No single segment of Florida packs in quite as much as the Palm Beaches, about a 50-mile stretch of sun-kissed shoreline. Over the course of a day you can snorkel above a century-old shipwreck, land a bargain on a secondhand Chanel bag or spot rare species in a bayou-like backwater. In between, take advantage of the area’s varied dining scene or stop by a farmers market to cook up your own take on Florida’s specialties. Autumn, with its cooler temperatures and lower humidity, is a great time to discover the Palm Beaches’ many riches.
Consider starting your trip on Jupiter Island then working your way down the coast. The coast here is fringed with limestone cliffs, unlike any other beach in Florida. When the conditions are just right (a high tide plus a strong easterly wind) at Blowing Rocks Preserve, the incoming waves create temporary geysers that spray 20 to 30 feet into the air.
For other remarkable views, drive south to the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. You can climb 105 steps to the top of the redbrick tower to take in a bird’s-eye vista of the coastline. On the guided tour you’ll learn about the area’s history: The lighthouse was built in 1860, and during World War II the site housed a secret radio station to detect German U-boats.
Come dinnertime you can get a taste of Polynesia at Guanabanas, an open-air restaurant whose thatched tiki huts overlook a curving branch of the Loxahatchee River. Sit among banyan trees and swaying palms as you dig into shrimp tacos or macadamia-encrusted tilefish and tap your toes to live music. Past acts have ranged from rock band the Fray to reggae legend Pato Banton.
Head farther south to reach the tony town of Palm Beach. Ever since railroad tycoon Henry Flagler began developing the barrier island for tourism in the late 19th century, it has been one of the preferred wintering grounds for America’s elite. The Seafood Bar, at the Breakers hotel, exudes classic Florida glamour. The menu has an excellent raw-bar selection (stone crab season starts October 15). You can settle in at one of the two L-shaped aquarium countertops, where tropical reef fish may circle underneath your cocktail glass.
It’s a different scene a few blocks over at Green’s Luncheonette. The old-school diner is set within a pharmacy and serves up comfort food, such as tuna melts and egg salad platters. Down the street you can shop for affordably priced couture at Classic Collections of Palm Beach. You may find gently worn dresses and barely used handbags by Hermès, Prada, Pucci and other designer brands.
To make the most of a gorgeous day, consider renting a beach cruiser from Top Cycle Palm Beach and exploring the area on two wheels. You can peek into the estates of the island’s über-wealthy residents during a leisurely bike ride along the Lake Trail, which runs for about 8 miles in northern Palm Beach.
Or pedal to the other side of Lake Worth Lagoon to check out the cafés, galleries and boutiques that line Clematis Street, in downtown West Palm Beach. When you’ve worked up an appetite, snag an outdoor table at Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar. You can fill up on cochinitas achiote (slow-roasted pork) tacos and choose from an array of margaritas mixed with ingredients such as fresh strawberries and pistachio liqueur. Down the street, Sloan’s ice cream parlor scoops fun flavors in a whimsical space.
A short trip inland will bring you to Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, in Boynton Beach. A variety of indigenous animals, including some threatened and endangered species, can be found amid the park’s 400 acres of cypress swamp. You may spot river otters, deer and more than 250 species of birds (fall through spring offers some of the best birding). Take the Marsh Trail to catch a glimpse of nesting alligators.
To the south lies Delray Beach, an idyllic seaside burg filled with old-Florida charm. On Saturday mornings you can mingle with locals at the open-air Delray GreenMarket, held in Old School Square Park. More than 65 vendors sell farm-to-fork products, such as fresh eggs, grass-fed lamb and organic Florida-grown citrus.
At Delray’s public beach, Delray Beach Watersports offers guided snorkeling tours that venture about 100 yards offshore to explore the wreck of the S.S. Inchulva, a freighter sunk by a hurricane in 1903. Afterward you can head to Ciao Sidewalk Café for a light lunch in the plant-filled courtyard.
FOR THE KIDS
Enjoy about 7 miles of ocean views as you cruise south along A1A on your way to Boca Raton, an upscale coastal town known for its golf courses, country clubs and lavish homes. Consider stopping first at Spanish River Park, on a barrier island between Lake Rogers and the Atlantic. Picnic benches and barbecue grills are set up near banyan trees in the park, where you can enjoy any farmers market produce you picked up in Delray. You can stroll along the shaded waterfront then take the pedestrian tunnel under A1A to kick back on a crowd-free beach filled with sea grapes and palms.
If you’re traveling with children, don’t miss Sugar Sand Park. Its 132 acres are home to a playground, a carousel and 2 nature trails. The Children’s Science Explorium is also on-site. The center’s hands-on exhibits and interactive displays help scientific principles come to life for children 5 to 12 years old and are designed with the whole family in mind.
It’s worth backtracking north 15 minutes to explore the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The 200-acre cultural complex includes six gardens inspired by famous counterparts in Japan, an art museum and a bonsai walk complete with signs detailing the life span of the miniature trees. On select Saturdays, you can enjoy an authentic tea ceremony in the center’s Seishin-an Tea House. From a touch of Japan to dreamy old-Florida favorites, there’s something for everyone in the Palm Beaches.
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.