New York City
My wife, 2 year old, and I are staying at the Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale (on the beach at A1A/Granada St.). We are going to relax, hit the beach, shop and dine out - pretty low key.
Given that, do I need a rental car or is taking taxi's and/or walking the better route (we live in NYC so walking a mile is fine). The rental car will cost about $250 for the rental, parking, etc? If a car is recommended, is there anywhere nearby to park free on the street?
Any other recommendations on kid friendly activities, restaurants, etc. is appreciated!
Yes, you will want a rental car. The beach/hotels are a ways from the charming downtown area (although I do not know exactly where your hotel is). You will want to go downtown for dinner a few times (even the best hotel food gets old- and expensive!). Great wood oven pizza place, Mexican food, and a really nice Italian place. Lots of little shops to wander through for an afternoon. Any big festivals will be downtown as well.
Parking is cheap and right behind the stores/restaurants that face the main st. (St. Olas St). With a car, you can also stop at other beaches or pull into some of the ritzy neighborhoods along the canals to check out the huge boats some of these people own. You can also hit a grocery store if you need anything or to get snacks, wine, etc. much cheaper than the hotel. Traffic is really not bad and it is fairly easy to navigate.
If you get a chance, take one of the boat tours that drives around and shows you where all the huge houses are on the water- really fun and some of the houses are unbelievable. Some of the boats have boats! and helicopters!
I do not recall seeing taxis around and it is not a "taxi" town like Chicago. The drive to the downtown area from most of the hotels on the beach is about 20 minutes (because you are driving 25ish mph) so I imagine a cab would be pricey and you would have to call for one and wait around- it's not like they are circling around looking for fares.
I always have fun in Ft. Lauderdale- even when I have gone to conferences all by myself. I hope you have a great time!
I've stayed at that The Westin Fort Lauderdale as well as many other places in Fort Lauderdale. I'm there several times during the winter and spring. A car is not mandatory if you just want to stay in your immediate area. You can definitely walk to some places to eat but you will be limited. There is no convenient street parking In the area and I think the hotel charges guest to park.The Weston has a nice pool deck restaurant and a steakhouse. You can always take a cab if you want to eat or shop on Las Olas Boulevard. There is also a water taxi, but I'm not sure of all the details of this transportation. Have fun.
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You also have a water taxi that stops about 5 blocks south from where you are staying on the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a fun, scenic way to get around, though at $26 for an all-day adult ticket it's not cheap. There's really no better way to see the beautiful homes that line the waterway. The water taxi will get you downtown via the New River where there are a few stops along Las Olas Riverfront. Much to see and do there.
it depends on what you are planning to do and see. You need no car if you just stay by the beach, but if you like to see other places you might need one, unless you jump on a taxi
Fort Lauderdale is a walkable city, I don't see why you would need a car unless you are planning to venture inside the city a little bit. The location you are staying in will have everything you need within walking distance.
As just about everyone has pointed out, it depends on what you want to do, where you might want to eat, and what else you might want to see. The Westin appears to offer "complimentary self-parking" (see it on their web site http://www.westinfortlauderdalehotel.com).
However, there are a number of smaller restaurants, pubs, cafes, etc, up and down A1A and the beach is of course, right there less than one block away. So if all you plan to do is to enjoy the beach, and eat light, don't bother with a car.
The water-taxi (as another pointed out) is a cool way to see lots of the Fort Lauderdale water-front, in fact, there is a way to get to Miami from Fort Lauderdale (http://watertaxi.com) and it is a nice day trip.
As to restaurant tips, I would suggest you point your browser to www.yelp.com and look for the types of food you guys like. Yelp is reliable, and generally up to date. Having said that, most of the restaurants that I would recommend are not within walking distance of the Westin. However, Schula's Steak House (http://www.donshula.com) is (or at least was) pretty decent. Coconuts isn't bad either, but again, Yelp is best at giving you some ideas.
Have fun, it is a nice beach.