When I need a hit of Old Florida glamor, one port of call is Hallandale Beach. This oceanfront city will always be associated with Gulfstream Park, a regional home for thoroughbred horse racing since the 1930s.
Over time the track has added slots and table games, and an elegant outdoor mall arrived in 2010.
Along Ocean Boulevard, Hallandale Beach’s shorefront is a line of skyscraping condos and hotels. The city maintains a couple of public beach parks here, with amenities like showers, concessions and volleyball courts.
Go north and you’ll soon come to the world-famous Hollywood Beach Broadwalk. Directly south is the equally renowned Aventura Mall, with its museum-quality art and prestige brands.
1. Gulfstream Park
Long known as the home of thoroughbred horse racing in South Florida, Gulfstream Park first opened its doors in 1939.
There’s a host of races throughout the year, some which go back to the 1940s. Still, if I have to pick one event to catch, it’s got to be the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. Run in late January this is a Grade I race with a purse of $3 million when I was in town.
The track is the anchor for a wide array of facilities. At the opulent four-story clubhouse you’ve got a casino with slots and electronic table games, as well as restaurants, bars, an 800-seat theater and luxury suites.
In 2010 the Village at Gulfstream Park opened next door, and I’ll talk about this upscale development later.
2. South City Beach Park
One of two public beach access points in Hallandale Beach, this park was given a complete facelift in the 2010s.
South City Beach Park is a fabulous community space, with a beachfront concession (Café Cita on the Beach), playground, open-air pavilion, showers, restrooms, bocce ball and volleyball courts.
Of course, the beach is the main story. This is always spotless, with a wide strip of sand that disappears into the distance north and south.
The park is a happening place, with a live music series December through April, and activities like yoga on the beach.
3. The Village at Gulfstream Park
Designed in the same Mediterranean Revival style as the Clubhouse, this 500,000-square-foot mixed-use development opened at Gulfstream Park in 2010.
The Village feels like an elegant city district, and is flush with boutiques, galleries, home design/housewares shops, and upscale services.
One spot, Strike 10 is a high-end indoor entertainment center. Under one roof you’ve got bowling, mini-bowling, billiards, an arcade, a 50 ft bar, and a hookah lounge.
In the same vein, PlugIN is a posh karaoke concept. Here you’ve got luxury private karaoke rooms in a range of sizes, the largest of which can hold more than 30 people.
4. Aventura Mall
One of the premier shopping destinations in the United States is a couple of minutes from Hallandale Beach.
Here since 1983, Aventura Mall remains a byword for luxury, with more than 300 of the world’s most prestigious retailers.
This is a dreamland for fashion-conscious shoppers. At the upper end of the market are the likes of Hermes, Valentino, Cartier, Rolex, Chanel, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, and Boss.
On my last look inside, these were complemented by lots of mid-market options, from Zara (two levels) to H&M, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Gap.
There’s a multitude of dining choices, as global as the shopping, whether you’re up for sushi, linguine alla vongole, cheeseburgers, ceviche, churrasco, arepas, or comforting classics at the Cheesecake Factory.
To underline the fact that this is no ordinary mall, there are more than 20 works of sculpture that wouldn’t be out of place in a museum. Maybe the most striking is Carsten Höller’s 93-foot giant slide tower, erected in 2018, and a blast to ride during the cooler months.
5. Hollywood Beach Broadwalk
About a mile up the coast from South City Beach Park is the start of one of the best promenades in the country.
Dazzling visitors since the Jazz Age, the brick-paved Hollywood Beach Broadwalk is almost 2.5 miles long. With perfect white sands and swaying palms, the beach is much wider here, and the views are sensational.
On the route are more than 50 restaurants, over 30 boutiques, 3 resorts, 3 parks, and almost 30 small-lodging hotels.
There’s a constant flow of walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and bicyclists throughout the day. My tip is to rent a bike and spend a couple of hours freewheeling and seeing the sights.
6. North City Beach Park
Moments from South City Beach Park, there’s another, more tucked-away public beach park. The landmark here is the Hallandale Beach Ball Water Tower.
This is a replica of Hallandale Beach’s emblematic water tower, which stood in Bluesten Park from 1951. In 1990 the local artist Jim Weinberg turned the reservoir at the top into a cheerful beachball.
The original tower was torn down in 2013, but its spirit lives on at North City Beach Park. For amenities, there’s a volleyball court, restaurant, showers and restrooms.
The beach has quite a steep slope, so I’d advise parents to supervise children very closely. For anyone accustomed to lively waves, this is a great place to do some boogie boarding.
7. Tidal Cove Waterpark
Part of the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, this waterpark is open to outside visitors. By my reckoning, Tidal Cove has enough attractions for a whole day.
One to remember here is Boomerango, which you can do with family and friends. On this raft ride there’s a series of sudden drops, building to a “zero-gravity” finish.
