Palm Beach, Florida
It may have more than 47 miles of pristine beaches, but the crown jewel of Palm Beach County, FL, is, without a doubt, exclusive Palm Beach — a 14-mile long, half-mile-wide island of wealth and extravagance. Winter home to the Vanderbilts, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and a slew of newly minted millionaires, Palm Beach features some of Florida's finest hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as, of course, a selection of beautiful beaches.
Although Palm Beach started as a winter resort for the uber-wealthy, its temperate climate — with an average annual temperature of 78 degrees — soon made it an attractive destination year-round. Perched next to the Gulf Stream, Palm Beach enjoys the benefit of warm blue water and gentle breezes. As if that weren't enough, its rich residents and 5-star visitors bring enough star power to put Palm Beach on par with nearly any high-end resort in the world.
Most impressive are the area's palatial homes. They're not easy to see — thanks to miles of hedges and privacy fences — unless you can somehow catch an aerial view. But you can get a taste of Palm Beach's luxury at any number of 5-star hotels, first-rate restaurants and super-snooty shops. From the legendary Breakers to the ever-ritzy Ritz-Carlton, there's no shortage of top-notch lodgings for those who don't mind paying for a little pampering. For the palate, there's a host of culinary options, from fine dining to the local deli. And to help empty your pocketbook, Palm Beach offers a quarter-mile of high-end spending spots along Worth Avenue.
If all this has you checking your bank balance, keep in mind that while the upper-crust options are concentrated in Palm Beach proper, just across the waterway is West Palm Beach, where ample — and less pricey — lodging, dining and entertainment options await.
Web Site: www.hibiscushouse.com/index.html
Built in 1922 by Mayor David Dunkle in what is now the historic district of West Palm Beach, Hibiscus House today is home to first-rate hospitality in an elegant setting, replete with antiques and convincing reproductions. Even the two-course breakfast is matched with china, silver and crystal for a touch that takes dining to a higher level. An added bonus is the pool, surrounded by an impressively landscaped garden.
Best Luxurious Hotel
Web Site: www.thebreakers.com
There's no shortage of swank hotels in Palm Beach, but the granddaddy of them all is The Breakers, a 5-star, 560-room, Italian Renaissance-style behemoth sprawled across 140 acres of prime oceanfront property. The palatial property may have earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, but a recent $120 million renovation ensures guests will be treated to the latest in pampering and style. With two 18-hole golf courses, 10 tennis courts, a 20,000-square-foot spa, ocean-view fitness center and a beach club overlooking half a mile of private beach, it's no surprise that the Breakers' high-rolling guests keep coming back year after year.
Best Budget Accommodations
Best Western Palm Beach Lakes
Web Site: www.bestwestern.com
Palm Beach being, well, Palm Beach, true low-budget hotels are hard to come by. With a short hop to West Palm Beach, however, visitors can have their pick of less costly accommodations. The 2-story, 135-room Best Western Palm Beach Lakes underwent a complete renovation in the past year. And while it is a full five miles from the beach, the property does have a 60-foot heated pool, which means you won't have to forgo your evening swim just because you're not steps from the beach. The hotel also features a restaurant and a courtesy van that offers rides for a small fee.
Food & Drink
Web Site: www.chesterfieldpb.com
Step into the jungle at the Leopard Lounge, where Palm Beach's young professionals and the well heeled live it up against a lush and decidedly catty backdrop. Everywhere you look the leopard theme pervades - from the playfully spotty rug to the staff uniforms. The upscale lounge hosts live entertainment nightly, and a first-rate, late-night dinner menu is offered after 11 p.m. for those with an appetite that can't be tamed.
Best Family Restaurant
For a different kind of family meal, take a cue from Grandma and grab a sandwich and milkshake at the lunch counter of the corner pharmacy. Greene's not only has retro appeal - with its Formica bar and black-and-white checkerboard floor - it's also a place to eat without putting a dent in your wallet.
Best Place to Impress Your Date
Web Site: www.fourseasons.com/palmbeach/dining/dining.html
Reserve a table at The Restaurant, South Florida's only AAA 5-diamond restaurant, for those first-impression dates or to mark a truly special occasion. Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais, dubbed one of the 10 best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine, whips up an impressive menu of Southeastern regional cuisine, merging flavors from Latin America, the Deep South and the Caribbean. Entrees such as barbecued squab with a passion fruit glaze or seared yellowtail snapper with watermelon, thyme and tangelo sauce, combined with a ritzy setting fit for Palm Beach, ensure diners are in for a meal to remember.
Best Kid Stuff
Lion Country Safari
Web Site: www.lioncountrysafari.com
When it opened in 1967, Lion Country Safari was the first cage-less, drive-through safari park in the country. Today it's no longer the only, but it's still a treat. Take the family for a close-up view of the park's 1,300 real wild animals - lions, elephants, white rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, chimpanzees and ostriches. Take note, however, that windows must be kept up and convertibles or soft-top vehicles are not permitted. For a more personal meeting with some of the park's tamer beasts, visit the petting zoo.
Best Day Trip
Everglades National Park
Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/ever/
A trip to South Florida isn't complete without a visit to its most famous natural landmark - the Everglades. Fortunately for Palm Beach visitors, Everglades National Park is just a one-hour drive southwest - a trip well worth the car time. Dubbed the "River of Grass" for its vast expanses of sawgrass prairies, the park's 1.5 million acres are the nation's largest remaining subtropical wilderness and home to a host of rare and unusual animals and plants. And if the kids don't seem all that excited by the prospect of spying egrets and ibises, tell them they'll likely encounter an alligator or 2 - always a hit with kids.
Best Intellectual Pursuit
Norton Museum of Art
Web Site: www.norton.org
If you want a break from frying your brain on a sun-soaked beach, try giving it a little enrichment instead. With 4,500 works concentrated in 19th- and 20th-century European, Renaissance, Baroque, American, Chinese and Contemporary art, as well as photography and works on paper, the Norton Museum of Art is considered one of Florida's best. The museum is currently undergoing an expansion that will add a 3-story wing with 11 new galleries.
Web Site: www.worth-avenue.com
Get a taste for how the other half spends their time and money along the quarter mile of posh shops that line Worth Avenue. From Cartier to Tiffany, Giorgio Armani to Saks Fifth Avenue, check out the most chi-chi shops, frequented by the most discerning shoppers. Even if money is an object, a stroll down Worth Avenue is worth the walk, for gawking value alone.