12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach anchors Palm Beach County in Florida. It's a blossoming urban center with cultural treasures; excellent restaurants; a real "City Center" where people congregate to enjoy the one-of-a-kind shops, dining, and entertainment options; and, lest we forget, 47 miles of some of the best beaches in the United States.
Just across Lake Worth - named after the same 19th-century General as Fort Worth, Texas - is the tiny island of Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest towns on Earth. This community was built by industrialist Henry Flagler at the turn of the 20th century, who, where others saw an uninhabited, desolate island, saw a perfect haven for his rich-and-famous friends. (And a great way to charge them for going there on his own railroad.)
Scattered just outside of West Palm are several colorful towns, most near the beach, and a few with revived downtowns of their own, as well as artists and craftspeople pushing artistic boundaries, many of them displaying their works on the sides of buildings.
When you arrive in West Palm Beach, it won't take you long to see that you'll run out of time before you run out of things to do.
1 Enjoy a True Urban Center at CityPlace
CityPlace is an urban city center where tourists can spend all day and all night and still not experience everything there is to see, do, and eat. It's one of the biggest attractions in South Florida, where you can enjoy shopping, dining, entertainment, live music, a happy vibe, and a colorful parade of people.
You can visit clothing, jewelry, or gift shops, where yesterday's "funky" mixes with tomorrow's "trendy." You can chow down on cuisines ranging from barbecue and Tuscan to Mexican, Southwestern, and Japanese. Or you can put together your own lunch or dinner at one of the gourmet marketplaces or cheese shops. Follow up your meal with the creamiest ice creams or frozen yogurt or melt-in-your-mouth chocolate treats. And perhaps its best feature is that it's an open-air center.
On weekend evenings, excellent local bands perform in the Plaza, and you may well find yourself dancing to the music. There's an Improv Comedy Club and Revolutions, where you can "rock (to live music) and bowl." There's a Muvico Parisian Theater, with 20 screens and technological features such as IMAX. You can also access downtown's lively main street, Clematis Street, in style from CityPlace - on a trolley.
Address: 700 S. Rosemary Avenue, West Palm Beach, Florida
2 See the Big Cats at Panther Ridge
You're just outside West Palm Beach, but it feels like you're deep in the heart of Africa. At Panther Ridge Conservation Center, some of the big cats wander freely in large, fenced-off naturalistic habitats replicating the African veldt. Others are in cages, generally by themselves, that are many times the size of zoo cages, in habitats mirroring their native lands (along with little "pools" and toys).
Panther Ridge is the brainchild of Judy Berens, who still runs it. Back in the 90s, neighbors in the rural areas around West Palm Beach began bringing her big cats they no longer wanted or could care for because they knew she already had an ocelot ("bites-a-lot," she jokes) as a house pet. Soon, she had several big cats, so she began searching for land where she could create a refuge for injured or endangered big cats and nurse them back to health. Today, around 20 clouded leopards, tigers, rare black panthers, jaguars, mountain lions, cheetahs, and smaller cats such as ocelots roam Panther Ridge, and you can watch Judy enter their cages and cuddle with them. Sometimes, you can even touch the gentler animals through the fence.
Address: 14755 Palm Beach Point Boulevard, Wellington, Florida
3 Get a Close-Up Look at Florida's Beloved Sea Cows at Manatee Lagoon
One winter some years back, officials at Florida Power & Light's facility just north of West Palm Beach began noticing that manatees - Florida's beloved "sea cows" - were congregating around the facility's warm-water outflow, and the idea for Manatee Lagoon was born.
Now, this may be the best place in Florida for seeing these gentle 1,500-2,000-pound creatures. There are now some 6,300 manatees in the state, more than almost any other place in the world. Manatees love people. If they see you on the dock, they'll swim right up to you, and they've been known to roll over in the water, so people can pat their bellies. On the endangered list for many years - mostly because of irresponsible boaters - they're now making a comeback, and there's talk about removing them from the list.
Manatee Lagoon features imaginative hands-on exhibits, observation areas, a manatee webcam, and an outdoor deck at which the manatees congregate, especially in winter. The star of the show is "Mia the Manatee," whose travels and interactions with other sea cows you can track. This is a fun attraction for all the family.
