You’ve probably heard of Fort Lauderdale, a Florida seaside town just north of Miami Beach. But north of Fort Lauderdale, on Florida’s coastal highway A1A, is a place that you may not have heard of yet, a place that feels as if time stands still. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea offers miles of white sand beaches, an old-school fishing pier, and an easy ambiance. A visit to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, also known as America's beach town, will have you calculating how to extend your stay.
A barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is tiny, covering only 1.6 square miles. You’ll want to make your plans well in advance if you plan to go during peak season, but don’t worry, any time of year is great in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Where to Stay in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
While there are many small hotels in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea—excellent examples of Miami Modern architecture—there is only one full-service hotel on the island, Plunge Beach Resort.
Plunge offers all the amenities of a much larger hotel, but with only 163 rooms, it maintains a personal, fun, and friendly atmosphere. It stretches across three buildings, each one featuring light, bright, eclectic, creative, and beach casual.
You'll check-in at the Island building. This main building also has two dining options: the Octopus Bar and Kitchen and the Bean and Barnacle. Original art by local artists adorns the walls and cozy seating areas are scattered throughout the space.
Across the street is the Beach Building, where you will also find the Backflip Beach Bar & Kitchen and Plunge Beach Bungalows. The artistic theme is carried out in every room and even the hallways of all buildings.
Amenities at Plunge Beach Resort include a 24-hour fitness center, WiFi throughout the property, large flatscreen televisions, Korres bath products, and three on-site restaurant options. No other hotel in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea offers onsite dining.
There are two swimming pools at Plunge. One is located adjacent to the beach bar and restaurant, Backflip, the other is at the bungalow property next door. Both are handicap accessible. And, of course, the beach beckons just a few steps away.
The $35 nightly resort fee covers complimentary valet parking, WiFi, nightly happy hour in Octopus Bar, bike rental, and resort beach service that includes two beach chairs and umbrellas. Other hotels charge at least $30 just for the beach service.
The beds are dressed in buttery soft white linens, feather pillows, Mexican blankets, and the Plunge Resort signature accessory—a beach ball. The furnishings vary slightly from room-to-room but the overall aesthetic is modern and artistic, with original art painted on the walls of each room. It’s a mix that appeals to all ages and genders.
No matter which building you stay in, everything is convenient to the beach. If you’re traveling with friends and family and want connecting rooms, there are options for that as well. Many guests at Plunge Beach Resort return year-after-year for family reunions, weddings and holidays.
Dining at Plunge Beach Resort
With three dining options onsite, you’ll never go hungry. At Octopus Kitchen and Bar, you can sit down for a casual island-style food every day from 4 to 10 p.m. Service is casual in this lobby gastropub. This is also where you’ll find the daily happy hour, which often serves up creative takes on Tiki favorites.
Bean & Barnacle is the coffee bar and market. It is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Begin your mornings with fresh fruit, pastries, and local Wells coffee. For lunch, pick up artisan sandwiches, or stop by for gelato and sweet treats.
Backflip Beach Bar & Kitchen is the place for casual dining next to the beach, open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sit with a view of the ocean or pool. Enjoy fresh ceviche, shrimp tacos, burgers, or salads. Backflip also serves up craft cocktails daily. Each one has a fun name—Tweet Me Ishmael blends coconut rum, mint, mango, and orange juice while Sharkbait is a concoction of vodka, raspberry, mint, and ginger beer. There are also the classics, from Dark N' Stormy and Aperol Spritz to a Long Island Ice Tea, Margarita or Daiquiri. There is live music every Sunday.
Shore Diving at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a quintessential beach town that attracts divers from all over the world. They come for a shore dive from the natural coral reef a mile offshore. On your dive, you’ll see nurse sharks, sea turtles, lobster, eel, and dozens of colorful fish.
Another popular snorkel and dive site is the SS Copenhagen, one of only 11 archaeological parks in Florida. The ship sank in 1900, less than a mile offshore. The National Park Service manages the SS Copenhagen. Miss Conduct Dive Charters will take you out to the dive sites. Plunge Beach Resort can arrange your reservations in advance.
Exploring the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
When you feel like exploring the town, it’s all within walking distance of Plunge Beach Resort. Restaurants, bars, shopping, the fishing pier, and the town square are just a few blocks away. You’ll find colorful Adirondack chairs in the square—a symbol of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Restaurant options vary from designer tacos to homemade Caribbean cuisine to fresh baked cookies. For a quick overview of all Lauderdale-by-the-Sea has to offer, take a tour with South Florida Foodie Tours. Owner Crissy Cooks knows her way around and will introduce you to some local secrets. The tour is about three hours and you will not finish hungry.
Attractions Close to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is convenient to Fort Lauderdale, the Everglades, and many other popular tourist spots. In most cases, you're less than an hour away. Here are a few of my favorite side visits that I discovered during my visit to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Visit the Nearby Florida Everglades
The Florida Everglades National Park is often a must-see for first-time visitors to Florida. From Fort Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, the easiest and closest way to experience the Everglades is via Everglades Holiday Park. This company has a solid reputation and offers one-hour airboat tours through the park.
If you've never been on an airboat it is quite an experience—it feels almost as if you're hydroplaning over the water and grasses. The guides are well-seasoned and impart information about the wildlife and fragile environment of the Everglades. If you're lucky you'll see at least one gator. For the best experience go early in the day; the park is busy and I have a theory that the gators get tired after so many visitors all day. Also, the airboats are loud—bring earplugs if you are sound sensitive.
The Everglades Holiday Park is also home to the Gator Boys. Dedicated to gator rescue, the Gator Boys do a show at the park which is available to all visitors who purchase an airboat tour. Seeing one of the team in a large enclosed area with five gators is a bit shocking, but you'll soon learn why it is actually a lot safer than it looks. evergladesholidaypark.com
Visit Bonnet House
For a look at how the one percent lived in the early days of Fort Lauderdale, visit Bonnet House, designed by Frederic Clay Bartlett, an American artist from Chicago, Illinois. Bartlett married Helen Birch, whose father, Hugh Taylor Birch, was one of the visionaries and founders of the area. Birch gave the land Bonnet House was built on to the couple as a wedding gift.
Construction of the house began in 1920. Unlike many other homes of wealthy families from that era, Bonnet House was not built to be the family's full-time residence, but their winter home. While there is a formal dining room, the house does not have grand stairways and ballrooms. Though the family was quite wealthy, the house is not lavish. It is, however, very unique and whimsical. It is filled with art from around the world.
Be sure to take one of the docent-led tours as there are many quirky and interesting facts about the house and the area that you probably wouldn't discover otherwise. Allow about 1.5 hours and then maybe a little more time to linger outside. I would also suggest that you might want to walk the trail to the beach.
When You Go to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea feels like a slice of Americana in part due to the restrictions on building—nothing can be more than five stories tall. The long sandy beach and fishing pier, along with mid-century inspired architecture, combine to create an unforgettable experience in this charming enclave by the sea. Be sure to check out Wander for more suggestions on what to see in Florida. We also have options for other great beach vacations.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.