Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Palm Beach, Florida
Peter is broadcasting his radio show from the Ritz-Carlton in beautiful Palm Beach, Florida.
Sure, we’re familiar with Palm Beach as the playground for the rich and famous, a monument to the good life, but as a historically rich destination? Who knew?
We checked in with the locals to learn how to get off the beach and into the Palm Beach’s cultural areas for a little history lesson.
Harvey Oyer, historian, attorney and former archaeologist
Oyer points out that while Palm Beach has plenty of history to share, it’s more spread out than cities like Boston and Philadelphia that have a very identifiable historic district. But, he says “We have a number of beautiful historic structures all over the county.”
One can’t-miss site for history buffs is the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum located in the town of Jupiter. “It was completed in 1860, therefore dating back to before the Civil War.”
The once bright-red structure was renovated in 1999 and is now a little less flashy than before, but is still a notable South Florida landmark. Unfortunately, the historic Dubois House is currently closed for the season, but when the summer heat dies down, check out this second-oldest existing house in Palm Beach County that sits on top of a Native American shell mound. 561-747-8380, www.lrhs.org
Another iconic South Florida structure is the Breakers Hotel & Resort, one of the legacies left behind by Palm Beach developer Henry Flagler. It’s the sister hotel to the old Royal Poinciana Hotel—though no longer standing, it was at the time was the largest wooden structure in the world. The Breakers, then named the Palm Beach Inn, was completed in 1896. 888-273-2537, www.thebreakers.com
And for even more on the Palm Beach of yore, you can visit Henry Flagler’s lavish residence, Whitehall, which he had built as a wedding gift to his third wife—the 60,000 square foot, 55-room winter getaway has become one of the most symbolic structures of Palm Beach’s “Gilded Age.” Now known as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, it was Florida’s first museum, and is now a National Historic Landmark. Learn about the development giant’s life, wander through Flagler’s own private railcar, and check out rotating art exhibits on loan from some of the top museums in the country. 561-655 2833, https://flaglermuseum.us
Oyer notes other historically significant sites including: the state-of-the-art, interactive Palm Beach County History Museum (www.historicalsocietypbc.org); Yesteryear Village (www.southfloridafair.com/yesteryearvillage.html), an eclectic group of buildings that were saved from destruction and moved to a “central dumping ground for old buildings”; and Jonathan Dickinson State Park, where you can visit the home of Trapper Nelson, aka the “Wildman of the Loxahatchee,” or as Oyer explains it, “a man in the mid-20th century who lived like Tarzan.”
James Ponce, historian
James Ponce is the official historian for the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and The Breakers and is also known as Palm Beach’s “two-legged historical landmark.”
Sure, Worth Avenue is the place to window shop, not to mention spotting celebrities and the über-rich actually shopping, but it’s also a great place to soak in Palm Beach’s distinctive Mediterranean-style architecture.
Back in the 1920s, developer Addison Mizner turned his nose up at New England-style architecture and instead recreated Mediterranean/Moorish styles of buildings he had discovered on his travels. “You’ll see shops on lower level and apartments overhead,” says Ponce. “He was doing mixed-use buildings in the ’20s very nicely.”
According to Ponce, the Everglades Club is “Ground Zero” for that style of architecture, but unfortunately only members are allowed in. “You can still see the building and wander through the villas he created,” says Ponce.
Via Mizner was, of course, Addison Mizner’s home and is now a historic site on the National Register of Historic Places. It now houses several shops and snack bars, and, strangely, a courtyard where Mizner’s pet spider monkey is buried. Look for a tombstone marked “Johnnie Brown, the Human Monkey, d. April 30, 1927.”
For a very “Palm Beachy” afternoon stop, stop and have a drink or lunch in the courtyard of Ta-boo, a local establishment that has been around since 1941. 561-835-3500, www.taboorestaurant.com
And for flower-lovers, the Society of the Four Arts features a series of gardens created by the Garden Club of Palm Beach. Wander between a Chinese garden, tropical greenery with Spanish façade, a rose garden, an herb garden, and more. 561-655-7226, www.fourarts.org
Another standout is Pan’s Garden on Hibiscus Avenue. “So many tropical plants had been brought in to Palm Beach,” explains Ponce, “the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach created a garden made up of nothing but native trees and plants.”
And lastly, along the full length of Worth Avenue and stretching several miles to the inlet is the enviable Palm Beach Lake Trail. “It’s undoubtedly one of the prettiest paths in the country,” says Ponce. Built by Henry Flagler in 1894, the path passes along the waterfront past mansions and gardens, and is filled with locals riding bikes, jogging and strolling with dogs.
Peter’s New Favorite
Here’s what he had to say:
Last night I made a great gastronomic discovery in a place called Juno Beach (about 35 min. from Palm Beach). This place is located in a strip mall, been there 20 years, no reservations, and yes, you’ll have to wait to get a booth, but Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill is worth it, with a long handwritten menu that’s xeroxed daily, and the best freshest fish ever.
But what really sets this place apart is the innovative recipes. How about a rock shrimp torizza with portobello and goat cheese? Or a peppered seared tuna with blueberry teriyaki sauce (I know it sounds strange, but it’s amazing). Definitely worth the drive … and the wait. I just may have to go back there again tonight!
By Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.
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