Delta's new airline, Song, flies from New York to West Palm Beach. Notorious as a playground for the rich, famous, or extremely elderly, Palm Beach County has been building up quite a range of attractions in recent years. Frommers.com has a full guide to Palm Beach online, but I decided to check up on some of Palm Beach's "alternative" opportunities after flying down with Song.
The largest museum in Florida, the Norton Museum is well-known for its Impressionist and twentieth-century American collections. Right now it's doing something a little more avant-garde, with a temporary exhibition of art based on Japanese animation -- great for kids and anyone into pop art. The "My Reality" exhibit runs through June 15.
The Norton has recently been joined by the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in nearby Lake Worth. The ICA is small but aggressive in seeking out unusual contemporary art; right now they're showing a fascinating video installation of various screens suspended in quasi-architectural forms, encouraging you to walk around the screens and see how they interact from different angles. For more informatoin on the ICA, visit www.palmbeachica.org.
If museums feel too confining, try driving up the stretch of Dixie Highway between Lake Worth and downtown West Palm Beach. You'll pass miles of antique shops; make sure to stop at Ragtops Motorcars (www.ragtopsmotorcars.com), a combination museum/classic car dealership with perfectly-preserved vehicles stretching back to 1930s models.
CityPlace, the faux-Mediterranean village-cum-mall in downtown West Palm Beach, is mostly chain stores. The real reason to come there is simply for the lounging; the plaza in the middle of the complex is a great place to sit on benches eating sundaes from the Ghirardelli shop, to sip a drink or to let the kids run off some steam rushing into and out of FAO Schwarz.
Many of Palm Beach's beaches are privately-held. If you're looking for something with a bit more Carl Hiassen charm and less Donald Trump pretension, head instead to the beach at Lake Worth, at the foot of Lake Avenue. Full of local families, the Lake Worth beach offers white sand, a long pier and a restaurant with cheap beer.
Stay Like a Mogul, Pay Like a Stagehand
As the weather gets warmer -- and the super-rich of Palm Beach fly up to Nantucket and the Hamptons -- hotel rates plummet to a fraction of what they were in February. "Low season" for Palm Beach stretches from April all the way through the end of October, so you don't have to swelter to enjoy rock-bottom prices.
At the super-luxe Four Seasons Palm Beach, for instance, the "Under the Sun" package offers three nights in May or October starting at $650, including a $100 credit for incidentals. If you're willing to head down during the summer, three weekend nights go for a mere $550. The luxury of this hotel is only topped by the attentiveness of the staff; when I couldn't get my shower handle to turn, they sent up an engineer to turn the shower on for me.
Almost as deluxe but more intimate, the Chesterfield Hotel is currently offering rates starting at $109/night, even on weekends. Part of a chain of small luxury hotels centered in the UK, the Chesterfield has a very British feel and focuses on personal service. The staff also puts trays of tasty cookies in the lobby, and there's a very impressive lounge singer in their Leopard Room bar.
Far funkier than either of the above options, the Hotel Biba is offering discounted summer rates through Expedia, with prices down to $62.90/night. At the center of West Palm Beach's younger scene, the Biba offers minimalist, modern décor, a very hip bar with live jazz, and lots of attitude, but it's not for the luxury crowd: you may have to cross the parking lot to get to the pool, and there are scuffs on the wooden floors and occasional stains on the carpet.