The other Hollywood: Florida’s version has its own unique identity

Hollywood, Fla., is an unpretentious, unglitzy town located on Florida’s eastern coast.

Located right between two high-profile resorts — Fort Lauderdale to the north, and Miami Beach to the south — Hollywood takes pride in its small town charm. This low-key Hollywood was named an “All America City 2007” by the National Civic League.

One highlight of this East Coast Hollywood is the popular beach promenade known as the Broadwalk. It’s indeed broad — an ample 27 feet wide — so there’s plenty of space for a separate lane for bikes, as well as the wider lane for walking. Extending for two and a half miles, the Broadwalk is a colorful, brick-lined, oceanside promenade, the most extensive along Florida’s eastern coast.

Strolling on this promenade, pedestrians are practically on the beach. This is not an elevated walkway as in Atlantic City or Ocean City. Instead, it’s flush with the beach, which is just steps away.

This beach, studded with palm trees, is a five-mile expanse of soft sand and clear ocean water, which was voted Florida’s best beach by Florida Living magazine. It’s also earned the distinction of “Blue Wave Beach,” an award given to selected beaches by the Clean Beach Council.

And the Broadwalk has its own claim to fame. It’s been named one of American’s top 10 nostalgic promenades by USA Today.

It’s indeed nostalgic to see four wheeled surreys on the bike lane, along with regular bikes, tricycles, very low seat bikes, and bicycles built for two. Whole families pedal together in the surreys, waving to passers-by as they pedal along. Of course, there are also the joggers and roller-bladers, along with pedestrians who stroll along at a leisurely pace.

And if they work up an appetite, there’s an entire line-up of eateries, almost all with outdoor tables. No five-star restaurants here, but instead, a wide array of casual restaurants with varied cuisines — Italian, French, Spanish, Mexican, Moroccan, even a restaurant specializing in Russian and Armenian cuisine.

Often a simple Broadwalk stroll yields surprises. One afternoon during my recent visit, I heard live music as I approached the outdoor band shell and stage on Johnson Street, which is called the Hollywood Beach Theater.

Here two musicians were providing lively music on guitar and keyboard.

But the real surprise was the lineup of mostly middle-aged people who were strutting, turning, and moving to the music. They were doing line dancing and enjoying every minute.

The musicians on the stage announced their numbers in French — and for good reason. Hollywood is especially popular with French Canadian snowbirds. Many come year after year and stay for the winter, enjoying rituals such as weekly line dancing.

And businesses cater to them. Many restaurant signs include the phrase Nous parlons francais (we speak French), and stores on the Broadwalk sell French Canadian newspapers.

Line dancing is just one activity at the Hollywood Beach Theater. It’s also the site for a full season of concerts and other outdoor entertainment.

Still another scene of activity on the Broadwalk is Charnow Park. Its amenities include a striking interactive fountain that kids especially enjoy, plus colorful landscaping, four picnic pavilions and two play areas.

Of course, the seven-mile beach, studded with palm trees, is an attraction of its own. It’s proud of its designation as a Blue Wave certified beach, which means it was certified by the Clean Beaches Council, and it’s earned this recognition for over ten years.

But the beach is not the only natural attraction in Hollywood. Another is the Anne Kolb Nature Center in West Lake Park, which is part of the vast 1500-acre mangrove preserve in Hollywood. The 88-acre Nature Center includes an indoor exhibit hall, and an extensive outdoor area, with walkways and hiking trails.

During my visit, my first stop was the modern exhibit hall with attractive exhibits about the mangrove swamp and the unique South Florida environment.

The central display was of a mangrove tree with its distinctive intertwined roots. The surrounding exhibits gave illustrated explanations about the mangrove swamp, the estuary ( a meeting place of fresh water and salt water) and the entire eco-system of this part of Florida.

Along with respect for nature, there’s a respect for history evident in Hollywood’s downtown area. A six block area centered along Hollywood Boulevard and Harrison Street is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s an attractive downtown, with pastel colored buildings, palm trees — and no high rises. The streets are lined with boutiques, art galleries, bistros, cafes, and restaurants with varied cuisines.

With its Broadwalk, award-winning beach, and attractions like the Anne Kolb Nature Center, this East Coast Hollywood has distinctive charms all its own.

IF YOU GO … For more information contact Hollywood Office of Tourism at 877-672-2468 or website www.VisitHollywoodFL.org.

Story from the Daily Times News.

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