No address in Florida epitomizes luxury more than Palm Beach, a 14-mile-long barrier island that’s been a playground of notables since railroad tycoon Henry M. Flagler opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel (now The Breakers) here in 1894. The exclusive winter hideaway eventually flourished, becoming a year ’round destination that’s home to some of the world’s most elite hotels, restaurants and shops as well as a bounty of fabulous private estates anchored by over-the-top mansions. The most famous of these is Mar-a-Lago, the former residence of socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, which Donald Trump now owns and operates as a tony social club.
Get a sense of Palm Beach’s wealth simply by driving along the island’s avenues, trying to guess which fortress wall or towering, maniacally manicured hedge conceals which celebrity home. For a glimpse inside an actual mansion, visit Flagler’s former home, Whitehall, which is open to the public as the Flagler Museum. Tours of this sumptuous 75-room mansion provide an intimate sense of America’s privileged class during the Gilded Age.
A short drive south brings you to the island’s commercial center, anchored by Worth Avenue, a row of rarified Mediterranean Revival shops designed by prominent architect Addison Mizner from 1918 through the 1920s. Here you’ll find fancy emporia like Cartier, Chanel, Jimmy Choo and Valentino and see society matrons dressed to the teeth, with their lapdogs in tow. Don’t miss 150 Worth Avenue, a haute collection of shops and restaurants. Peek inside Gasiunasen Gallery, which sells original works by such masters as Picasso, Chagall and Matisse. You can even dine at celebrity hangouts like Bice and Renato’s.
From Worth Avenue, head north to Royal Palm Way, which – as its name suggests – is lined with royal palm trees. Turn left, and you’ll soon cross a short bridge that transports you to the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. Its storybook renaissance in recent years has seen the construction of swank CityPlace, an open-air shopping and entertainment village, and the evolution of nightclubs, restaurants and galleries along trendy Clematis Street. Be sure to see what’s playing at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts first-rate ballet, classical music and Broadway-style musicals.
And there you have it – enough chichi shops, restaurants and homes to dazzle even the most discerning travelers.