As far as names go, you could do a lot worse than Palm Beach County. There's many a palm and plenty of beach, plus a lot more to discover if you take the time to look.
There's impressive architecture, but no neon; 47 miles of beaches, but few spring breakers; a rich pedigree, but not limited to those with thick wallets. There's room for families, fans of the outdoors and those who enjoy spas and shopping.
The county's most notable city is Palm Beach, home to cultural treasures such as the Flagler Museum and The Breakers hotel. Many of the surrounding locales such as Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens and Delray Beach take their cues from Palm Beach's history and refinement.
The area about 170 miles southeast of Orlando makes for a satisfying weekend getaway.
The top of the list for history buffs has to be the Flagler Museum, the winter home of railroad magnate Henry Flagler. He built the opulent structure, also known as Whitehall, as a gift to his second wife.
The not-so-cozy home in Palm Beach pays homage to decadence with a massive collection of art and sculpture adorning the walls and halls throughout its 100,000 square feet and 75 rooms.
The Doric columns by the entrance and the 5,000-square-foot Grand Hall are impressive enough, but don't miss the details in every nook in the music and billiard rooms, courtyard and series of color-coordinated guest areas upstairs. The steamer trunk closet is a nice touch leading into The Pink Room. Done in the Beaux Arts style of architecture, Flagler used it from 1902 until his death in 1913. That era made Palm Beach the center of attention for the uber rich as the Flaglers would throw grand balls during their stays.
The home was sold in the 1920s to a group that used it as a hotel until 1959, when it became the Flagler Museum. Attracting more than 100,000 visitors a year, Whitehall is open Tuesday-Sunday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Admission is $18 for adults, $10 for children 13-17, $3 for children 6-12 and free for 5 and under. (flaglermuseum.us)
History buffs also should consider a trip to Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum (jupiterlighthouse.org). The 105-foot-tall lighthouse offers fantastic views from the northernmost town in Palm Beach County. The burnt-orange structure was built in 1860 and the grounds feature a World War II-era Navy building and a pioneer home exhibit highlighting life in the 1890s. Open Tuesdays-Sundays through December and then seven days a week from January-April, admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-17 with children 5 and under free.
When an area attracts a lot of people who have money to spend, it's no wonder there are plenty of places to spend it. From Boca Raton to Palm Beach Gardens, the county is rife with locales ideal for a day strolling from boutique to boutique in search of treasures.
For the highest of the high end, try the 100-plus-year-old Worth Avenue in Palm Beach (worth-avenue.com). Names like Giorgio Armani, Michael Kors and Cartier reside across the white concrete structures adorned with bougainvillea under the shade of towering palms.
Similar quality can be found in Boca Raton's Mizner Park (miznerpark.com) and its hundreds of stores and restaurants as well as a pedestrian-friendly central walkway with fountains, sculptures and the Mizner amphitheater.
A more modern mix of stores with a heavy bent on restaurants can be found in downtown West Palm Beach's CityPlace (cityplace.com), which also features one of the county's best movie theaters. For those who don't want to leave the air conditioning, there's the Gardens Mall (thegardensmall.com) off PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens. And bargain shoppers can search for deals at the new Palm Beach Outlets (palmbeachoutlets.com) with more than 100 name-brand outlet stores.
It's no wonder the Florida swing of the PGA tour makes stops in the Palm Beaches. PGA National Resort & Spa (pgaresort.com) in Palm Beach Gardens hosts the top golfers in late February for the Honda Classic, but even amateurs can tackle the Champion course and four others when they stay at the resort.
The marquee course, originally designed by George and Tom Fazio and redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 2014, features the "Bear Trap," considered the toughest three holes on the PGA Tour. Stay and play packages for the resort climb for the fall and spring with $279 per person rates for the resort's four other courses, and a premium of $359 for the Champion course per person based on double occupancy.
PGA isn't the only game in town. Palm Beach County has more than 40 courses open to the public including Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter (abacoagolfclub.com). Another notable option is The Ocean Course at The Breakers resort (thebreakers.com), Florida's first 18-hole course built in 1896. That one, like PGA, also requires a hotel stay to play.
The great outdoors
There's some serious muscle-burning to be had around Palm Beach County with great ways to get from points A to B using your legs, two wheels, a paddle or even flippers.
For hikers and bikers looking for a view of the state's largest freshwater lake, head west where Lake Okeechobee can be enjoyed from a giant berm 35 feet above the surface. The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail goes 110 miles around the entire lake, and large portions of the path are paved.
For those who like kayaking, the Loxahatchee River snakes through the northern part of the county with many places to launch. Try renting from Canoe Outfitters of Florida in Riverbend Park in Jupiter (canoeoutfittersofflorida.com), where you can put in for a 5.5-mile run and check out otter, alligators, heron and maybe even deer on the shore.
Divers will want to check out one of the top-ranked sites in the world under the Blue Heron Bridge at Phil Foster Park (pbcgov.com/parks/locations/philfoster.htm), with hundreds of species of sea life from octopus to starfish all in water less than 20 feet deep. The site is accessible year-round with the best dive times during the magic hour between low and high tides. The park is free, and you can bring your own gear or rent from the many scuba outlets around West Palm Beach, including Pura Vida Divers (puravidadivers.com) just east of the park.
Caution: Giraffe crossing — and rhino, zebras, gazelle and ostrich. At least the lions don't have free rein to cross your path, but you may get stuck for a minute as many of the dozens of other species at Lion Country Safari (lioncountrysafari.com) meander across the road.
