Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Fri November 04 2016

A Palm Beach Primer

A Palm Beach Primer

With pristine beaches, clusters of luxury shops and  enough palatial estates to outnumber the palm trees, Palm Beach, Florida hosts some of the most exclusive vacations in the country.  But I discovered that this 14-mile long island which was the county’s first resort town, offers a lot more than high-end past-times. From public art and museums to bike tours and family-owned restaurants, Palm Beach has something for everyone.

From my base at the historic Chesterfield Hotel, with its old-world styled suites, I strolled to  the famous Worth Avenue shopping district, which is just a few blocks away.  But it wasn’t the lineup of designer shops that caught my attention but the living wall that greeted me at the entrance. The lush tapestry of plants rises 24 feet and showcases 11 different plant species. Browsing through the designer boutiques on Worth Avenue, I wandered into a maze of lovely courtyards, called vias that are tucked behind the stores.  Filled with bronze sculptures, fountains and small gardens, the vias are a welcoming oasis that lured me into lounging for hours.

The real history of Palm Beach is located inside the stately confines of the Flagler Museum.  The 75-room National Historic Landmark was once the winter home of Palm Beach founder Henry Flagler  He called the retreat Whitehall and its marble entrance hall, double staircase and expansive courtyard marked it as “more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world,” according to the 1902 New York Herald.  The Beaux Arts style mansion is basically Florida’s answer to Downton Abbey and should be required viewing for all Palm Beach visitors. From the permanent art exhibits, to the garden and atrium and Flagler’s private railcar, allow at least two hours to explore.

Another Palm Beach must see is the Four Arts Botanical Gardens, This free activity showcases the natural Florida landscape in a series of seven verdant demonstration gardens as well as the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden, which highlights over two dozen bronze sculptures scattered around gardens and fountains. For a sample of the upscale dining that Palm Beach is known for, drop by Buccan, a hip and inventive bistro that features adventurous small plates in a relaxed setting. Try the snapper slider with mango slaw or the ricotta-stuffed squash blossom. 

I love biking around a new destination to get a sense of the place but I received that and so much more on the Island Living Bike Tour. My guide Leslie rolled with me through Palm Beach’s tony streets and gave me an insider’s view of this wealthy enclave. I glimpsed architectural wonders and dazzling mansions in the estate section of the island, where I learned that for sale signs are not permitted.  Besides the gossip, scandals and history of Palm Beach, I also discovered that there’s another side to Palm Beach, namely West Palm Beach, which is separated from Palm Beach by the intercoastal highway and used to be where all the people who worked in Palm Beach lived.

Today, West Palm Beach is a bustling town with an artsy vibe and a thriving nightlife. The palm tree-lined streets of West Palm Beach buzz with activity, there are shops and eateries everywhere and laid-back locals flocking to them. What really grabbed my attention were the murals that cover 20 walls throughout the area. From Einstein in shorts to a mermaid swimming in a parking lot, the murals form an outdoor art gallery and visitors can use a map to find them all.

My art walk was topped off by an unforgettable meal at Lynora’s, which was the highlight of my trip. Lynora’s family owned restaurant that focuses on “authentic Italian” and they are serious about that point. Owner’s Maria and Raffaele use family recipes from the tiny Italian island of Ponza and handcraft pastas, pizzas and even butcher their own meat. Maria fed me an overflowing feast of burrata with arugula and avocado, orecchiette Ponza with grilled eggplant and fresh mozzarella and pomodoro, and red snapper in a white wine, garlic and lemon sauce.

I was stuffed but Raffaele insisted that I try his homemade limoncello with cream, which was otherworldly. It was a sweet ending to a journey that revealed different sides but equally enjoyable of Palm Beach Florida.