The coastal stretch of Greater Fort Lauderdale is crowded with over 23 miles of beaches and loads of family-friendly fun. Our favorite two cities were Fort Lauderdale, cosmopolitan and packed with entertainment, and Hollywood, more of a chill beach town but still with plenty to keep us busy.
If you’re road-tripping through South Florida, plan to spend a few days or, better yet, a week in this sunny corner of the state. Here’s where to stay and what to do in and around Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood.
Where To Stay: The Diplomat
If you’re looking for things to do in Hollywood, look no further than resort living by the beach.
Part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, the Diplomat Beach Resort packs a lot more than living space into its over 200,000 square feet. It’s the second largest beachfront resort in all of South Florida, 36 floors tall and boasting the most incredible uninterrupted sunsets and sunrises (depending on whether you have an ocean or Intracoastal view from your room).
I could hardly stop taking photos from the balcony. Just look how the colors vary throughout the day.
It’s also famous in Fort Lauderdale and beyond for some impressive guests over the years, from the Rat Pack and Liza Minnelli to every single U.S. president since 1958.
If it sounds posh, it is pretty nice, but it’s also super laid-back and accessible for families. We are not fancy people and we felt right at home with the warm and friendly customer service. And the amenities! Here’s a peek at some of the activities families will love:
- Lounging on your beach chair (included) while watching the kids build sandcastles
- The water slides, part of a poolside play zone along with a dump bucket, splash fountains and water cannons
- Water sports like kayaking, one hour free with your resort fee
- Candy & Cones, a 1950s-inspired parlor (reopening soon) specializing in fresh ice cream by a French chef
- The Kids’ Club geared especially for ages 4-12 with everything from basketball to cornhole to art to Xbox
- The pools — more specifically, a zero-entry infinity pool crossed over a lagoon pool that you can peek at from a window in the water
- Wellness perks for the parents like a free fitness class or some me-time at the spa
Feel like splurging? Renting a cabana or a casita is like your family’s own private mini home by the pool. Get lunch from Playa, which serves up flavorful and kid-friendly Latin American eats, and spend the day poolside. (And there’s plenty of free ice water because hydration is key.)
Another perk for families at the Diplomat is the 300 connecting rooms. If you’re bringing a large party or just need extra space for the family, they’ve got you covered. Rooms are spacious and cleverly decorated, and the bathrooms are luxurious, each one including a tub and walk-in shower. We especially loved the Nespresso while enjoying ocean views from the wall-to-wall windows.
Fun fact: Kids with allergies? The walls have antimicrobial and antibacterial wallpaper so they stay clean, which is a big deal in humid South Florida.
If you’re looking for a night out with your sweetheart, hit up Prime, the highest-rated four-diamond steakhouse in South Florida, offering one heck of a wine list. But if you want something casual, besides Playa, head to Counter Point.
We had most of our meals at this charming cafe with bread and pastries baked fresh daily (by the same French chef mentioned above). Their coffee, salads and sandwiches are top-notch, and their giant doughnuts pretty much define happiness — get the guava. You’re in Florida, after all.
You can eat there or in the lobby, which has lots of natural lighting and quaint alcoves where outlets abound if you need to plug in.
Things To Do With Kids in Hollywood
The best thing to do in Hollywood, Florida? The Broadwalk!
Yes, that’s spelled right. This walkway is indeed broad, one of the widest in the country actually, so there’s plenty of elbow room as you stroll down the 2.5-mile promenade. You can stop for ice cream, souvenir shopping, to hang out at one of the parks or to visit the beach. It’s also a great place for a family bike ride, and they host a free weekly concert series.
The other area of Hollywood to check out is downtown. ArtsPark at Young Circle is fun for its playground and splash pad, but the real draw here is the murals. Sure, lots of downtowns have murals, but in Hollywood, they seem to be everywhere you turn. Mermaids, animals, abstract art — it’s the perfect backdrop for your family photo.
Things To Do With Kids in Fort Lauderdale
Beyond the beach, these are the two quintessential Fort Lauderdale experiences: strolling Las Olas Boulevard and cruising down the New River to Millionaire’s Row.
Both are perfect for families. Las Olas has plenty of restaurants for even the pickiest eaters, plus the Riverwalk with its parks, playgrounds and galleries. To get around, take advantage of the free Riverwalk Water Trolley and free community shuttle.
To see where the other half live, board the Jungle Queen Riverboat, Fort Lauderdale’s longest-running attraction. The guides are hilarious, and you’ll be fascinated by the true tales of riches, real estate and really weird South Florida history. Choose the dinner cruise for all-you-can-eat baby back ribs on a tropical island, followed by a variety show that culminates in a Polynesian dance show — with fire! Kids (and adults) will be mesmerized, the ribs are truly outstanding, and it’s all pretty darn affordable at around $30 per adult.
After you check those two must-do items off your Fort Lauderdale bucket list, here are some other options:
- An airboat tour at Everglades Holiday Park
- Exploring the aquariums, dig pit and interactive exhibits at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science
- Outdoor adventure at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
- Browsing the galleries at the NSU Art Museum, with free admission for kids under 12
What To Do in the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area
Broward County has lots of cities beyond Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood that you can easily visit on the same road trip.
In Coconut Creek, we discovered Butterfly World, the largest butterfly and bird park in the world, home to some 20,000 butterflies and birds in its six aviaries.
In one of the aviaries, I had a butterfly land on me (look but don’t touch!) and at the Lorikeet Encounter, included with admission, birds can eat from your hand. In the bug zoo, you’ll be glad the residents don’t interact with you, but the little bug-lover in your life will be fascinated to see scorpions, tarantulas, millipedes and more up close. Outside, explore gardens, the vine maze and a swinging bridge.
Save time to explore Tradewinds Park. Along with Butterfly World, the park includes an educational farm, model steam train rides, fishing, disc golf, a playground and more, so you can easily spend a day here.
Here’s some inspiration for family fun nearby:
- Pretending to be a ninja at the obstacle course, trampoline park and dodgeball courts at the Urban Air and Adventure Park in Davie
- Meeting rescued animals at the Sawgrass Nature Center and Wildlife Hospital in Coral Springs
- Visiting Young at Art at the mall in Plantation, filled with interactive galleries and sculpture playgrounds
- Hanging out with the peacocks and other wildlife at Flamingo Gardens in Davie
- Playing glow-in-the-dark mini-golf in Coral Springs or Miramar
But, like your airboat ride, this only skims the surface. There’s so much more to do. We’ll definitely be back.
Not done road tripping? Keep going south. Miami is only 45 minutes from Fort Lauderdale and just beyond, the Florida Keys are calling.
About the Author
Cheryl Rodewig is storyteller, marketer, and award-winning feature writer specializing in travel. Her Venn diagram includes minimalism, waterfalls, French, and the em dash. Find her at cherylrodewig.com or on Twitter at @cherylrodewig.