Florida Travel: A Philadelphian’s Guide to Palm Beach

There’s nothing sleepy about this glitzy, artsy South Florida destination. 

colony hotel palm beach florida

The Colony Hotel, Palm Beach / Photograph by Leslie Uruh

When you think of Palm Beach, your mind may go to pastels, country clubs, golf clubs … old money and old people. And while there are still plenty of upscale technicolor vibes to be had, Palm Beach (and next-door West Palm Beach) is fresh and fun, too. Bottom line: Don’t sleep on Palm Beach — unless it’s in a private poolside cabana.

For peak old-school Palm Beach glamour, book a stay at the Breakers (rooms from $1,190). Dating back to 1896, this beachfront resort has four pools (with private bungalows), on-site golf and tennis, and dining that ranges from the sleek Seafood Bar to the speakeasy-like HMF. Even if you’re not staying here, come for an extravagant Sunday brunch at the Circle — you’ll be able to scope out the holiday decor while you visit. Equally iconic, the Colony (rooms from $539) dates back to the ’40s but looks like it was designed for Instagram, with its signature pink exterior and bold prints inside. (No two rooms are alike.) Enjoy happy hour with live music in the Living Room, or dine poolside at Swifty’s. Even if you’re not a guest, don’t miss a photo op on the signature golf cart. 

Fun fact: Palm Beach’s Mediterranean Revival style is thanks to architect Addison Mizner, who carried his pet spider monkey Johnnie Brown with him everywhere. That monkey is now the Colony hotel’s mascot.

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The Breakers resort in Palm Beach / Photograph courtesy of The Breakers Palm Beach

For a modern twist, stay at the luxurious Eau Palm Beach (rooms from $799), especially if one of your main concerns is relaxation — the 42,000-square-foot spa is pure indulgence, with treatments, baths, saunas, and serene relaxation rooms. (If you’re not a guest, book a treatment for $100 and up and get a “Fairy Day Pass” to spend all day here. Order a cupcake.)

Head to Worth Avenue for high-end shopping like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Chanel and Gucci, plus hometown hero Lilly Pulitzer’s flagship, which has the distinction of an on-site design space from which you can order a custom shift. For additional preppy finds, C. Orrico is steps away. The Royal Poinciana Plaza is like Worth Avenue’s eclectic younger sister, with luxe classics (Cartier and Hermès) alongside contemporary picks like Alice + Olivia and Stoney Clover Lane. You’ll also find art galleries like Gavlak, which focuses on women and LGBTQ artists.

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Inside the Lilly Pulitzer custom shift design studio on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach / Photograph by Laura Swartz

Near Worth Avenue, check out the Flagler Museum, the former home of the Standard Oil tycoon, where you can explore Gilded Age gorgeousness — and don’t forget to make a reservation for high tea.

For more New School vibrance, head over the bridge to bustling, artistic West Palm Beach. In the Warehouse District, discover new artists and dine at the Grandview Public Market’s food hall. Antique Row — with more than 40 antique and design shops — is also not to be missed.

The Norton Museum of Art is a must-do, with more than 8,000 works of art as well as an outdoor sculpture garden. Its Art After Dark events are a great way to experience the museum; you get access to the galleries along with live performances or film screenings.

As the sun sets, head to Clematis Street for restaurants and nightlife. Climb upstairs at Sourbon Kitchen for some cocktails in the Lab bar, or visit Clematis Social to hit the dance floor. 

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Published as “Palm Beach, Old and New” in the December 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.