Packed onto the narrow barrier island east of the Intracoastal Waterway, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a quaint and lovable beachfront town.
If I had to pick one outstanding thing about LBTS it would be the coral reef awaiting offshore. South of Anglin’s Pier you can wade out and snorkel in the reef’s shallow, wildlife-rich waters. There’s also the wreck of the SS Copenhagen, a freighter that sank a little further out in 1900.
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is one of those town’s where you can spend days without needing a car. There’s a walkable downtown, bike rentals, and even a shuttle van that will get you where you need to go.
Commercial Boulevard is the LBTS’s nightlife hub, and neatly merges with the beachfront, where there’s a plaza, framed by lively restaurants and bars that stay open late on weekends.
1. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Beach
A dream place to spend an afternoon on the Atlantic shore, LBTS’s main public beach is the town’s centerpiece. You’ve a wide ribbon of soft sand complemented by a fishing pier, and lots of eateries and shops.
My one tip is to bring your snorkeling gear if you have it. Many people don’t even know that there’s a reef not far offshore until they’ve already arrived.
If you don’t have any equipment, there’s a couple of shops close by along Commercial Boulevard. Alternatively you can also book a guided trip, and I’ll talk about one of these companies below.
2. Commercial Boulevard
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s main street is a drag of Commercial Boulevard, between the pier and Intracoastal Waterway.
This stretch is designed around little shopping centers/strip malls, but is still walkable, despite four lanes of traffic.
If you’re out for a meal, or some shopping in LBTS, this is the place to come. Food-wise you’ve pretty much got it all, from contemporary American to pizza, Vietnamese, sandwiches, seafood, Italian, Japanese, diner food, pub fare, or Mexican.
Also on this stretch are galleries, day spas, salons, souvenir shops, and places where you can rent bikes and purchase diving/snorkeling gear and fishing supplies.
3. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling at Anglin’s Pier Reef
In a town touted as Florida’s Beach Diving Capital there’s a whole local economy devoted to exploring the naturally vibrant waters just offshore.
The best beach access for diving and snorkeling is Datura Avenue, a few blocks south of Anglin’s Pier. The reef is in two bands, about 250 feet out and then 450 feet out.
This continues all the way up to the pier, although there’s a 300-foot exclusion zone around this structure.
The first line is at a depth of just ten feet, and if you get the right conditions you’ll have clear waters for viewing marine life.
A few species at this depth are blue tang, spotted scorpionfish, nurse sharks, spotted goatfish, and bermuda chub. Also along the first reef is a purpose-built shipwreck trail, with five cannons and an anchor.
4. SS Copenhagen
Something that cements LBTS’s reputation as a diving and snorkeling paradise is this wreck perched on a reef ¾ of a mile offshore.
The SS Copenhagen (1898) was an English freighter that sank in 1900 on its way from Philadelphia to South Florida. Since then it’s become a haven for marine life, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Today it’s a popular diving destination, although you will need a boat to get there. There’s a variety of tour packages available for those who’d like to take a look.
Some 10,000 people visit the wreck every year, and LBTS has published a detailed map of the site, from the anchor to the stern.
5. El Prado Park
Another well-appointed public beach access in LBTS is El Prado Park, a few blocks north of Commercial Boulevard.
Arriving at this park, you’ll be met by a spacious lawn, trimmed by palm trees on both sides. Couched among the hedges along the path here are adorable wooden chairs with umbrellas, ideal for a chat with a friend.
There’s a pair of gazebos at the far end, by the dune crossover and shower. If you’re interested in swimming out to the reef I’d check out the informative sign here before you step onto the sand.
6. Beach Pavilion & Anglin’s Square
On the east side of El Mar Drive, the final block of Commercial Drive is a delight. Made for strolling, this spot has eateries with sidewalk dining, an ice cream stand, and a shop for beach stuff.
At the center is a square lined with yet more of LBTS’s signature wooden chairs. With live music on the air, this is a convivial place to hang out and do some people-watching.
East of this and welcoming you onto the main public beach is the Beach Pavilion.
Check out the benches under the pavilion, designed like little boats. Meanwhile the plaza has games for kids and is a laid-back sanctuary, with umbrellas and natural shade from the palms.
The plaza is used for a variety of events all year. When I came by there were free dance classes in the evenings here.
7. Square Grouper SoFlo
If you’re like me and would think twice before swimming out 200 feet and exploring a reef, there are a few companies that will help you with the experience.
One is Square Grouper SoFlo, offering private, boatless snorkeling tours of the reef in the company of experienced guides. They have a deep knowledge of this flourishing marine environment and its diverse marine life.
While an ability to swim is a prerequisite, you don’t need much more than that, and children as young as five can take part. You’ll get all the gear you need, including fins and a mask with tempered glass for maximum visibility.
