Fort Lauderdale has matured from a destination for spring-breakers to a major manufacturing, maintenance and recreation center for boaters.
Long a hot spot for cruise ships and mega-yachts, marinas have kept up with the transition and offer some of the best equipped and cleanest marinas on the coast. Known as the “Yachting Capital of the World”, it is only fitting to host the largest boat show on the east coast.
Its hundreds of top restaurants, sophisticated streets such as Las Olas Boulevard, and 165-miles of local waterways and canals have earned it the nickname the Venice of America. Just two miles north of Port Everglades, you can experience a the Riverwalk, a landscaped beachfront promenade, with its signature white wave wall and brick paved path.
Auto enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, which has a Packard from every year they were manufactured.
For most people across the country, boat shows take place inside convention centers and arenas during the longest part of the winter, when cold, rain and snow dominate the forecast and make dreams of cruising difficult. But for the ambitious boater, the waning heat and refreshing air of autumn is the perfect time to float down the East Coast to some of the oldest and most respected waterfront boat shows in America. From the Newport International Boat Show in September to the St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show in December, these five spectacular events are set in five equally spectacular cities, all with fabled and thriving boating cultures.
Your journey begins in Newport, Rhode Island, a historic town featuring an architectural panoply ranging from preserved colonial buildings (the most in the U.S.) to the decadent summer cottages of the Gilded Age. And, as a New England coastal paradise, boating is a big part of the local vibe. One of the largest in-water boat shows in the country, this event draws a who's who of boating's elite along with more than 750 exhibitors from around the world displaying many different styles of boats (up to about 85 feet) and any sort of boating-related equipment or gadget you can imagine. Each day brings high-profile events, seminars, parties and awards celebrations at multiple waterfront facilities on America's Cup Avenue, including Newport Yachting Center, Oldport Marine, Bannister's Wharf, and Bowen's Wharf.
Held annually at Norwalk Cove Marina (203-838-2326, norwalkcove.com), this is the most popular in-water boat show in the entire Northeast. Set in a picturesque location at the mouth of Connecticut's Norwalk Harbor off of Long Island Sound and alongside the town of South Norwalk, it attracts visitors from all around the state's eastern shoreline as well as the Greater New York City area, which is only an hour's drive away. As a major regional show, there's a real emphasis given to boating education, entertainment and all kinds of attractions, such as on-water demos, boathandling clinics and special activities for kids. But there's another reason folks flock to this part of Connecticut at this time of year: the seafood, especially oysters, which are farmed throughout the area.
It's only natural that the home of the U.S. Naval Academy puts on one of the biggest and most visually stunning in-water boat shows in the country. Featuring a huge variety of boat types, from luxurious motor yachts to high-performance racers to the latest in offshore fishing vessels, the U.S. Powerboat Show is a feast for the eyes and the perfect spot to quench your thirst for all things nautical. And with hundreds of exhibitors offering an incredible assortment of innovative boating gear, the latest fashions and high-tech gadgets, you could literally spend days trying to see it all. The crisp fall weather, with its warm days and cool evenings, is the perfect complement to lovely downtown Annapolis, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Everything seems to have been built especially to show off the rich maritime history of the area. While you're in town, don't miss the USNA Museum or the final resting place of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones.
Settling into the Fort Lauderdale area during boat show week lets you instantly know that you've made the right move heading south at this time. With a constant breeze and relaxing tropical sunshine, along with a city plan that appears to be designed around a boater's every need, you'll feel at home from the moment you tie up at the dock. In fact, it's much easier to get around Fort Lauderdale by boat than it is by car on some days, with miles of canals and plenty of on-water amenities. As one of the best big boat shows in the world, FLIBS has a jaw- dropping yacht everywhere you look. Although it's spread out a bit, you can easily cover all the show's locations with convenient water access.
The final destination on your fall cruise is the largest boat show on the Gulf Coast, the St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show. And what's not to love about St. Petersburg, Florida, in December? Set in a wonderful and walkable downtown area that's the perfect mix of nostalgic Old Florida along with magnificent culture and kitsch (like the Salvador Dali Museum and the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame), this show is located in a yacht basin complete with a park, a huge pier and even the marvelous Progress Energy Center for the Arts and Mahaffey Theater. Visitors can enjoy an impressive selection of powerboats and sailboats in water and on land, including a 40,000-square-foot tent housing all types of marine gear.
