Since its inaugural landing on June 4, Southwest Airlines’ daily service to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has opened up another tempting corner of Florida for Cayman residents to explore.

Move over Miami, there’s a new Florida city vying for our long weekends. Described as the “Venice of America” because of its extensive canal system (complete with gondolas), Fort Lauderdale combines glorious beaches and sleek marinas with thriving cultural and dining scenes. What’s more, with two runways and four terminals, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) is a far more manageable size than its colossal, frenetic Miami counterpart.

What to do

The city has shaken off its raucous spring-break reputation in favor of more refined pursuits such as art exhibitions, yachting and craft cocktails. Its nightlife is still vibrant, but so too are the museums, parks and high-end resorts.

The famous beachfront promenade makes a good starting point, following the signature white wave wall and brick-lined path, in the company of inline skaters and volleyball players. These pristine sands are a hopping-off point for waterborne excursions – anything from scuba diving and deep-sea fishing to windsurfing and watercraft riding. Or, visitors can get their bearings on a riverboat sightseeing cruise, getting a glimpse of the mega yachts and the mansions of Millionaire’s Row.

Shop ‘til you drop in Sawgrass Mills, Florida’s most extensive outlet mall with more than 300 stores, and the Galleria, which is home to Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, as well as stylish independent boutiques. Las Olas Boulevard is not only the retail district, but also a hub of art galleries, restaurants and cafes. Dubbed the Rodeo Drive of Fort Lauderdale, its old-fashioned lamp posts, light-studded palm trees and Mediterranean architecture make for a charming place full of character to relax.

You could take in a show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts or Florida Grand Opera, as well as learn about local heritage at the Fort Lauderdale History Center, all within a few blocks. Another must for history buffs is Bonnet House, a 1921 Caribbean-style plantation-turned-artist residence to the north of the city.

What’s coming up

From concerts to foodie festivals, the Fort Lauderdale events calendar is always jam-packed, and late summer is no exception. Blondie & Garbage: The Rage and Rapture Tour comes to Hard Rock Live (Aug. 8), while musical legends Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey will perform at the BB&T Center (Aug. 10). The same venue hosts John Mayer’s World Tour on Aug. 12.

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is an ‘historic artists’ estate’.
Las Olas Boulevard is a must-visit destination.

For those seeking more peaceful pursuits, there is a stunning exhibit on birds-of-paradise at the Museum of Discovery and Science. Developed by National Geographic and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it captures all 39 known species of this exotic avian (until Sept. 4). Families can travel back millions of years to Guy Darrough’s Lost World of Dinosaurs (until Sept. 4), which brings prehistoric times to life at Flamingo Gardens.

Early fall ushers in a celebration of bubbly in the beautiful Huizenga Park – the Champagne Fun Festival (Sept. 16) – where varieties of Veuve Clicquot will flow freely. Another must-do for visiting gastronomes is Food in Motion, an artisan food market at Peter Feldman Park on the second Friday of each month.

Later in the year – Nov. 4-7 to be exact – the 58th International Boat Show will once again show why Fort Lauderdale is called “the yachting capital of the world.”

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show showcases more than 1,000 exhibitors.
Flamingo Gardens is home to a variety of animals.
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