Something I really appreciate about Square Grouper is that a portion of all earnings go back into protecting these reefs.
8. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market
On Sundays, November through May, there’s a farmers’ market around the lawn at Park. On my visit I counted close to 40 vendors, with an enormous selection.
This included locally grown fruit and vegetables, honey, herbal supplements, nut butters, orchids, jams, kettle corn, pickles, baked goods, dog treats, and more.
In terms of prepared food, you can stop by for acai bowls, smoothies, empanadas, and BBQ, although the selection changes weekly.
El Prado Park doesn’t have a parking lot, but there’s a lot of metered parking directly across El Mar Drive.
9. Blue Moon Fish Company
Ultra-fresh Seafood is yet another of South Florida’s great selling points. I’m happy to report that Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s is especially strong in this regard.
In a lovely spot on the Intracoastal Waterway, the upscale Blue Moon Fish Company is in an Art Deco-inspired building with a private dock in front.
Among the entrees are Pan-Seared Atlantic Halibut, Jerk Rubbed Yellowfin Tuna, and Blackened Local Mahi Mahi, a real favorite.
If you’re in town on a Sunday, it’s a great idea to come for the Sunday brunch. This has won multiple awards, with its extensive buffet and tapas selection, and attentive mimosa refills.
10. Aruba Beach Cafe
A mainstay on Anglin Square is this always-lively Caribbean-American restaurant, cultivating an easy-going island vibe.
To go with a beachfront view of the ocean there’s tropical cuisine, happy hour, nightly live music, and extended opening times on weekends.
Generally, seafood is the main attraction. For me, there are a few essentials all first-timers need to keep on their radar. Among them are the Lobster Salad Sandwich, the Conch Fritters with Tequila and Lime Remoulade, and the Sesame Crusted Salmon.
Both indoor and beachfront seating is available, and there are three bars open throughout the day.
Something neat I have to bring up about Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is this free community bus service. The Circuit-by-the-Sea shuttles around the town 10 am to 8 pm Sunday to Thursday, and 10 am to 11 pm on weekends.
This service is open to both residents and visitors, and replaced the former Pelican Hopper bus. The Circuit-by-the-Sea is 100% electric, and part of the town’s commitment to going green.
You can flag down one of these vans as it makes its way around the town. There’s an app that will show you where exactly they are, and you can also use it to request a ride to and from anywhere within LBTS.
12. Anglin’s Fishing Pier
One of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s iconic landmarks first opened to the public in 1963. Anglin’s Pier was named after the town’s first mayor, Melvin I. Anglin, and is privately owned.
A reason it’s so loved by fishing folk is because of its low height, at just 12 feet above the water. There’s sand fishing for the first few hundred feet, while the remainder is reef, so there’s a remarkable divergence in the species you can catch depending on where you cast your line.
Now, when I was in town the pier was closed to the public. First, it was badly damaged by Irma in 2017, requiring a partial closure. Then Hurricane Nicole came along in 2022, and it was declared entirely unsafe.
There’s no question of the pier ever closing permanently, but the reconstruction work was still in the planning phase when I went to press.
13. Friedt Family Park
To the rear of the town hall is a well-appointed community park with a lot of amenities on a small plot.
Friedt Family Park is a great local asset, just a couple of blocks north of Commercial Boulevard. Amenities include basketball, shuffleboard, and LBTS’s municipal tennis courts.
I reckon parents and caregivers will appreciate the park the most. The playground here is exceptional, with new equipment, and a pair of beautiful mature magnolia trees providing a lot of shade.
The playground is fenced, bedded with sand, and has benches and a picnic table.
14. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Visitor Center
Sharing a cute building with the local chamber of commerce is a visitor center, open every day except Wednesday and Sunday.
This place is staffed by people with decades of local experience, and is a worthwhile first stop in LBTS.
You can get shopping and dining suggestions, book accommodations, work out transportation, and learn about discounts at local businesses.
I also found volumes of local brochures, magazines, maps, guides, and other materials for a little extra inspiration. If you’re in LBTS for diving or snorkeling, the visitor center is a great resource, whether you want to book a trip or go self-guided.
15. Pompano Beach Amphitheater
There’s live music at several eateries in LBTS, but if you want major shows, one of the state’s top outdoor venues is a few minutes away.
Seating 3,000, the Pompano Beach Amphitheater can hold another 7,000 on the surrounding grounds.
In the years before I compiled this list, the amphitheater had hosted numerous nationally-known performers in a wide range of musical genres. A few of the big names are Willie Nelson, Steve Miller Band, Salt n’ Pepa, Sammy Hagar, and Pat Benatar.
The amphitheater sits in Pompano Community Park, home to the long-running Pompano Beach Seafood Festival in April.