Part of the vast Miami metropolitan area, Cooper City is set halfway between the Atlantic coast and the Everglades. Neither is far away, and it’s one of many things I appreciate about this place.
Head east and you’ll be at Dania Beach’s shoreline, where the vibe is a little more laid-back than neighboring Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood Beach. Go west and the Everglades Holiday Park is ready to whisk you off on an exciting airboat tour.
In the immediate area are spectacular fragments of South Florida nature. At Flamingo Gardens, Tree Tops Park, and Long Key you can hike in old-growth oak hammocks.
Last but not least, the area is a shopper’s paradise, with lifestyle centers and some of South Florida’s top malls effortlessly close.
1. Tree Tops Park
At what may be my favorite park in Broward County, there’s 250 acres of nature right on Cooper City’s north side.
The mature live oaks in Tree Tops Park are nothing short of spectacular. Right in the middle of the canopy you can climb an observation tower to see just how full of life these old giants are.
Also in the park is a large area of restored freshwater marshland. You can get across this habitat on a scenic 1,000-foot boardwalk.
You’re sure to see a lot of people on horseback in Tree Tops Park. There’s an extensive trail system that was developed with the help of the South Florida Trail Riders Association.
Finally, the lake on the south side of the park has swan boats that you can rent on holidays and weekends.
2. Flamingo Gardens
South Florida’s natural splendor is the star at this botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary, founded in 1927.
This 60-acre tropical oasis comprises more than 3,000 tropical and subtropical plants. Among them are over 300 species of palms, as well as magnificent live oaks dating back centuries.
I expected a visit to one of the last stands of tropical hardwood forest in Florida to be a bit more strenuous. Instead, you can enjoy the native hammocks and wetlands from the comfort of a tram tour.
In the wildlife sanctuary you’ll see native Floridian species that have been rescued but can’t be released. On my way through I got close to gators, flamingos, black bears, river otters, bobcats, raptors, and panthers.
Most memorable of all was the huge walk-through aviary, recreating the various ecosystems of the Everglades. There are birds from more than 40 species here, including a large assortment of wading birds native to Florida.
3. C.B. Smith Park
When it comes to quality and quantity of amenities, I reckon it’s hard to compete with this public park in Pembroke Pines.
Just five minutes from Cooper City, C.B. Smith Park dates back to 1959, and before that was used as a firing range during WWII.
The headline here is surely Paradise Cove Waterpark. This facility has a 410-foot lazy river, two water playgrounds, and a 50-foot tower with four spiraling waterslides.
On the north side of the park is AllGolf. A complete practice facility, this place has a driving range, two 18-hole mini golf courses, and even nine batting cages.
Elsewhere, C.B. Smith Park features amenities for everything from basketball to tennis.
4. HAPPI Farm
Moments away in Davie, this family attraction combines a petting zoo with horseback riding. A non-profit animal-assisted learning center, there’s a therapeutic purpose to HAPPI Farm’s animal encounters.
This might be a guided trail ride/riding lesson through calming forest. Or it could be a fulfilling hour at the petting farm.
Here children can bond with rabbits, goats, guinea pigs, a hedgehog, a miniature donkey, a llama, an alpaca, and other tame barnyard animals.
My one regret is that I didn’t pack anything to feed HAPPI Farm’s residents. Cut-up apples, carrots, and lettuce are all fine.
5. The Shops at Pembroke Gardens
This upscale lifestyle center opened in neighboring Pembroke Pines in 2007. The Shops at Pembroke Gardens is laid out like a trendy South Florida downtown.
To give you a feel for the scene, you’ll find locations for lululemon, Banana Republic, Francesca’s, Barnes & Noble, Sephora, Old Navy, Ann Taylot, and Loft.
The dining choices range from Mediterranean to tacos, sushi, Italian, pub grub, seafood, tapas, and smoothie bowls. There’s also a branch of The Cheesecake Factory, while Havana 1957 is a go-to for mojitos.
Keep an eye on the calendar for special events. For example, on the first Sunday of the month there’s a farmers’ market at this mall.
6. Hit the Beach
Head due east from Cooper City and you’ll soon reach the Atlantic shore. With public beach parks up and down the coast, there’s a dizzying array of spots to choose from.
If, like me, you prefer to avoid the crowds, Ocean Park at Dania Beach is a fine place to spread a towel. In the sweet spot between Hollywood beach and Fort Lauderdale, it’s off the beaten path. Still, there’s a marina, fishing pier and a slew of restaurants.
Just to the north, Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park is also less touristy than most. Skirting the beach here is the last surviving example of an undeveloped coastal ecosystem in Broward County.
7. Brian Piccolo Park
This county-run park is named after college and professional football legend Brian Piccolo, who spent much of his private and professional life in South Florida. Opened in 1989, it’s a prominent sports venue for Broward County.
As well as basketball courts and soccer fields, Brian Piccolo Park is renowned for its velodrome and cricket fields. In fact, this place has hosted international cricket matches between the USA and Canada.
Though it’s on the map for its sporting amenities, the park also harbors surprising birdlife. Most important is the protected burrowing owl. These cute residents can be seen in the areas marked with yellow tape.
