Between the coast and the Everglades, this quiet residential suburb is on the northwestern edge of Fort Lauderdale. Greenery and water are ever-present in North Lauderdale, a city with no fewer than 15 public parks.
Locally, there’s a big choice of things to do, with indoor entertainment centers, museums, and parcels of South Florida nature.
I should point out that you reach the Atlantic shoreline in about 15 minutes. There are wonderful public beach parks at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Pompano Beach.
Head west and you’ll come to the immense marshlands of the Everglades. Here you can hike or ride for miles along a levee, or set off on an airboat trip at Sawgrass Recreation Park.
1. Hampton Pines Park
On more than 30 acres in the middle of town, Hampton Pines Park is an easily accessible natural oasis. Hampton Pines Park brings a typical South Florida landscape to your doorstep, with a picturesque lake and tall pine hammocks on its shores.
You can take a little self-guided tour of the lake on a two-person paddle boat or canoe. These are inexpensive, while you can also rent a bike for a ride along the trails.
I counted multiple covered pavilions, two playgrounds for kids, as well as numerous picnic tables under the pines around the lakeshore.
2. Fern Forest Nature Center
At the turn of the 20th century, the dense swampy landscape in this part of Florida was changed forever when the rivers like Cypress Creek were rerouted along canals.
Moments from North Lauderdale, this fabulous park gives you a snapshot of what came before. The Fern Forest Nature Center is a verdant tract of urban wilderness, with a variety of ecosystems on its 250 acres.
The Cypress Creek Trail takes you along a boardwalk through a hardwood hammock and swampland growing cypress and maples.
These trees reach impressive heights, but the forest floor is important too. There are more than species of native fern growing at this property.
What I’ll remember most of all from Fern Forest Nature Center is the wildlife. I saw armadillos, tortoises, an amazing array of butterflies, and some gnarly spiders.
3. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Beach
A 15-minute drive, mostly on Commercial Boulevard, will get you to the nearest public beach access at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
I really admire this community for banning high-rise developments. Instead there’s a lot of mid-century architecture, and a much cozier feel.
The main shorefront park has a palm-shaded plaza, and a pavilion with benches designed like old rowboats.
You can kick back on an Addy chair here, while there are games for kids. In front is a classic stretch of South Florida beach, with a fishing pier, pale sands and low surf most days.
Something I discovered on my visit is that Lauderdale-by-the-sea is the state’s beach-diving capital. The beachfront a short walk south at Datura Avenue is the place to go for this, and you can swim to a reef about 100 yards out.
4. Butterfly World
The area’s top visitor attraction is an extraordinary butterfly park 15 minutes away in Coconut Creek. Butterfly World was the first facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere when it opened in 1988.
In spectacular free-flight aviaries you’ll be surrounded by some 20,000 butterflies from across the world. One section also has live display cases where you can see a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.
Butterfly World is also home to kaleidoscopic birdlife, including friendly lorikeets that you can feed by hand. On a smaller scale, I was intrigued by the weird and wonderful critters in the Bug Zoo, from mantises to walking sticks.
5. Xtreme Action Park
On the opposite side of Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport there’s an award-winning family entertainment center.
Xtreme Action Park has more than 200,000 square feet of attractions. You’ve got an asphalt karting track, a ropes course, a roller skating rink, bowling lanes, an arcade, laser tag, escape rooms, VR games, and much more.
There’s a galaxy of things to do here, but karting is the headline attraction. The track is billed as the longest and fastest in South Florida.
I can’t describe how fast these karts are. It’s only when you’re a few inches from the track that you realize just how fast 45 mph is.
6. DRV PNK Stadium
Co–owned by former soccer star David Beckham, the MLS team Inter Miami plays and trains just five minutes from North Lauderdale.
Seating 21,000 DRV PNK Stadium is not intended to be the team’s home forever. Before long, they’ll move to Miami’s Freedom Park Stadium. All the same, when I went to press, DRV PNK Stadium was the center of attention in the sports world.
Possibly the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi had recently joined the team, along with his former FC Barcelona alum, Sergio Busquets.
For affordable tickets you may beed to wait for the hype to die down. Because when I wrote this article, games were selling out in just 10 minutes, and cheap seats were going for $500+.
7. Dauer Classic Car Museum
I was smitten by this automobile museum in Sunrise, with more than 50 vehicles on show. Boasting Cadillacs, Chryslers, Buicks and a number of foreign brands, the Dauer Classic Car Museum has a collection from the 1900s through the 1970s.
