To truly understand a city, we must take time to get to know the state in which it calls home. Starting with nearby towns and the surrounding natural ecosystems to get a lay of the land. Then eventually exploring fellow cities until you’ve traversed the whole state and can honestly see what your hometown offers the landscape. As Culture Crusaders, we’ve been making it our mission to venture around the state and discover what makes each Florida city unique. So we assembled the crew for our latest take on Fort Lauderdale.

Scroll all the way down for a full breakdown of spots and a guide on what to do.

More than Meets the Eye.

For Miamians, Fort Lauderdale seems like something we all know well. Whether it was from long family beach days or nighttime ventures in the 954. But Fort Laudy Daudy’s more similar to Miami than we like to admit. First, just like the 305, it’s true identity is masked by luxury and a proximity to a beach. When really, the true FTL is all about the charming corners, luscious canals, and epic small businesses that have helped keep it eclectic and weird in all the best ways. You might have only ventured up for a show at Culture Room or Revolution Live and while they are both great reasons to drive up, we’re here to prove there’s so much more to our neighboring city.

We began the day with a healthy and hearty start at JB&C Juice Bar & Cafe and were warmly greeted by co-owner, Amanda Lynn. Flooded with light and filled with local goods from every market, the Flagler Village spot is more than just an Instagramer’s dream. The former night club spot is now one of the most bustling coffee houses and vegan (and dog!)-friendly restaurants in town. Lynn and her partner are dedicated to spreading the good vibes around town, co-owning spots like Poke House and Growlers & Howlers who also have a local cult following. Pick between avocado toasts with freshly-baked local bread, tropical acai bowls, or mouth-watering paninis and smoothies. Either way, you’ll leave with a smile.

A Burgeoning Arts District.

There’s no such thing as a true Fort Lauderdale adventure without a good frolic around FAT Village. Short for Flagler Arts and Technology, the warehouse district has had a serious boom after the popularity of their monthly Art Walks. Every last Saturday, you’ll find the muraled walls and colorful streets brimming with people going to-and-fro from the MASS District and back again. An anchor to the festivities is the magical coffee shop: Next Door at C&I.

A brainchild of the masterminds behind C&I Studios, Next Door as become a bastion for cultural connection in town. The very concept was created with FAT village in mind to serve as a platform for locals and creatives at every turn. By day, the book laden hang is a mysterious coffee shop curated by Brew Urban Cafe where velvet couches and muffled conversation converge. By night, and particularly on the weekends, it becomes a vibrant mecca for local live music, artisan cocktails and a killer vibe. No matter what’s going on in the space, it never seems to lose the vintage cozy charm that keeps us coming back. In short, it’s a true Fort Lauderdale community hub.

You’ll have worked up an appetite with all that inspired curiosity Next Door, we sure did. So we went to Henry’s Sandwich Station for a breakfast sandwich we won’t soon forget. It’s called “The Hangover” and it’s dripping with Sriracha mayo-ey goodness. We then dropped into General Provision, the first co-working space in Fort Lauderdale and arguably its coolest. It’s where FAT Village gets the “Tech” from. The industrial, steampunk atmosphere is perfect for quiet, tech-savvy conversations with its steel phonebooths and hideaway lofts. Geared toward true incubation for solo entrepreneurs, we’re not surprised that it’s currently expanding both in size and in locations. You’ll soon be able to get the same epic benefits in Downtown, in a historic 1920s building. On Art Walk Saturdays, they host Cocktails for Humanity where all proceeds support a different non-profit every month. Talk about growth.

Coffee Above All Else.

One thing we learned about Fort Lauderdale is that, for all intents and purposes, it’s a coffee and beer town. And at the very top of that coffee chain are the kind-hearted roasters at Wells Coffee Company. At nearly every favorite shop (including the aforementioned spots above) you’ll find the familiar brown paper Wells bags waiting to be brewed–and with good reason.

