Embedded in the South Florida metropolitan area, Oakland Park is a suburban city on the edge of Fort Lauderdale.
Administratively, Oakland Park is an urban island, almost completely enclosed by Fort Lauderdale’s northern neighborhoods. I’ll include several Fort Lauderdale attractions and activities in my list, many of which are within a ten-minute drive.
Head east across the Intracoastal Waterway and you’ll reach the ocean, with access to Fort Lauderdale’s unbroken beachfront at Earl Lifshey Ocean Park.
North of the city is the DRV PNK Stadium. When I went to press, you could watch the world-famous soccer star Lionel Messi playing for Inter Miami at this venue.
All around are pockets of tropical nature, while Fort Lauderdale’s famous canals are a joy to navigate on guided tours.
1. Funky Buddha Brewery
Founded as a brewpub in Boca Raton in 2010, Funky Buddha Brewery was one of South Florida’s microbrewery pioneers. Although plenty of competitors have blasted onto the scene recently, this is still the region’s market leader.
The taproom in Oakland Park has a pared-back industrial design, with more than two dozen on tap. Of the year-round options, I have a thing for the citrusy Floridian Hefeweizen, and the crisp Vibin’ Lager.
Packed with shareable plates, the food menu has a lot of local ingredients, especially in the salads. Here the Caesar Salads contain Funky Buddha’s own Hop Gun IPA.
If you want an inside peek at South Florida’s largest brewery there are guided tours. You’ll hear about some of the quirky techniques that go in Funky Buddha’s creations, and can try some on the way.
2. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway is an oasis of coastal habitats surrounded by the hectic city.
Hugh Taylor Birch State park is named for the previous owner, a wealthy attorney for Standard Oil. Birch’s Art Deco home from 1940 is now the park’s visitor center. Inside I was intrigued by the exhibits about Birch, the park’s ecology, and the history of Fort Lauderdale.
Outside you can hike among palms, oaks and giant banyan trees, and paddle through lush mangroves on the water. A paved road winds around the park’s perimeter, and hiding among the vegetation on the east side is a freshwater lagoon a mile long.
Nearby, a pedestrian tunnel leads to Fort Lauderdale Beach, while there’s a water taxi stop for swift connections to the rest of the city.
3. The Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
On the south side of Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is a one-of-a-kind historical attraction dear to my heart.
This was the residence and studio of a famous artist and collector, Frederick Clay Bartlett (1873-1953). He was also a self-taught architect, and built the main house himself in 1920, in a kind of Caribbean plantation style.
What awaits you now is a scintillating time capsule of affluent beachfront living in the first decades of the 20th century. At that time Fort Lauderdale and Florida was a remote frontier outpost.
The main house is filled with a fanciful array of fine art and decorative art, while outside there’s just as much to see in the 35 acres of grounds.
In fact, the grounds feature five distinct ecosystems native to South Florida, including dunes, mangroves and maritime forest. Also be sure to visit the spectacular orchid house, which hosts an international orchid festival every April.
4. Catfish Dewey’s
An Oakland Park icon, Catfish Dewey’s is a family owned and operated business founded in 1984. Decades later, it’s still local fave, known for generous portions, reasonable prices, and a relaxed atmosphere.
As its name implies, one of Catfish Dewey’s biggest draws is the catfish, which comes fried, blackened or grilled. The menu is full of other tempting seafood entrees like scallops, boiled crawfish, snow crab, and shrimp.
For me, the best time to book a table is during stone crab season, between October and May, when there are all-you-can-eat offers for this variety.
The restaurant can get crowded in the evenings, especially on weekends, so you may need to wait a few minutes for a table to open up.
5. Earl Lifshey Ocean Park
The Atlantic shore is less than ten minutes east of Oakland Park. The nearest access point is Earl Lifshey Ocean Park, tucked between the condos at the east end of E Oakland Park Blvd.
After following a short paved trail you’ll find yourself on Fort Lauderdale’s long strip of white sand. A couple of miles north of Las Olas, the shorefront here has a more secluded feel.
The beach is especially lovely at low tide when there’s more space for everyone. At these times you can relax in a large shallow area with waist-deep waters that go out a long way.
Something I think everyone should do at least once, is set the alarm and watch the sun come up from the shore.
6. NSU Art Museum
As well as being one of South Florida’s most notable art museums, the NSU Art Museum is also a noted performing arts venue, with a theater that can seat more than 250 guests.
The permanent collection of art includes more than 7,500 works, mostly from the 19th and 20th century. A few specialties are the CoBrA movement, Latin American art, and ceramics and prints by Pablo Picasso.
These were all on show when I came by, as well as a wonderful display of original posters and drawings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
The museum is on Las Olas Boulevard which runs through the city’s most dynamic and diverse neighborhoods. It’s an excellent place for a self-guided walking tour after you’ve had your fill of art.
7. Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS)
One of Fort Lauderdale’s premier attractions, the Museum of Discovery and Science is all about interactive edutainment.
Over two floors are more than 20 interactive exhibits that encourage minds to participate, engage their skills, and learn how science is applied to everyday life.
For example, kids can investigate Florida’s tempestuous weather, see the giant animals that once roamed these lands, and discover the diverse habitats unique to the Sunshine State.
