The Other Side of Palm Beach

palm beach

Welcome to Palm Beach, stomping grounds for the rich and famous.

The spot includes 10.4 square miles of coastal terrain. Its beaches are devoid of the high-rises so favored to the south in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and far more sophisticated than the sometimes dumpy digs of Daytona and Cocoa Beach. It sits there on the Atlantic, a magnet for winter escapees and locals alike.

I grew up in a quiet town just thirty minutes north of this iconic Florida hotspot. I was familiar with the names Worth Avenue and Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s own contribution to this exclusive slice of real estate. And I wrote it off as a playground for the ultra-wealthy. It didn’t seem to offer much to us “normal” folk out there without six, seven, and dare I say it, maybe even eight or nine-figure incomes.

But I was wrong. It was after a particularly memorable brunch at the famous Breakers Hotel that Palm Beach presented its more approachable, less stand-offish side to me. And once she let down those walls, I found a town with a rich history far deeper than its residents’ pockets.

A day spent in Palm Beach would be remiss without a tribute to Henry Flagler, the Gilded Age businessman responsible for the initial development of Florida’s east coast. Flagler is a fascinating character, and all the more so because he is essentially the father of Palm Beach. His Florida East Coast Railway, stretching from Saint Augustine to Key Biscayne, provided the impetus to build hotels on the east coast of Florida in the 1880s. His personal home, then named Whitehall, is today open to visitors as the Flagler Museum. Here guests can wander the grounds, explore the house as it would have been when the family lived there, and even walk through Flagler’s private railcar, Railcar No. 91.

Flagler also has his fingerprints at my favorite brunch spot, The Breakers Hotel. He built the place in 1901, originally called the Palm Beach Inn. Just driving up to the main entrance makes one’s jaw drop. But, I’m happy to report that the ambiance is as friendly as a place can be. And yes, you will see people walking around in shorts and sandals. It’s worth a stop, even if just to snap a few photos.

Speaking of worth, a stroll down Worth Avenue shouldn’t be written off. It’s been recognized by USA Today as of the “10 Most Iconic Streets,” delighting shoppers and browsers alike with names such as Armani, Gucci, Cartier and Chanel. Or if art’s more your style, the nearby Norton Museum of Art has on display a fine collection of more than 7000 pieces of European, American and even Chinese art.

Rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous aside, there is something to this town.

And you just might find me hanging out there more often, last season’s Coach purse and all.

{Image by Tom Wolf}

  • Even the most upscale places have their accessible venues – I remember walking around Scarsdale and Bel Aire and similar places, thinking that the haute couture police were going to come arrest me for lack of fashion/lack of Lamborghini. But there were plenty of places we could visit on the regular! You’re definitely making me want to explore more of Florida now!

    • It’s so true!! Even Paris, for all its posh neighborhoods, has plenty of spots for those of us who aren’t dressed in Chanel on a daily basis lol. There are so many sides to Florida, and I am so excited to get to know more about farther south. There’s always a place for you guys if you ever do find yourself here for a visit! 🙂

      • We’d love to take you up on that one of these trips out there!

  • Jenn Tormo

    Love this post, Amy. It’s so true. I thought the same thing about Palm Beach growing up–and then I rediscovered it when I moved back to south florida as an adult. It’s a special place. The best time is to explore is the summer because so many restaurants do pre-fixed meal specials. I’ve gotten three-course meals for 30 bucks that way.

    Btw, another must try at the Breakers is HMF. The food and drinks are phenomenal, and everything is a la carte, which means your bill can be as cheap or expensive as you choose. 😉

    • Thanks so much Jenn!! Palm Beach’s posh reputation does precede it, but there are options for all of us out there lol. I didn’t know about the pre-fixed meal specials in summer. We don’t really do that sort of thing up in Stuart lol. But I’ll definitely be taking advantage of those down south this summer!

      I’ve heard of HMF, and it looks fabulous from the website. Need to get a group together one of these weekends and check it out. Would be perfect for out-of-town visitors! 😉

  • Great to find the affordable, more real places in an expensive town. California has many neighborhoods like this as well.

    • I would imagine California would be similar! Palm Beach has a ritzy reputation, but there really are plenty of affordable options for all of us. It’s a lovely area too!

  • I am adding this to my list of places to visit when next in Florida, it sounds really interesting (My Mother in Law lives in Clearwater so it’s always nice to have extra places to visit when we stay!)… 🙂

    • Excellent!! Clearwater is beautiful as well – I really love the beaches over there on the west coast. The white sand and blue Gulf waters are fabulous! But Palm Beach does have more to recommend itself than I originally realized. That might be a consequence of my not playing tourist enough in my own hometown area. 😉

  • Palm Beach may have just made it onto our Bucket List!

  • As often as I’ve been to South Florida, I’ve never even considered visiting Palm Beach – I’ve just assumed it was nothing but expensive houses. I should know better then to judge a city before seeing it.

    • Palm Beach’s reputation often precedes it – I confess I have “driven through” more than I have actually stopped in town, but I am always pleasantly surprised when I do. Does help that the weather this time of year is absolutely gorgeous. 😉

  • Other than a visit to Orlando and the theme parks I haven’t spent much time in Florida. I wouldn’t mind going for a relaxing weekend on the beach though.

    • Orlando is great as well – I lived there for 5 years – but it’s completely different than south Florida! I feel pretty lucky to be able to relax at our beaches pretty much every weekend if I so choose. 🙂