Brandon and Nicole Wells are some of the sweetest people we met on our trip, greeting us graciously with their signature horchata. After growing their roastery (and family) in Boca, they moved to Fort Lauderdale for a full expansion. Their focus on great product and a clean, welcoming atmosphere has tripped the modern coffee shop away from the all-too common snootery that tends to come with the trend. Whether you’re working at the window bar or watching the roasters and grinders at work, Wells is definitely a can’t-miss.

Small Businesses Galore.

At this point, one thing became clear. Fort Lauderdale is a paradise for small businesses. The market is poised for new and trendy concepts where competition isn’t fierce and spaces lend themselves for success. It’s away from the high stakes of Miami and still retains the neighborhood-friendly atmosphere you get from a beachside South Florida town. It’s because of this that the city has managed to stay low-key even when the resorts and hotels have commandeered the sand.

We needed a coffee break so we did what anyone would do: move to beer. We popped into Growlers and Howlers for a feast of local beers like Bousa Brewing and Veza Sur. A flavorful hot dog menu is hard to choose from, but we know the bartenders love their Belgian trippel and mango whit. Walking it off at nearby OddBalls Nifty Thrift is the way to go. Get lost in the nursery out back or inside its six rooms heavily-packed with tchochkes, treasures, vinyl, and clothes from all eras. It’s an eclectic family spot that feels like it’s been around for decades. Grab some food from Barry outside or snag one of his homemade jellies and jams and bruschetta all handmade as B’s Specialties.

Wilton Manors: Where Everyone is Welcome.

Fort Lauderdale and Broward have its fair share of colorful areas, but none so vibrant and quirky at Wilton Manors. Aside from being the second largest LGBTQ population in the U.S., its Wilton Drive mainstreet is a bustling arts and entertainment district. With a friendly and welcoming approach to growth, Wilton Manors has undergone an inspiring economic boom and transformation. Nightclubs, record stores, coffee shops, bars, and all sorts of homegrown retail can be found among its streets. Even the famous “Mind Your Manors” gateway that welcomes you into their embracing way of life.

Making your way around the city, you’ll find the hidden square housing some of the area’s most endearing spots: Eucalyptus Gardens. Here you’ll find rainbow paths, treasure gardens, and eclectic treasures like a scene right out of Harriet the Spy. The Alchemist‘s luscious courtyard, rustic vibes, and strong artisanal coffees are reason enough to come back. Perusing through The Wander Shop Airstream for boutique and local finds, or digging into a meal at either Voo la Voo or La Frutera is also a great idea. But it’s what’s at the end of the path that hits close to home. An abandoned building has now been transformed into an outdoor art gallery with all-female murals. And on its side? A dedication to those lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by the survivors themselves.

At this point, we’d worked up an appetite and needed something, you know, guilty. So we headed back to Wilson Drive for the ultimate indulgence: New York Grilled Cheese. It’s the perfect late night, post partying spot with just the right amount of heaviness to cure any hangover. It’s New York owners made it an ode to the Big Apple with a whole menu of epic waffle-ironed grilled cheeses, soups, and waffle fries all themed in homage. They even have a vegan sandwich that was to die for. What was once a frozen yogurt dive is now one of the most popular eats in town and guess what? They’ll be coming down south soon and we can’t wait.

Mother Nature Still Stands Strong.

Eventually, you’ll need to just take a peek at the sandy beaches that draw millions to Fort Lauderdale each year. But there are ways to navigate the Las Olas area that don’t require stressing over traffic or parking. Passing the old school Gateway Theater and weaving around to see the picturesque canals, the beach is brimming with natural escapes. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park hugs the ocean and offers a breathtaking array of mangroves, banyans, hundreds of native animal species, and a full spectrum of water activities. There’s even a wonderful little local dive bar pulling local brews and fresh eats called Park and Ocean.

If you want an even deeper dive into discovery, The Bonnet House is your best bet in Fort Lauderdale. The site was once owned by the settler Hugh Taylor Birch himself, whose son-in-law transformed the estate into a haven for artistry. The golden yellow houses and their unique architectural corners are a stark contrast to the verdant forests and mangroves that surround it. Wading birds greet you as you explore deeper into the property. You’re walking amongst some of the oldest dating archeological sites in the country. This historical treasure is an absolute must.

