Pompano Beach: Meet the Small City by the Sea that’s Making Big Waves

Beautiful beaches with miles of golden sand. Tranquil waterways that wind through quiet neighborhoods. A thriving cultural scene that rivals some of its bigger, better-known counterparts. Pompano Beach is Fort Lauderdale’s direct neighbor to the north, and it’s one of the best-kept secrets in South Florida. 

In the midst of a mega beach redevelopment, Pompano Beach is making a name for itself among the many destinations that make up the Sunshine State’s coveted Gold Coast. Here’s an insider’s look at the best ways to experience it.

Day-to-Night Activities on the Beach

Stroll the meticulously landscaped boardwalk for starters —the city takes pride in its dune restoration efforts. You’ll cross paths with Segway riders, joggers and dog walkers, so be prepared for some “how-do-you-dos” along the way. Families love the new splash area, a best-bet for free, cooling-off fun with the little ones. A few steps north you’ll find an outdoor, shaded gym and playground. 

Oceanic is upscale eatery offering uninterrupted ocean vistas and fresh, local seafood.

The boardwalk leads directly to Pompano Beach Fishing Village, new beachfront dining, shopping, and entertainment destination. The Village is home to the newly renovated Pompano Pier, a great sightseeing and fishing spot. The open-air, island-style Lucky Fish Bar and Grill is a go-to spot for smoothies, cervezas, and umbrella drinks. For a more beach-chic atmosphere, check out Beach House, a casual restaurant and rooftop bar with craft cocktails and views to-die-for (hello, Hillsboro Lighthouse); and Oceanic, an upscale eatery offering uninterrupted ocean vistas and fresh, local seafood. 

Of course, there’s the actual beach to enjoy, too. Pompano has some of the widest stretches of sand in Greater Fort Lauderdale. That means more room to spread out your blanket, prop up your umbrella and chill. Spacious pavilions with grills are available to rent daily, while old-Florida style condos still grace the shore, giving much of the area a quiet resort feel.

In the Air, on the Water

The 16th Street Beach is accessible from Highway A1A

If you’d rather be catching air on the water than catching Zzz’s in the sun, you’ll find plenty of action a few blocks north on Scenic Highway A1A at 16th Street. This beach is a mecca for experienced kite surfers only. On a windy day, you’ll see upwards of 10 colorful kites racing along a brilliant blue sky. Plop down on the sand and watch the epic flips, jumps, and twists. No tickets needed for this show.

Beneath the Surface: Fishing, Snorkeling and Diving 

As you might expect, with its namesake fish populating the surf, anglers and divers are drawn to this marine wonderland. But the Pompano is just one of the hundreds of species that flourish in the warm gulf stream current that flows parallel to the shoreline. From the pier, off a boat, in the tide between sandbars, even if you don’t fancy yourself an avid fisherman or woman, a visit here simply isn’t complete until you experience the thrill of a first catch.  (Not to worry, there are plenty of guides and charters year-round that will show you the ropes.)

Follow your fishing line down beneath the surface, because here’s where the real magic happens. A snorkel and diving hotspot, coral reefs lie very close to the coast. You can swim to some spots right from the beach, or try a half-day snorkel tour with some of the friendliest captains around at Pompano Dive Center. For experienced divers, Pompano’s “Shipwreck Park,” an artificial reef system created by sunken ships and sculptures, is one of the most easily accessible underwater “parks” in the world.

This Up-and-Coming Arts Scene is for Everyone

Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) is a 1930s hotel that’s been converted into modern art studios with exhibitions and an open social area for artists.

After your day at the beach, head a mile or so west on Atlantic Boulevard and check out Pompano’s reinvigorated “Old Town.” Local entrepreneurs have been setting up shop in this downtown Creative Arts District, which is quietly becoming the next big hipster neighborhood of Greater Fort Lauderdale. Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) is a 1930s hotel that’s been converted into modern art studios with exhibitions and an open social area for artists. Grab a fresh brew from Blooming Bean Coffee Roasters in BaCA’s ground-floor gallery space, and peruse some of the unique pieces on display. 

Locals and visitors gather on the first Friday of every month for “Old Town Untapped,” with live music, an art walk, free craft beer samples from local breweries, and a food truck round-up. The event is centered on the open plaza and  “fire fountain.” The first of its kind in the United States, it is fire that literally bursts out of the water using new technology. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat on the metal swing benches, beware. You’re likely to find yourself mesmerized by the dancing multi-colored flames. 

Located steps from Old Town, the new Pompano Beach Cultural Center hosts music, dance and theater performances, along with art exhibitions. Another popular venue is the Pompano Beach Amphitheater, which attracts music acts from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Buy tickets for a close-up view, or find a spot on the surrounding great lawn and bring your own dance party. 

Annual Events are All Things Marine

Even with its small-town vibe, Pompano Beach knows how to do it up big when it comes to annual events. The Nautical Flea Market is held each January when boaters flock to the destination for diving and fishing gear, motors, anchors and tackle. For those who don’t submerge themselves into the boating lifestyle, you can still pick up some nautical antiques and artwork, beach attire and handmade jewelry inspired by the sea.

April brings the Pompano Beach Seafood Festival, with local restaurants serving their freshest catches, live music, and arts and crafts vendors; and the wildly popular Pompano Beach Fishing Rodeo — a South Florida tradition since 1965. Sensing a theme here? 

Top picks in Dining - from landmark restaurants to modern concepts

Daryl & Oliver’s Café Maxx has been the fine dining establishment of choice since the 80s. While the decor hasn’t evolved that much over the years, the menu changes daily depending on local Celebrity Chef Oliver’s mood. Signature dishes such as Duck and Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli and  Sweet Onion Crusted Snapper have remained local favorites, and the Tuna Sashimi Pizza appetizer is always a hit. 

Spanx The Hog BBQ & Saloon is a family-owned hidden gem near downtown that’s famous for its brisket sandwiches and homemade sauces. As the name suggests, the beer selection is about as wild as the Old West was. But the great food and all-day happy hour aren’t the only things that attract the after-work crowd. Locals know how to ante up for poker night and hit the bullseye during the darts tournament. 

The Foundry pays homage to the American spirit of ingenuity under a ceiling made of wood from a Kentucky tobacco barn from 1902 and shag lamps that date back to the 1950s.

The Foundry is fairly new and has quickly built a history-loving fan base. Pay homage to the American spirit of ingenuity under a ceiling made of wood from a Kentucky tobacco barn from 1902 and shag lamps that date back to the 1950s. The Foundry’s walls are even made with bricks from the Chicago fire. If that doesn’t give you the chills, pull up a chair at the popular raw bar for fresh oysters on the ½ shell or sushi stack.

Visit “The World’s Number One Beach”

Vacations are sacred. Most of us don’t get that many. So when planning your next one, cast a line for Greater Fort Lauderdale’s Pompano Beach. You’ll quickly see why Money Magazine ranks it the best beach in the world.