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West Palm Beach: Historic city, modern vibe

Downtown West Palm Beach bustles with bakeries, restaurants and bars, framed by historic buildings and modern towers, an old and established city with a fresh and modern vibe.

Take a historic walking tour, rent a bicycle or just stroll along five miles of the Lake Worth waterfront, enjoying the view of the ‘other side’, the tony barrier island of Palm Beach.

Along the waterfront, you can rent a boat, a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Visit local museums, parks and sculpture gardens, or Antique Row on Dixie Highway.

For sports you will only find in The Palm Beaches, whack a few at the National Croquet Center or head west to the National Polo Center in Wellington for the Sport of Kings.

west palm beach wpb tacos West Palm Beach: Historic city, modern vibe
West Palm Beach has a lively downtown restaurant scene. You’ll find Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar at 224 Clematis Street. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

In early Spring, take in a ballgame at the The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at Lincoln Park, spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. 

Nature holds court in the city’s Grassy Waters Preserve, where you can hike boardwalk trails, ride a bike, or train your eye on the sky to enjoy wood storks soaring over the wetlands.

What has always struck me about West Palm Beach is how often I meet a native. For some reason, many who grew up here, stay here.

West Palm Beach is the oldest city in South Florida, incorporated two years before Miami, in November 1894 — Wikipedia

Things to do in West Palm Beach

west palm beach waterfront
Looking south along the waterfront in downtown West Palm Beach. The path is shared by pedestrians and bicycles. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Stroll along the waterfront

Your adventure starts on Flagler Drive in Northwood, an historic neighborhood of leafy trees and stucco homes through a revitalization. Heading south, view the beautiful homes of the rich and famous in Palm Beach, across the Intracoastal Waterway.

Lit up at night across the water is the Henry Flagler Museum, named after the railroad magnate who brought tourism to Florida.

Tucked into the lushly landscaped waterfront El Cid neighborhood at Barcelona Road, the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens is a quiet oasis of rare palm trees, bird habitats, pools and sculptures of granite, brick, marble and bronze. One notable statue is “Seven Beings,” a 15-foot statue Norton took 11 years to complete.

The Gardens’ jungle-like assemblage of over 250 rare palm species, cycads and unusual tropicals are recognized as one of the largest public collections in Florida. This West Palm Beach landmark was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1990. 

PARKING: Downtown West Palm Beach has plenty of parking. Here’s a list of parking garages

South Cove Natural Area

west palm beach south cove natural area
South Cove Natural Area, walking distance from Clematis Street, is open daily sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. Racks are available to park your bicycle. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

The six-acre South Cove Natural Area is a man-made sanctuary of three tiny mangrove islands designed to attract sea life and water-cleansing oysters to clusters of red, black and white mangroves.

Look up, and you’ll likely see great blue heron, grackels, cormorants, egret and osprey. Look down, and there’s snook, jacks, mullet, fiddler crabs and an occasional manatee meandering by.

There’s a 550-foot-long boardwalk that goes out to the islands with a 16-foot-by-16-foot observation deck. The boardwalk is about a quarter mile north of the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Flagler Drive.

Kayak rentals are available at Clematis Street.

Grassy Waters Preserve

west palm beach grassy waters
The boardwalk at the Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Grassy Waters Preserve is a hiker, wildlife and birdwatching paradise.

Head out on your own on trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Or sign up for a tour with expert park naturalists for a guided canoe and hiking trip.

Wood storks, white ibis, great blue heron, white-tailed deer, otter, bobcats and alligators make their home here, and if you are lucky, you might see a rare Everglades snail kite.

Hiking, biking and paddling tours are available. 

At 23 square miles, Grassy Waters Preserve is about the same size as Manhattan. 

Check out the night tours. The preserve is open daily 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission free.

Grassy Waters Preserve, 8264 Northlake Blvd, West Palm Beach, FL 33412. Phone: (561) 804-4985.

Go back in time

west palm beach yesteryear village
Yesteryear Village at the South Florida Fairgrounds. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Get the answer to that question — and learn about the good ‘ol Florida days before railroads, electricity, running water and air-conditioning — when you step back in time at Yesteryear Village.

Located on 10 acres at the South Florida Fairgrounds off Southern Boulevard, volunteers act as Palm Beach County residents from 1895-1945. 

