Since our daughter started elementary school a few years ago, spring break has become an increasingly precious opportunity to get away, clock some quality family time, and soak in some long-overdue warm weather. Last year’s spring break vacation to Cape Canaveral, Florida checked all of the right boxes and we were tempted to just repeat that trip again this year. But we pushed ourselves to see if we could make this year’s getaway even better and explore a new part of Florida while we were at it – and we are SO GLAD WE DID. So for anyone else looking for a great family vacation spot or, like us, if you’re just ready to start dreaming about next year’s spring break – here’s a quick recap of our family’s trip to South Florida.
Where We Went
Our #1 priority for the trip was “guaranteed beach weather,” and going to South Florida was the most convenient destination that could guarantee us hot temperatures in early April. We love a good road trip, but we wasted four days driving to Florida and back last year… so we decided to give flying a go this year (a first for us with both kids + the dog). A couple of airlines fly direct to Fort Lauderdale from our airport here in Richmond, VA, and we remembered Fort Lauderdale very fondly from our first book tour, so we figured anything within a 30-minute drive of that airport would be perfect. We actually ended up in a small area north of Fort Lauderdale called Pompano Beach and spent most of our time in nearby towns like Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lighthouse Point (seen below), and Deerfield Beach, so we never actually stepped foot in Fort Lauderdale proper.
We haven’t flown as a family since our 2012 trip to Hawaii when our daughter was nearly 2 years old. Our hellish red-eye flight back to Virginia (there was lots of crying and zero sleeping) planted a deep-seeded fear of flying with children for several years, but now that she’s almost 8 and our son is 4, it felt like a 2-hour direct flight to Florida would be an easy way to dip our toes back into the family flight waters.
The flight went even better than expected. We flew Spirit Airlines (we’re infamously cheap travelers) and even though they nickel-and-dime you for everything from carry-on bags to in-flight water, it ended up being noticeably less expensive than our next best option, JetBlue. We were even able to bring Burger (our chihuahua) with us without any trouble. He flew to Alaska for our honeymoon, so he has proven himself to be a travel champ (yes, we brought our dog on our honeymoon, and yes we know how that sounds). See him there chilling at Sherry’s feet while she sports what she calls her “nervous travel face”?
A rental car was also a must on our list, so we got a minivan to ensure we’d have enough room for luggage, car seats, and beach gear. We brought car seats with us (we weren’t guaranteed that the rental place would have them since we were arriving really late at night) and thankfully Spirit will check car seats and strollers for free. We talked a little bit more about juggling the dog, the dog crate, car seats, bags, and kids at an airport in podcast episode #92 if you’re curious how that went…
Where We Stayed: A Private Rental
Last year’s trip taught us the wonders of renting a house for spring break. Even though we could all pile into a hotel room, we’ve never regretted at least considering the option of not sharing walls with other vacationers (especially when we’ve got kids and a dog with us). Heck, sometimes a beach rental for the week actually breaks down to being cheaper than a hotel when you do the math to figure out the per-night cost. Last year our rental in Cape Canaveral was 1 of 3 units in a building, so we did have people above us and we all shared a communal pool. It ended up not being a problem (the other renters didn’t use the pool very much, so we had it mostly to ourselves) but this year we looked around online for a detached home with its own pool that was still within our budget, and thankfully we found this one.
We searched across Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway for pet-friendly rentals with a pool located within 30 minutes of the Fort Lauderdale airport. We found this gem in Pompano Beach on HomeAway and we could not recommend it more highly. It. Was. Awesome. Not only did the kids love having the entire pool to splash around in, but Burger LOVED having free reign of the yard (last year he had to share a fenced area with another dog, and let’s just say they quickly became frenemies).
The interior furnishings are pretty much what you’d expect from a vacation rental (nothing that felt fancy or precious – which is AWESOME when you’re traveling with kids) and the beach wasn’t really within easy walking distance like the listing says, but the pool was PERFECT and the house and neighborhood were pleasantly very quiet and private. It just took us a few minutes to drive down to the beach and we always found parking (which was nice and cheap), so we really ended up loving everything about it.
The house was located in a small residential neighborhood on Terra Mar Island, a little island in the Intracoastal Waterway. This little bit of separation from the main thoroughfare helped it feel like a secluded and charming suburb – unlike all of the high-rise hotels and condos along the oceanfront. It felt nestled, private, and un-trafficed… even though it was close to everything.
The house itself was surrounded by tall thick foliage on all sides – making it feel like you had the whole island to yourself. We skipped the beach entirely for a couple of days because we were having so much fun just hanging out by the pool. And yes, Sherry has never been more convinced that we need a pool at our own house than after this vacation. #helpme
For any other families who might rent this place: they warned me ahead of time that they didn’t provide beach or pool toys (just chairs, towels, and a beach cart). We certainly weren’t going to bring buckets and shovels on the plane, so we planned to buy them at a dollar store once we got down there… but a previous renter had left a couple for us – along with a pool float and ball. We also picked up some beach toys and pool noodles at the CVS just down the street, all of which we left for future renters – so here’s hoping the cycle continues.
