Maximizing Your Time In Palm Beach, FL

First image...
The sun-kissed Palm Beach landscape, with Breakers in foreground...

Exploring Palm Beach

Travelers have been flocking here for decades. What do you need to know now?

... polo, a staple of the Palm Beach community ...
... no, you can always come back.

By Margaret Loftus
Photography by Scott Wiseman

Originally appeared in November 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life

Impeccably coiffed and tanned ladies in Kool-Aid-colored tunics exchange pleasantries. A housekeeper in a French maid uniform walks a bichon frise. Ol’ Blue Eyes’ baritone fades in and out as a silver-haired gentleman cruises past in a vintage Rolls-Royce convertible. Welcome to Palm Beach. It’s a sunny Saturday morning on the tony, palm-lined arcade of Worth Avenue, where the people-watching is every bit as fun as the window-shopping.

Once an alligator-infested swamp, Palm Beach owes much of its rep as a posh playground to Henry Flagler, the Standard Oil tycoon who put Florida on the tourist map by building the state’s East Coast Railway from Saint Augustine to Key West and developing hotels along the route. The most famous, The Breakers, built in 1896, lured Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, and the like during the balmy south Florida winter, leading many of them to commission their own opulent retreats. More than a century later, this sliver of an island 90 minutes north of Miami, separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, is a testament to their legacy, from its Gilded Age architecture and unparalleled shopping to its polo culture. 

Best Dressed

Get your bearings by taking the self-guided walking tour of Midtown’s landmarks (ask for a map at the Preservation Foundation) and make your final stop Worth Avenue, the city’s architectural jewel, shaded by a colonnade of covered arches with ornate wrought-iron lanterns. Narrow passageways, called vias, off the main drag reveal quiet courtyards with bougainvillea and stone fountains. Tiled staircases lead from elaborate iron gates to living quarters above the retail area. If it feels more Europe than beach resort, that’s because Addison Mizner, the original architect, drew inspiration from Venice. 

“Worth Avenue is one of the world’s great shopping streets,” says Andy Pesky, an NYC Virtuoso travel agency executive who has sent clients to Palm Beach for more than 45 years. “It not only has the finest stores found on Madison or Fifth avenues, but many that are unique to Palm Beach. And it’s one of those special stretches where you can see celebrities from all walks of life.” 

To cultivate your best Palm Beach look, skip Pucci and Cartier and explore the one-off treasures tucked away in the vias’ nooks: pastel cashmere sweaters at Trillion; velvet and needlepoint tuxedo slippers embroidered with cocktails, fleur-de-lis, wildlife, and more at Stubbs & Wootton; cuff links at Seaman Schepps jewelers; and retro-style pajamas at the venerable Kassatly’s.

Midtown is also home to Palm Beach’s most fashionable dining, with outposts of Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud and Clay Conley’s Buccan. At the airy and elegant Bice on Worth Avenue, an offshoot of the storied Milan restaurant, the lunch crowd buzzes with cocktail party energy. The food seems to take a backseat to socializing, but it shouldn’t: The Gorgonzola-stuffed zucchini blossoms are heavenly and light, the pasta e fagioli hearty and delicious. 

The Sun Society

Flagler’s spirit of hospitality is alive and well at The Breakers’ broad, half-mile-long private beach, with a team of attendants to fetch you a towel and make sure your umbrella is angled just right. But the people-watching is better at the sprawling oceanfront pool area modeled on a Mediterranean beach club, which has something for everyone, including an adults-only pool, five whirlpool spas, and a collection of two-room bungalows with TVs, refrigerators, outdoor showers, and concierge service in case a club-sandwich craving hits.

Nowhere is the town’s see-and-be-seen culture more evident than at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, about a half-hour drive inland. The U.S. Open Polo Championship marks the end of the season each April and attracts everyone with a horse in the game, as well as those wishing to look the part. The season kicks off in early January with a match – and popular fieldside Champagne brunch – each Sunday. Even if you don’t know a chukker (the seven-minute period of play, of which there are six in a match) from a divot stomp (when the bubbly-fueled crowd spills out onto the field during halftime to smooth out the divots kicked up by the ponies during play), the enthusiasm is infectious. Nothing gets the adrenaline going like a bunch of handsome Argentines battling it out on horseback right in front of you. 

Should you be inspired to swing your own mallet, the National Croquet Center opens its 12 palm-lined lawns to nonmembers on Saturday mornings (a limited number of reservations are available; book a couple of weeks in advance). If you haven’t picked one up since you were a kid, croquet pro Bill Mead will reacquaint you with the game and proper technique. Consider it a bad-boy version of golf: Whacking your opponent’s ball out of contention is all in good fun, and the antics are abetted by the fact that drinking alcohol is permitted, if not encouraged, on the lawn. Says Mead with a wink, “In what sport can you do that?” Even in competition, social customs come first – classic Palm Beach.

Things To Do In Palm Beach

As a prelude to Miami’s Art Basel in December, West Palm Beach transforms its downtown core into an outdoor museum with the first installment of Canvas. November 8 through 22, the lineup of international artists will create video projections and sculpture installations across town, as well as a dozen large-format murals on buildings and the Royal Park Bridge linking West Palm Beach with its eastern sibling. Along with gallery openings and ticketed VIP shows, Canvas will feature an art-themed fashion show, kids’ activities – and, this being Palm Beach, the obligatory yacht party. 

Save room for special tasting menus and guest chef collaborations at Buccan, Café Boulud, and other top restaurants in town during the ninth annual Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, December 10 through 13. The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach serves as home base for chef and sommelier volleyball and karaoke battles, kids’ cooking classes, a poolside grill party, an NYC vs. Palm Beach street-food throwdown, and more. 

Where To Stay

Descendants of Henry Flagler still own the 540-room Breakers. Guests have complimentary access to its Ocean Fitness center, with self-propelled Woodway treadmills and some 60 classes a week on its oceanfront terrace. Encompassing the resort’s top two floors, the newly reopened Flagler Club is a 25-room boutique hotel experience with a private lounge and terrace, round-trip airport transfers, a chauffeured Tesla on call, and more. Doubles from $489 (Flagler Club doubles from $1,400), including breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.

The oceanfront, palm-lined pool is the heartbeat of the 210-room Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach – staff stand ready with a chilled towel or Evian spritz. Don’t miss poolside Jové Kitchen & Bar’s modern Italian fare, such as grilled branzino with guanciale and mushrooms, and stone-fired pizza with pears, Gorgonzola, bacon, and pickled shallots. Doubles from $329, including breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit.

In nearby Manalapan, DJs and Jonathan Adler decor set a playful tone at the 309-room Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, fresh from a $12 million renovation. The theme extends to its 42,000-square-foot Eau Spa. Forget health and wellness, it’s more about indulgence: Guests are greeted with cupcakes and flutes of Champagne. After overindulging, let staff fitness counselors whip you into shape. Doubles from $369, including breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.  

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