The first time I went to Palm Beach County, I stayed at the luxurious PGA National Resort & Spa. I took a golf lesson, had a cooking class with the resort's chef and browsed the designer boutiques along swanky Worth Avenue.
A lot's changed since then.
For one thing, I'm a mom now. My 2-year-old daughter, Norah, has little interest in mani-pedis or Louis Vuitton -- at least not yet.
Nor do I have Louis Vuitton money. At least not yet.
So my vacations look a bit different these days.
I still like to have a nice time, but I've expanded my definition of what that means. My husband, Braulio, and I recently took Norah on a weekend getaway to Palm Beach County. Despite the area's hoity-toity reputation, our itinerary was child-friendly, parent-friendly and even easy on the wallet. Maybe it'll work for your family, too.
THINGS TO DO
- The Palm Beach Zoo has come up with a way to keep both adults and kids happy: Safari Nights. On select Friday evenings from April through October, head to the zoo's splash fountain for a live DJ, face painting, children's games and crafts, food specials, strolling animal encounters and special lower admission prices: $15.95 for adults and $9.95 for ages 3 to 12; members and kids under 3 get in free. Be sure to pack the kids' swimsuits.
- Delray Yacht Cruises are a two-hour fantasy ride. As the sightseeing tour travels down South Florida's Intracoastal Waterway, the captain shares local history and points out the gorgeous mansions that line the docks. My family sat inside on cushy chairs so Norah could play with her Doc McStuffins flashcards while hubby and I gaped at the infinity pools, waterfalls and lush landscapes of Palm Beach County's rich and famous. Fortunately, you don't have to be rich or famous to afford this mental escape. The two-hour sightseeing cruise costs just $24 for adults, or $21 for seniors and kids 2 to 12. Be sure to check the website for special offers.
- We could've spent an entire day at Lion Country Safari. First we drove our car slowly through acres of African wildlife -- including lions, of course. Then we hit the amusement park and spray ground. Regular admission is $29.95 for adults, $26.95 for seniors, $21.95 for ages 3 to 9 and free for toddlers. But when you consider what it would cost for separate admission to a zoo, amusement park and splash park, the admission no longer seems so steep. And be sure to stop by for Toddler Tuesday, special animal encounters for the little ones and their parents; it's included in the price of admission.
- Okeeheelee Park is an unexpected delight. What looks like an unassuming county park turns out to be nearly 2,000 acres of gorgeous green spaces and lake views. There are multiple playgrounds, paved paths ideal for a bicycle or stroller, boat rentals, picnic areas, a nature center with live animals and more. The nature center has limited hours, so plan accordingly. Admission to both the park and nature center is free.
- Speaking of nature, if you don't make it to Okeeheelee Nature Center, stop by Sandoway House Nature Center. It's more centrally located on South Ocean Boulevard in the heart of Delray Beach. Among the highlights are daily shark feedings and a lovely outdoor garden. Admission is $4 for ages 3 and up; Palm Beach Zoo members get in free.
- My daughter can never get enough of the beach, and neither can I. Palm Beach County has 47 miles of Atlantic coastline, so be sure to take advantage of this free, family-friendly attraction.
Insider tip: To find your perfect spot, use the VISIT FLORIDA Beach Finder.
WHERE WE STAYED
- For our family, Crane's BeachHouse was an ideal fit. We always prefer a hotel suite with a kitchen, so we can save money by eating in for some meals. Multiple bedrooms are also a plus; that way, we don't have to tip-toe around once Norah has gone to sleep. Other family-friendly features at Crane's include a pool, DVD rentals and free breakfast in the tiki bar, where Norah got to experience her first hammock and we met a nice family from the Netherlands; we still stay in touch on Facebook. Better still, Crane's has free parking and is within walking distance of downtown Delray's restaurants, attractions and beaches. Check current nightly rates here.
SOME DINNER SUGGESTIONS
- Pizza Rustica is a local favorite. For a family trip, you can't go wrong with pizza.
- Hubby and I don't get out for a nice dinner very often, so the Italian Caffe Luna Rosa was a real treat. We got a sidewalk table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, so the murmur of the crowd masked the Sesame Street video Norah was watching on my iPhone as we ate.
- Insider tip: If you plan to visit Palm Beach County in September, take advantage of Flavor Palm Beach. It's a month of special restaurant prices.