All you need for a weekend in Fort Lauderdale is a couple speedos, and a cover-up or two for top and bottom. It is the most compact vacation to pack for, which leaves plenty of room for baubles and accessories. Ding, I’m ready!
It’s not simply that it’s a gay destination, among peers like Palm Springs, West Hollywood, and Provincetown. In Wilton Manors it’s more pronounced than elsewhere in South Florida (maybe Miami Beach is a tie), with cultural spillovers into the area’s overall flavor; Fort Lauderdale is the geographic center of a five million plus metropolitan region’s LGBTQ life. For visitors, this means a wildly more inclusive, open, and atypical meshing of gay activities with that of all other. Gay clubs, bars, restaurants, stores (Leatherwerks!), resorts, bath houses…all over the place.
Broward County also has the second highest per capita AIDS contraction rate in the country, after Miami-Dade County.
It isn’t outright sophistication either, a trait alpha world cities are more typically known for (not a trait ever used to describe Florida, generally). Though, again, it is more worldly than the rest of Florida, thanks to mass migration of retirees from the Northeast and expats from South America, and many professionals from elsewhere around the country.
The single most notable similarity to other major metros is the ambient activity level – there’s just more of it. More cars, bigger roads, more pedestrians, more packed restaurants and cafes. Busy beaches, bustling hotels, thriving sea- and airports. One of the reasons I so enjoy larger cities is the feeling of activity and criss-crossing lives at every step. The introvert’s observation potential is rich and fascinating when there are plenty of people to peruse.
It doesn’t hurt that many are militantly fit and happy to flaunt.
Driving through Downtown Fort Lauderdale, walking on the beach or on Wilton Drive, or seated at a restaurant…there always seems to be a dramatic scene or delicious man to interpret. Many cities lack that critical mass of population to seemingly fill every spot at once, in a busy beehive, deals-are-happening, lives-are-being-lived sort of way.
The built environment is almost identical in shape and age to the Tampa area, coming of age during the automobile and sprawl boom of the mid-20th century, but there are more bodies and infrastructure filling it in. Sprawl gripped the area so tightly for so long in Fort Lauderdale, much of what used to be Everglades swamp is now dredged suburbia. This was only just recently halted by arbitrary bounds on development, denoted by major highways separating homes from swamp lands.
On that note, the architecture is unique as well. Not strictly deco like Miami is known for, but more grounded in midcentury modern, of which I am a fan.
Fort Lauderdale’s water centrality is like most of Florida, though it is more water-accessible. Many homes are ‘waterfront’ because they are built on a series of connecting canals, which open onto both the Atlantic and Intracoastal waterway. Thus, many restaurants and bars are also dock-able. Many days are spent on the water…drinking, floating.
Boating is a lifestyle, and the area is very much a place to be seen by boat, as much as on foot or rubber tire. This is good for those born under a water sign, for we both fear and love the deep sea. As I mentioned before, sun+fun = little clothing necessary, and ample tanline potential.
Ultimately, Fort Lauderdale lives up to a stereotype I have long held: that South Florida is racy. Sexy, dangerous, and tragic. It has a deviant edge that is always peeking from behind a veneer of leisure and beauty. Temptation is all around, especially for gays, and it simultaneously excites and scares me. It’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend, and absorb stimuli.