Miami and Fort Lauderdale on a Budget
Unwind on the Beach in Fort Lauderdale or Miami Without Spending Big Bucks
Affordable Florida vacations are within easy reach, even in tourist hot spots like Fort Lauderdale, pictured above.
Just because Fort Lauderdale is rapidly bulldozing its old-school Spring Break motels for high-ticket high-rises like the St. Regis and W, and Miami Beach long ago succumbed to the siren song of developers and star-studded guest lists, doesn't mean a South Florida beach getaway has to cost a bundle.
Plan your trip around one city and skip the rental-car expense or splurge on wheels and visit both; either way, a budget-conscious vacation that combines sun-drenched sands and urban style is well within your wallet's reach with a little advance planning.
Stay: If you don't mind higher temperatures, June through September is the best time to find discounted rates across South Florida. Visit www.miamiandbeaches.com or www.sunny.org for special summer hotel deals.
In Fort Lauderdale, the key to year-round savings is in the small lodgings that sit back two to three blocks from the city's main beach, often with apartment-style rooms for self-catering and discounts for weekly stays. The Tropi Rock Resort (rates from $76) is a quirky charmer with a faux-rock waterfall cascading into its pool and enough colors in its tropical décor to fill a Crayola box. Tidy, tucked-away Cocobelle Resort (rates from $79) comes with a heated pool, free Wi-Fi and upgraded, tiled rooms.
When hotel-hunting in Miami Beach, it benefits the wallet to look to quieter properties at least 10 blocks north of the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. Built in 1936, the Indian Creek Hotel (rates from $99) sits one block from the beach, melding Art Deco architecture with a vintage travel theme. Its courtyard Mediterranean restaurant, Creek 28, is a local gem.
Eat: When in doubt, follow the locals. In Miami Beach, that means stepping away from Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road to join the omnipresent queues at La Sandwicherie or Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. For more substantial sit-downs, diner-style Puerto Sagua serves hearty and authentic Cuban dishes, while colorful Haitian restaurant Tap Tap adds live music on weekends to a menu of fresh fish and stewed goat dishes. Fort Lauderdale budget favorites near the beach include the Parrot Lounge for tasty pub grub and the Greek Islands Taverna for authentic Mediterranean fare.
Gourmet meals are also within reach without breaking the bank. More than three dozen area restaurants -- including Jackson's Steakhouse, Four Rivers Contemporary Thai and Cero at the St. Regis -- participate in the annual Dine Out Lauderdale program, from October 1 through November 14, offering three-course meals for $35 on weeknights. Miami Spice, held in August and September, delivers a similar deal, with 80-plus participating eateries throughout the city offering three-course meals for $26 at lunch and $36 at dinner. Hot spots like Blue Door at The Delano, Wish and Tantra are in the lineup.
See/Do: Fortunately, there's no charge for sunbathing, but if you want a break from the beach and don't have a rental car, there are inexpensive sightseeing options. Take a water taxi ($13 all-day pass) in canal-filled Fort Lauderdale, aka the "Venice of America." The 11-stop route does double-duty as an aquatic tour and a shuttle to local attractions between East Oakland Park Boulevard and the 17th Street Causeway. During high season, the company also operates day cruises to Miami Beach. The best way to explore Miami Beach's candy-colored 1930s architecture is on foot. Visit the Art Deco Welcome Center where self-guided audio tours are available for iPod ($15) or cell phone ($10).
Pampering yourself doesn't have to come with a hefty price tag either. Miami launches Spa Month in July with $99 packages at 20 top spas. Fort Lauderdale's annual Spa Chic program offers $99 spa packages at 11 area hotels in September.
For more savings, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale websiteto order and download a Summer of Discovery guide with two-for-one offers on museums, boat trips and more, valid June to September. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau also posts special attraction offers on its website.