Chat with neighbors as they sit back in rocking chairs on their front porches after a long day in the fields, farming and tending goats, sheep and cows. Students at their desks in a one-room schoolhouse talk about their lessons. 

The blacksmith will explain how he made much more than horseshoes. Door handles, eating utensils, nails and hammers were also part of his inventory.

The general store clerk explains how boots, books, britches and tools were some of the merchandise in the general store.

Children buy homemade candy. Neighbors join in an outdoor game of cakewalk.

Cakewalk: Players buy tickets matching numbered squares on a rug. Like musical chairs, they walk around the rug until the music stops. They stand on their number on the rug. A number is drawn from a hat. The lucky person standing on that number wins the prize — a cake.

Yesteryear Village at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd, West Palm Beach, FL 33411. Phone: (561) 795-7536. Open Thursday, Friday & Saturday, 10 am-4 pm. Admission: $10 adults, $7 seniors 60+, $7 children (6-11 yrs. old), 5 and under, free. Directions: Take Southern Boulevard to Sansbury’s Way (west of Turnpike). Turn right on Sansbury’s Way. Enter Gate 3 to Archway Gate, past the amphitheater. 


Historic architecture and shopping

west palm beach lamp
Wrought-iron lamplight on the 1925 Wagg Building on Olive Avenue. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Check out the intricate wall carvings, towering ceilings and wrought iron rails on the stairs the Comeau Building at 319 Clematis Street. Built in 1926 during the city’s land boom, the 10-story building was hailed as a “skyscraper.”

Mix shopping with history at Pioneer Linens, founded in 1912 by Max Greenberg. His son George, known as the honorary Mayor of Clematis Street, took over the business until his death in 2007. Always the gentleman, George is remembered for wearing a full suit and tie. George greeted patrons and employees with a formal Mr. or Mrs. title.

There’s live outdoor music on Thursday nights at the fountain on Clematis Street. Enjoy a fabulous waterfront view from atop the 208-room The Ben on Narcissus Avenue.

Play chess on the outdoor boards on shady Fern Street — the city supplies the knights, squires and other pieces. Munch your lunch and dangle your feet on the seawall.

Dock your boat on the city’s public pier at Datura Street. Enjoy a free Molley’s Trolley ride to downtown destinations in the Orchid City.

A great way to see and learn about downtown West Palm Beach is to take a walking history tour with local historian and architect Rick Gonzalez. 

Pedal power

west palm beach brightbikes
Brightline bicycles are for rent at more than a dozen downtown locations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Vibrant yellow (like its namesake high-speed train serving South Florida), BrightBike bicycle rental portals are popping up near West Palm Beach grocery stores, train stations, government buildings, apartment complexes and along the waterfront.

Now that the Brightline high-speed train has added stops in Boca Raton and Aventura to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more riders can use the service into West Palm Beach’s downtown.

The three-speed bicycles have baskets, front and rear lights and adjustable seats, and can be reserved via a QR code at 17 BrightBike docking stations and on the BrightBike app. Riders swipe their credit card and return the bicycle at any of the stations any time. 

The first were rolled out in March 2022 at the West Palm Beach Brightline station off Clematis Street. More docking stations and bicycles, including electric bicycles, are planned. 

Bicycles are part of Brightline’s plan to use shuttles, electric cars, buses, golf carts and ride-sharing vehicles to increase ridership for “the last mile” at its destinations.

To reserve a bicycle online, go to gobrightbike.com. 

Keep looking up

west palm beach jets
Passenger jet comes in for a landing at Palm Beach International Airport. The airport’s viewing park is free and open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset. Photography is allowed.  (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Flight enthusiasts can view aircraft taking off and landing from a small park at Palm Beach International Airport.

The nameless viewing park, on the south side of the airport, has about a dozen benches. There also is paved parking for about 18 vehicles. 

The best way to get there is to drive on Southern Boulevard west of I-95. Go north on Kirk Road, and turn east on Perimeter Road. The park is about a half-mile on your left, next to Big Sky Aviation.

Watching the planes leap into the sky, screech to a landing, linger on the runway and taxi to the terminal has a strange serenity. Maybe that’s why several vehicles were parked there on a recent weekday noontime, their drivers munching their lunch as they watched the aircraft swoosh by several football fields away.

Palm Beach International Airport covers 2,120 acres (3.3 square miles). There are three runways.