Sunny by day, glittering by night, Florida is irresistible. The 1,350-mile coastline is the longest of any state in the mainland United States, and its unique heritage has had countless influences, with Native American, European, Latino, and African-American cultures among them. From the graceful charm of Fernandina Beach to the casual sassiness of Key West, Florida offers miles of diversity and many facilities for large yachts. In 2016, the regional marine impact for Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties was $11.5 billion. There are more than 8,000 vessels in the world that are 80-plus feet, and 40 percent of them call Florida's East Coast their homeport.
This quaint Victorian village is located on enchanting Amelia Island, which over the years has been inhabited by pirates, bootleggers, shrimpers and Gilded Age millionaires. As power continually changed hands, Amelia Island wound up flying the flags of eight different nations, giving today's Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival (May 5-7) its name.
Notable among the 50 blocks of eclectic shops, restaurants and galleries are Books Plus, a used and new shop rich in Amelia Island stories, and Trailer Park Collectibles, which houses primitive antiques and secondhand treasures. Grab a bite at Mustard Seed Cafe & Juice Bar, or dine on French cuisine by candlelight at Le Clos, nestled in a 1906 cottage. Ever-lively Alley Cat Seafood is a beer house, wine boutique and piano bar.
Fernandina Harbor Marina, in the heart of downtown, has a 25-foot dock depth and accommodates vessels up to 250 feet.
Cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings, hidden courtyards and alluring cafes help define this historic district of Saint Augustine -- the oldest continuously occupied town in the U.S.
Jump aboard the Old Town Trolley Tours to explore the major attractions, including a highly rated wildlife reserve. Shoppers head for the markets, both farmers and flea. The Starving Artist consignment boutique is a great place to discover the work of local artists. Foodies can choose from more than 400 eateries, including Crave Food Truck, popular for its healthy, creative offerings, and then head to Stogies Jazz Club for a night cap, some live music and, if the mood strikes, a cigar. As if all this activity weren't enough, the 43 miles of fine, golden sand beaches offer endless shelling, sunning, surfing and swimming.
Dockage is available at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor on the ICW, which has a 7-foot dock depth and accommodates vessels up to 130 feet.
A 47-mile stretch of beach along the coast from Jupiter to Boca Raton encompasses a number of towns called the Palm Beaches. The area, especially Palm Beach, was frequented by foreign aristocracy, prominent socialites and legendary tycoons.
Still a playground for the affluent, the area offers land and water sports for kids of all ages, with one of the largest polo clubs in the world, coral reef and wreck diving on the world's third-largest barrier reef and fabulous shopping. Then there's all the excellent food. For a taste of Old Palm Beach, the chic Ta-boo lends itself to afternoon cocktails and family dinners. Also try Buccan, a high-end bistro located near the famous Breakers Hotel.
Large yachts have three extraordinary marina choices: The Club at Admirals Cove Marina in Jupiter accommodates boats to 130 feet, has an 11-foot dock depth and is considered a natural weather refuge; the resort-style Safe Harbor Old Port Cove, in the heart of North Palm, has a full-service restaurant and dockage for yachts to 200 feet, with a 15-foot dock depth; Palm Harbor Marina, four miles south of Lake Worth Inlet, accepts yachts to 250 feet and has an 11-foot dock depth.
The site of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, this beautiful city has matured from a destination for spring-breakers to a major manufacturing, maintenance and recreation center for yachts. Its hundreds of top restaurants, sophisticated streets such as Las Olas Boulevard, and 165-miles of local waterways and canals have earned it the nickname the Venice of America. The Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk promenade is thought by many to be the most beautiful mile in the state. Auto enthusiasts shouldn't miss the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, which has a Packard from every year they were manufactured.
There are countless options for great food, including Bao Bar & Asian Kitchen and S3 (Sun-Surf-Sand), which has a chic patio overlooking the beach.
The Bahia Mar Resort & Yachting Center offers 250 slips for vessels up to 300 feet and a 17-foot dock depth; Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina has slips for vessels up to 350 feet and a 14-foot dock depth; Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Resort & Marina accommodates vessels up to 460 feet and has a 14-foot dock depth; Marina Bay Marina Resort accommodates vessels up to 130 feet and has a 10-foot dock depth.
A collection of urban districts, charming beach villages, and unique ethnic neighborhoods, Miami Beach has an international flavor all its own.
The Design District sports more than 130 art galleries, antique dealers, high-end restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops. The stand-out Wolfsonian-FIU Museum displays 180,000 objects from the 1850s to the 1950s. The area is showcased during Art Deco weekend in January.
Often called the American Riviera, South Beach's Deco fantasyland is one of the most photographed and filmed areas in the country. Along with the stunning architecture, glamorous nightlife and shopping promenades like Lincoln Road, there actually is a spectacular beach. Nearby Collins Avenue is home to the Miami Salsa Congress, a five-day music and dance event held in July.