Drink it Up (Whatever it Is).

Happy hour has fallen on Fort Lauderdale at this point and you best believe we were looking for a good cocktail. That’s where The Wilder comes in. For Miamians, it’s got Broken Shaker written all over it. Brought to you by the same team as FTL favorite, Rhythm & Vine. In just 8 short months the slinky bar has managed to win best bar in the city with their expert level drinks. A chartreuse velvet lobby greets you, along with its signature peacock, as you glide through one illustrious room after another. DJs play in the great room and on Wednesdays, the back courtyard is awash with live music.

On our way to the next stop, we passed the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, nodding to the gorgeous facade by artist Jen Stark. Then on to The Grind Coffee Project, a cool and straight to the point space that’s part co-working part serious coffee house. It all started with a guy selling his specialty coffee outside Revolution Live. After Yoni, the building’s owner, discovered his brew he transformed what was once the reception area for his office into what is now one of the best underground joints in the city.

After reaching our quota, it’s now time to dive into the beer side of Fort Lauderdale. Across the street is possibly the most laid-back brewery in town: Tarpon River Brewing. Getting their start at Riverside Market (we’ll get to that in a sec), the team was able to expand into the historical Snyder Stables. On your right is the open-air brewery with its towering tanks. The rest is left to an Old Florida-Style house built inside the property that serves as its taproom. Fake grass and game-changing pretzels await this perfect hang.

Getting Into the Local Groove.

Then came Invasive Species Brewing back in the Flagler Village. It’s that kind of unassuming, dark and simple vibe you want for an afternoon beer with an old friend. On any given night you’ll find board games, live music, and Frankie Dogs outside serving up delicious bites. The whole area jitters with movement around sunset where locals walk the streets and hop from spot to spot, it really feels alive.

Whether you’re looking for some good vinyl digging at Radioactive Records or not, it’s an easy 5 minute walk to the MASS District. Glitch Bar is where we were heading, excited to get into their multiple rooms of free arcade games. There’s even a room dedicated to Playstation and Nintendo 64, Goldeneye included. Skateboard decks line the walls, old school movies in the background, a cassette tape DJ booth–it oozes nostalgia.

A Perfect Nightcap.

We topped the crusade with my personal favorite stop: Riverside Market. Easygoing is the adjective to use for this comfy getaway. Fridges of craft beers, both local and from all over the world, line the walls where the space operates on an honor policy–pay for what you take after you’ve grabbed it. Sit down at one of the many long communal tables and strike up a conversation with a local. Or sink into a couch while you munch on their eclectic bites. Remember: Wednesdays are wing nights there so don’t miss out on a serious feast.

We know this crusade was our longest one yet. A few things we’re walking away with are the kindness of its people. And the vibrant spectrum of things to discover from just a town that’s just 45 minutes away. We learned that there’s still so much more to learn about Fort Lauderdale and we’re definitely going back. Soon.

All photos by FujiFilm Girl. See the full photo album here.

The Breakdown:

Eats & Drinks

Henry’s Sandwich Station – A serious shop with all-day sandwiches that’ll make you drool just reading the menu. Get: The Hangover.
JB&C Juice Bar & Cafe – A light-filled and friendly eatery packing local goods and fresh bites. Get: Farmer’s Avo Toast and the Chickpea Avocado Panini.

Growlers and Howlers – South Florida’s first growler filling station and craft beer bar. Get: A dog and a brew.
New York Grilled Cheese – A no-frills dive serving up epic waffle fries and grilled cheeses. Get: Any sandwich, any fry, and don’t skimp on the bread pudding (made from scratch!).
Vegan Fine Foods – An entirely vegan market filled with ready-made goods, local products, and fresh produce. Get: A little bit of everything, and some to take home too!
Myapapaya – OG health-conscious spot serving fresh fare from an open kitchen. Get: Acai Bowl, bean burrito, a smoothie, and their famous vegan banana bread.
Wilton Creamery – Your friendly neighborhood ice cream shop with creative flavors and even more surprising toppings. Get: Everything.
The Wilder – Gorgeously trendy bar spot slinging out artisan cocktails and light bites. Get: Go crazy on a drink you’ve never tried.