8. Everglades Holiday Park
About 15 minutes west of Cooper City, the urban sprawl suddenly breaks off, and you enter the Everglades. Conveniently located here, at the west end of Griffin Road is a multifaceted visitor attraction.
The main reason to come to the Everglades Holiday Park is for a high-speed airboat tour of these iconic wetlands.
On this adventure you’ll pause for close-up views of alligators, as well as fish, insects, birds, and other reptiles. You may even catch sight of a crocodile out here.
The tour package also includes a live alligator show in the Gator Pit. This demonstration is performed by the park’s Gator Boys Alligator Rescue Team, made famous by the Animal Planet TV show.
My recommendation is to bring ear plugs for the airboat ride, because the engines are as loud as they are powerful.
9. Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center
Broward County Parks and Recreation takes care of another piece of important local ecology. Before the area was developed, Long Key was an oak hammock on a piece of high ground.
Back then this was one of a string of islands adrift in the endless marshlands of the Everglades.
There’s evidence for human habitation going back three millennia. The ancient Tequestas and more recently the Seminoles lived in these environments.
I loved my walk through the beautiful oak hammock, and spent a few minutes in the Nature Center. This has a brief video explaining the natural history of Long Key, as well as exhibits about the Tequesta and Seminole Native Americans.
10. Cooper City Antique Mall
This multi-dealer antique mall is a great place to spend an hour or two shielded from the Florida sun.
Across 10,000 square feet there’s a trove of vintage, antique, and gently-used items, many of which have unique South Florida histories.
Among the more interesting things that turned up during my search were Art Deco pieces, typewriters, cameras, industrial tools, sleek mid-century furniture, and even medical antiques.
If you’re brave enough to drive a bargain, I’ve found that some vendors will happily offer a discount.
The Cooper City Antique Mall is open every day year-round. Hours vary between weekdays and weekends, I’d recommend checking online before making a special trip.
11. Pembroke Lakes Mall
There is no shortage of shopping destinations within a short drive of Cooper City. Indeed, in under ten minutes you can get one of South Florida’s most visited malls, with more than 150 retailers.
Pembroke Lakes Mall offers a medley of luxury brands, along with mall regulars. So along with Guess and Michael Kors, you’ll find Macy’s, JCPenney, Dillard’s, Foot Locker, H&M, Forever 21, Vans, rue21, and American Eagle.
The food court was hopping when I shopped here, with locations for Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, Charleys Cheesesteaks, and a spot for Colombian-style arepas.
Pembroke Lakes Mall also has one of the best cinemas for miles. The AMC Pembroke Lake 9 features new reclining seats, and an IMAX and Dolby theater.
12. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Originally opened in 2004, this nearby casino resort completed a billion-dollar expansion project in 2019. As part of the work, a 50-foot tower, designed like a Gibson Les Paul guitar, has sprung up next to US-441.
Now the resort has almost 1,300 rooms, along with 140,000 square feet of gaming space. As well as hundreds of slots, there are table games for blackjack, three-card poker, let it ride, baccarat, craps, and roulette.
Added to that are two nightclubs, many more bars/lounges and close to 20 dining options. The expansion project also brought the capacity of the Hard Rock Live arena up to 7,000.
In the 20 years before I compiled this list, an astonishing roster of artists had played here, from Paul McCartney to Britney Spears.
13. Pembroke Lakes Golf Course
In the 2000s, Pembroke Lakes Golf Course went through a multimillion dollar facelift. This has always been a popular municipal course, but the renovations lifted its facilities and reputation to another level.
Designed by noted architect John Sanford, the course has six sets of tees and is laid with Paspalum supreme grass. With state-of-the-art GPS carts, this track seemed more like a private country club to me.
Of all the holes, I’ll fondly remember #7, a devilish par-3. You have to hit into the wind, and keep it straight, with water on one side, and a huge sand trap on the other.
The practice facility here has a grass driving range, a chipping green, and an extra large putting green.
14. Wolf Lake Park
At this 50-acre park in Davie you can get away from it all without leaving the city. I can’t be alone in thinking that Wolf Lake Park looks like nowhere else in South Florida.
The lake takes up much of the park’s area and is ringed by tall Australian pines. Standing on the shore under this canopy you’ll see nothing more than trees and a beautiful sheet of water.
This is a relatively undeveloped part of the metropolitan area. To the north, south and east are farms and stables. It’s not uncommon to see people on horseback along the trail through the woods.
Along the same lines, the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds, dating back to the early 1940s, are just a couple of minutes from Wolf Lake Park.
15. Anne Kolb Nature Center
Encompassing more than 1,500 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway in Dania Beach, the Anne Kolb Nature Center is about 20 minutes from Cooper City.
Protecting an important coastal mangrove ecosystem, this property is free to visit on weekdays. Elevated boardwalks lift you over the wetlands, and I spent a while studying the informative signs detailing this environment
There’s also a 68-foot observation tower with a surprisingly far-reaching view over this low-lying area.
Inside you can see local fish species in a 3,500-gallon saltwater aquarium, and kid-friendly interactive exhibits in the EcoRoom.