Henry M. Flagler was on to something when he declared Palm Beach a “veritable paradise” in 1893, a sentiment that’s proven true over the past 100-plus years. While sandy beaches and lavish oceanfront resorts frequently come to mind when envisioning the cities and towns that comprise Palm Beach County, there’s a whole melting pot of culture, community and food beyond that gilded surface. Merely two hours south of Orlando and just over an hour north of Miami, with direct flights to Palm Beach International Airport from many U.S. cities, not to mention major airports nearby in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the Palm Beaches are poised now more than ever for their time in the national spotlight. From the historic architecture and story-telling museums to out-of-this-world farm dinners and even wineries producing kombucha and hibiscus wine, there’s a ton to eat, drink, see and do in the Palm Beaches these days, many of which have nothing to do with any actual beach.
Back in the late 1800’s, when Henry Flagler first became infatuated with Palm Beach, the region began to manifest as America’s first resort Mecca. And it’s all thanks to Flagler’s pioneering vision. A longtime business partner of John Rockefeller, Flagler became inspired to celebrate and showcase Palm Beach by constructing the world’s largest wooden hotel, The Royal Poinciana Hotel. Not only was it a feat in and of itself, but it connected to the Northern U.S. via railroad, bridging the gap between South Florida and regions of New York, New England and D.C. for the first time. His Palm Beach Inn followed in 1896, which went on to become the iconic Breakers Palm Beach, an oceanfront property that’s still to this day independently owned and operated, maintaining the glory days of Flagler-era Palm Beach with immaculate furnishings, multiple pools, a private beach and a show-stopping brunch buffet that features everything from caviar bowls to live harpists serenading diners.
Among the premiere boutique hotels on Palm Beach, The Chesterfield is a crown jewel. Setting the standard for vintage luxury, the 53-room property goes above and beyond with live music and lively cuisine at the Leopard Lounge, an immaculate pool shaded by palm trees and most impressive of all, a fantastic English afternoon tea service. Taking place in the hotel’s library-like lounge, guests can cozy up to Champagne and their tea of choice, served with a smattering of warm scones, tea sandwiches, dainty brownies and more. It’s just the right amount of pomp and circumstance, leveled out with friendly, warm service and an ambience as relaxing as lounging in a friend’s living room; albeit a very well-off friend with impeccable taste.
Even the chain hotels in Palm Beach go the extra mile. At the Hilton West Palm Beach (pictured above), a sprawling and pristine property adjacent to the convention center, visitors can luxuriate alongside an enormous pool stocked with flamingo floats, enjoy yoga on the lawn, sip masterful cocktails at Galley, snack on gelato from Provisions and feast their way through an impressive brunch spread at Manor, where the cake-like banana bread with banana jam is sure to set a new bar and ruin you on all other breakfast pastries.
Fans of history and architecture will be in heaven in Palm Beach County, particularly in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and the island of Palm Beach itself. One prime place to drink it all in is at the Flagler Museum on Palm Beach (pictured above). Nestled right on the water overlooking West Palm Beach, the vintage property is one of the most historical buildings around. Situated in Henry Flagler’s palatial former home built in 1902, the National Historic Landmark is rich with Palm Beach lore and industry. A tour of the property, through its multiple stories and rooms, illustrates just how impactful Flagler was on early Palm Beach, throwing lavish parties for local elite, constructing a one-time hotel behind the house, planting coconut palms throughout the grounds and color-coordinating the multitude of guest rooms. The museum wows with its antique art, pristine furniture and sheer opulence. There’s even a train car permanently parked behind the museum, which visitors can stroll through, indicative of Flagler’s railway ingenuity — the man not only connected South Florida to the Northeast, but he famously built a railway linking together the Florida Keys and the mainland.
Elsewhere, other famous local institutions include the Norton Museum of Art, the Boca Express Train Museum and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum, to scratch the surface. Covering everything from fine art to railroads, the county’s vast scope of museums and history exhibit just how diverse the local history is, and how various communities and industries worked together to forge a holistic whole that endures to this day.
When it comes to restaurants in South Florida, Miami gets much of the national spotlight with its dizzying array of celebrity chefs and South Beach hot spots, but Palm Beach more than holds its own. In fact, the region’s food scene has evolved into quite the titan, with more than 2,000 dining establishments spread across the county, boasting a nice mix of heavy-hitting chefs, old-school classics, neighborhood staples and envelope-pushing newcomers. It’s the rare destination that’s got restaurants from world-renowned chefs like Daniel Boulud and Lindsay Autry, alongside classic high tea service, thoughtful street food and tacos from the likes of Cholo Soy, rabbit sausage noodles from Coolinary Cafe (pictured above), neon-hued ice cream at Sloan’s and a surprising abundance of solid New York-style pizza shops. Such a tasteful variety is what makes Palm Beach feel like the epitome of America’s melting pot, and it’s what’s inspired the successful emergence of popular festivals like the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, which features cooking from some of the country’s top toques and television stars.