Aqua Drop is one of those rides that seals you in a capsule at the start and simply drops you. But the craziest one for me was Whizzard, which has a 360° loop and a drop that comes out of nowhere.
On the lighter side of things, there’s a long lazy river, and an interactive water playground at Kids Cover. For a little more privacy you can book one of the park’s 25 airy cabanas.
8. Curci House
Purchased by the city in 2007, this historic mansion is a reminder of a quieter time in Hallandale Beach.
The city hadn’t even been incorporated when Frank and Rosina Curci built their Italian Renaissance-style escape in 1924.
The couple embellished their home with imported Cuban tiles, Italian color glass and Dade pine floors. Soon after, the house stood firm against the 1926 Miami Hurricane, which claimed more than 500 lives.
The couple helped shelter local residents whose homes had been destroyed in the disaster. Following a renovation, the Curci House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Guided tours are available by appointment, and there’s a charming light display at Christmas.
9. Oleta River State Park
Ten minutes to the south, the endless shorefront developments are interrupted by the largest urban park in Florida.
Covering more than 1,000 acres is a tranquil labyrinth of mangroves, native woods, and marshland, ready for activities like off-road bicycling and kayaking.
There are 15 miles of trails weaving through the woods, and you can visit the Oleta River Outdoor Center to rent a set of wheels, be it a mountain bike or tandem bike.
On the water you can paddle through dense mangrove tunnels, quickly forgetting that you’re in the middle of a metropolitan area home to more than 6,000,000 people.
There are magical places throughout the park. But the best of all for me is the cove on Biscayne Bay, with shallow waters that are like a swimming pool.
10. Pegasus and Dragon
Standing proud among the parking lots at Gulfstream Park is something that caught me by surprise. Here I came face-to-face with what is claimed to be the third-tallest statue in the United States.
As the name tells you, this steel and bronze sculptural group depicts two mythical creatures, a pegasus and a dragon. The dimensions are impressive, rising 100 feet and a total length of 200 feet.
Unveiled in 2014, the monument was designed and built by the German foundry, Strassacker, and took almost a year to complete.
On special occasions, Pegasus and Dragon is the focus of a nightly light and music show with effects like smoke from the dragon’s snout.
11. Joseph Scavo Park
Now prettier than ever, this inviting piece of greenery is designed mostly for passive recreation.
Joseph Scavo Park has a maze of paved ADA-accessible walkways, under a canopy of palms and other native trees. Check out the branches above, because I’ve seen plenty of iguanas in this park.
For dog-owners this is the place to exercise your pup off-leash in Hallandale Beach. The fenced dog park here has separate areas for smaller and larger dogs.
For other amenities you’ve got a playground, free exercise stations, and a basketball court.
12. Aqua Golf Driving Range
Farrelly Brothers movies are a guilty pleasure for me. So you can bet I was excited to find out that the driving range from There’s Something About Mary (1998) is right next to Hallandale Beach.
This is one of the last facilities of its kind, composed of nothing more than a driving range overlooking a 20-acre lake with distance markers and targets..
There are targets to aim for, and you can choose between covered and open hitting stalls. Following in the footsteps of Cameron Diaz, I had to hit a few balls. It was $15 for the stall and first bucket, and then there was a discount on subsequent buckets.
13. Don Soffer Exercise Trail
If you’re searching for the perfect spot for a run, there’s a 3.1-mile path on the perimeter of Turnberry Isle Resort Golf Course.
On the margins of Country Club Drive, the Don Soffer Exercise Trail is free for anyone to use. A few things that impressed me were the chilled water fountains, the constant shade, and the plantings on the side of the path.
There’s very little road traffic along Country Club Drive, while the golf course is a haven for wildlife. Every now and then you might see iguanas in the trees or waterfowl hanging on the fairways.
14. B.F. James Park
Close to the Big Easy Casino, B.F. James Park is another public space that has been given improvements in the last decade.
Among the amenities are a playground, basketball courts, palm-shaded walkways, a picnic pavilion, an outdoor fitness trail, and a simple but well-maintained pool.
The cost of admission for the pool is inexpensive, even for non-residents. The pool is open all year round, although the hours fluctuate with the season.
A number of aquatic programs are offered throughout the year, and you can inquire about renting this facility for private functions.
15. Big Easy Casino
Until a few years ago Hallandale Beach was renowned as a center for greyhound racing. The state instituted a total ban on this activity in 2021.
The local venue was the Hollywood Greyhound Track, which staged its first races in 1934. Now known as the Big Easy Casino, this facility evolved over time, and added slot machines (900+) and a poker room in the 2000s.
The last greyhound race was in 2018, and today there’s more than 70,000 square feet of gaming space.
The Big Easy Poker Room has more than 30 tables, with Texas Hold ’em, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo and 7 Card Stud.
The casino also features simulcast thoroughbred, harness, and greyhound racing from all over the United States and Canada.