Each era has an immersive backdrop, with period-appropriate decor and memorabilia. For instance, in one corner there’s a complete Texaco gas station from 1934. This even has authentic gas pumps and a genuine Texaco gas truck.
Other details include a movie theater marquee, an historic jukebox, an original Good Humor bike cart, a 1950s motor testing machine, an X-ray machine, a studio TV camera, and drive-in food trays.
If I have to pick a standout, it would be the 1963 Chevy Impala hardtop, the model immortalized by the Beach Boys’ song, 409.
8. Sawgrass Recreation Park
Out there in the middle of the swampland west of the city you can take part in a quintessential Everglades experience.
The main package at Sawgrass Recreation Park is a 40-minute ride, speeding through the swamp at 40 mph. During your trip you’ll get closer than ever to native Florida wildlife, including alligators, turtles, wading birds and raptors like osprey.
When you return to the base you’ll visit the park’s wildlife sanctuary, rehabilitating tortoises, reptiles and a wide variety of birds. The best part for me was the chance to meet a baby alligator.
As much of the Everglades’ wildlife is nocturnal, I’d definitely recommend coming for one of the park’s night time rides.
9. Cypress Creek Greenway
For an easy walk or bike ride you can access a long canal-side trail on the northern edge of North Lauderdale. The Cypress Greenway follows this grassy strip for about seven miles.
At the eastern end is the Fern Forest Nature Center, and in the west you’ll reach the vast open skies of the Everglades.
I’d say the most convenient access point is probably Tamarac Veterans’ Park, which even has a bike repair station and pump. On the route you may see gators and native wading birds, and can stop at several waterside parks.
For me, the most spectacular experience is surely the sunset view over the endless marshland of the Endless Wildlife Management Area at the western trailhead.
From here you can get onto Sawgrass Trail, and follow the levee for more than 10 miles to the Sawgrass Recreation Park.
10. Coral Square Mall
One of Greater Miami’s top malls is a couple of minutes from North Lauderdale. The Coral Square Mall is a mid-market center, and had almost total occupancy when I was here.
Anchors were Macy’s, JCPenney and Kohl’s, while there was an eight-screen Paragon Theaters location at the SW corner of Riverside Dr and Ramblewood Dr.
A few of the other mall regulars here are Foot Locker, Build-A-Bear, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Aéropostale, Lids, Vans, Hot Topic and Torrid.
For my money, a bustling food court is the sign of a healthy mall. Coral Square Mall has a lot of options, from Subway to Sarku Japan, Charleys Cheesesteaks, Starbucks and Churromania.
11. Jerry Resnick Aquatic Center
Next to all of the municipal functions in the heart of North Lauderdale there’s an excellent aquatic facility.
Although the hours vary, the Jerry Resnick Aquatic Center is open March through October. For amenities there’s a junior Olympic size pool, two waterslides and a water playground with sprays and fountains.
Admission is reasonable, at just $2 per person, and the facility had just been updated when I stopped by.
For a slightly larger alternative, you’ve also got the Calypso Grove Aquatic facility a few minutes away in Margate. This comes with a large water playground, two 30-foot waterslides and a six-lane pool.
12. Bowlero Tamarac
Looks can be deceiving. This 56-lane bowling alley is housed in a nondescript concrete building. When I stepped inside Bowlero Tamarac I was shocked at how fresh everything looked.
All 56 lanes are in great shape, and you’ve also got billiard tables and a lively arcade with a lot of machines. In fact, with everything from Mario Kart to Skeeball, you could easily lose a couple of hours in the arcade alone.
All of the lanes have overhead flatscreen monitors, along with TVs playing music videos, sports, or classic movies.
13. Waters Edge Park
One of the larger public parks in the area, Water’s Edge Park had been given a multi-million dollar renovation when I made this list.
The star attraction is a massive splash pad with a ton of interactive features. Water seems to splash from every direction—up through the ground, from the side or overhead via tipping buckets.
Next to the splash pad is an even larger dry playground, along with a full-size basketball. True to its name, Water’s Edge park also has an observation deck/fishing pier overlooking the canal.
14. Oriole Golf Club
In nearby Margate, Oriole Golf Club has been open for more than four decades. This 18-hole track is loved for its reasonable rates, even in peak season.
The course has an open layout, and won’t be too tough for players with less experience. My tip is to study the scorecard/course map carefully, as a good fairway position will give you best possible chance of a low score.
There are also some devilish par 3s here. At 185 yards and uphill, #7 requires an accurate tee shot with a low iron. You can warm up your swing at the all-grass driving range. A bucket of 40 balls came to $7 when I played here.