One of the county’s newest and most promising additions is Avant in Delray Beach. Considering the surplus of funky art installations throughout the various dining rooms, you could be forgiven for mistaking this place for a gallery. But then you taste the food and realize the artistry is just as prevalent on the plates. Crispy eggplant stacks and charred octopus with cauliflower puree are apt starters, as is the arancini-like braised short rib rice ball, a tennis ball-sized fritter bursting with succulent, gravy-laced beef. Sliders, lobster grilled cheese, lemony roast chicken and orange-glazed salmon with cucumber-studded farro are a few larger highlights worth saving room for, as well. From here, you’re well positioned for a convenient bar crawl down Delray’s main drag, which is loaded with colorful, festive watering holes ranging from the exotic tipples at Death or Glory to delightful tiki kitsch at Sandbar.
For a particularly life-altering experience, book a dinner at Swank Specialty Produce in Loxahatchee (pictured above), which hosts periodic farm dinners with a lineup of guest chefs and endless pours of beer and wine. Located right on the farm, under a massive barn roof exposed to the fields, tractors and roaring fire pits, it’s an experience like no other. The events have been so successful that the farm added numerous dinners for the season, weekend brunch and top-tier culinary talent from as far away as California. Be sure and swing by a local farmers’ market to taste their wares, too. Swank sells produce at West Palm Beach Green Market and Delray Beach Green Market, which both take place on Saturdays through spring.
While you’re in a drinking mood, stop in Lake Worth at Sons & Daughters winery. A winery in Florida may sound like an oxymoron, but the folks at the farm eschew grapes in favor of indigenous ingredients that lend themselves naturally to fermentation. This means you can expect to sip clever, unique wines like hibiscus, pumpkin and honey, depending on what’s fresh and seasonal. They also brew their own kombucha, in flavors like banana, olive and mulberry, each one bright and zesty. They offer both wine and kombucha flights, which is a great way to sample your way through the lineup.
Still to come, Grandview Public Market looks to be a game-changer of a food hall for the entirety of South Florida. Just as Miami is starting to get some significant food halls, this West Palm Beach has re-shaped a mid-century warehouse into a wonderland of community-driven food. At 14,000-sq.-ft., the venue fills a longstanding void in the area, orchestrated by husband-wife owners Chris and Kristen Vila. 12 vendors fill out the space, running the gamut from poké and chicken sandwiches to a butcher shop, coffee shop, juice bar, Detroit-style pizza and even a speakeasy-style cocktail bar perched on the second floor. There will also be a home goods shop called Quinn, a rotating pop-up space for various vendors to try out new concepts and lounge areas both inside and out. Altogether, the airy, welcoming market feels like a quintessential community gathering place, celebrating local food, independent business and the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps Palm Beach County thriving.
There’s much more to Palm Beach than swimming and suntanning — though those are both world-class and high-priority, deservedly. With 47 miles of Atlantic coastline and numerous waterways weaving in and out of the region, there’s much to do around these parts. Paddle-boarding and kayaking are popular excursions, with numerous options throughout the county. Off the coast, jet skiing, yachting and boating are all recommended options, especially since strolling along the shore is certain to incite jealousy anyway. If you’re looking for something a little more immersive, diving and snorkeling opportunities abound. Venture a bit further out to snorkel and scuba dive amidst the reefs, where you’re likely to spot (and marvel at) sea turtles, sailfish, dolphins and enough tropical fish to make your head spin.
Not all activities are aquatic, though; there’s plenty do on land, too. Most familiar is Palm Beach County’s golfing reputation. With 160 public and private courses, not to mention countless pro shops, teaching facilities and famous residents like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, it’s no surprise that Palm beach is the golf capital of Florida — and one of the premiere golfing destinations in the U.S.
If you’re looking for a fun, leisurely group activity, go for a spin on a boozy bike ride through West Palm Beach. Companies like Cycle Party operates 15-person bicycle-operated vessels that allow groups to comfortably pedal their way from bar to bar, stopping at multiple venues along the way to fill up plastic cups with beer or rum punch. The vehicle is equipped with cup-holders, so you can take your drinks with you as you ride. It’s a fun, lively way to explore the region and get a taste for the local bar scene all at once.
Whether you’re traveling back in time at the Flagler Museum or pedaling towards your next cocktail, there’s a seamless synergy in the Palm Beaches tying together to make this county among America’s mightiest melting pots.