Address: 100 Broadway, Riviera Beach, Florida
4 Stroll One of the Swankiest Streets on Earth
On Worth Avenue, on the enchanting island of Palm Beach, local residents say that if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. But the great thing about this street is that you don't have to buy anything to enjoy it. Here, you'll find some of the most fashionable clothing and accessories shops anywhere, such as Brioni and Louis Vuitton, and some of the most fascinating antique shops, such as A.B. Levy. You'll also find the world's greatest jewelers, such as Cartier, and perfumeries, like Chanel, as well as unusual treasures like Raptis Rare Books. Also in the mix are art galleries and department stores along with the landmark Ta-Boo Restaurant, where the Kennedys used to gather. Set back in leafy courtyards are artists' studios, large bronze statues of children playing, and cafés and gourmet food shops.
In winter, local historian Rick Rose runs Palm Beach Walking Tours, which take you into the hidden places along Worth Avenue. On these tours, you'll see the home of Addison Mizner, the visionary who created Worth Avenue a century ago. Behind the home is the gravesite of Johnny Brown, the monkey who always perched on Mizner's shoulder and who once ran for Mayor of Palm Beach (and actually got some votes).
Address: Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida
5 Ogle a Classic at Ragtops Automobile Museum
One of the biggest tourist attractions in West Palm is Ragtops Motorcars Palm Beach, a monument to the American Road and the cars that have traversed it over the past century, both classic and "fantasy." Some of the cars here are actually for sale. Here, you can purchase classics that might include a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette, jet-black with a tan interior and a 427 engine (remember those?). You might want a burgundy 1947 Deluxe Woody Wagon, with the sides made of - you guessed it - wood, or a 1933 Essex Terraplane Cabriolet, with the raised stand-alone headlights, rear jump-seat, and raise-able front windshield, all common in those days.
Inside the museum, you'll see all sorts of roadsters, street racers, convertibles, luxury cars, movie cars, and models that haven't been made since the early days of the automobile. There's also classic memorabilia from the Golden Age of automobiles, such as roadside signs, oil company emblems, and antique toy cars. Owner Ty Houck likes to say that if there was room in the trunk, he brought it home.
Address: 420 Claremore Drive, West Palm Beach, Florida
6 Discover the Wild Side of Florida at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
About ten miles south of the urban excitement of West Palm Beach, you can experience primeval Florida. At the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, you'll see hundreds of species of animals and plants that exist only in the Florida Everglades ecosystem. Here, on the northern fringe of the Everglades, you can see endangered species such as the snail kite and the wood stork as well as the king of Florida wildlife, the American alligator. You can walk on elevated boardwalks through tropical landscapes such as marshes and mangroves and hammocks (small islands in the Everglades).
There are numerous trails for walking or biking, along with watery "highways" where you can paddle in a canoe, such as the Marsh Trail or the Everglades Canoe Trail. And you can do all of this in a vast expanse of 147,392 acres. If your sightseeing wish list includes a place where the sights are animals and plants and exotic colors and landscapes native to Florida, and the only sounds you'll hear are the breezes rushing through the trees, this is it.
Address: 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, Florida
7 Explore West Palm Beach on a DivaDuck Amphibious Tour
If you're looking for a fun family experience, there's nothing better than a DivaDuck tour. You'll board a colorful amphibious vehicle - the "Diva Duck," of course - for a 75-minute narrated tour of West Palm. And you'll go from paved street to picturesque waterway, and back again, several times, because this open-air bus with wheels is also a boat.
You'll start downtown at City Place, and then travel through beautifully-transformed neighborhoods of classic Spanish and Tudor homes from the early-1900s, along with the shops, restaurants, and galleries of Clematis Street. Then, suddenly, you'll find yourself in the middle of Lake Worth (the Intracoastal Waterway), heading for the magical isle of Palm Beach. Once you get there, you'll chug past the The Breakers, a magnificent resort, which has symbolized Palm Beach elegance and style since 1896, along with the world-class Flagler Museum. Then, you'll enjoy a relaxing cruise along the Intracoastal, with an urban cityscape on one side and the enormous mansions of Palm Beach on the other.
Address: 600 S. Rosemary Avenue, West Palm Beach, Florida
8 Wander Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach
About 15 miles south of West Palm, in the town of Delray Beach, is one of America's greatest examples of downtown renewal. As late as the 1990s, the dominant feature on Atlantic Avenue were darkened storefronts with "For Lease" signs in the windows. Today, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated citizenry and officials, this is one of the most beautiful streets in Florida, and one of the liveliest. It's lined with one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques, dozens of interesting eateries (from Greek to gourmet and seafood to sushi), sidewalk cafés, cozy shops with hand-dipped ice cream or chocolates, and art galleries.
