PHOTO: The courtyard at Crane’s BeachHouse & Tiki Bar.
Harking back to its roots as a Roaring Twenties resort for writers and artists, Delray Beach is parlaying its 21st-century renown as the “Most Fun Small Town in the USA” to attract younger and deep-pocketed visitors to its funky and hip downtown galleries, shops and restaurants, not to mention its boutique hotels and two-mile-long beach.
“Once a sleepy retirement community, Delray Beach now attracts a wide range of visitors, including a growing share of affluent tourists and business leaders seeking the perfect vacation spot,” said Cathy Balestriere, general manager of Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar.
Our occupancy rates continue to grow higher year after year,” said Stephen Chrisanthus, associate director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative. “Our hotel rates are some of the highest in the area, which lends itself to a more affluent demographic.”
Delray Beach is in southeastern Palm Beach County, about 20 miles south of Palm Beach. “We target markets that offer direct flights into Palm Beach International Airport,” Chrisanthus said, noting that the destination attracts visitors from all over the world. Delray Beach also is within a 40- to 90-minute drive from airports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
In 2015, The Palm Beaches (Palm Beach County) tallied a record-breaking 6.9 million visitors, including 3.8 million domestic visitors from outside Florida and about 775,000 international visitors. New York is the destination’s biggest visitor market.
Delray Beach was named the “Most Fun Small Town in the USA” by Rand McNally, USA Today and the Travel Channel in 2012. That award recognized the destination’s transformation from a retirement community to a city offering a thriving downtown and vibrant arts scene.
Downtown Delray Beach is known as one of Palm Beach County’s most walkable destinations, with its Atlantic Avenue, which runs through the center of town from I-95 to the ocean, dubbed as Florida’s longest main street.
Delray’s flourishing arts community includes the Pineapple Grove Arts District, with working artists, galleries and funky, eclectic shops scattered throughout the neighborhood. Gallery walks are held Friday nights from October to April.
The Delray Beach Arts Garage, located on Old School Square’s ground level, features art exhibits, live music and theater.
Farther west of downtown, the renowned 200-acre Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens was founded in 1977 by George Morikami, one of the last remaining members of the Yamato colony of Japanese pioneer farmers who settled in the area during the early 1900s.
An upcoming exhibit, “Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945,” is open through May 21, 2017. The attraction’s mission is “to provide authentic Japanese cultural experiences that entertain, educate and inspire.” Admission is $9-$15. It’s closed Mondays. Tours are offered for groups of 15.
Delray’s roots as a winter haven for artists, authors and cartoonists during the 1920s can be experienced at the Arcade Tap Room on East Atlantic Avenue – once a hangout for creative types, who were often joined by visiting aristocrats, famous politicians, entertainers and sports figures, according to the Delray Beach Historical Society.
The destination’s most popular event is the annual family-oriented Delray Affair, celebrating its 55th year April 7-9, 2017. As the Southeast’s largest arts and crafts festival, it encompasses 12 city blocks and features up to 600 vendors offering handcrafted arts and crafts, fine arts, and food.
Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, a Key West-style property with 27 rooms and suites, has completed a $1.2 million transformation, in which guestrooms were updated with oversized flat-screen TVs, new kitchens and artwork. Crane’s renovation “just strengthens our brand as the coolest place to stay in Delray Beach,” Balestriere said.
Delray Breakers on the Ocean, a boutique property, offers one- and two-bedroom suites just steps away from the beach. Suites measure 700 to 900 square feet with private bedrooms, fully equipped kitchens, living/dining areas with 32- inch flat-screen TVs, sleeper sofas and furnished patios.
Delray Sands Resort on Highland Beach offers 115 guestrooms and suites. The guestrooms feature triple-sheeted beds, mini-refrigerators, premium cable channels, morning newspapers delivered to the rooms, in-room coffeemakers and in-room movies. Oceanfront and poolside rooms have furnished balconies or terraces. Suites have separate living rooms with sleeper sofas, dining tables and two closets.
The resort’s Latitudes Ocean Grille serves modern coastal cuisine featuring fresh seafood and a Sunday brunch.
One of the newer properties in town, the 95-room Fairfield Inn & Suites Delray Beach I-95, offers free parking, a free hot breakfast and free Wi-Fi. This property boasts that its guestrooms are “smart” — knowing when a guest is in the room and adjusting the temperature and lighting accordingly.
The 134-room Hyatt Place Hotel, in the heart of the Pineapple Grove Arts District, offers free Wi-Fi and 24-hour food and beverage service. The hotel is within walking distance of downtown.
Visit www.visitdelraybeach.org, www.delraybeach.com or www.palmbeachfl.com.
More by Laura L. Myers