Weekenders: Presenting Palm Beaches

A wildlife refuge, a century-old shipwreck and little-known museums—you never know what you might find while exploring this surprising stretch of Florida’s east coast.

By Terry Ward

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.

Natural Wonders

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.

Florida Throwbacks

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 eight 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. Scout’s Honor—mint ice cream spiked with Thin Mints® Girl Scout Cookies—is particularly tempting.

Adventure Time

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 seven 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 two 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.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
10216 Lee Rd., Boynton Beach; 561-734-8303; fws.gov; admission, $5 a car, $1 a pedestrian
Blowing Rocks Preserve
574 S. Beach Rd., Hobe Sound; 561-744-6668; nature.org; adults, $2; kids 12 and under, free
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum
500 Captain Armour’s Way, Jupiter; 561-747-8380; jupiterlighthouse.org; adults, $10
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach; 561-495-0233; morikami.org; adults, $15
Spanish River Park
3001 N. Hwy. A1A, Boca Raton; 561-393-7815; ci.boca-raton.fl.us; admission, $16 a car on weekdays, $18 on weekends and holidays
Sugar Sand Park
300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton; 561-347-3900; sugarsandpark.org; free admission, $1 for carousel rides
Ciao Sidewalk Café
1208 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 561-278-4520; lunch for two, $22*
Green’s Luncheonette
151 N. County Rd., Palm Beach; 561-832-4443; lunch for two, $25
960 N. Hwy. A1A, Jupiter; 561-747-8878; guanabanas.com; dinner for two, $50
Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar
224 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; roccostacos.com; lunch for two, $30
The Seafood Bar
1 S. County Rd., Palm Beach; 888-273-2537; thebreakers.com; dinner for two, $130
112 S. Clematis St., West Palm Beach; sloansicecream.com; dessert for two, $11
Children’s Science Explorium
300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton; 561-347-3912; scienceexplorium.org; free admission (suggested donation, $5 a person)
Delray Beach Watersports
401 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach; 561-279-0008; delraybeachwatersports.com; snorkeling tours, $50 a person
Top Cycle Palm Beach
113 N. County Rd., Palm Beach; 561-835-9368; topcyclepalmbeach.com; bike rentals, $15 an hour
Classic Collections of Palm Beach
118 N. County Rd., Palm Beach; 561-833-3633; classiccollectionsofpalmbeach.com
Delray GreenMarket
51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach; delraycra.org; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
RCI® affiliated resorts in the Palm Beaches include:
Palm Beach Shores Resort and Vacation Villas 4856

A postcard-worthy beach, spa treatments and a tropical courtyard and pool make for a laid-back escape on Singer Island. 181 Ocean Ave., Palm Beach Shores
Member Review: “Great service and attention to guests.”

For complete member review (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts
Sundy House

Tropical gardens surround this Victorian inn. 106 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach; 877-439-9601; sundyhouse.com; doubles from $150 a night

The Seagate Hotel & Spa

A modern spa hotel, two blocks from the beach. 1000 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; 877-908-8118; theseagatehotel.com; doubles from $192 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2016