With fall waiting in the wings to usher in cooler weather, finding the perfect warm-weather destination quickly rises to the top of my to-do list. Fort Lauderdale often gets overlooked in favor of its flashier neighbor, Miami. Yet the Venice of America is well worth a visit, with its waterfront attractions, cultural destinations and sunny outdoor adventures.
So what’s on the menu in this South Florida hot spot? Thanks to its active culture and healthy vibe, this colorful city is home to plenty of delicious gluten-free fare—and plenty of plant-based options, too. Grab your shades and join me on a tour of the tastiest gluten-free spots in Fort Lauderdale.
Catch the sunrise to start the day right
I might not be a morning person, but the promise of watching an unforgettable sunrise has a way of making me eager to wake up before dawn. Fort Lauderdale’s sunrises don’t disappoint, especially if you catch the sun coming up over the waves at Las Olas Beach. Arrive early enough, and you’ll have the beach mostly to yourself, allowing for a quiet moment or two before the sun-seeking crowds descend on this sandy stretch.
After you soak up the first few rays of the day, it’s time for coffee and a bite to eat. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day, but Fort Lauderdale’s Fresh First has taken my love for this morning meal to an entirely new level. This completely gluten-free restaurant serves up flavorful dishes with a healthy side of sunshine seven mornings a week.
You’ll feel like you’re in the right place as soon as you step in the door, as owners Eliana and Tarso Teixeira have made their restaurant a welcoming space for friends, families, locals and visitors alike. As part of a plant-based family that also juggles celiac and food allergies, Eliana and Tarso knew that they wanted Fresh First to be a place where their family would love to eat—and a space where other food-challenged families could dine and socialize comfortably.
That’s why you’ll find Fresh First’s menu brimming with gluten-free, vegan and peanut-free dishes that appeal to anyone and everyone. The restaurant also uses organic produce when possible and makes essentially everything in house, including a proprietary flour blend, a signature spicy hot sauce and coconut milk-based ice cream.
If you arrive in time for breakfast, you’re in for a treat. One of Fresh First’s most popular dishes is the Eggs Benedict, a classic that I rarely find gluten free. Between the fluffy buttermilk waffles, the perfectly poached egg, the savory bacon and the rich Hollandaise sauce, this is a morning meal you won’t want to miss.
Of course, if you’re too late for breakfast, Fresh First serves up a mean lunch, too. I recommend the Sweet Potato Burger, a vegetarian burger that comes on a waffle bun, but meaty options like the Chicken and Waffles and the Classic BLT are also tempting. Many of the burgers, salads and bowls here are relatively healthy, but there’s plenty on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth, too. From flourless brownies and waffle sundaes to warm chocolate chip cookies and raw chocolate turtles, Fresh First’s gluten-free desserts hit the spot.
While the welcoming atmosphere and completely gluten-free menu are more than enough to make Fresh First an essential destination in Fort Lauderdale, the restaurant’s convenient location doesn’t hurt either. This sunny spot is just blocks from the cruise port and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, making Fresh First one of the easiest stops during your trip.
Fuel up for outdoor adventures with healthy eats
Fort Lauderdale is home to a long list of outdoor attractions, from state parks packed with wildlife and tranquil gardens overflowing with blooms to historical spots with fascinating museums. When you’re ready for an adventure, head north from Fresh First and take your pick between two of my favorite sites. If you’re looking for a mix of art, history and nature, you’ll want to spend a few hours wandering through Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, a historic home with gorgeous grounds.
If you’d rather skip the art and architecture and explore the great outdoors, set your sights on Hugh Taylor Birch State Park instead. Also known as Fort Lauderdale’s Central Park, it’s just large enough to transport you away from the bustling metro area and into a green oasis. With its easy walking trails, awe-inspiring mangrove forests and ample bird-watching opportunities, this park has tons of activities to do on dry land. But if you don’t mind getting wet, you’ll also want to rent a kayak and paddle along the palmettos and through Birch State Park’s central lagoon.
