day. There’s a wide range of just-caught fish to choose from — a seafood lover’s paradise, along with great beef, lamb, and chicken dishes.

Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District

Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District of Ft. Lauderdale at night.
Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District of Ft. Lauderdale — so beautiful at night with the lights on the water. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Ft. Lauderdale has a vibrant arts and entertainment district along the Riverwalk. An afternoon in a museum can be a cool break from the beach, and there are several choices. You might choose modern paintings and sculpture the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, or head over to the Museum of Discovery & Science and learn about the Everglades — including hopping on the airboat simulator that will take you on a very immersive trip into this important ecosystem.

The Stranahan House on the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale.
The Stranahan House on the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Want to catch a theater or opera performance? Take a look at the calendar for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

History lovers will appreciate a tour of the Stranahan House which was built in 1901, making it the oldest house in Ft. Lauderdale.

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal in Ft. Lauderdale
Port Everglades Cruise Terminal in Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Perhaps you’re looking at a stay in Ft. Lauderdale because you’re considering a cruise. Port Everglades regularly ranks in the top three cruise ports in the United States, and what this means is that the finest, newest ships of every major cruise line sail from this port, vying for your business.

The Ft. Lauderdale airport is smaller and less frenetic than the Miami International Airport (which I think earned its call letters MIA for a reason), and it’s just minutes from the terminal. Flying in for a cruise doesn’t get any easier than this. At the end of the cruise, rather than hopping on a plane and hurrying straight back to work, a couple of nights in Lauderdale is a nice way to ease that transition back to your daily grind.


Sonesta Ft Lauderdale Beach
I loved my morning walks while staying at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Where to Stay: the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Beach

We spent our weekend at the Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach, and I loved it. One key factor for choosing a hotel: location, location, location.

For me, this was perfect. The Sonesta is next to the Hugh Taylor Birch state park – a pristine, undeveloped stretch of beach that’s an important site for sea turtle nests. This means there is a mile or so of empty beach to the left of the Sonesta. There is also a buffer zone to the right of the hotel, before you reach the next hotel further down the beach.

Sonesta Ft Lauderdale Room
Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale: Preferred Ocean View Double — perfect! Loved the floor to ceiling view of the ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I love this! If you like long beach walks, if you’re into photography, or hey — if you simply like the feeling of A LITTLE SPACE away from people — this location is like hitting the lottery. I felt like the beach here was my private space.

The Sonesta room was lovely: floor to ceiling view of the changing greens and blues of the ocean, and super-comfortable beds with high end linens. As part of the amenity fee each room has daily bottled water, lounge chairs waiting for you on the beach, and a friendly welcome drink down at the bar.

View from the Sonesta Ft Lauderdale
View from our room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Pool at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale
Pool at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.

While Ft. Lauderdale offers a great selection of restaurants,  sometimes you just want a quiet meal at the hotel. It’s nice to know the food is good enough that you have that option.

My breakfast each morning at the Sonesta was their egg white frittata, with sautéed spinach, peppers, onion, and mushroom. In addition to their a la carte menu, they serve a full breakfast buffet as well.

I also had lunch at the Sonesta one of the days we were there — and found the conch fritters with a local beer from the Funky Buddha Brewery to be very tasty. The first night in Ft. Lauderdale, at the end of a long road-tripping week, I wasn’t in the mood to go out. The Sonesta bone-in tenderloin and a nice cabernet – great end to the day.

When I think about a relaxing escape, a good massage is often at the top of my list. The Spa services at the Sonesta have you covered there with a selection of massage options, as well as hydrotherapy tea-bath soaks. What about shopping? The Sonesta is less than a mile from the Ft. Lauderdale Galleria, so if a little retail therapy is on your weekend getaway list, it’s all right here.

Aerial view of the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.
Aerial view of the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.

Whether you’ve got a whole week of vacation, time for just a quick getaway, or you’re looking to extend a cruise vacation — Ft. Lauderdale is a great choice.

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Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale for hosting both myself and Pat Wetzel of Cancer Road Trip for our Ft. Lauderdale stay, and to Hello Sunny! – the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau for their warm welcome and assistance. As always, opinions and experiences expressed on AnnCavittFisher.com are honest and my own. I’ll never recommend anything I didn’t love myself.

Cats, Key West, and Ernest Hemingway

Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Lauren Bacall, and Howard Hughes pop out from basement grates, stroll through shrubs, and pose for guests visiting a certain Spanish Colonial home in Key West.

Who are they? The Hemingway cats, all descended from Ernest’s original tomcat, Snowball, who had six-toed paws.

Hemingway six toed cat
One of the Hemingway polydactyl cats. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Lauren Bacall, and Howard Hughes pop out from basement grates, stroll through shrubs, and pose for guests visiting a certain Spanish Colonial home in Key West.

Who are they? The Hemingway cats, all descended from Ernest’s original tomcat, Snowball, who had six-toed paws.

Ship’s captain Stanley Dexter gave Hemingway Snowball as a gift, after the author admired his polydactyl feet. Hem gave Snowball’s many children the names of famous people, and took great amusement in being able to say things like, “Look what a fine, fat rat Winston Churchill left on the doorstep this morning!”

Their massive paws are unlike any I’ve seen. I’d have adopted one of the cats the spot, had it been possible.

The Hemingway House in Key West.
The Hemingway House in Key West. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hemingway and his second wife Pauline called Key West home for 11 years (1928-1939), which means a quarter of the author’s adult writing life was spent here.  While in Key West, he completed and published:

  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Death in the Afternoon (nonfiction)
  • Winner Take Nothing (collection of short stories)
  • Green Hills of Africa (nonfiction)
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway often drank at Sloppy Joe’s with his friends (the Mob) after sword-fishing on his boat, the Pilar.  The ice house next to Joe’s leaked in a constant stream of water that Joe didn’t clean up — so the floor was always a wet, dirty mess — hence the bar’s name. Originally on Green Street, Joe’s moved to its location on Duval in 1937.

