|Once upon a time, one could look down the road
along Fort Lauderdale beach and inland along U.S. 1 and see flat land and
the occasional scrubby palmetto as far as the eye could see.
Now villages meld into adjoining towns, towns into cities, suburbs into each other and the entire county has become one sprawling megalopolis that stretches from the sea to the Everglades and from the northern border of Miami to the southern border of Palm Beach and beyond.
Enormous and rapid growth, marked by a continuing influx of young, old and everything in between, representing a variety of cultures and outlooks on life, continues apace, making the region one of the most vibrant in all of South Florida.
While all that melding was going on, however, each of the communities that comprise what is loosely known as Greater Fort Lauderdale has fiercely protected its own identity, proud of its history and its growth, its amenities and its diversity.
Hollywood, for instance, was one of the earliest communities in the region, tracing its history back to its founder Joseph Young, whose handsome house, complete with billiard room, still stands along Hollywood Boulevard. Once Young and his billiard buddies had a clear view of the ocean more than a mile away. Today many a house, hotel and development stand between his house and that long-gone view.
While Young would no longer be able to see the sea, he would no doubt be pleased to see the sprawling metropolitan area he jump started with land sales and abundant hype. Hollywood today, while stretching from the ocean far to the western reaches of the county, still focuses its social life on the citys diverting Broadwalk, which rolls alongside sand dunes and is lined with restaurants, cafes, bistros, rustic lounges and teeny boutiques. Here, bikes and roller blades roll, strollers ogle the sea and each other, and a bevy of visitors, many of them from Quebec, laze in the sun and luxuriate in the outdoor lifestyle that predominates here.
Hollywood's small but significantly entertaining downtown area is built around one of the several big traffic circles that characterize the city. Thanks to a redevelopment project that beautified downtown streets with intriguing architectural touches, trees and flowers, downtown Hollywood has become a popular dining and shopping spot.
Not far away, the tiny town of Dania, founded by tomato farmers, has left its farms behind and is best known for a street lined on both sides by dozens of antique shops brimming with an eclectic array of collectibles. Parimutuel fans flock here to Dania Jai-Alai, where talented handball players compete, slamming a wooden ball around at speeds up to 100mph and catching it in a hand-held basket. Beach enthusiasts will find some of the regions most intriguing sands here, many of them tucked away behind forests of palms, pines and palmetto bushes. Tops among the beach diversions is John U. Lloyd State Park, a lovely wooded strip of beach thats a favorite for picnickers.
Just south of Hollywood, the seaside town of Hallandale is lined with condominiums where many a snowbird whiles away the winter. Equestrian fans flock here for an afternoon with the thoroughbreds at Gulfstream Park Race Track, where the nations best racehorses appear for a three-month racing season. Greyhound racing is a popular sport here, too.
Traveling north of Fort Lauderdale, one wanders through a series of small towns including Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, which pretty much describes this tiny town that is home to a cluster of small hostelries and a few seaside cafes.
Beyond lies the city of Pompano, which gets its name from a coveted fish found in abundance here. Pompano is particularly proud of its sportfishing options and is home to a number of fishing competitions, a big fishing pier and a popular seafood festival.
For a pretty afternoons drive, travel north from Fort Lauderdale along Route A1A, the beachside highway. Although the sands are sometimes hidden behind condominiums and hotels, handsome landscaping and glimpses of the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway on one side and the Atlantic are entrancing.
Hillsboro Beach, home to some of the regions most imposing seaside manses, is one of the loveliest parts of the drive, with the road rolling beneath massive trees and vegetation that must look much as it did a century ago when the fabled Barefoot Mailman strode the sand, armed with mail for the regions earliest settlers. Hillsboro Inlet is home to a fishing fleet so you can always find a fishing trip here and fresh-from-the-sea seafood at the Pelican Restaurant.
Continuing northward, you pass through Deerfield Beach, home to a few small resorts, before you reach Boca Raton. Bocas love and lure is its historic and elegant Boca Raton Hotel and Resort, a creation of architect Addison Mizner, whose pseudo-Mediterranean architecture is a wonder to behold.
Keep an eye out for the village of Gulfstream, one of the wealthiest villages on the Gold Coast and home to many a Fortune 500 exec.
Other communities of note on the approach to Palm Beach include Briny Breezes, Boynton Beach with an attractive beach high atop a dune, Manalapan, and Lake Worth, home to a settlement of Finnish expatriates.
To the west of Fort Lauderdale lies a host of smaller cities that are the bedroom communities of the region, their residents working in municipalities throughout the area or in Miami. Among those are Sunrise, Plantation, Tamarac, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Margate, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie?which is particularly proud of its farmland and celebrates it with Western-style architectural touches?and the newest town of them all, Weston, a developers dream just minutes from the Everglades.
Wrap them all together and throw in miles of waterways and rivers, acres of palms and pines, thousands of cafes, shops, lounges, nightclubs and festivals and you've got Greater Fort Lauderdale, always an intriguing place to play.
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