Little-known Fla. town invites longer stays

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- This historical, often bypassed South Florida resort community has matured as a tourist attraction, according to a local official.

"People who haven't been here in 10 or 12 years don't realize that there [now] are many more restaurants, shops and clubs," said Debra Acquilano, executive director of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce's tourism committee. "Atlantic Avenue [the main thoroughfare] is filled with antique shops and art galleries, a natural outgrowth of the town's early days as an artists' colony," she said.

The Morikami Museum & Gardens In fact, every year Delray Beach holds the Delray Fair, a free arts, crafts and entertainment festival with a juried arts and crafts show. The 1999 dates are April 9 to 11. "We want to familiarize people with all the things to see and do so that they'll extend their stays here instead of making a quick visit and going on to Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach," Acquilano said.

The rebirth of Delray Beach started in the mid-1980s when a civic-minded member of the local historical society, horrified by news that the town planned to demolish the buildings of Old School Square, led the charge to reverse the decision and have the complex declared a protected historical landmark.

"The decision to preserve and restore Old School Square and transform it into a cultural arts center was the beginning of the city's renaissance," said Acquilano, who is also director of services for the cultural arts center.

Today, the center's three buildings -- the oldest of which dates from 1913 -- house the Cornell Museum, which features the works of local and national artists; the Crest Theatre, where plays, operas and other productions are held, and the Gymnasium-Reception Hall, a popular venue for community and private events. All three facilities offer space for meetings, parties and other group functions.

Old School Square, Phone: (561) 243-7922, Web: www.oldschool.org.

Delray's first nature center is housed in the former Sandoway House, which dates from 1936. The center showcases exotic birds, including a giant macaw, aquariums and exhibits on the area's ecosystems. Admission to the Sandoway House Nature Center is free.

Sandoway House, Phone: (561) 274-SAND

The town's most famous attraction, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, opened in 1977 on land donated by George Sukeji Morikami, who settled in the area after emigrating from Japan in the early 1900s. Throughout the year, the Morikami offers cultural presentations and exhibits; the museum's collection of kimonos and Japanese textiles is on view through Jan. 17. There is also a cafe serving Japanese dishes.

Group tours cost $6 per person (one free tour for every 25 paid); for $18, the tour includes a buffet and origami. The auditorium and other facilities can be rented.

Morikami Museum, Phone: (561) 495-0233, Web: www.morikami.org

Delray Beach is also the home base of Levenger, a firm founded by the husband-and-wife team of Steve Leveen and Lori Granger that markets lamps and other items for readers. Since 1987, the company has grown into an international catalog business, based in a 210,000-square-foot facility here. On the premises is a showroom featuring products that include wooden bookcases and travel items.

Levenger, Phone: (800) 544-0880; (561)-276-2436, Web: www.levenger.com

Clients interested in seeing how Florida orange juice gets from grove to glass can visit Blood's Hammock Groves. After sampling fresh orange juice at the shop's juice bar and perhaps choosing a gift basket (including Blood's own home-made marmalade) for those back home, visitors can proceed to the observation area.

From there, they can watch experts select and package oranges grown on the family's 420 acres of groves, located about 50 miles north of Delray Beach.

Blood's Hammock Groves, Phone: (561) 498-3400, Web: www.bhgcitrus.com

In early November, the Delray Beach Gray Line began offering cruises between Manalapan and Boca Raton aboard the 150-passenger, double decker Ramblin' Rose Riverboat II. Rates are $9.95 for the two-and-a-half-hour Sunday cruise; $13.95 for the three-and-a-half-hour Saturday cruise, and $15.95 for the three-and-a-half-hour weekday cruise (less for children and groups). Lunch and dinner buffet cruises are available.

On New Year's Eve, the ship will offer a four-hour Intracoastal Waterway sail with cocktail, champagne toast, dinner buffet and entertainment for $65. The boat is available for charter.

Delray Gray Line Rambling Rose II, Phone: (561) 243-0686

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