There’s an unusual gap in the skyline along the Broward County coast in South Florida. While it mostly comprises high-rise hotels and condos, for almost two miles, there are no buildings taller than five stories. Instead, there are charming hotels and small resorts lining the beachfront, as if urban progress and its never-ending need to reach for the sky, simply took a breather.

The notable change in the skyline at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

The notable change in the skyline

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is not part of Fort Lauderdale, yet it’s easy to miss if you cruise Ocean Boulevard, which is the famous Highway A1A, between Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach. But go one block off the business thoroughfare, and you step back in time to an authentic Florida atmosphere that is hard to find, even in the Keys. We found almost everything we desired in a Florida beach getaway within walking distance, much of it along El Mar Drive between Ocean Blvd and the beach.

Plunge Beach Resort

Lauderdale by the Sea: The main building at Plunge Beach Resort

The main building at Plunge Beach Resort

Plunge Beach Resort sits at the northern end of El Mar Drive. It comprises multiple buildings, all brought together in a cohesive resort: There are three food venues, two pools, beach services, and a staff ready to meet guests’ every need.

One of two pools at Plunge Beach Resort in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

One of two pools at Plunge Beach Resort

The onsite food options include the only toes-in-the-sand beach bar in town, serving burgers, sandwiches and tacos with a view from 11 am to 11 pm. In the main building across the street from the beach (this is where you’ll check-in), the Octopus Bar and Restaurant serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found the southern-style breakfast with grits to be a fabulous option before a day of walking the town. You can also grab quick bites and coffee in the same building if a sit-down meal is not in your plans.

Lauderdale by the Sea Southern-style breakfast with grits

Southern-style breakfast with grits

Rooms are broken into a variety of sizes and configurations, ranging from standard hotel king singles and doubles to suites and cabana rooms with kitchens.

A King room at Plunge Beach Resort

A King room at Plunge Beach Resort

Choices include lanai/balcony rooms with stunning views of the Atlantic, and island view rooms, some with partial views of the ocean. All are eclectic in design and plush in their amenities.

Rooms with a view in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

Rooms with a view

Architecture and colors are reminiscent of days-gone-by in South Florida, but this is not your parent’s beach resort. Every modern convenience has been provided. One reason so few people know about the charm of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is that for generations, the small “mom and pop” hotels here have been booked, not by the night like standard hotels, but by the week, and even by the month during snowbird season. The demand from the same families returning for vacations year after year has simply always kept them full, and thus, largely out of the public eye.

Plunge breaks from that business model, allowing those of us without parents and grandparents who hold near-lifelong standing reservations an opportunity to experience the Florida we’ve been dreaming of. You can feel free to book a single night, a weekend, or any length stay that works for you.

Walking the town

Where Lauderdale-by-the-Sea really breaks from much of the Fort Lauderdale area is the walkability (or bike-ability) of the town. From Plunge, you are a short walk or ride away from the heart of town where you will find food of a variety of cuisines and lively bars. Be warned, this is Boston Patriots territory, so come prepared for football fans crowding most bars in town on Sunday afternoons.

The pocket parks and access trails that connect El Mar Drive and the beach offer quiet, shady spots for breaks along the way-—complete with classic wooden Adirondack chairs.

An inviting pocket park near the beach in LBTS

An inviting pocket park by the beach

There’s even a full-service Publix grocery store less than a block from the resort, making it a breeze to grab picnics or stock the fridge with sodas.

South Florida Food Tours

One of the easiest ways to explore the cuisines of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is with a food tour. We took advantage of South Florida Food Tours lunch tour. We started with lobster bisque that introduced us to a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that we might not have found on our own during a short stay.

The walking tour also allowed us to enjoy authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, superb Thai food, chocolates, and an acai bowl. Our favorite stop may have been at a small “mom and pop” bakery that we would never have found, even if we had known where to look. As good as the food was, the guide was even better. Her knowledge of the town, its food, history, its artists and its shops flowed throughout the tour. Like a fine wine, it enhanced the journey and the food along the way. When we finished, we knew far more about the town than we expected.

Just beyond Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

There are options beyond the borders of the tiny town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea for those looking for activities away from the beach. When in Florida, a visit to the Everglades is always top of mind. There are several tour companies that offer airboat rides, and some even pick up at the hotel in a shuttle bus. As boating operators are strictly regulated in Everglades National Park, be sure to ask if you will be in the park or not when you research tour options. And as always, be sure to check reviews on reputable websites.

The Everglades near enough for an after of exploration.

The Everglades: Near enough for an afternoon of exploration

The nearby Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is an ideal way to spend an afternoon. A short drive or ride-share transports you from the hotel to an oasis of greenery that is impossible to believe still exists on this busy coast. The history of the property and the eclectic house of Chicago banker, Hugh Taylor Birch, one of South Florida’s early developers, is fascinating.

The real beauty of a spot like Lauderdale-by-the-sea is how neatly it tucks into coastal South Florida with all its fun, yet remains a separate, quiet spot away from the craziness.

Beach sunrises are part of the allure of the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.jpg

Beach sunrises are part of the allure of the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Besides the throwback charm of the whole town, it had a safe feeling, even when walking the streets at night.
  • There were plenty of things to do and see, both in town and in the surrounding community, without a need to drive.
  • Plunge Beach Resort has restaurants serving all three meals and drinks on-site, so you aren’t obliged to leave the resort.
  • The beach makes this an ideal spot for family reunions.

Take note

  • Parking is very scarce in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. You may be able to save money by ridesharing to and from the airport rather than renting a car, so be sure to explore that option.
  • Plunge Beach Resort charges a $35 resort fee per day, and while we often find these a nuisance, at Plunge, the fee includes valet parking for those who drive, two beach chairs with an umbrella, beach towels, bike rentals, free drinks during afternoon happy hour, and drink service on the beach and at the pool.
  • High season runs from mid-December to after Spring Break. Expect a significant increase in prices and crowds during that time frame.

Disclosure: The author was hosted by Plunge Beach Resort and Visit Lauderdale to experience and write about the destination. Any opinions expressed are strictly those of the author.

All photo credits: Gary Crow


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