Almost every weekend there’s a different theme at MODS, marking seasonal celebrations, or highlighting specific topics like transport, dinosaurs, or engineering.
There’s also an epic, five-story IMAX theater for mind-blowing science-themed presentations. This is the largest screen in South Florida, and, for my money, is the best place in the region to watch major Hollywood releases.
8. Broward Center for the Performing Arts
One of the world’s top ten most-visited theaters is a few minutes from Oakland Park. With a magnificent location on the New River downtown, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts hosts more than 700 performances each year.
These are attended by more than 700,000 patrons. The choice of entertainment meets all ages and interests. There’s opera, Broadway musicals, ballet, plays, lectures, workshops, educational programing, and live music, from classical to rock.
I watched Hamilton here last year, and had a night to remember. The performance was first-class, the acoustics were perfect, the seats were comfortable, and the courteous staff ensured a perfect evening.
9. Xtreme Action Park
South Florida’s largest indoor family entertainment center is right on Oakland Park’s northern boundary.
I was blown away by the size of Extreme Action Park, spread across more than 200,000 square feet. Filling out much of this complex is an asphalt karting track with two layouts and gas-powered karts that can reach 45 mph.
There’s also an arcade with 150+ games, a ropes course, a trampoline park, VR Games, escape rooms, laser tag, bowling lanes, and a roller skating rink.
If you’re in need of something more sedate, you can play the 18-hole mini golf course, with an almost psychedelic glow-in-the-dark design.
By the track there’s the Pit Stop Kitchen with a food court layout, and more than 50+ LED TVs.
10. Sunrise Paddleboards
It’s no mystery why Fort Lauderdale got the nickname, Venice of America. The city is threaded with more than 300 miles of navigable inland waterways.
One advantage of traveling the canals is you get a better look at some of the opulent homes and mega yachts owned by Fort Lauderdale’s super-rich.
On land these are hidden in gated communities, but they’re free for all to see on the water. One company providing guided tours is Sunrise Paddleboards, which has a showroom a couple of minutes from Oakland Park at 2520 N Federal Hwy.
The main experience is the Venice of America tour. But this outfitter offers a world of other experiences, from paddleboard yoga to lessons for first-timers, and tours of the Bonnet House grounds.
11. Easterlin Park
I was surprised to come across a parcel of dense South Florida wilderness in the middle of Oakland Park. Just shy of 50 acres, Easterlin Park is a Designated Urban Wilderness, with cypress trees dating back some 250 years and climbing to 100 feet.
Creating a buffer against the urban fabric are ferns, wild coffee, oaks, cabbage palm, and red maples. At the very center is a lake with grassy shores and a trail leading to benches.
The park has 45 full-hookup camping sites, as well as six sites with partial hookups. Amenities include a disc golf course, a basketball court, a volleyball court, shuffleboard and horseshoes.
12. DRV PNK Stadium
When I wrote this article, the biggest ticket in town was this 21,000-seat stadium, by Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
For the next few years this will be the interim home of Inter Miami of the MLS, with a training facility on the surrounding campus. In the future they will be based at Freedom Park stadium in downtown Miami.
When Lionel Messi joined the Inter Miami roster, an extra 3,000 seats were added to cater to the crazy demand. Since it opened in 2018 the DRV PNK stadium has also hosted several USMNT matches, as well as CONCACAF Gold Cup group games.
13. Mills Pond Park
On 130 acres on the boundary with Fort Lauderdale, Mills Pond Park packs more of a recreation punch than any other park in the area.
The park is home to a popular and competitive softball league that often draws big crowds on weekend afternoons. There are also batting cages, playgrounds, covered pavilions, soccer fields, and a five-field football complex.
Its location near I-95 makes it convenient to get to, and with so many recreation options available, it’s a place that usually exceeds visitors’ expectations.
The park has full-service concessions, so if you end up staying longer than you’d originally planned, you’ll be able to pick something up and eat in the picnic area.
14. Coral Ridge Mall
On the scene for more than six decades, the Coral Ridge Mall is still relevant after all these years. There were close to 50 stores, with total occupancy when I stopped by.
A few of the big retailers are Old Navy, Foot Locker, Marshalls, OshKosh B’Gosh, Claire’s, Target, and T.J. Maxx.
In a separate building to the rear is a ten-screen AMC dine-in theater. With this concept, you place your order at the concession counter and your order will be brought right to your seat.
On the menu during my visit were flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches, bowls, salads, chicken wings, and mac and cheese.
I think it’s safe to say that natural climbing walls are hard to find in Florida. Still, for the next best thing you can head to indoor climbing gyms like ProjectRock in Oakland Park.Catering to newbies as much as seasoned climbers, ProjectRock is 12,000+ square foot facility, with walls ranging from 40 to 60 feet.
These have more than 10,000 color-coded holds, with 125+ routes, on realistic walls, designed with top rope and lead climbing in mind.
New top rope climbers will need to take a belay class. Or you can pay an additional fee to have one of the guides hold the rope for you.If you’ve already got experience, there’s a belay test, after which you should be free to use the facility.
ProjectRock offers a wide variety of activities, from climbing classes to yoga, live entertainment and kids’ camps.