No one will go hungry in Miami Beach. Among the myriad amazing options are Taquiza, serving handmade torillas; Lure Fishbar, with oysters and butter-poached lobster; Otentic Fresh Food, for French fare in an intimate setting; and Sunset Harbour's gastropub, Pubbelly.
Three dockage options: Miami Beach Marina has 400 slips for vessels up to 250 feet with a 12-foot dock depth; Sunset Harbour Yacht Club on Biscayne Bay can accommodate vessels up to 210 feet and has an 8-foot dock depth; Island Gardens Deep Harbour, a new marina can accommodate yachts up to 500 feet with an 18- foot dock depth.
Just an hour south of Miami Beach lies Key Largo, the key made famous by Humphrey Bogart. Although most scenes were shot in a Hollywood studio, the background was filmed on location. Key Largo is home to John Pennecamp State Park, which has great diving opportunities. To the west is Everglades National Park and to the east is the only living coral barrier reef in the mainland U.S.
Ocean Reef Club located in Key Largo, is a sophisticated private facility dedicated to boating, birding and golfing. The member-only marina has 175 slips and can accommodate vessels up to 175 feet and up to a 9-foot dock depth.
Family-friendly Marathon Key is noted for its old Keys lifestyle and seafaring heritage, and it has many eco-attractions and education centers. The Turtle Hospital rescues, rehabs and releases turtles back into Florida waters. The Dolphin Research Center houses bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for research and education. Seafood is obviously very fresh in Marathon. Don't miss the Keys Fisheries for their famous Lobster Reuben and the Butterfly Café at the Tranquility Resort for seafood with a Caribbean flair.
In Marathon there are two dockage options: Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club accommodates vessel up to 130 feet and has a 10-foot dock depth, and Marathon Marina, Boatyard & RV Resort can accommodate vessels up to 130 feet with an 10-foot dock depth.
Last stop is Key West - the footloose exuberance and spirited irreverence that characterize the Keys is amplified in the quirky collection of pastel conch houses and festive atmosphere that define Key West. The blended cultural heritage was inspired by Bahamian wreckers, commercial fishermen, spongers and Cuban cigar makers.
A variety of folks find their own particular paradise here. Begin the day savoring a cafe Cubano or cafe con leche, before visiting the Ernest Hemingway House, the Truman Little White House and the Butterfly Conservatory, or just bicycle around.
Seafood and Latin-inspired cuisine abound at Santiago's Bodega, Garbo's Grill, and El Siboney. After dinner, indulge at the dark and mysterious Better Than Sex for dessert and wine served in a chocolate- dipped glass. From midday until late at night, live music drifts out of the myriad saloons and breezy waterfront bars on Duval Street.
In Key West, Conch Harbor Marina located in the historic bight area, accepts vessels up to 185 feet with a 10-foot dock depth, plus there's a West Marine store on-site. Key West Bight handles boats up to 200-feet with a 12-foot dock depth. The largest deep-water in the keys, Stock Island Marina Village accommodates vessels up to 300 feet and has a 17-foot dock depth and high-speed fuel.
Our journey started as we pulled out of Waterford Harbor Marina in Kemah, Texas, in May aboard our sailing vessel Fidelity, a 42-foot Valiant. My husband, Kevin, Windy, our Boston terrier, and I were excited to cross the Gulf of Mexico and explore the many towns that dot the shores of Florida with hopes of finding our future homeport. Oh, the places you'll go with a 6-foot draft and 60-foot mast!
After crossing the Gulf of Mexico, our landfall was Clearwater Harbor Marina, which provides easy entry from the Gulf and plenty of deep water for a 6-foot draft (as long as you stay in the channel). The marina's floating docks are key, especially when the swift current catches. The facility is conveniently located near Cleveland Street, Clearwater's entertainment district. It's an easy trek to the beach by water taxi or a stroll over the bridge. Frenchy's Original Café is a must-do for the famous Florida grouper sandwich.
After a lovely day cruising about 40 miles offshore, we made our way to the Harborage Marina at Bayboro in St. Petersburg. We arrived after closing and were greeted by Leon, the night guard, who provided us with the ever important "keys to the gate." Windy thoroughly enjoyed her time at the marina, given the surplus of dog treats provided by the staff, which made it one of the most pet-friendly marinas we visited. It's number one on our list of possible homeports after our adventures on Fidelity wind down.
