Just because Fort Lauderdale is rapidly bulldozing its old-school Spring Break motels for high-rises like the St. Regis and W, and Miami Beach doesn't mean a South Florida beach getaway has to cost a bundle.
Plan your trip around 1 city and skip the rental-car expense or splurge on wheels and visit both; either way, a budget-conscious vacation that combines sun-drenched sands and urban style is well within your wallet's reach with a little advance planning.
Where to Stay
If you don't mind higher temperatures, June through September is the best time to find discounted rates across South Florida. In Fort Lauderdale, the key to year-round savings is booking at the small lodgings that sit 2 to 3 blocks from the city's main beach featuring apartment-style rooms for self-catering and discounts for weekly stays. The Tropi Rock Resort is a quirky charmer with a faux-rock waterfall cascading into its pool and enough colors in its tropical d��cor to fill a Crayola box. Tidy, tucked-away Cocobelle Resort comes with a heated pool, free Wi-Fi and upgraded, tiled rooms.
When hotel-hunting in Miami Beach, it benefits to look at quieter properties at least 10 blocks north of the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. Built in 1936, the Indian Creek Hotel sits 1 block from the beach, melding Art Deco architecture with a vintage travel theme. Its courtyard Mediterranean restaurant, Creek 28, is a local gem.
Where to Eat
When in doubt, follow the locals. In Miami Beach, that means stepping away from Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road to join the omnipresent queues at La Sandwicherie or Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. For more substantial sit-downs, diner-style Puerto Sagua serves hearty and authentic Cuban dishes, while colorful Haitian restaurant Tap Tap adds live music on weekends to a menu of fresh fish and stewed goat dishes.
Fort Lauderdale budget favorites near the beach include the Parrot Lounge for tasty pub grub and the Greek Islands Taverna for authentic Mediterranean fare.
Gourmet meals are also within reach without breaking the bank. More than 3 dozen area restaurants -- including Jackson's Steakhouse, Four Rivers Contemporary Thai and Cero at the St. Regis -- participate in the annual Dine Out Lauderdale program, from October 1 through November 14, offering discount 3-course meals. Miami Spice, held in August and September, delivers a similar deal, with 80-plus participating eateries throughout the city offering discount 3-course meals at lunch and dinner. Hot spots like Blue Door at The Delano, Wish and Tantra are in the lineup.
What to See and Do
Fortunately, there's no charge for sunbathing, but if you want a break from the beach and don't have a rental car, there are inexpensive sightseeing options. Take a water taxi in canal-filled Fort Lauderdale, aka the "Venice of America." The 11-stop route does double-duty as an aquatic tour and a shuttle to local attractions between East Oakland Park Boulevard and the 17th Street Causeway. During high season, the company also operates day cruises to Miami Beach. The best way to explore Miami Beach's candy-colored 1930s architecture is on foot. Visit the Art Deco Welcome Center where self-guided audio tours are available for iPod or cell phone.
Pampering yourself doesn't have to come with a hefty price tag either. Miami hosts Spa Month every July with huge savings on local spa packages.
For more savings, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale website to download a Summer of Discovery guide with 2-for-1 offers on museums, boat trips and more, valid June to September. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau also posts special attraction offers on its website.