After time spent in lockdown and isolation, millions of Americans have been ready to travel again. Trending amongst top popular vacation spots are beach destinations. Florida is high on the list for US travelers, especially with the cold winter months on the horizon. But, knowing where to go for you vacation can be a bit challenging for some. We have recently visited the beaches of both Fort Lauderdale and South Beach. We compared the destinations and took notes. Here is what you need to consider to pick which Florida hotspot is the better choice for your beach vacation
Florida is known as the sunshine state. White sand beaches line the coast, as metro cities merge into one another. Miami is the most prominent city on the Southeast coast. Fort Lauderdale is less than 40 miles north. The two cities seem like they might be one-in-the-same, but really they are quite different and offer completely different Florida beach vacation experiences.
When comparing the two cities, there are many similarities. Both of them are in Southeast Florida and are not located far from one another. Both have international airports and large seaports which are nearby the main tourist areas. Convenient, eh? The main tourist areas, which are just few miles from the downtown core areas, both have ample hotels and a variety of restaurants located directly across the road from white sand beaches of Atlantic. And, both beaches have plenty of fancy yachts waiting nearby. But this is where the similarities end.
Going down a bunny trail of Google searches will tell you that Fort Lauderdale is actually more dangerous than Miami, which is surprising. Granted, we were in the tourist area, but we never felt unsafe in Fort Lauderdale. However, on our last trip to South Beach, the story was slightly different. We noticed an influx of drug dealers and rougher crowds being much more prevalent in the main areas. As always, we stress personal safety when traveling.
Now… on to the good stuff!
Whichever beach spot you might decide on totally depends on what kind of trip you are hoping for. Read below and see how many boxes you will check for each destination to help you plan your Florida beach vacation.
South Beach vs. Fort Lauderdale Beach
If you’re looking for vibrant colors, historical architecture, and unique flare….Pick South Beach!
Here, you will find yourself in the heart of the historic Art Deco District. The buildings are all charming and unique. In fact, a top activity is to go on a tour of the buildings and learn about the history and style. But, the color in this area doesn’t stop with the neon lights. South Beach is famous for its parties and drag shows. The mix of bright costumes, flashing lights, and upbeat music are sure to put a little boogie in your step. You can also take in more color by taking in the uniquely designed, super colorful lifeguard stations that dot the beach. South Beach is famous for them. Regardless of where you look in South Beach, you will find yourself surrounded by the vibrant, colorful vibe! Fort Lauderdale is much more neutral and uniform in terms of its architecture. But all that glitters isn’t gold.
If you are looking for a Florida beach vacation that is cleaner and a bit more environmentally friendly…Pick Fort Lauderdale Beach!
Here, we noticed much less trash in the area. The streets were cleaner. And there seemed to be a greater focus on sustainability. More restaurants used paper straws and things along that line. In fact, at night Fort Lauderdale beach and surrounding buildings go dark (omitting soft orange lights only) from March to October to aid in sea turtle nesting. The absence of color can have its benefits too. There are also designated turtle nesting areas on the beach.
If you’re looking for warm water and space to spread out on the beach….Pick Fort Lauderdale Beach!
We found the water at Fort Lauderdale Beach to be much warmer than South Beach. What’s more is that the water is shallower, which allows you to wade further out and still be less than waste deep. During our vacation, a baby shark turned up in the area and everyone was glad to easily get out of the water.
When we visited South Beach during the pandemic, there was plenty of space on the beach. However, a different visit a few years prior showed us how easily crammed this hot spot can get. You may have to deal with a little more seaweed at Fort Lauderdale beach. But I found I preferred the sand, sea, and overall scene much better at Fort Lauderdale Beach than South Beach.
If you want a smaller boutique hotel…Pick South Beach!
In the heart of South Beach’s historic Art Deco district, all you will find is small, independently owned beach hotels. Many travelers prefer a smaller, more intimate experience that you just can’t get at the large chain hotels. In the heart of South Beach, you won’t see a Marriott or Westin…. they are outliers in the area. The hotels here are limited in height, allowing a charming skyline where no hotel is competing for better views than its neighbor. The rooms are also smaller and more efficient. Smaller hotels may mean fewer offerings, but they also have great benefits to guests and the community as well. We’ve stayed at both the Clevelander and the Hotel Victor. Both are great options!
If you want a large, high-rise, chain hotel…Pick Fort Lauderdale Beach!
The main strip is lined with high-end, high-rise hotels. We stayed at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort and were thrilled with its amenities, pool and beach access. All properties in the area own section of beach where chairs and umbrellas were readily available and towel service is provided. This consideration may be more desirable that South Beach where guests are required to haul their own beach chairs and towels back and forth to the beach for use.
If you want an active trip outside of the water…Pick South Beach!
I loved doing yoga on the beach every morning in Fort Lauderdale. But, if you want wide selection fitness opportunities outside of the water, South Beach is your best bet! One of our favorite things about this area is the boardwalk. This is a primary spot for locals and visitors to get out and get active! Runners, walkers, rollerbladers, bicyclists, and more work their way up and down this oceanfront promenade for miles. We went on a daily 10+ mile bike ride. Along the pathway, you will encounter more fitness enthusiasts working out at muscle beach, playing volleyball, and even practicing their moves on the built-in stripper poles. Yes, its a thing on South Beach. Fort Lauderdale is also active, but instead of an oceanfront promenade, runners find themselves working their way down the sidewalk. Bicyclists and rollerbladers have a designated lane on the highly trafficked A1A.
If you want to save a few bucks…Pick Fort Lauderdale Beach!
From food and drinks to Uber rides, prices overall are cheaper than South Beach. Hotels in both spots charge resort fees so make sure to take advantage of all the amenities to get the most bang for your buck. But, unlike South Beach, Fort Lauderdale beach does not have aggressive restaurant hawkers trying to lure passers-by into their restaurants. While still expensive, drinks are a little less pricey. You can save money here too by heading to the liquor store to buy drinks.
If you want a more relaxing Florida beach vacation…Pick Fort Lauderdale Beach!
We found the crowds in Fort Lauderdale to be a bit more mature (in age and behavior) and perhaps a different overall population. The crowds and streets started to thin out around 8:30pm as everyone tucked themselves in for the the night. In South Beach 8:30pm is right about the time everyone gets going for the night. While many things where shuttered during our last trip to South Beach, there still were plenty of loud groups and wild parties filling the air. So, if you’re looking for something a bit more low key, we recommend Fort Lauderdale Beach.
During our last visit, South Beach did not have any sort of concessions for sale on the beach, but they did offer public restrooms, whereas Fort Lauderdale beach was the opposite.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons that would make you consider one spot over the other. With the cruise industry in limbo, Fort Lauderdale is enjoying an increase in tourists. At the time of our visit, South Beach was still experiencing closures and working on recovery.
Either place is a great beach destination. So, which one will you pick?