Florida does quirky like no other state. And when it comes to unexpected attractions, Fort Lauderdale has ample unusual options to round out your beach vacation.
Follow our lead to sip cocktails under the watchful eye of cavorting mermaids, take in a Polynesian fire show and meet an alligator named after Sonny Crockett’s pet reptile from Miami Vice.
Catch a Live Mermaid Show
On Friday and Saturday nights at the Wreck Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach, you can sip an Aku Aku cocktail — pineapple, rum, bitters, mint and more, served in a kitschy Tiki mug — while watching mermaids perform underwater “aquabatics.”
You watch through portholes and windows in the bar, which has been built to resemble a sunken Spanish galleon. The shows last about 30 minutes, and families should opt for the 6:30 p.m. showing, as things turn racier at the burlesque-style shows at 9:30 p.m.
Take a Nighttime Airboat Ride
There are plenty of places in Florida where you can whizz around on an airboat through critter-filled swamps. But it’s a special thrill when you board an airboat in the evening for private, after-dark tours at Sawgrass Recreation Park, a wild slice of the Everglades about 30 minutes west of downtown.
Listen to the nighttime chorus of frogs and scout for owls on the hunt. Your boat’s captain will shine a light into the sawgrass, and when it catches the glowing eyes of a gator, you’ll come to a whooshing stop to creep closer for a look.
Smaller baby alligators are more commonly seen at night, too, since they face less risk from predators like birds. As a bonus, night tours are a good way to beat the blazing heat of a daytime tour during the hot summer months.
Go on a River Ghost Tour
More nighttime fun awaits during tours in search of the supernatural at the Historic Stranahan House Museum. Fort Lauderdale’s oldest residence was originally constructed as a trading post and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1901 with a classic Florida frontier design, the house stands apart on downtown’s riverfront, fringed with shiny high-rises. The roughly hour-long nighttime ghost tours include a narrated ride on a water taxi that talks about the house’s history and Fort Lauderdale’s ghost lore.
Then you’ll head into the dimly lit interior of the home to scout for orbs and paranormal activity using ghost-hunting tools.
Go Tiki Kitsch
The temple to Polynesian culture that is Mai-Kai comes complete with a lagoon and waterfalls and has been a Fort Lauderdale fixture since it opened in 1956.
The thatched A-frame roof is the first sign you’re in for a different kind of dinner and show at Mai-Kai, where the twice-nightly Islander Revue shows feature fire dancers — all from different Polynesian islands — clad in impressive costumes made from tapa cloth, abalone shells and flowers.
The menu is almost entirely in Chinese, but you’re not coming here for the food, anyway. It’s all about the show and huge Tiki-style cocktails, heavy on the tropical fruit and rum.
Hit Old-School Gardens
Part botanical garden, part wildlife sanctuary and all old-school Florida, this attraction founded in 1927 as a citrus grove is a short drive west of Fort Lauderdale in Davie. Just don’t come to Flamingo Gardens looking for theme-park-like thrills.
The park’s pace is drippy slow, and its inhabitants an eclectic bunch. Look for Elvis the 3rd — an alligator named after Sonny Crockett’s pet alligator, Elvis, from the TV show “Miami Vice,” who also lived at Flamingo Gardens.
Stroll through the free-flight aviary and find yourself among the largest collections of wading birds in the United States. Rare butterflies are often spotted among the gardens many tropical fruit trees. And kids delight in feeding the resident Caribbean flamingos.