What We Did: Beach, Pool, And Eat
We are very chill vacationers and this spot was perfect for that. I know some families love to cram in tons of new activities and sightseeing on vacations, but our goal for this trip was just to unwind and be together, so we consciously avoided the pull to overschedule ourselves. Our kids love spending hours playing in the sand and making up games at the pool, so that’s pretty much all we did – breaking to eat lunch or dinner as needed (we had all of our breakfasts at the house, which was a nice way to save a little money).
The beach we drove to was at Lauderdale-By-The-Sea because it was close (about 5 minutes away) and super charming (see below!). Parking was extremely easy and affordable, and there were some restaurants and shops we could walk to from the beach. The beach always had people on it, but by no stretch would I call it crowded. We always got a spot that felt like it was ours and the kids could build in the sand and run in and out of the water without worrying they were splashing sand on other people and stuff like that. The water was the perfect temperature and “temperament” for us all to play in (read: not too rough, but enough waves to keep things interesting).
I’m sorry not to have more exciting recommendations for what to do, but our typical spring break agenda is usually: beach, pool, eat, nap, repeat. We did venture down to the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk one day because it promised some new scenery, but a thunderstorm rolled in right as we arrived so we were rained out of actually enjoying it. The good news is that by the time we drove home, it was done raining and the kids jumped right back into… you guessed it… the pool.
Where We Ate: Good Food With Good Views
I mentioned that we ate breakfast at home each morning, but we ate out for pretty much every other meal. You guys gave us some FANTASTIC recommendations on Instagram, which we now want to pay forward to anyone else who might be reading this and planning a trip, so thank you for helping to make our trip better than Yelp ever could have. Our first dinner was at a place in Pompano Beach called Beach House because, well, how could we not?
There was a little bit of a wait on a Tuesday night, but we just hung out on the beach until our table was ready. Whoever designed the restaurant outdid themselves (the woven lanterns swayed in the ocean breezes that blew through since the entire restaurant was open-air) and it was very kid friendly. We’re not really food critics, but I’ll say that we both enjoyed our meals a lot! I had ceviche and Sherry had some sort of “life-changing salad” that she couldn’t stop talking about for the rest of the trip.
The next night we tried a restaurant called Cap’s Place in nearby Lighthouse Point, which had been recommended to us because you have to take a (free) boat to get there! You park at this small dock in a town called Lighthouse Point, and this little watercraft picks you up and shuttles you about five minutes across a lake to the restaurant.
The restaurant itself has a really cool backstory: it was built on top of a beached barge and got its start nearly 100 years ago as a rum-running club and casino during the prohibition. They showed us a list of the famous people who’ve eaten there over the years, ranging from FDR to Paris Hilton, so the whole experience was quirky and super memorable. The building was dark and tough to photograph, and while the meal wasn’t our favorite of the trip, the whole boat-to-the-restaurant thing was the most fun meal-related experience we had on the entire trip. So we definitely recommend it!
We also headed back out to Lighthouse Point for another meal at a place called The Nauti Dawg Marina Cafe, which was right around the corner from Cap’s Place. The food was solid and we got to eat right along the marina, so the kids had fun watching boats come in and dock. There was a wait for this restaurant as well, but near the marina was this really colorful collection of townhouses that we walked around while we waited, keeping count of all of the lizards we could find sunbathing on people’s stoops. Our lizard-count got to over 50 (!!!) and as you can imagine, Sherry was extremely excited the entire time – as were the kids.
Our last meal was at the Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar located in the Beachcomber Resort right near our rental in Pompano Beach. I feel like I should have more to say about the food at each of these places, but it honestly was mostly about the location each night. Sitting right by the water and ordering dessert for the kids was the most fun part. At this restaurant we got to eat beachside in an oversized tiki hut. This was literally the view from our table:
Honestly, a lot of the food blended together because most places had similar menus of seafood, salads, and burgers. We were just excited to find so many interesting dining experiences that were kid friendly. All of the places we mentioned above had kids menus (Beach House’s was verbal, so you had to ask the waiter to list everything) and none of them required any special dress code. We also ate more casual lunches at places like BurgerFi, Lunch Room, and Aruba Beach Cafe.
But one of our most memorable finds of the trip was this place, called… wait for it… Bean & Barnacle.
For those who have followed our blog for a while, you may remember that while Sherry was pregnant with our daughter, we referred to her as “Bean” and when she was pregnant with our son, he was dubbed “Barnacle” (by his sister, who was going through an Octonauts phase at the time). So to see that odd pairing of words emblazoned on a Florida coffee shop was such a funny surprise. We stopped in for gelato, and the interior was pretty cool too.
We’ve been home over a week now, and we’re all still mourning the fact that we’re not still in Florida on vacation. It seriously was one of the best trips we’ve taken as a family, and it makes us so eager to take another (and a lot less scared to fly with the kids). So I hope that sharing some of the details are helpful to anyone else who’s contemplating a trip there.
Speaking of which, here are some of our past vacation posts if you’re looking for more travel ideas: