How to Enjoy a South Florida Vacation on a Recession Budget
Gas prices are heading through the roof and foreclosure signs are popping up like McDonalds. It’s stressful times like these when you need to get away the most—to have a little recessication. But is a South Florida getaway in the cards right now, you ask? Sure, if you play them right! A few adjustments will be in order, of course. What follows are some suggested strategies for keeping things simple and inexpensive.
Instead of opting for two weeks in South Beach, you’d be surprised what can be accomplished in just 2 or 3 days. Also, rather than traveling during the winter months, try to get your trip in when the weather’s warm—and the prices are low. And, perhaps most importantly, instead of doing it up at the Delano, hang on to your hard-earned cash and keep things on the down-low in Dania Beach or Hollywood, making day-trips to the surrounding towns.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Unless you’re a French Canadian, you may not have considered making the Hollywood/Dania Beach area your home base. But our neighbors to the north might be on to something: Hollywood and Dania, nestled ideally between South Florida’s two biggest travel destinations, South Beach and Fort Lauderdale, offer you easy access to both cities for a fraction of what it would cost to stay in either city.
THE DANIA MOTEL 6: CONVENIENT AND PET-FRIENDLY
Though at first mention it may not sound as sexy and exotic, the Dania Beach Motel 6 (825 E Dania Beach Blvd, Dania, FL, 33004, 954-921-5505) is one of the local best kept secrets—at just 30 minutes from South Beach, and even less from Fort Lauderdale, it‘s too good to pass up (More pics here). This family-owned branch of the popular chain attracts a young, international crowd and sports African green monkeys on its back fence! The eco-inclined will also appreciate its location in the midst of a wetlands preserve, with easy access to John U. Lloyd State Park, the Anne Kolb Nature Center, and Hollywood’s North Beach Park. In the low season, two people can enjoy a clean room with 2 queen sized beds for the Internet rate of just $50.39 a night (plus 11% tax) at the time of this September 2008 writing. Other amenities include nominally-priced Wi-Fi service, laundry facilities and a heated pool. What’s more, whereas you’ll be paying per diem parking in addition to your room in South Beach, here in Dania, you’ll have plenty of space to stash your Subaru at no additional cost.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to shell out a little extra for some beachside digs, you may prefer to explore some of the quaint mom-and-pop places along the north end of Hollywood Beach. You’ll pay more there, of course, but it’s still chicken feed compared to comparable establishments on South Beach. Take a brief tour of Hollywood Beach’s finest here.
THE HOLLYWOOD BROADWALK
This 2.6-mile concrete walkway, located along one of the region’s cleanest beaches, provides an abundance of reasonably-priced bars, restaurants and leisurely ambience all within walking distance, where you can kick back and people watch. The mood is decidedly less formal than SoBe, but it also makes for a more relaxing experience (Here’s a photo essay!).
You may choose to grab a pizza and a pitcher of beer on the Broadwalk at well-known spots like Angelo’s Corner Restaurant & Pizzeria (200 Garfield St, Hollywood, FL 33019-3301, 954-923-0679), the Broadwalk Restaurant and Grille (1400 N. Surf Rd, Hollywood, FL 33019, 954-922-0322), or Oasis by the Sea Greek Restaurant (1211-A North Surf Rd, Hollywood, FL 33019, 954-922-4800). Prices for a large cheese pizza at these places with a pitcher of beer or soda range from $14 to $17.95.
If you want to kick back and have a few drinks while you watch the tide roll in, Nick’s Bar and Grill (1214 N. Surf Rd., Hollywood, FL 33019, 954-920-2800) is a neighborhood favorite; they also have burgers, clams and oysters on the half-shell.
However, for the most famous burger on Hollywood Beach, you’ll want to go to Le Tub (1100 N Ocean Dr, Hollywood, FL 33019, 954-921-9425), located off the broadwalk, across the A-1A, on the Intracoastal Waterway. They’ve been vetted by Oprah and GQ Magazine, no less! Boats pull up for dockside service while you enjoy your meal in this funky indoor-outdoor saloon whose décor looks like Sanford and Son meets Flipper. One suggestion, though: bring some cash along, because these quality sirloin burgers are splurgers at $11+ a piece—and they don’t take American Express!
ENJOYING A PENSIVE MOMENT AT LE TUB
If you’ve had your fill of the informal flip-flop world of Hollywood Beach, downtown Hollywood makes a sophisticated contrast. A walkable village set off a dazzling traffic circle with its own art park in the middle, you can find gelati, sushi, tapas, and even a Transylvanian Café! The garlic no doubt keeps the vampires away at the Transylvania Restaurant (113 S. 20th Ave., Hollywood, FL 33020, 954-929-0777), where you can sink your teeth into Romanian favorites such as stuffed cabbage, schnitzel, goulash, and kebab while enjoying nightly entertainment.
My personal favorite is the Sushi Blues Café (2009 Harrison St., Hollywood, FL 33020, 954-929-9560). This hip-but-affordable establishment doubles as the Blue Monk Lounge, so you can enjoy your sushi and sake with a side of some really creative jazz and blues.
A note to the frugal: Hollywood is the city where the parking meters never sleep! And just about anywhere worth going there is going to require paying to park. I guess they have to pay off all those recent redevelopment costs somehow. Nonetheless, the rates are pretty decent at $1 per hour in most places. Here are some public parking lots if the street spaces are in short supply.
If you’ve got the kids in tow, Dania’s the place to go. Boomers (1700 NW 1st St., Dania, FL 33004, 954-921-1411) not only has a sizable arcade, it also offers a mile and a half go-kart track, mini-golf, bumper boats, and an old wooden roller coaster that looks like it was brought over from Coney Island.
