It probably didn't take long to decide which city should host the International Swimming Hall of Fame, an institution dedicated to preserving the history of water sports and to honoring the world's most talented swimmers—including recent inductee Michael Phelps. This aquatic shrine seems right at home in Fort Lauderdale, a water-lovers paradise where Venice-like canals unravel through the city and tree-lined beaches hug the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, you don't have to be an Olympic swimmer to appreciate a place where the average temperature is 82 degrees, and this beachside mecca offers no shortage of things to do by sea or by land.
The best way to experience both simultaneously is to head to Fort Lauderdale Beach. Here, rollerbladers, cyclists, and casual strollers navigate the coastline’s palm tree-lined promenade, set just steps away from the sunbaked sand and frothy waves. A day on the beach can include a number of activities, from volleyball and sun tanning to windsurfing or snorkeling, with breaks, perhaps, at the nearby shops and restaurants. Cafe Del Mar’s outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy a sunset as warm ocean breezes complement the aromas of fresh gulf shrimp cocktails and drinks from the bar.
Fort Lauderdale’s beaches are great for ocean views, but for a view of the city itself, ditch the car and board a water taxi. Traveling inbound from the beach, these self-proclaimed trolleys-on-the-water float along the Intercoastal Waterway and New River towards downtown, stopping to let passengers off at taverns, restaurants, and shopping districts. One of the best places to shop is Las Olas Boulevard, located between downtown and the beach, and famous for the twinkling lights that light up its streets each night. Visitors can peruse the chic women’s fashions at Deborah James and more than 60 other fashionable shops and then dine at one of the dozens of al fresco restaurants lining the boulevard.
From there it's a quick water taxi ride to the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, home to the city’s greatest cultural institutions. Audiophiles will lose themselves in the awe-inspiring acoustics of the Florida Grand Opera, while the curious can peek into the marvels on display at the Museum of Discovery and Science, where exhibits include a simulated ride in a rocket ship and the largest Atlantic coral reef in captivity. Need a break from all the sun? Take in a flick at the Cinema Paradiso, an arthouse theater stocked with three full bars and recently renovated with plush blue velvet seats from Paris.