The 40-plus miles of spectacular beaches in South Florida’s Palm Beach County are warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream ocean current, which approaches this section of coast more closely than anywhere in the nation. The result is a moderate 78-degree average temperature year-round. Scores of tourists and retirees come here to enjoy the sun, sea and attendant wealth of leisure activities.
Palm Beach, the 16-mile barrier island immediately off the coast of the county seat, West Palm Beach, was originally a winter retreat for the likes of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, and it remains a wealthy outpost to this day. Sunbathing, snorkeling and all other warm-water diversions are the area’s main draw, rivaled by the area’s top-notch golf courses. A growing number of theaters, galleries and museums, like the renovated Norton near downtown West Palm Beach, do their part to lure visitors out of the sun, and Worth Avenue, Palm Beach’s version of Rodeo Drive, is a shopper’s paradise.
Deerfield Beach, a small middle-class town just south of wealthier Boca Raton, is not a place obviously destined for the Harper atlas. However, it does have a beautiful stretch of sand. There the Royal Blues Hotel is the dream project of Edward Walson, a successful Hollywood and Broadway producer, whose résumé includes several Woody Allen movies — “Blue Jasmine” and “Magic in the Moonlight” among them — as well as an acclaimed Broadway production of “An American in Paris.”
Henry Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil, was a visionary who foresaw the attraction of Florida as an escape from winter within the United States. He established Palm Beach as a resort by making the barrier island accessible via his Florida East Coast Railway. Later, he charged his architects with creating a mansion to rival the most opulent in Europe. Highlights in the 55-room estate, now memorialized as the Henry Flagler Morrison Museum (One Whitehall Way), include many of the original furnishings, art collection and, in an adjacent pavilion, Flagler’s personal railcar.
The Norton Art Museum
Across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, the Norton Art Museum (1450 South Dixie Highway) recently undwerwent a massive renovation that now includes an impressive addition designed by Norman Foster. The museum’s extensive holdings range from 19th- and 20th-century European painting to photography to Chinese art. A new exhibit titled, “WHO? A Brief History of Photgraphy Through Portraiture” is on display until the end of November.
Shops, Galleries and Restaurants
After the retail seductions of Worth Avenue, be sure to explore the “vias,” little byways and plazas set off the main street and filled with lovely one-off shops, galleries and restaurants.