On my recent visit to The Palm Beaches, I wanted to explore parts of the region I hadn’t had the chance to visit when I lived in the area a little over a decade ago. Palm Beach County encompasses dozens of cities and towns, each with its own unique charm and attractions. While most people think of Florida’s beaches as the main attraction in the Sunshine State, Palm Beach County stretches all the way to the Everglades in the west and has developed into one of the top agritourism destinations in the country.
I began my trip in Delray Beach, the town I used to live in. One of Delray Beach’s hidden gems is the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Guests get to experience authentic Japanese culture and stroll through acres of lush trails transporting them to a different land. I didn’t even feel as if I was in Florida as I spent time at the reflection pond, the bamboo forest, and the old museum. While in Delray Beach, head to the Pineapple Grove arts district, a stretch of downtown devoted to art galleries, cafes, and boutiques. Swing by City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue for lunch and order the Lobster Roll. You will not be disappointed.
From Delray Beach, head north on I-95 – or jump on the Tri-Rail – to West Palm Beach and explore the Norton Museum of Art. During my visit, the museum was exhibiting Origin Stories: Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora, a collection that confronts the intertwined relationship between identity and colonialism in communities across the African continent. The museum also contains a permanent collection of Asian and European artwork.
After the museum, take a walk along Clamatis Street, the dining and entertainment hub of West Palm Beach, or journey over to Palm Beach Island where the world’s wealthiest people go to play during the winter months. Mansions and sprawling estates surround the island, including many historic properties like the Flagler Museum, The Breakers, and Mar-a-Lago, which was originally built for cereal company heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.
There are many hotels located in Palm Beach, but they can get a bit pricey depending on the time of year you visit. A great option is the Hilton West Palm Beach, located across the street from Rosemary Square and within walking distance to many of the area’s main attractions. The luxurious property features a grand lobby, large fitness center, and a massive outdoor pool perfect for a nice relaxing dip after a long day of sightseeing.
Grab dinner at Table 26, one of West Palm Beach’s most popular LGBTQ-owned restaurants. My guest and I began our meal with the Squash Blossoms and Burrata & Tomato salad, a simple yet delicious selection that is always a favorite of mine. For dinner, we wanted to order something a little on the lighter side, so we opted for the Zucchini pasta prepared with roasted heirloom tomatoes, pine nuts, basil pesto, and shaved parmesan. If you are in the mood to grab some cocktails, head to The Mad Hatter lounge located in Lake Worth, a town known for its thriving LGBTQ+ culture. Lake Worth is also home to Compass, the area’s LGBTQ community center.
After grabbing a morning coffee, head to Jupiter, about a 20-minute drive north from the hotel to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. The free attraction relies on donations to help maintain the property and support its animals. Last year alone, the sanctuary cared for over 6,000 animals who arrived at the facility, which was established to care for sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals while promoting wildlife and habitat conservation. All the animals at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary are native to Florida.
While in Jupiter, head to Lucky Shuck for lunch and grab a table with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. The restaurant offers wonderful service, fresh and simple food, and a relaxed island time environment. I decided to try the Ceviche Trio, prepared three different ways, and was so surprised at the differences between each of the preparations. For dessert – yes, I had dessert for lunch – try the Key Lime pie served with a coconut meringue and passion fruit glaze. It was one of the most delicious items I had on my entire visit. After lunch, jump on the Love Street Outdoor Center PonTiki Cruise a few steps from the restaurant, for a 30-minute or hour-long cruise around Jupiter inlet before heading back to the Hilton for some R&R before dinner.
Although it is easy to navigate West Palm Beach via public transportation, I would recommend renting a car if you really want to explore the destination and some of its most popular attractions including McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary. The guided tours are so informative, and guests learn the stories of each animal and how they arrived at the Sanctuary. Whereas Busch Sanctuary only cares for animals local to the region, McCarthy’s is home to a variety of animals from all corners of the globe including Amur leopards, Bengal tigers, lions, and even a snow leopard. Many of these animals were illegally owned and taken in by the sanctuary as they can’t be allowed into the wild.
All the animals are well cared for and were quite friendly and playful. The jaguar was purring during our entire visit and the beautiful white tiger was rubbing up against the enclosure seeking some attention from us. In addition to big cats, the sanctuary also houses exotic birds, lemurs, and a feisty fox.
No trip to Palm Beach would be complete without a shopping spree or stroll along Worth Avenue. High-end boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Akris line the street. Even if you don’t want to shop, it is still a fun experience to window shop and watch the parade of exotic cars that drive up and down the avenue.
It takes a good week to explore the destination, especially if you want to visit numerous cities and attractions. One of my favorite times to visit Florida, in general, is the spring and fall, as the weather is divine.
To book your West Palm Beach gaycation, visit Orbitz.com/pride
Enjoy the Journey!
Joey Amato is a travel writer and publisher of Pride Journeys.