Clear, warm waters, beautiful beaches, miles of coral reef – plus, all the amenities you could need. Welcome to “the island you can drive to.”
From his fleet of boats at South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach, Jeff Torode can teach you to fly-board – “It’s like riding a surfboard in the air,” he says – or drop you into an underwater collection of shipwrecks for diving. But he gets just as excited sharing what’s to do on land in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, from restaurant-hopping to exploring quaint beach towns.
Take it Day to Night
By day, Torode recommends taking your pick of the area’s beaches and water sports offerings, from diving to sports fishing to kiteboarding. By night, take your pick of restaurants and shops (Torode likes the outlets at Sawgrass Mills). You can even bar-hop by paddleboard, Torode reports; group tours drift up and down the Intracoastal Waterway select nights.
Jeff Torode, owner of South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach, Florida
Experience the Venice of America
Paddle-boarding isn’t the only way to experience the Intracoastal Waterway, which Torode calls “one of the best ways to see our area.” So many waterways flow through the area, in fact, it’s nicknamed “the Venice of America.” If you’re looking for a modest price and hop-on, hop-off service (you’ll pass a spoil of restaurants and shops en route), Torode recommends boarding a water taxi. But it’s just as easy to cruise luxuriously – Torode and other charters offer dinner cruises aboard yachts.
Plunge – or at Least Peek – Underwater
From Torode’s glass-bottom catamaran boat, groups can view the reef and marine life through the glass, snorkel or dive. “People are amazed that the reef is so close in and the water’s so clear and warm,” he says, though it’s not only the reef that attracts divers to the area. “We’re the shipwreck capital of Florida,” Torode claims, explaining, “Shipwreck Park is 17 ships within about one square mile. Lady Luck is the centerpiece.” On her deck, divers can glimpse marine life mingling with whimsical sculptures, including a mermaid cocktail waitress.
Catch an Event
Back on land, Torode recommends catching one of the area’s signature events, including Tortuga Music Festival in April, Fourth of July fireworks on the beach and December’s Winterfest Boat Parade, when locals cruise aboard illuminated, festively decorated boats.
Other Area Charms
In search of classic Florida beach towns? Torode describes the communities of Lauderdale by the Sea and Pompano Beach as “quaint with beautiful beaches,” the kind of places where you can find mom-and-pop accommodations and small shops. For more of that “Old Florida” feel, he recommends heading to the community of Lighthouse Point for fresh seafood—and tales of rum-running—at Cap’s Place. “Just don’t forget that our western border is Everglades National Park,” Torode adds, recommending an airboat eco-tour for the full experience.