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While the uber-moneyed barrier island of Palm Beach (one of the wealthiest enclaves in the U.S.) is the most famous beach of the Palm Beaches, there’s much more to this stretch of Florida’s Gold Coast than most visitors know. Palm Beach County covers some 47 miles of Florida’s Atlantic Coast, from Jupiter in the north to Boca Raton down south. Whether you plan to just kick back in the sand at a grand dame beach resort or are feeling more intrepid—after all, you can snorkel an incredible underwater trail here to spot sea horses and explore Japanese gardens, too—you’ll be surprised at all you can pack into a weekend in the Palm Beaches.
Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, is the closest airport to the Palm Beaches. Fort Lauderdale International Airport is roughly 50 minutes south. From Tampa, it takes roughly 3.5 hours to drive east across the belly of the state and south to get to the Palm Beaches.
On arrival, set your sights on Palm Beach for your first lunch in the area—but give stuffy (though gorgeous) Worth Avenue a pass in favor of the more fun vibe at The Royal Poinciana Plaza, where you can settle in at the bistro called Sant Ambroeus for food every bit as delicious as in Italy (no, seriously—if you order just one thing, make it the charcuterie platter).
A fun way to get the lay of the land in Palm Beach while doing some mansion and yacht-spotting is by renting a bike at the Palm Beach Bicycle Trail Shop to pedal the island’s roughly five-mile-long Lake Trail. It skirts the Intracoastal Waterway (referred to as “the lake,” or Lake Worth Lagoon, in these parts) and winds all the way south to Worth Avenue, too. You can either turn in your bike after or pedal across the Flagler Memorial Bridge to neighboring West Palm Beach, where you’ve likely earned a sweet reward at Sloan’s, a whimsical ice cream parlor that’s been around forever and packs the house for fun flavors like Ginger Snappy and Almond Joy.
Finish the day by letting someone else do the driving with a sunset cruise aboard Hakuna Matata Catamaran Cruises, during which you’ll nearly be able to peer into the windows of incredible waterfront mansions and super yachts while waiting for the setting sun to set the skies above the Intracoastal Waterway aglow.
INSIDER TIPYou can BYOB and even bring your own food onboard for hors d’oeuvres afloat.
Once back on dry land, there are tons of restaurants around nearby Clematis Street to explore for dinner, including the cozy little Spanish tapas joint, Tapeo Tapas, where a tabla mixta covers the appetizer bases with a spread of Jason Serrano, chorizo, salchicon, and olives.
Depending on the tidal chart, start the day as soon as the sun’s up with one of Florida’s best snorkeling excursions from the shore at the underwater snorkel trail at Phil Foster Park. You can rent snorkel gear and even hire a guide if you prefer the company at Jupiter Dive Center. An hour before the high tide is when conditions are best for entering the water right from the shore under the Blue Heron Bridge to explore the shallow waters of the Intracoastal Waterway (they turn crystal clear at the tidal tide change), where you might spot eagle rays, sea horses and sea turtles along a marked underwater path.
Towel off and hop in the car to drive south to the chilled-out beach town of Lake Worth for a brunch that attracts locals and out-of-towners in equal measure near the William O. Lockhart Municipal Pier at Benny’s on the Beach. Avocado toast, acai bowls, and shrimp and grits round out the menu, and if you’re feeling ready for a cocktail (and someone else is driving), enjoy the festive feel of sipping a piña colada from a hollowed-out pineapple within earshot of the surf.
Your next stop takes you inland a tad, with a jaunt to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray, where a former pineapple plantation started by a Japanese immigrant has morphed into exquisite gardens with groves of bamboo, koi ponds, and a Japanese tea house. At Cornell Cafe you can enjoy a bento box, gyoza, or wakame salad for a healthy lunch overlooking the gardens.
Next, head back east for some beach time in Boca Raton. But first, stop at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, where you can see rescued sea turtles being rehabilitated for eventual release into the wild and stroll a boardwalk trail through the surrounding hardwood hammock. Ready for a swim? Red Reef Park is right across the street, and the 67 acres of pristine, undeveloped Florida coastal terrain here give you a taste of how this stretch of Florida has always looked. Get cleaned up for dinner back along the happening Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach at Deck 84, a waterfront restaurant with outdoor seating and killer Baja fish tacos (stuffed with flash-fried Florida mahi-mahi) on the menu.
Start your day with breakfast at one of Palm Beach’s most unassuming and laid-back greasy spoons, Green’s Pharmacy, where billionaires perusing the New York Times dine alongside landscaping crews on diner-style staples like omelets and steak and eggs. For something fancier, Henry’s Palm Beach, nearby on palm-lined Royal Poinciana Way and named after railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, does an exquisite weekend brunch with things like fried chicken and red velvet waffles and crab cake benedict. Cross the Intracoastal to West Palm Beach for a visit to the Norton Museum of Art, which re-opened in 2019 following roughly $100 million in upgrades that included newly redesigned gardens that were the first of their type by Lord Norman Foster. Channel a street side cafe in Paris with moules frites or quiche Lorraine for lunch at nearby at Pistache French Bistro on Clematis Street. Then hit the road inland for a wild finish to the weekend at Lion Country Safari, a drive-through safari park in Loxahatchee which is home to more than 900 animals that claims to be the first cage-less zoo in the U.S. You can roll through the grasslands (pampas) of South American to see Brazilian tapirs and alpacas and spot wildebeest and waterbucks in the Serengeti plains.
WHEN TO GO
The summer months—June through September—are hot and humid, even with the sea breeze, and bring regular patterns of afternoon thunderstorms (this is also the heart of hurricane season, it bears noting—as well as when many hotel run specials, so a tempting roll of the dice). Palm Beach’s social season coincides with high season—and, generally, the most pleasant weather, too—and runs from December into April.
WHERE TO STAY
Florida’s most famous grand dame hotel—The Breakers Palm Beach—occupies a class all its own as well as prime oceanfront real estate right in Palm Beach. Spa-lovers should book in at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, another worthy splurge with a fun-loving spa on the oceanfront in Manalapan, to the south. Across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, The Ben opened in early 2020 just steps from the shops and cafes of Clematis Street and has the sceniest rooftop restaurant and pool in town. On the cheap(er) and cheerful side of the spectrum, Hotel Biba is a boutique inn on the National Register of Historic Places in West Palm Beach with an outdoor pool and some great inclusions (read: free) like parking, Wi-Fi, and continental breakfast.