65 miles N of Miami, 193 miles E of Tampa, 45 miles N of Fort Lauderdale
Palm Beach County encompasses cities from Boca Raton in the south to Jupiter and Tequesta in the north. But it is Palm Beach, the small island town across the Intracoastal Waterway, that has been the traditional winter home of America's aristocracy -- the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Pulitzers, the Trumps, until recently Bernie Madoff and his unlucky investors, titled socialites, and plenty of CEOs. For a perspective on what it means to put on the ritz, there is no better place than Palm Beach, where teenagers cruise around in their parents' Rolls-Royces while socialites seem to jump out of the glossy pages of society magazines and into an even glitzier real life. It's something to be seen, despite the fact that some may consider it all over the top and, frankly, obscene. But this is not just a city of upscale resorts and chic boutiques. In fact, Palm Beach holds some surprises, from a world-class art museum to one of the top bird-watching areas in the state.
Across the water from Palm Beach proper, or the "island" as locals call it, is downtown West Palm Beach, which is where everybody else lives. Clematis Street is the area's nightlife hub, with a great selection of bars, clubs, and restaurants. City Place is West Palm's version of Mizner Park; shops, restaurants, and other entertainment options liven up this once-dead area. In addition to good beaching, boating, and diving, you'll find great golf and tennis throughout the county. Note: Palm Beach's population swells from 20,000 in the summer to 40,000 in the winter. Book early if you plan to visit during the winter months.
Getting There -- If you're driving up or down the Florida coast, you'll probably reach the Palm Beach area by way of I-95. Exit at Belvedere Road or Okeechobee Boulevard, and head east to reach the most central part of Palm Beach.
Visitors on their way to or from Orlando or Miami should take the Florida Turnpike, a toll road with a speed limit of 65 mph. Tolls are pricey, though; you may pay upward of $9 from Orlando and $4 from Miami. If you're coming from Florida's west coast, you can take either S.R. 70, which runs north of Lake Okeechobee to Fort Pierce, or S.R. 80, which runs south of the lake to Palm Beach.
All major airlines fly to the Palm Beach International Airport, at Congress Avenue and Belvedere Road (tel. 561/471-7400). Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]; www.amtrak.com) has a terminal in West Palm Beach, at 201 S. Tamarind Ave. (tel. 561/832-6169).
Getting Around -- Although a car is almost a necessity in this area, a recently revamped public transportation system is extremely convenient for getting to some attractions in both West Palm and Palm Beach. Palm Tran (www.palmtran.org) covers 32 routes with more than 140 buses. The fare is $1.50 for adults, 75¢ for children 3 to 18, seniors, and riders with disabilities. Free route maps are available by calling tel. 561/233-4-BUS (4287). Information operators are available Monday through Saturday from 6am to 7pm.
In downtown West Palm, free shuttles from City Place to Clematis Street operate Sunday through Wednesday from 11am until 9pm, and Thursday through Saturdays 11am until 11 pm. Allegedly, the shuttles come every 5 minutes, but I'd count on them taking longer. Look for the bubblegum-pink minibuses throughout downtown. Call tel. 561/833-8873 for details.
Visitor Information -- The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1555 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., Ste. 204, West Palm Beach, FL 33401 (tel. 800/554-PALM  or 561/471-3995; www.palmbeachfl.com), distributes an informative brochure and answers questions about visiting the Palm Beaches. Ask for a map as well as a copy of the Arts and Attractions Calendar, a day-to-day guide to art, music, stage, and other events in the county.