Atlantic Avenue also boasts one of Florida's best people parades, especially on weekend evenings and Sunday afternoons. At the bright-yellow Colony Hotel and Cabana Club, a Mediterranean-style building with towers and turrets that has anchored this street since 1926, you half-expect Humphrey Bogart to be holding court in the lounge. A block down, the Atlantic Avenue Bridge crosses the Intracoastal Waterway, and you'll walk above all types of watercraft, from built-for-speed jet-boats to luxurious yachts. Among them are the sleek boats of Delray Yacht Cruises, which will take you on a cruise along the Intracoastal in style. In addition, Delray Beach is known for some of Florida's best outdoor art festivals. Bring your bathing suit and flip-flops, too, because Atlantic Avenue ends right at the beach.
Address: Atlantic Avenue, Downtown Delray Beach, Florida
9 Enjoy a Wet 'n' Wild Family Day at the Rapids Water Park
Just north of West Palm, in the town of Riviera Beach, is an attraction that has been a South Florida landmark since 1979. The Rapids Water Park is truly a place for kids of all ages, so prepare to get soaked! Here, you and the kids can experience rides such as Big Thunder, with sharp turns through a dark tunnel and a heart-pounding 45-degree drop, or the brand-new Brain Drain, with two 70-foot enclosed water slides where you drop at 35 miles per hour. In Pirates Plunge, you can choose from two high-speed enclosed body slides, each of which drops seven stories, if you dare. At Barefootin Bay, the kids can frolic in a watery playground filled with interactive experiences, and at Big Surf, the family can play in a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, with waves up to six feet. Be prepared for a great family day and plenty of screaming.
Address: 6566 North Military Trail, Riviera Beach, Florida
10 Thrill to the "Sport of Kings" at the International Polo Club
You may not be a king or queen. But you can certainly feel like one at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, watching some of the best players in the world perform in what is actually a thrilling sport. This is a place of elegance and time-honored tradition.
These lush grounds in "horse country," to the west of West Palm Beach, host the largest number of high-goal teams and the most prestigious tournaments in the US, as well as the most stars. If you've never seen the sport of polo, you'll enjoy it. The horsemanship is excellent, the teamwork is precise, the goals are thrilling, and the pageantry is colorful.
Polo season starts around New Year's and continues to the last week of April. It's great fun (and a truly out-of-the-ordinary tourist experience) to enjoy traditional touches such as the grandstand seating or the champagne brunch, or not-so-traditional polo touches such as tailgating.
Address: 3667 120th Avenue South, Wellington, Florida
11 Immerse Yourself in the Gilded Age at the Flagler Museum
Henry Flagler not only created Palm Beach but many other Florida landmarks as well, such as the Overseas Railroad to Key West (which was, alas, wiped out in a long-ago hurricane).
As you drive up to the 1902 Georgian/Mediterranean mansion he called Whitehall, you'll know instantly that this is no ordinary museum. Upon completion of Whitehall, the New York Herald promptly called it the grandest mansion in the world. Indeed, with a telephone system, electric lighting, and central heating - and 22 bathrooms - it was possibly the most technologically-advanced home anywhere.
Today, you can wander through the grand hall, kitchens, parlors, and studies that Henry Flagler wandered through, as well as the hallways where the art he collected on his travels is still displayed. His splendid home also became the first museum in Florida. And today, in addition to Flagler's own art collection, important revolving exhibits feature renowned painters, sculptors, craftspeople, and photographers. This is truly a home - and a museum - for the ages.
Address: One Whitehall Way, Palm Beach, Florida
12 Search for Hidden Treasures at the Antique Row Art & Design District
Hoping to go back home with a timeless treasure from your West Palm Beach trip? Then head for the Antique Row Art & Design District. Antique Row has more than forty purveyors of quality antiques from the 17th to 20th centuries, as well as fine arts and decorative period pieces, furnishings ranging from Art Deco to vintage and modern, and a variety of other hard-to-find items. It will be hard to bypass any of these shops when you look through the windows. Many of them have fun names such as Iconic Snob Galeries, The Elephant's Foot, NotSo Fine Art, and Coastal Girls Co. Happily, the district also has several notable restaurants, such as the classic American eatery called City Diner and the converted 1950s drugstore called Rhythm Café.
One of the best things about the district is that it's walkable, and most of the shops lie near each other.
Address: South Dixie Highway (and nearby streets), West Palm Beach, Florida