Cooley's Landing Marina
Photo by TasfotoNL/Shutterstock.com

This boat ramp on the Riverwalk is ideal for putting in a kayak for a jaunt along the Tarpon River and an afternoon picnic. Paddle past Esplanade Park, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and miles of scenic shoreline. Nearly 200 years ago, Seminole Indians here attacked the home of William Cooley, one of Fort Lauderdale's first settlers. According to historians, Cooley wasn't at home, but his wife and children were slaughtered. Many consider this the beginning of the Second Seminole War and what led to the construction of the three forts that gave Fort Lauderdale its name. Some people claim that the park is haunted; there are rumors of women and children screaming late at night. But we've only ever witnessed a clan of friendly ducks quacking.

Hollywood Beach Broadwalk
Hollywood CRA

Can't say we'd blame a kid for taking a self-appointed mental-health day to dodge the rays of Common Core pulsing through Florida classrooms. Any beach will do for swimming or playing volleyball, but Hollywood, with its bustling Broadwalk strip, has the added thrill of being busy enough that you may have to dodge a grownup who knows you. If a truant officer asks what you're up to, though, you can easily unleash a foreign accent and pretend you are visiting from Australia or Kazakhstan — a passable excuse on the tourist-laden beach. Then continue merrily on to ogle Speedo-wearing visitors, who will surely photobomb all your selfies. Just make sure Mom and Dad aren't checking Instagram tonight.

New River/Downtown Docks
Photo by Ianaré Sévi via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, "tootling" is a thing. A thing preferably done with 12 ice-cold cans of whatever your captain is drinking. Who doesn't like a good tootle down Dania Cutoff Canal, through Pond Apple Slough, and back out to the Intracoastal Waterway? Here, you'll find manatees mingling with schools of mullet, record-setting tarpon devouring blue crabs, Great Blue Herons, ibises, and prehistoric-looking iguanas (that may or may not taste like chicken) shitting all over Hell's Half Acre. Rumor has it a roofer saw a bull shark swimming up a canal in Riverland not long ago. While that may be fiction, the alligators lurking in the mangroves are not (RIP, Mr. Cuddles). Since we all know "boat" stands for "break out another thou$and," the best way to get on the water is to find a friend with a boat. If you haven't found your captain yet, there's always the Jungle Queen.

Hotel Biba
Photo courtesy of Hotel Biba

This vintage motor lodge, painted in an array of tropical pastels, was lovingly redesigned and restored some ten years ago under the cool, sharp eye of legendary fashionista Barbara Hulanicki, whose U.K. clothing store was an icon of London's Swinging Sixties and whose nickname — Biba — was appropriated for the hotel. The rooms are smallish, but the ambiance is expansive: a playful pastiche of retro modern fixtures and furnishings inside, a good-sized pool, and lounging areas in a Caribbean-style setting outside. Set at the edge of West Palm Beach's South Dixie arts and antiques district, it's a short stroll from the Norton Museum, and some of the area's most innovative chefs ply their trade nearby. With rooms starting around $75 (sans taxes and fees), it's affordable too.

Readers' choice: The Breakers Palm Beach

Hollywood Dog Beach
Photo by Yesenia Hernandez

Let's be real: Out-of-towners come to South Florida to hit the beach. Everything else (except maybe the drinking) is secondary. So are you really going to take Aunt Sally or Uncle Gene or Beefsteak, your old college roommate, on a gondola ride through Fort Lauderdale? They want the sun, and there's no better place to soak up some rays than Hollywood's Dog Beach. Why? It's in the name, people. It's both a dog park and a beach. It's a beach and dog park. What's not to get? You're welcome.

Your senses heighten as warmth from the sun caresses your body, you breathe in the salty air, and think, "Man, this Publix sub tastes amazing." It's quieter here than at the other beaches, so you're thankfully not interrupted by a crying toddler or the blaring of Daddy Yankee. Looking 50 feet away at the closest stranger's towel, you devise a plan to take a quick catnap and absorb a little bit of vitamin D before climbing the rocks and exploring for little crabs. The sound of the waves breaking against the rocks is steady and soothing. Even if your nap goes longer than planned, it's "Whatever, dude," because at least now and here, life is good.

Sawgrass Mills Mall
Photo by Chung Lun Chiang/Flickr

Ah, people-watching: It's the best free entertainment available. Anyone committed to this hobby must head to Sawgrass Mills Mall to take in the crowd in all its splendor. Each wing of this vast marketplace has a distinct personality, yet they all come together in both of the enormous food courts. People are literally dropped off by the busload every few hours at the "Blue Dolphin" and "Yellow Toucan" entrances wearing the same brightly colored jerseys and backpacks, ready to spend every last dollar. Head to "The Oasis" section to eyeball the emerging species of modern tweens, dressed head to toe in Hot Topic gear, sulking until their moms come to pick them up. Eyeball the Gap to watch middle-aged women delight over nabbing the last pair of jeans on the front table. Another solid option is to grab some Ben & Jerry's and post up at a bench to watch the kiosk people get shot down over and over again when they ask if they can straighten shoppers' hair or give them facemasks. Victories and defeats — they're all on display in this microcosm of the human condition.

Walk into this charming tea shop and owner Maureen Ruggeri will take care of you. Opened on the full moon in September 2012, Eat the Tea focuses on tea's mystical healing powers. Ruggeri studied teas and their uses across cultures and throughout history and considers hers to be elixirs. She has blends labeled "brain," "skin," and "stomach," for the body parts they aim to heal. The shop earned its name because Ruggeri believes that eating leftover tea leaves and fruit chunks —anything from rose petals to orange peels and calendula — is awesome for one's health. Ruggeri purchases her ingredients from as far away as Japan and Taiwan. Her store is bright and accented with a string of fairy lights and a big storefront window. The walls are lime green, with crooked paintings and colorful tapestries. Ideal after a thunderstorm, when you can shake the droplets off and cozy up on the couch for the rest of day. If rose petals and orange peels don't wholly satiate your appetite, Ruggeri has vegan sandwiches and meals for you too.

It's kind of tough to find a spot to watch the sun sink during the twilight hours, what with us living on the East Coast instead of the West. But you don't necessarily need to live in Naples or Tampa to appreciate a gorgeous sunset — you just need to be on a beach chair with a cool drink in hand. Fort Lauderdale Beach is primo territory for that. Sure, you won't see the orange ball actually drop below the horizon — but you can catch the blue sky slowly turn a gorgeous lavender as specks of stars begin to appear, all while feeling the sand between your toes.

Driftwood Community Pool
Courtesy City of Hollywood

In South Florida, a backyard pool is every child's dream. But pools are expensive, and the upkeep can be tedious.. Driftwood Community Pool, which opened in 2004, is as welcoming as a home pool with the convenience of your neighbor's. (Somebody else can check the danged chlorine.) There are swimming summer camps, swimming lessons, and meets here. In the summer, children kick on noodles and play Marco Polo. Australian pines and palm trees provide some shade in one pocket of the water. Unlike other community pools, Driftwood has a beach entry, a slope that slowly descends from zero to four feet, making it handicap-accessible too. In the winter months, it stays heated at 83 to 86 degrees.

Readers' choice: The W Fort Lauderdale Hotel

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