The drive-through safari in Loxahatchee opened in 1967 and still is a major draw for all of South Florida. The 30-minute tour from the comfort of your car is followed by a visit to a small park with a splash pad, water slides, rides, mini golf and paddle boats. But the animals are definitely the highlight. The lions are behind a fence, but the rest of the drive often features up close and personal encounters with the wildlife. Keep your windows up, because giraffes are very curious. Open daily, admission to Lion Country is $33 for ages 10-64, $29.50 for 65 and up, $24 for ages 3-9 and 2 and under free. Parking is $7.
For more animal fun, be sure to check out the Palm Beach Zoo (palmbeachzoo.org) and the neighboring South Florida Science Center & Aquarium (sfsciencecenter.org) in West Palm Beach. Both are modest in size, but offer a lot for day's worth of fun. Admission at both is less than $20 for adults.
There's something in the air, and it smells like flowers, or maybe it's Cuban oregano.
Just west of Palm Beach International Airport lies Mounts Botanical Garden (mounts.org), a 14-acre respite that offers up a whole lot of green serenity for a few hours. With a suggested donation of $5 a person, it's worth strolling among the many gardens — including butterfly, rose and fragance, and well-being. The herb garden is a flavorful bounty for your sense of smell. Be sure to stop by the quaint garden shop and pick up some South Florida honey.
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (morikami.org) also offers acres of serenity. Founded in 1977, the attraction tells the history of a former Japanese farming community north of Boca Raton called Yamato in the early 1900s. The museum, gardens and the award-winning Cornell Cafe offer a taste of life in Japan. Closed on Mondays and major holidays, admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and military, $11 for students, $9 for children 6-17 and free for children 5 and under.
While there are plenty of great places to be pampered, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan (eaupalmbeach.com/explore/eau-spa) stands out for its whimsical touches. A Forbes five-star ranked spa, there are soothing waterfall showers with rubber ducks in the corner, champagne-glass chandeliers and a couple's spa treatment room called "Villa Naughty."
Inner peace also awaits at the Waldorf Astoria Spa at the Boca Resort in Boca Raton (bocaresort.com/play/waldorf-astoria-spa.html), the Seagate Hotel and Spa in Delray Beach (theseagatehotel.com/spa-fitness) and the Four Seasons Palm Beach spa (fourseasons.com/palmbeach/spa).
There's something sad about staring at an Edward Hopper painting. It's the shadows. His "August in the City" is among the fantastic collection of American art from the 1900s on display at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach (norton.org). The museum is undergoing a major facelift that has put 90 percent of its collection in storage. That's the bad news. The good news is that until the revamped museum debuts in 2018, admission is free. The limited collection is still worth seeing, especially the works amassed by museum namesake Ralph Hubbard Norton, who found an early love for American realism. Works by Robert Henri, George Bellows and John Sloan are on display along with European impressionists Monet, Gauguin and Renoir, Renaissance pieces from Rubens and van Dyk as well as Chinese and modernist art. To make up for the reduced amount of the work, the museum is putting more emphasis on programming including "Art After Dark" every Thursday with lectures, food and drink.
Art as a whole thrives across the county, home to many art hubs amid the shopping on Worth Avenue and downtown Boca Raton. The revitalized downtown of Delray Beach (downtowndelraybeach.com/downtown-gallery-district) has more than a dozen galleries, large murals, public sculptures and artist studios that make for a great evening of perambulation and art appreciation.
Downtown Delray Beach also has one of the area's most interesting venues for music and theater. The Arts Garage (artsgarage.org) embraces a BYOW — Bring Your Own...Whatever — mentality. So while tickets for shows may be upward of $45 for premium tables, you can bring along your favorite bottle of wine and enjoy the show. Jazz and blues musicians feature heavily while theater productions include mostly modern dramas and comedy.
Other major entertainment venues include West Palm's Kravis Center for the Performing Arts (www.kravis.org) with its 2,195-seat concert hall as well as smaller indoor and outdoor venues. Touring Broadway shows often make a stop here.
It's not all about five-star ratings in Palm Beach County, although there are many top-ranked dining options. The Thirsty Turtle in Juno Beach (thirstyturtlefl.com) is often ranked among the best wings in South Florida because of its singular sauce offering, a homemade, honey-garlic-butter concoction that comes in a variety of heat levels.
If you mash up Forbes, TripAdvisor and Zagat, the best restaurants include Palm Beach venues Buccan (buccanpalmbeach.com), HMF at The Breakers (thebreakers.com/dining/hmf), Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel (cafeboulud.com/palmbeach) and Jové Kitchen and Bar at the Four Seasons (joverestaurant.com). Wine Spectator gives top props to the selection at places such as The Cooper in Palm Beach Gardens (thecooperrestaurant.com) and Angle at Eau Palm Beach Resort in Manalapan (eaupalmbeach.com/explore/dining/angle).
Palm Beach County
What: The South Florida county is home to West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Jupiter, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton, among other cities.
Where: Situated between Martin and Broward counties on the southeast coast of Florida, Palm Beach County is about 170 miles from Orlando.
Getting there: From Orlando, take Florida Turnpike south or S.R 528 east to Interstate 95 south. Both routes intersect with Indiantown Road in Jupiter, PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens, Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Road in Lake Worth, Boynton Beach Boulevard in Boynton Beach, Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach and Glades Road in Boca Raton. Take any of these east to coastal destinations.
Population: According to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the population of Palm Beach County is 1.42 million.