Get a Slice of Settler Life in Fort Lauderdale

If you ever wondered what life was like in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it was first settled, take some time to visit these historic gardens and museums to see city’s rich heritage next time you visit Fort Lauderdale.

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With endless rows of palm trees, sunny days, and sugary sand beaches, Fort Lauderdale has been a favorite hot spot since the days of early settlers. Of course, this oceanfront getaway was a whole lot different back then, with mosquito-filled swamps and even a few wild bears! If you ever wondered what life was like back before condos and flip-flops were the norm, take a trip back in time to learn about the area’s rich heritage.

Historic Stranahan House Museum

Back in the late 1800s, Fort Lauderdale wasn’t a busy city yet, but it was already a great place to trade with Seminole Indians, who arrived in dugout canoes at Frank Stranahan’s camp along the New River. When Stranahan met and married a local schoolteacher, they built a family home there in 1901. Today, that wooden structure is the Historic Stranahan House Museum. Located not far from the famous Las Olas area, the restored home-turned-trading hub was a happening spot until the Florida land boom in the 1920s. Join a guided tour to take a little trip back to a simpler time.

Bonnet House, gardens of museum estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida shows palm trees growing out of swampy water surrounding a thatched roof structure in the center

Bonnet House Museum and Garden

If exploring peaceful period homes is your thing, the Bonnet House Museum and Garden offers an oceanfront escape from the busy streets. The 35 acres of preserved paradise give you a glimpse of Florida life in the 1920s while showing off some of the artwork created by the former owners, Frederic and Evelyn Bartlett. Don’t miss a trip through the gardens to enjoy the sight and smell of the impressive orchid collection. The site is closed on Mondays.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden

Just a 35 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale, visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, located on a former settler’s site in Delray Beach. Settler Jo Sakai brought an entire farming community from Japan to the region in the early 1900s. Named Yamato, an ancient name for Japan, the settlers introduced a unique culture to the region before disbanding about 20 years later. Today, the gardens and museum are a beautiful and peaceful place to learn about the Japanese culture, take a relaxing stroll, and just zen out.

View of the river front, with boats seen on the water of the New River behind a water fountain with bright turquoise tiling from the Riverwalk and a red drawbridge in the distance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the late afternoon


Stretching along the New River is the Riverwalk, a park right in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. A relaxing walk along this mile-long path is like taking a step back in time to when the native people called the river “Himmarshee.” It was the way traders came to the area that eventually grew into modern-day Fort Lauderdale. Today, this family-friendly spot has gazebos and a butterfly garden, and a popular jazz brunch takes place at the Riverwalk on the first Sunday of the month. Walk to First Avenue to rent a paddleboard or take an exercise class with locals right by the water.

What did you learn on your journey back in time in Fort Lauderdale? Tell us all about it on Facebook.

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