It’s Friday night at Imoto, arguably the best Asian-inspired restaurant in Palm Beach, and the joint is jumping. The sleek, contemporary space is filled to capacity with smartly dressed diners, happily celebrating the start of another weekend.
Plates of freshly shucked oysters, sashimi and ceviche and wood-fired dishes such as Peking duck tacos are flying out of the kitchen, along with signature cocktails, sakes and boutique beers and wines.
Later the same night and just a few blocks away, a well-heeled crowd gathers in the Café Boulud lounge of The Brazilian Court Hotel to enjoy a performance by local songstress Raquel Williams, who delivers a smooth and sultry blend of jazz, Motown and R&B.
The next morning, I’m in a Mustang convertible rental car, driving past vast mansions that could double as royal palaces, many with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, before doing some serious damage to my credit card in the gilt-edged boutiques on Worth Avenue.
After lunch at Ta-boo, one of the avenue’s classic cafés, I head for nine holes at the waterfront and highly rated Par 3 Golf Course, followed by a cool dip in the ocean and back to The Brazilian Court Hotel just in time for sundowner cocktails.
Welcome to Palm Beach, one of Florida’s most exclusive coastal destinations, delivering a head-turning array of great food, music, sights, shopping, golf, beaches and luxury hotels – and that’s just on day one of any visit.
Add a splash of history, arts and culture, beautiful lakes and waterways, a vibrant nightlife and a full sporting calendar – headlined by the annual winter polo season at the International Polo Club Palm Beach – and you have a memorable vacation in the palm of your hands.
The Town of Palm Beach, perched on an island separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, is actually just one of 38 distinct cities and towns that make up The Palm Beaches, also known as Palm Beach County.
Covering 2,000 square miles of southeast Florida, stretching 47 miles from north to south, and with the Atlantic on its entire eastern seaboard, The Palm Beaches is a sun-splashed playground on a vast scale.
The myriad vacation options – not to mention high-end real estate opportunities for those looking to establish a permanent home – are designed to suit all ages, budgets and lifestyles.
Arguably the most iconic enclave is the Town of Palm Beach, just 2.5 miles from Palm Beach International Airport and a world away from the snow, ice and winter chills of other parts of the United States.
Life here moves at a different – and decidedly luxurious – pace where the average annual temperature hovers at a pleasant 78 degrees and the sun shines for an average 234 days a year.
Palatial walled and gated mansions, especially those on prestigious S. Ocean Blvd, enjoy panoramic ocean views, delivering their owners an unparalleled lifestyle on the scale of The Great Gatsby.
Smaller but equally beautiful homes line the pristine and palm-shaded streets of central Palm Beach, interspersed with luxury retreats like The Brazilian Court Hotel located on Australian Ave., an easy stroll from the boutiques of Worth Avenue.
Opened in 1926 – and celebrating its 90th anniversary this year – the hotel has a blue-blood pedigree, having played host to the likes of Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper at the peak of their careers and a roll call of movie stars and high-profile personalities in more recent years.
Stone courtyards and Spanish-Mediterranean architecture create an old-world European ambience with a tropical Palm Beach twist. The terrace of the hotel’s signature Café Boulud in the entrance courtyard and the tranquil garden pool in a side courtyard provide focal points and cool places to relax in the heat of the day.
The 80 comfortable guest rooms and suites are classic in style, with mahogany crown moldings, hand-forged bronze fixtures, wood shutters and plush beds topped with imported linens.
The hotel’s social hub is Café Boulud – the acclaimed Palm Beach outpost of top chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant portfolio – and its intimate bar and lounge that hosts live entertainment (à la Ms. Williams) on Thursday and Friday nights.
The restaurant has undergone a recent refurbishment: out with the splashes of color and in with a much lighter, fresher, more contemporary design that complements Boulud’s deft France-inspired menus featuring locally sourced seafood and produce.
The hotel’s other showpiece is the Frédéric Fekkai Salon & Spa – I treated myself to one of the best haircuts ever – and the ideal place for some pampering after a day at the pool or beach.
Despite its world-famous sun, surf and sand reputation, Palm Beach has a thriving – and pleasantly surprising – history, arts and culture heritage.
The Flagler Museum, once home to oil and rail magnate Henry Morrison Flagler, is a grand and stately reminder of Florida’s Gilded Age and the man who, quite literally, put much of Florida on the global map.
The Ann Norton Sculpture Garden, Norton Museum of Art and Society of Four Arts form a triumvirate of cultural splendors set in lush gardens and classic and contemporary art institutions.
If upscale shopping is your bag, the boutiques of Worth Avenue in the heart of Palm Beach will more than satisfy any retail cravings for top designer brands, assuming your credit card is fully loaded.
West Palm Beach’s renowned Antique Row is also well worth a visit, with more than 40 quality antiques emporiums, vintage boutiques and home design stores lining S. Dixie Hwy.
Palm Beach’s food scene is bristling thanks to top chefs like Daniel Boulud and James Beard Foundation award-winner Clay Conley (Imoto, b?ccan and the soon-to-open Grato in West Palm Beach) delivering capital city dining to an appreciative local foodie community.
Palm Beach’s most popular social draw card is undoubtedly its annual winter polo season, a colorful celebration of the so-called Sport of Kings, stretching from January to April and held at the glamorous Palm Beach International Polo Club in neighboring Wellington.
This is serious sport for the high-goal teams that jet in from around America and overseas and equally serious socializing for well-heeled spectators decked out in designer hats, dresses and Jimmy Choos (for the popular divot-stomping ritual between chukkas).
Sunday polo matches are open to the public with grandstand viewing, upscale field tailgating, lawn seating and the event’s signature field-side Champagne Brunch at The Pavilion. It’s fast, fun, fierce and fashionable – both on and off the field – and a fascinating glimpse of Palm Beach’s social set at play.