I've gone and done it again - fallen in love with yet another beach town.
Hollywood, Fla., you had me from "70 and sunny."
But there is more to Hollywood than warm sunshine, sandy beaches, palm trees and tiki bars. (Not that you need any more, but ...)
There is the Hollywood Beach "broadwalk," (yes, BROAD-walk, not boardwalk), a 2-mile paved walkway where each morning scores of people are moving quickly, but yet not going anywhere. You could just tell that everyone was out for his or her morning exercise - either on foot, on Rollerblades or by bike. The best part - no cars allowed.
In the afternoon, people walked along the promenade on their way to and from the sandy shore, while in the evening, it was the place for strolling, on your way to one of the many restaurants.
On our Sunday morning walk along the beach and broadwalk, we came across Josh's Organic Garden Market, full of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Nearby was his juice bar with a huge selection of fruit-veggie combinations of juices and smoothies. The garden market is open, curiously, from 9 a.m. to 5:31 p.m. every Sunday.
Besides shops and restaurants, the broadwalk is lined with luxury resorts, boutique hotels and small inns.
Many of the inns are members of Superior Small Lodgings.
Some have pools, many are considered "luxury" and lots of them have full kitchens in efficiency or one- or two-bedroom apartments.
At the south end of the beach is the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa, a luxurious resort with several restaurants and a couple of pools offering views of the ocean.
The resort offers several dining options, as well, including a sushi bar in the lobby
Another hotel, the Ramada Hollywood Beach Resort is on its way to being gracious again.
Built in 1925, the historic hotel was referred to as the Grand Lady. Phase two of a $15 million renovation includes restoring architectural features returning it to the Mediterranean Revival style, installing hurricane impact windows and painting the building.
There are historic photo galleries on each of the hallways as well to remind visitors of the city's heyday.
The broadwalk, too, has been around for years, but its asphalt surface was replaced with pavers about six years ago. You'll also notice blue mats that stretch from the broadwalk to the sea. They're called "mobi mats," noted Nicole Damico, tourism coordinator at the city's office of tourism, during our golf-cart tour of the broadwalk. The mats allow accessibility to the beach for wheel chairs and strollers.
The Hollywood Beach Theater offers free music several evenings each week, attracting a nice crowd to the oceanside band shell. A new park is opening soon on the broadwalk with exercise stations and playgrounds.
When you've tired of the sand (and by that I mean when the wind starts blowing too hard or it gets too dark), it's time to head downtown where a myriad of restaurants, sidewalk cafes, nightclubs and art galleries can help you while away the evening. Free trolley service will begin soon, said Damico, that will shuttle guests between hotels, the broadwalk and the downtown area. It was an $8 cab ride or a 4-mile walk from our hotel to the downtown. The trolleys will be a welcome relief from both!
We hit the downtown before the beach one morning; a bit too early of course for the restaurants and nightclubs, but we also found the shops don't open until later in the day, as well. We did, however, find a beautiful mosaics shop. The owner noted that things are pretty relaxed in South Florida, and many shopkeepers open and close whenever they want. He, however, posts his hours and sticks to them!
What we did notice about downtown Hollywood was how clean it was.
No alley trash bins overflowing with garbage; no trash on the streets; no empty storefronts - just a clean, fresh and welcoming six-block area. Friendly banners on the old-fashioned streetlight posts also were a nice touch.
The young, 20-something crowd comes out at night, Damico noted, but there also is the Funtastic First Fridays event that caters to young families, with face painting, entertainment, games and more. Restaurants offer free food for the children on the first Friday of the month.
For the boomers and beyond, there are wine bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Hollywood and Vine, a wine bar, offers a variety of special events, including Scotch whisky tastings.
Also downtown is the 10-acre green space, Artspark at Young Circle, with a playground with an interactive fountain, symphony performances and other live concerts. There is a visual arts pavilion at the artspark with exhibitions, glassblowing and metalworking classes and demonstrations.
And if that's not enough, there are golf courses, spas, nature reserves, gaming, boating, theater, dancing, jai alai, sporting events (the Sun Life Stadium is home to the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins) and more shopping ... all in Hollywood, Fla.
I'm already ready to pack my bags and head south, again. Hollywood, here I come. ...