Captain Tony’s Saloon, current resident of the original site, retains the stinky dock-bar funk that Hem and his Mob enjoyed.

The original Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West.

In 1936 Martha Gellhorn met Hemingway at Sloppy Joe’s, and in 1937, when Hemingway went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, she was there doing the same thing. Their experience inspired Hemingway’s next novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is dedicated to Martha.

Their very public affair also spelled the end of Hemingway’s second marriage, along with his time in Key West. With Gellhorn, Hemingway moved on to the Cuban period in his life, and he would never write as much or as well again . . . the one fine exception being The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway and Gellhorn.

I’ve loved Hemingway’s work since I was fourteen when The Sun Also Rises was at the top of my summer book list. On my first trip to Paris at seventeen, reading A Moveable Feast cemented this feeling. Loving Hemingway in the 1980’s was unfashionable, and I was told frankly, by two high school teachers and three professors, that E.H. was a sexist, misogynist asshole who aggrandized bullfighting, big game hunting,  — and that basically at by the end of the 20th century, we no longer had any need of his sort — and that there were other writers of the Lost Generation that wrote better anyway.

I disagree.

Hem wasn’t an easy man. Charming and intense, given to the highs and lows of his bipolar disorder, he drew people to him like a magnet — only to abuse those close to him when he was on a deep down. He had the reputation of being incredibly patient and giving as a teacher, only to turn quicksilver mean in a fight. Poorly suited to marriage, he married four times — and loved deeply, but was inevitably unfaithful, and the marriages inevitably over.

I think Hemingway could only feel safe for a period before restlessness took over. Before it took someone or something else, someone new, to make him feel safe and whole again.

Deeply damaged and deeply personal, Hem was brave enough to take us in there with him: to feel things intensely; to be self-aware; to write about it ALL. To write the truest sentence he knew, without flinching, without cheating the note.

And as he did it, he re-invented the way novels and stories might be written.

Typewriter in Hemingway’s writing studio. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

So if you find yourself in Key West, you will see tourists come and tourists go, and you will know that Duval Street is not what it once was.

But if you are looking for Hemingway, go to his garden surrounded by walls on an early morning. A cat will come find you, and you can still feel him here.


This and That

Letters between Leonard Bernstein and Martha Gellhorn in 1959, concerning Hemingway.

Letter from Leonard Bernstein to Martha Gellhorn, 1959:

“I met Ernest Hemingway at Sun Valley last week, and was taken totally by surprise.

I had not been prepared by talk, photos, or interviews for a) that charm, and b) that beauty. God, what goes on under his eyes? What’s that lovely adolescent tenderness?

And the voice and the memory & the apparent genuine interest in every living soul: fantastic.

We spoke tenderly of you: he said you were brave . . . . His present wife seems to be a professional Ja-sayer, though simpatico enough.

The question is not: How could you have married him, but how could you have done anything else?”


Letter from Martha Gellhorn to Leonard Bernstein, in response.

“Interested about Ernest [Hemingway]. Tenderness is a new quality in him; but people do luckily change all their lives and the luckiest ones get better as they grow older. His main appalling lack was tenderness for anyone. I longed for it in him, for myself and for others. I’d almost have settled for others. I do not remember his voice as being anything much, but I always was thrilled by his memory.

He was interested in everyone but there was a bad side. It was like flirting. (Like you, in fact, he has the excessive need to be loved by everyone, and specially by all the strange passing people whom he ensnares with that interest, as do you with your charm, though in fact he didn’t give a fart for them.) So he would take people into camp; they became his adoring slaves (he likes adoring slaves) and suddenly, without warming, he would turn on them. That was always terrible to see; it made me feel cold and sick and I wanted to warn each new conquest of what lay in wait for him. But one couldn’t; they wouldn’t believe; they were on the heights of joy—for he can be a great life-enhancer and great fun, and his attention is very flattering.

By the time I did marry him (driving home from Sun Valley) I did not want to, but it had gone too far in every way. I wept, secretly, silently, on the night before my wedding and my wedding night; I felt absolutely trapped. When I fell in love with him was in Spain, where for once he did have tenderness for others (not me, he was regularly bloody to me, lustful or possessive, and only nice when he was teaching me, as if I were a young man, the arts of self defense in war. And also he liked being the only man in Spain who took his woman around with him, and I was blonde, very helpful in brunette countries, raises one’s value.)

I loved him then for his generosity to others and for his selfless concern for the Cause. That was all gone by the time I married him. I think I was afraid of him though I certainly never admitted it to myself or showed it to him. You will also be surprised to hear that I have never been more bored in my life than during the long long months when we lived alone in Cuba. I thought I would die of boredom. But it was very good for me. I wrote more with him than ever before or since in my life, and read more. There were no distractions; I lived beside him and entirely and completely alone, as never before or since.

I am very glad he now speaks pleasantly of me. I never speak of him one way or the other with anyone. The whole thing is a distant dream, not very true and curiously embarrassing. It has almost nothing to do with me. What I write you here is, as you can understand, secret and between us only and forever.

He ought to be happy and he ought to be gentle; because life has showered gifts and blessings on him; and I hope he is.”


Practical Notes:

Open 9:00 – 5:00 most days. The Hemingway House does NOT take credit cards for the entry fee of $14 (adults) $6 (children)  — but will take credit cards in the gift shop for purchases of books, t-shirts, and other Hemingway memorabilia.