It’s easy to work up an appetite during a day of outdoor adventures in Fort Lauderdale, but Bowlicious is my pick for staying fueled on the north side of Fort Lauderdale. The brainchild of business partners Matthew Freeman and Gustavo Baldovino, Bowlicious takes inspiration from the macronutrient diet. All of the dishes emphasize balance, and the team takes pride in making sauces, grinding and mixing spices, and preparing everything fresh daily.
The entire menu here is gluten free, from the bowls to the drinks to the desserts. Bowlicious also has a comprehensive allergen guide to help you identify dairy-free, nut-free and other free-from options.
With so many internationally inspired ingredients to choose from, it isn’t easy to decide what to add to your own custom veggie, protein and grain bowl. That’s why I recommend digging into one of the mouth-watering signature chef bowls instead.
I loved the Asian-inspired Ninja bowl, with sweet potato noodles, ginger chicken, spicy green beans and jicama slaw. The vegetarian Botanist, with brown rice, Szechuan tofu, cinnamon sweet potatoes and beet salad, was also a favorite, with vibrant flavors that tie together beautifully. No matter what you choose, don’t forget to pick up a gluten-free cookie for dessert.
Take in the waterfront sights and eat fresh
After a well-balanced meal, it’s time to walk off lunch in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District. Perched along the New River, this is where you’ll find many of Fort Lauderdale’s best cultural and shopping destinations. From retail therapy along Las Olas Boulevard and history at the Stranahan House to exhibitions at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale and shows at the Broward Center for Performing Arts, Riverwalk is the city’s vibrant center.
If you love the healthy bowl trend as much as I do, you’ll want to stop by Bolay for dinner. This South Florida chain’s gluten-free food service certification from the Gluten Intolerance Group sets it apart, making it a smart and safe option on Fort Lauderdale’s southwest side.
Everything at Bolay is gluten free, and the quick-service restaurant easily accommodates other allergies, too. Bolay has an easy-to-use guide that highlights the top eight allergens, so you can choose the ingredients that work best for your dish. Build your own bowl with bases like cilantro noodles or orange basil quinoa, add veggies like ginger broccoli and herb-roasted potatoes or proteins like miso-glazed tofu, and top it with sauces like spicy Thai or cilantro pesto.
If you’d rather nosh on a tried-and-true combo, Bolay has plenty of tasty and nutritious options. Try one of the most popular bowls, like the Surf-N-Turf, which comes with steak au jus, smoky cauliflower and crunchy kale salad. Whether you’re looking for a little spice, an all-American dish or something super fresh, Bolay can create your ideal gluten-free dish.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with gluten-free goodies
When I’m traveling, I can never resist visiting a gluten-free bakery, especially one as tasty as Sweet Love. Located on the west side of Fort Lauderdale, Sweet Love is a completely gluten-free bakery that also offers dairy-free, non-GMO and kosher goodies. Owner Ana Buendia prides herself on providing treats that everyone can enjoy, no matter what dietary restrictions they might have.
It’s easy to see why the cupcakes and cake pops are bestsellers here, and I found the donuts and pound cakes irresistible, too. Although Sweet Love specializes in desserts and sweet treats like waffles, the bakery offers savory bites, too. Call ahead to order a pizza, and Sweet Love will have it hot and ready when you arrive.
I recommend stopping at Sweet Love before starting an adventure-filled day or while you’re on your way out of town so you can stock up on gluten-free goodies to go. The pound cake and donuts travel particularly well and can keep you going through a garden walk, during a day on the beach, or on the plane ride home.
Ideal for a quick stop during a bigger adventure in the Sunshine State or for a longer stay in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale has tons of gluten-free options to keep you satisfied. Set your sights on this sunny spot, and fuel up for a family vacation or a weekend escape with Fort Lauderdale’s best gluten-free breakfasts, healthy eats and sweet treats.