Dreher Park: The city’s playground

west palm beach dreher park palm beach zoo carousel
The carousel at the Palm Beach Zoo in Dreher Park. (© Can Stock Photo / Isame)

‘Grip it and Flip It” on a 5,500-foot disc-golf course. Aim your disc at above-ground baskets instead of holes in the ground. The 18-hole course has water hazards, uphill and downhill areas, a variety of terrain and obstacles.

Make your flick (forehand throw), hope you don’t get tree-ejected (hit a tree) and maybe you’ll get an ace (hole in one).

Welcome to disc golf at Dreher Park, the city’s playground, where you can flip your disc and then visit the fabulous Palm Beach Zoo, the Cox Science Center and Aquarium and the Marvin Dekelboum Planetarium.

The Zoo is home to Malayan tigers, spider monkeys, koalas, anteaters and more than 500 other animals, many endangered. Visitors walk along shady paths to view the animals and native plants.

There is a colorful carousel, an interactive water play fountain, Nature Play Pavilion and restaurant.

The Science Center has seen big changes in the last decade. Reconstruction of 5,000 square foot Hall of Discovery, new hands-on exhibits, an upgraded planetarium, an enhanced early childhood exhibit and a modernized theater are among the improvements. 

Dreher Park, 5701 Dreher Trail South, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Phone: 561-804-4900. Park is open 7 a.m to 7 p.m. The Palm Beach Zoo is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Zoo Admission: Adults $27.75, Seniors (60+) $25.75, Children (3-12) $21.75, 2 and under, Free. Cox Science Center and Aquarium is open 9-5, Monday-Friday, and 10-6, Saturday and Sunday. Admission: Adults $20.95, Seniors (60+) $16.95, Children (3-12) $16.95, ages 2 and under Free. Planetarium Shows, $5 additional.

Something for everyone at Okeeheelee Park

Your dog is welcome at Okeeheelee Park’s dog park. (Say hello to my dog, Bulkington.) 

Baseball, bicycling, disc golf, fishing, water skiing, boat ramps, tennis, playgrounds, kayak trails (and rentals), mountain bike trails, golf, pickle ball, lighted ball fields, nature trails, horse trails – name the outdoor activity, and it’s likely happening at Okeeheelee Park, Palm Beach County’s largest park.

“Okee” to locals, the 1,700-acre outdoor wonderland is THE PLACE for water skiing. There are five freshwater ski lakes designed for competition water skiing, as well as slalom courses, a jump ramp and wake boarding. 

One lake is lit for nighttime use. Regular water-ski tournaments are held to raise money to maintain the park’s facilities.

Did You Know? “Okeeheelee” is Seminole for “pretty waters.” 

Okeeheelee Park, 7715 Forest Hill Boulevard, West Palm Beach FL Phone: 561-966-6600. Park is open sunrise to sunset. Lighted court facilities open until 9 pm. Admission: Free.

National Croquet Center

Use the mallet to whack the blue, green, black and yellow balls through the wickets.

That’s about all you need to know to have a great day on the manicured lawns of the center tucked away in a West Palm Beach neighborhood near the Dreher Park Zoo. The 10-acre National Croquet Center is the largest facility dedicated to the game in the world. 

Free croquet lessons are offered for groups up to about 16 people every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Make your reservation early, spots fill up fast. Regular play is for members only.

There are 12 full-size croquet lawns, allowing hundreds of players at a time. When it’s time to put the mallet away, there’s a restaurant and bar in the Florida Keys-style clubhouse, decorated with croquet memorabilia.

And don’t forget to visit the center’s National Croquet Hall of Fame. 

Did You Know? Unlike golf, you can whack the other player’s ball far away. Don’t do it. Overly aggressive play is frowned upon in the gentlemanly and ladylike croquet world. Play nice.

National Croquet Center, 700 Florida Mango Rd, West Palm Beach, FL 33406. Phone: (561) 478-2300. Open 7 days, 8 am-5 pm. Free lessons every Saturday at 10 am. Daily fee to play: $30, includes equipment. Call ahead for court availability.

Look for the giant eraser

west palm beach norton museum eraser
Sculpture welcoming you to the Norton Museum of Art. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

The giant eraser is about 19 feet tall and weighs about 10,000 pounds. That’t how you find the Norton Museum of Art, among the top culture destinations in West Palm Beach.

