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It's old, it's Gold, with charms worthy of a bracelet

A section of decorative wall along the Broadwalk in Hollywood, Fla.
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / November 2, 2008
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This city may not have the polished sheen of its West Coast namesake or even the glitz and glamour of other destinations along this stretch of Florida's Gold Coast, but that's what makes it so appealing. Sometimes we want to slip on our flip-flops, slather on sunscreen, and not worry about what we're wearing or how much cash we have in our pockets.

Located in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, Hollywood is almost equidistant from the Fort Lauderdale and Miami International airports. In the past decade, the city has funneled public dollars into substantial improvements along the ocean and to ArtsPark at Young Circle, the gateway to the downtown historic district. The result is a revitalized town that retains its laid-back character. One day, Hollywood might surrender its free- wheeling nature to morph into another high-priced, gilded corporate town. Before that happens, here are eight good reasons to embrace its offbeat charms.

Beach and Broadwalk

Hollywood's beach is a 6-mile-long sandy expanse with the warm Atlantic on one side and a 2 1/2-mile auto-free promenade, the Broadwalk, on the other (visithollywood.org/beaches.html). Built in 1923, today's renovated Broadwalk is lined with small beachfront hotels and an eclectic mix of shops that harkens to an earlier era. There are restaurants and cafes for casual dining with a water view, as well as places to play pool and drink frozen cocktails.

At night, reproductions of the strip's original tri-globe and acorn lights illuminate the path, as do decorative LED lights along a low concrete wall that borders the sand. If you want to lounge along the beach, chairs and cabanas are available to rent. Hollywood is a certified Blue Wave Beach, meaning it's not only clean but also handicapped accessible with public restrooms.

Funky boutiques

Hollywood's downtown district, 2 miles west of the beach and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a pedestrian friendly area filled with restaurants, cafes, art galleries, bars, and dozens of places to shop that you won't find in the local mall. Most businesses are clustered in a six-block area along the parallel Hollywood Boulevard and Harrison Street.

At Mosaica (2020 Hollywood Blvd., 954-923-7006, mosaicaintl.com) owner Robyn Crosfield designs and sells her own mosaic tables and mirrors, and also represents contemporary fine crafts by national and international artists.

At Kids-N-Science (2000 Harrison St., 954-927-4700, greatimpactsites.com/kids/index.html), a fun and educational toy store, children will find plenty to keep them entertained.

Billed as Florida's largest magic shop, the Wizard's Apprentice Magic Shop (2051-B Hollywood Blvd., 888-920-1475, wizardsapprentice.com) is a family-run business selling cards, tricks, DVDs, books, props, and all things magical.

Culture

The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (1650 Harrison St., 954-921-3274, artandculturecenter.org) is located in a sprawling Spanish mansion built in 1924. The center presents six main exhibitions of contemporary art each year, as well as an ongoing project room where South Florida artists have the opportunity to curate shows and exhibit their work.

In addition, a half-dozen small art galleries featuring work by local artists can be found in the downtown shopping district.

Ethnic eateries

We just couldn't resist Transylvanian Romanian (113 South 20th Ave., 954-929-0777, restauranttransylvania.com, entrees $12.50-$24.99) featuring pork loin and veal schnitzel, beef goulash, and stuffed cabbage. On weekends, there's live music and dancing.

There's also a live belly dancing show on weekends, plus a hookah bar, at Exotic Bites (1848 Harrison St., 954-921-6667, entrees $8.50-$11.95), a Mediterranean restaurant featuring falafel, lamb gyro, and hot wraps.

Nakorn (1935 Harrison St., 954-921-1200, nakornthaisushi.com, entrees $12.95-$14.95) is a stylish Thai restaurant with a Japanese sushi bar.

The focus is on steaks cooked over a wood fire at Argentango Grill (1822 South Young Circle, 954-920-9233, argentangogrill.com, entrees $14-$22) with a special emphasis on cuts Argentines love such as flank steak.

Golf

For a relatively urban area, Hollywood has a surprising number of nine- and 18-hole courses designed to challenge players of all abilities.

If you don't want to spend your entire day on the links, head to the Eco Golf Club (1451 Taft St., 954-922-8755, ecogolfclub.com), a nine-hole course with plenty of water hazards and sand traps.

For 18 holes on 110 acres less than a mile from the ocean, check out the Hollywood Beach Country Club and Golf Resort (1650 Johnson St., 954-927-1751, hollywoodbeachgolf.com). Designed by architect Donald Ross in 1924, this par-70 course includes a full service restaurant and pro shop that are open to the public.

The Orangebrook Golf & Country Club (400 Entrada Drive, 954-967-4653, orangebrook.com) has two 18-hole courses, as well as the only lighted driving range in town.

An 18-hole course that boasts more than 100 bunkers, the Hillcrest Golf & Country Club (4600 Hillcrest Drive, 954-987-5000, www.hillcrestgcc.com) was redesigned in 2001 by Joe Lee. It also has an all-grass public driving range.

Gaming

It feels a lot like Vegas at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (One Seminole Way, 954-327-7625, seminolehardrock.com) located on an 86-acre resort in the western reaches of Hollywood. The 130,000-square-foot casino has 50 live-action poker tables and 2,500 slots and games including video poker and video roulette.

If thoroughbred racing is more your style, head to Gulfstream Park (901 South Federal Highway, 954-454-7000, gulfstreampark.com), where trainers and riders have praised the new racing surfaces as "the best in the sport." Besides world-class racing there is a casino with Vegas-like slots and three floors of dining options. Though technically located in Hallandale Beach, both Gulfstream and Mardi Gras Gaming (831 North Federal Highway, 954-924-3200, playmardigras.com) are a five-minute drive from Young Circle. Mardi Gras offers a poker room, flea market, and greyhound racing.

Night life

In recent years Hollywood has become a popular night life destination, with an international music and culture scene that includes jazz, blues, rock, Latin, and R&B. For the glitzier side of entertainment, head to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood (see Gaming) where the Seminole Paradise has 13 clubs, including jazz, comedy, a dueling-piano bar, and an extravagant dance club. There's also a 5,500-seat concert hall.

Wear your best dancing shoes to Spice Resto-Lounge (1934 Hollywood Blvd., 954-923-3888, spiceresto-lounge.com), where live bands play salsa, merengue, and bachata beats until the wee hours, seven nights a week. The lounge serves Latin-Fusion cuisine while costumed dancers entertain the patrons.

Sushi Blues Café (2009 Harrison St., 954-929-9560, sushiblues.com) offers blues as well as surfer-rockabilly on weekends in the Blue Monk Lounge to accompany their cutting edge, New-World Japanese cuisine.

Nature

The Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park (751 Sheridan St., 954-926-2480, broward.org/parks/wlpaknc.htm) is only a half-mile from the beach, the Broadwalk, and Hollywood's shopping district, but visiting the 1,500-acre mangrove ecosystem feels more like being in the heart of the Everglades.

The nature center has a five-level observation tower, an exhibition hall with nature displays, an aquarium, and an introductory video. Outside, visitors can traverse two boardwalks through the mangroves or rent canoes and kayaks to paddle through well-marked tidal channels. A 40-minute narrated boat tour on a 32-foot shaded boat explores the open waters of the lake.

Necee Regis can be contacted at neceeregis@gmail.com.

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