Coffee & Beer

Wells Coffee Company – A clean, open-spaces coffee shop with a roastery on sight and friendly knowledgeable staff. Get: The coffee of course, but namely the horchata on draft with their famous cold brew.
Next Door at C&I – A speakeasy coffee shop lined with books and cozy corners that turns into a bar at night. Get: A local coffee and pastry curated by Brew.
Warsaw Coffee Company – A trendy and bustling coffee spot adjacent to a hot happy hour hang. Get: A latte and any of their fresh baked goods.
The Alchemist – Charming coffee shop complete with a luscious courtyard and magical decor. Get: The Alchemist Iced Coffee.

Tarpon River Brewing – A sweeping local brewery dishing out taps and classic beer garden eats. Get: The pretzel and cheese sauce.
Invasive Species – A dark and laid-bak brewery with live music, board games, and a sweeping bar. Get: Their Jaxson’s Ice Cream pour.
Funky Buddha – The OG Fort Lauderdale brewery with some of the most well-known local brews in Florida. Go: For a live show and try a flight.
LauderAle Brewery – Easily the chillest brewery in town, located near the airport and offering live tunes in a hangar atmosphere. Go: For a show and hang outside to try the food trucks.
The Grind Coffee Project – A cool workspace-turned-favorite local coffee shop with serious baristas behind the bar. Get: What do you think?

Hangs & Things to Do

FAT Village – A warehouse district transformed into a bustling arts and technology neighborhood. Go: For their art walks on every last saturday.
Montce Swim – A boutique swim and apparel shop with walls of bathing suits, sunglasses, and accessories. Go: Before a vacation when you need a cute new suit.
OddBalls Nifty Thrift – An eclectic family-owned thrift and vintage store packed with housewares, treasures, and clothing from every era. Plus a nursery out back and beers inside for while you shop. Go: Whenever you want some nostalgia.
General Provision – A hip, industrial co-working space geared toward incubating solo entrepreneurs and startups. Go: Any day to say hi, on art walks for their Cocktails for Humanity.

Wilton Manors – A neighboring Broward neighborhood with a large and welcoming LGBTQ population filled with shops, eateries, nightclubs, and fun things to do. Go: Every time you’re near.
Eucalyptus Gardens – Village-like shopping center with a wine bar, coffee shop & restaurants, plus a weekly greenmarket. Go: Also every time you’re near. It’s our favorite area.
The Wander Shop – A sweet boutique out of a vintage air stream located within Eucalyptus Gardens. Go: When you’re in need of new cute digs.
Gateway Theatre – A 1950s theater still standing, showing indie selections and current releases. Go: For a fun night in a different setting.
The Bonnet House – The historic late 19th century home of Hugh Taylor Birch that became a artful haven in a forest of mangroves. Go: With the family or when you need a beautiful escape.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park – Not your largest state park, but definitely filled with its own natural charm. Go: For the kayaking and water sports. Don’t forget to end the day at the on-site bar hang…
Park and Ocean – The chill bar and shop located within Hugh taylor Birch State Park surrounded by trees and adjacent to the ocean. Go: After a day on the sand or when you need a quiet crowd.
NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale – The 75,000 sq-ft art museum boasting sculpture gardens, free programming, a Picasso collection, and a large collection of Caribbean Art. Go: For their Free First Thursdays events.
Glitch Bar – A dark adult arcade bar filled with classic games all free of charge (except for pinball). Go: Perfect date spot, or when you need to let off some steam.
Radioactive Records – A small yet brimming record store packed with some seriously good vinyl finds. Go: When you need to get a thoughtful gift or just want to talk music with fellow connoisseurs.

Culture Room – An intimate concert venue boasting a great mix of local live bands and touring funky acts. Go: For a stellar lineup.
Revolution Live – A big, double-story concert venue run by Live Nation featuring larger acts and touring stops. Go: For their tribute nights or to see an act’s southernmost tour stop.