Attendance has boomed at the gallery on Dixie Highway since a $100 million renovation in 20129. The gallery, opened in 1941, features an auditorium, indoor and outdoor dining, classrooms and 50,000 square feet of gallery space. 

A giant banyan tree shades the front of the building.

The museum hosts many free indoor and outdoor events, some are free to local residents.

Did You Know: The Norton hosts an artist-in-residency program that allows artists to stay for free in nearby historic, renovated homes. 

More things to do in West Palm Beach

west palm beach clematis by night
Clematis By Night, with movies, food trucks and music, is a downtown waterfront tradition. The family-friendly event is free every Thursday night. (Photos/Bill DiPaolo) 

For concerts and other events, check out the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. Phone: 561-832-7469 (Box office) or book online.

Exhibits of Palm Beach County’s history are at the Palm Beach County Historical Society Museum, 300 N Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. Phone: (561) 832-4164. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 am-4 pm. Admission is free. Donations accepted.

Visit Antique Row on Dixie Highway. Stores such as the Iconic Snob, Elephant’s Foot and Elena’s Cherry Pickings offer everything from hardware to furniture to flowers to cabinets to faucets.

west palm beach downtown trolley
Need a ride? Molley’s Trolley will transport you around downtown. The 30-passenger, air-conditioned vehicles are free. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Even more things to do in West Palm Beach

Read about the Mounts Botanical Garden: 4 things to love about West Palm Beach spot. Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach is lovely. It has special features, like a water garden, but also useful info like lots of plant labels.

On a bike? Ride across the bridge to Bicycle past Palm Beach mansions along the water

Read more about: 6 top Palm Beach County parks for scenic biking and more


Places to Stay

west palm beach hotel evernia
The Hotel Evernia is the oldest hotel in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Looking for a little old-time West Palm Beach? Try a night at Grandview Gardens, a restored 1925 Mediterranean Revival, or the Hotel Evernia, the city’s oldest hotel. The family-run Hotel Evernia was built in 1925 and has 40 rooms. Originally called the Hotel Enoree, the three-story building was restored and renamed in 1979.

The Square, an outdoor entertainment center, walking distance from the Brightline train station, has several nearby B&Bs.

Upscale is the 12-story Canopy Hotel. Don’t miss the spectacular view from the 12th floor Treehouse Bar.

The 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach on Okeechobee Boulevard, with a beautiful outdoor courtyard, is close to Brightline, The Square and Restoration Hardware.

If you are flying to Palm Beach International Airport, the Airport Hilton offers a convenient and pleasant stay. Check out the lakeside pool lounge -– you might see water skiers skimming by.


Places to eat

west palm beach makeb's deli
Locals favor Makeb’s Deli for breakfast and lunch. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

A local breakfast favorite on Dixie Highway (AMAZING bagel sandwiches), Makeb’s Bagels & Deli serves lunch sandwiches named for Al Pacino, Sofia Loren and West Palm Beach high school grad Burt Reynolds.

Havana, with its 24-hour window and legendary paella, is a local favorite on Dixie Highway at Forest Hill Boulevard. 

O’Shea’s Irish Pub on Clematis Street  – their shepherd’s pie is worth the wait – opens too early and closes too late.

At Independent Seafood on Georgia Avenue, you can buy live oysters and shuck ‘em yourself.

Need a quick meal? Bud’s Chicken & Seafood features fabulous shrimp, seafood and of course, chicken. Their fish sandwich quickie is the best in town. The family-owned restaurant, started by Bud Brinkman in 1957, now has six locations in Palm Beach County.

For more restaurant options, check out TripAdvisor’s reviews.

Dessert

west palm beach sloan's
Sloan’s is ice cream heaven. Just a few steps from the fountain near the waterfront. (Photo by Bill DiPaolo)

Ice cream at Sloan’s — Dad’s milk chocolate is my favorite – is a few steps from the waterfront near the fountain. The homemade, chunky, soft cookies are the size of a dinner plate.

Serenity Gardens Teahouse & Café, in a historic cottage with a fireplace, serves scones and tea on fine china. It’s on Vallette Way, walking distance from the Norton Museum of Art. 

Creamy, light, smooth and sweet, with the sticky syrup floating on the top, the best flan in town is at Don Ramon Cuban Restaurant on Dixie Highway.

For more dessert options, check out these reviews on TripAdvisor

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