FORT LAUDERDALE ON THE FLY
For the Lauderdale portion of your mini-vacation, you’ll want to start the ball rolling on Las Olas Blvd, between the Federal Highway and the A-1A, which is ground zero for shopping and sidewalk dining.
LAS OLAS BLVD IS LAUDERDALE’S RESTAURANT ROW
The eclectic dining options can be enjoyed for a song compared with the South Beach alternatives. Further up, you’ll find the Riverwalk, an outdoor mall set right on a busy yacht-filled canal.
The best way to enjoy the city? Hop on the water taxi! A regular, all-day pass has risen to $13 effective May 2008, but it’s still a bargain when you consider the things you’ll see. Check their site for more details.
FORT LAUDERDALE’S EVER-POPULAR WATER TAXI
Those who would like to enjoy Fort Lauderdale’s natural attractions should experience Hugh Taylor Birch State Park (3109 East Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304, 954-564-4521) and Bonnet House (900 North Birch Rd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304, 954-563-5393). These two parks, practically across the street from each other, make up the remnants of the old Bartlett estate, originally bequeathed by Lauderdale pioneer Hugh Taylor Birch to his daughter and her husband in 1919. Hugh Taylor Birch offers a more natural experience, with its secluded jungle world of banyans and dense tropical vegetation. One side looks off toward the Intracoastal canal, while the other abuts the A-1A, offering a pedestrian tunnel for easy beach access. Bonnet House has a much more formal feel, and, like the area behind the Motel 6 in Dania, has wild monkeys roaming the treetops.
THE BONNET HOUSE
The gardens will astound you; the raccoons will steal your lunch. You can prowl the grounds for $10, or tour the house as well for $20.
A TASTE OF SOUTH BEACH
If you want to get a sampling of the place where the elite retreat, but you don’t have the euros to do it in style, it can still be enjoyed on a modest budget. This is best done during the daylight hours; at night, the streets can get a little wild—especially those closest to the ocean—and the prices follow suit.
Parking is one of the most challenging aspects of life on the beach. Much of it is either metered, available only by permit or in pricey garages. However, you can get around the $15 per day garage fee by learning a few choice secrets: the residential permit parking areas allow non-residents to park between 8 am and 6 pm on weekdays. If you arrive on a weekend, the first block north of Fifth Street between Alton and Meridian doesn’t require a permit. That first block makes a great place to leave the car in general; you can easily get around the beach on foot or using the Electric Wave electric bus for 25 cents.
For day tours and itinerary ideas, MiamiBeach411.com is here to help. We’ve just opened our new office on the corner of Lenox and Fifth—though it’s probably best to arrange your tour at least a day before on the website. See a list of Tours.
If you enjoy walking, South Beach is a great place to do it. Follow Fifth Street east to Lummus Park, and you’ll catch Ocean Drive and the beach. If you go west from the south side of Fifth and Lenox, you’ll find the South Beach marina and a walkway which takes you around the south side of the island, in the neighborhood the locals call So-Fi, or “South of Fifth”. This neighborhood is a little mellower than the ones further north.
THE SOUTH BEACH MARINA: SOUTH OF FIFTH, ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE ISLAND
Once at the beach, you can follow the boardwalk north as it winds its way through the beautiful coconut grove that is Lummus Park, the familiar art deco buildings of Ocean Drive just beyond it, up past a hotel section, where you’ll get an eyeful of the good life as you check out some of the swimming pools.
Once you get to Lincoln Road, make a left and experience South Beach’s premiere shopping street. Closed to traffic between Washington and Lenox Avenues, you’ll enounter an eclectic mix of retail shops, restaurants, and—if you’re lucky—Mr. Clucky. Local Mark Buckley rides around the thoroughfare on a bike with the famous rooster perched on his handlebars. Often you’ll hear Mr. Clucky before you see him.
MR. CLUCKY GREETS HIS PUBLIC
After you’ve gotten your fill of Lincoln Road, head two blocks south and take a stroll down Espanola Way, starting at Washington and working your way west. This street, South Beach’s other pedestrian thoroughfare, has a more artsy, intimate, Bohemian feel to it than Lincoln Road.
Once you get to Meridian Avenue, head south and rest your legs for a while in Flamingo Park. This is the focal point of local life on the beach; children play, people cavort with their canines, while others busy themselves playing tennis, handball, basketball or swimming in the pool—which is open to non-residents after 3 pm for only $4.
LUNCH IN SOUTH BEACH
For an inexpensive lunch, try Café Charlotte (1497 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139, 305-535-1522) for a very affordable, authentic Argentine/Venezuelan experience. Entrees, including the steaks for which this culture is famous, are available for just $8.95. Next door is the bakery, where everything from empanadas to South American pastries can be had for just a few bucks.
Iron Sushi (840 Washington, South Beach, 305-532-6500) is a local’s mainstay. Extra value meals, which include salad and green tea or soda, start at $6.75.
IRON SUSHI: QUALITY FISH FOR YOUR BURGER KING BUDGET
For more beachside cheap eats, check out this article.
Just remember, if you parked in the residential permit area, you’ll need to be out by 6 pm. If you can’t snag one of the non-permit parking spaces in the first block off Fifth Street, you’ll need to find a garage and pay the piper (about $15). Like a cheap hooker, South Beach gets more expensive after dark!
So, there you have it! No need to stay at home and dream. South Florida is accessible, even in today’s economy. It’s amazing how much you can experience in just 2 to 3 days here. Using Hollywood or Dania as your base, and planning economical day trips to Lauderdale and South Beach, you can experience more of what the area has to offer for a fraction of the cost of staying full-time in the heart of the action!
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