Overview

West Palm Beach, Florida, was supposed to be the final stop on tycoon Henry Flagler's railroad through the state in 1893 and the commercial center for Palm Beach. West Palm has turned into its own city, however, where historic homes mingle with ultramodern high-rises, and the downtown area segues into suburbia.

In and around the area are theaters, restaurants, hotels, museums, historic sites, zoos, golf courses, tennis courts, parks and preserves, and watersports activities.

Palm Beach, West Palm's sister island, is just across the Intracoastal Waterway, so visitors have seemingly endless options when it comes to fine dining, upscale hotels, sandy beaches and shopping.

Clematis Street, the historical heart of downtown, is a popular area for concerts, films and street parties. There are activities there year-round.

Note: Florida sustained widespread damage during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Travelers should investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.

Geography

Streets in West Palm Beach run north to south and east to west, and are named in alphabetical order for native plants. The exceptions are Highway 1, which runs from Maine to Key West, Florida, and Flagler Drive, which parallels the Intracoastal Waterway.

Palm Beach is just across the Intracoastal Waterway, and it is known for its upscale shopping and dining, beaches, luxury accommodations (such as the famed Breakers Hotel) and posh estates, including the family home of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago and Henry Flagler's Whitehall. The island is accessed by the Flagler Memorial, Royal Park or Southern Boulevard drawbridges.

West Palm Beach is also within an hour's drive of several destinations in Palm Beach County—Boca Raton and Delray Beach are both located at the county's southern boundary, and Jupiter and Tequesta are municipalities to the north of West Palm Beach. To the west is the polo capital of Wellington, as well as the more rural communities of Loxahatchee and the Acreage.

History

The Palm Beach wilderness was transformed into a posh resort destination after industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler visited the island in 1892. Although Europeans had settled in Palm Beach in the 1870s, cultivating fruits and vegetables, tourists spurred growth there after finding their way to Flagler's elaborate Breakers Hotel by way of his Florida East Coast Railway.

Flagler launched a construction boom in the area. By 1910, Palm Beach County had been created, with West Palm Beach as its county seat. The next decade saw high-rises and homes, from modest to grand, sprout on the landscape. However, real estate scams and hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 stifled further development.

Then in the 1950s and '60s, city residents began abandoning West Palm Beach for the suburbs. It was not until the 1990s that the city experienced a rebirth, with the revitalization of historic buildings, the development of CityPlace and major renovations along Clematis Street.

Sightseeing

There's plenty to keep you busy in West Palm Beach, and most activities take advantage of the Florida sunshine. Take a stroll through a historic neighborhood or spend the afternoon at the Lion Country Safari or the Palm Beach Zoo.

Yesteryear Village gives visitors a peek into the past, and numerous parks and gardens offer the opportunity to commune with nature. Museums, such as the South Florida Science Museum and the Palm Beach Maritime Museum, offer a break from the heat.

Nightlife

Nightlife is varied and plentiful in West Palm Beach, where something is always going on someplace. At CityPlace, there's a 20-screen cinema along with shops and clubs, although weekends at CityPlace can be noisy and crowded.

Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, across from CityPlace, also has something happening every night, from cabaret shows to big-name comedians to top Broadway shows.

There are also a lot of clubs in West Palm Beach, especially around the downtown Clematis area, but exercise caution at night off the main streets. Clubs change, but popular night spots that have been around for a long time include The Lounge, Renegades and Blue Martini. A full listing of events can be found in The Palm Beach Post.

Dining

Fresh seafood, Italian bistros, Mediterranean cuisine, a French brasserie—it's all there in West Palm Beach. Or, cross the Intracoastal Waterway for fine dining on the island of Palm Beach. There are many restaurants overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and on both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway. Casual dress is the norm at most places.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$30; $$$ = US$31-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.

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