Just a short walk from Harborage is historic downtown St. Petersburg. Among other don't-miss spots, The Chattaway has great burgers and cold beers. No car is needed -- unless you want to make the trip to Mazzaro's, the best Italian market ever. Nearby, Island Nautical does great service work and repairs. We installed new dingy davits from MarTek and bought a new dinghy to hang off them.
After our stay in St. Pete, it was time to get Fidelity a little farther south. We made a quick stop at Longboat Key then continued on to the Venice Inlet to Crow's Nest Marina and finally arriving at Boca Grande Marina on Gasparilla Island. The approach into Charlotte Harbor was easy, the narrow channel and turn into the marina well marked, and the marina staff talked us into the harbor to avoid the shallows. The marina's docks were pristine, and the on-site restaurant, Miller's Dockside Bar & Grill, was the perfect place to settle into upon arrival.
Golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation in these parts Windy loved riding around and eating at the Loose Caboose, where she ordered from the doggie menu. The landscape's many banyan trees are remarkable, and the pastel-colored "old Florida"-style homes are atmospheric and beautiful. It was a great spot to slow down and enjoy the quieter side of things.
Before we got too settled in this lovely place, we decided to move on. We awoke to a thick layer of fog that lifted by mid-morning, when we were already well underway to our next stop, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina in Fort Myers Beach. On approach, the busy port was full of commercial and recreational boats but provided a good depth for Fidelity and was extremely easy to navigate.
Dave, the marina's harbormaster, was incredibly hospitable, but unfortunately we were forced to leave early due to an approaching storm front. We set sail for Marco Island Marina, which would be our home for the next couple of months. As we approached Capri Pass, we were thrilled by the sight of boats sailing in the waters of Marco Island.
Marco Island is a great port with easy access to Gulf sailing, deep water and plenty of dining and entertainment options. The channel into the marina is well marked and the fairways are wide enough for an easy docking experience. Some of our favorite spots for a bite to eat during our time there were the Island Gypsy Cafe´ (a dinghy ride away from the marina), the Italian Deli (excellent New York-style pizza) and the Esplanade.
After several months on Marco Island, Fidelity was ready to head to Key West. By now, Chris Parker, the weather guy, had become Fidelity's most important satellite crew member. There was a small window between storm fronts so we took it and sailed to Stock Island Marina Village in Key West. We had a fun stay, and the marina shuttle was more than sufficient for exploring downtown Key West.
Marathon Marina and RV Resort was our next stop. The marina has new, concrete floating docks, and the on-site Lazy Days South was the perfect spot for happy hour and dinner.
Then it was on to Miami. We cruised past Key Biscayne and downtown Miami to Miami Beach Marina. Giovanni, the dockhand, was a pro with the lines, which came in handy because a strong current surges through the marina but the prime location makes the effort worth it. We enjoyed South Beach's Art Deco architecture, not to mention the bars, restaurants and beach, and then decided it was time for our next destination, Fort Lauderdale.
Bucking the current through Government Cut, Fidelity had her first sail in the Atlantic. Our timing was near perfect with the 17th Street Bridge opening, and a quick turn put us into the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Marina. The on-site restaurants, Grille 66 and Pelican Landing, were both great dinner spots. A little bit farther aheld, Louie Bossi's Ristorante Bar Pizzeria, 15th Street Fisheries, and South Port Raw Bar rounded out our top picks for food, atmosphere and price in Fort Lauderdale.
Soon enough, it was time to get underway to Jacksonville and up the coast before hurricane season. A few quick stops we made during this leg of the trip deserve mention. Lake Park Harbor Marina, just north of Riviera Beach, is a great stopover, with floating docks and a low-key atmosphere. Fort Pierce City Marina in Fort Pierce is another wonderful destination the floating docks were in excellent condition and the staff knowledgeable. At Cocoa Village Marina in Cocoa Beach, the dockmaster and crew greeted us personally and made us feel right at home. And Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast was a true luxury with swimming pools, restaurants, and doggie treats for Windy.
After the 20-plus-nautical-mile, winding ride past Matanzas Pass, we pulled into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, and the masterful docking crew handled everything like a finely tuned machine. St. Augustine was a particularly lovely stop and is number two on our list of top ports of call, offering everything from history to dining to shopping. Windy loved her morning walk through the historic part of town, and almost every restaurant we visited welcomed her with a bowl of ice water.
But hurricane season was approaching. It was time to move Fidelity to her summer home. We sailed offshore and then motored up the St. Johns River to Jacksonville's Marina at Ortega Landing. And then we immediately began to look at locations where we might put her in the winter, and to make plans to explore the East Coast in the spring. With so many great ports to chose from, we have some homework to do.