By Susan & Simon Veness
For every big-city location in Florida there is a ‘hidden gem,’ an area that is an attraction in its own right, worth seeking out for an essential part of that city’s experience. This series introduces these delightful – and often historic – sections of the Sunshine State.
Henry Flagler knew what he was doing in 1894 when he brought his Florida East Coast Railway to what is now Palm Beach County, two thirds of the way down Florida’s Atlantic coastline.
The great railroad baron was on a mission to connect the whole of the state in the pre-automobile days of the late 19th century and, by reaching what was then a small – but promising – little tourist haven, Flagler was lighting the blue touch-paper on a development that would fast-track Palm Beach (pun intended!) to becoming the Sunshine State’s answer to Beverly Hills.
The great Gilded Era hotels of The Royal Poinciana and The Breakers put the city on the map in no uncertain terms, and the well-heeled and well-to-do made it their winter bolthole for months at a time.
Worth Avenue Architecture
Over the next 100 years, Palm Beach grew into a city of substantial means, a small-town type community studded with various captains of industry, who demanded the trappings of their big-city homes to the north, and Worth Avenue grew with it.
‘Society architect’ Addison Mizner was responsible for laying out the original plans, and his popular Spanish Colonial Revival style soon became the leading design motif as The Avenue blossomed in the 1920s and 30s.
And, if Palm Beach is Florida’s Beverly Hills, then Worth Avenue is definitely its Rodeo Drive, a glittering avenue of graceful architecture, beautiful landscaping – and high end shops and restaurants.
At one end, facing the beach itself, is the iconic 25ft Clock Tower that marks the eastern extent of the avenue. At the other is the Everglades Golf Club and the Intracoastal Waterway that creates the barrier island nature of Flagler’s recherché retreat.
In between, along one continuous coconut palm-lined street, you’ll find an utterly dazzling array of boutiques, galleries, cafes, hotels and restaurants, all with an impeccably upscale feel, and all dressed in the kind of distinguished finery you find only in the most stylish destinations.
Florida Retail Therapy
High-quality brands abound, from ultra-chic Swiss fashion house Akris to Italian icons Bottega Veneta and Brioni, and more traditional names such as Chanel, Christofle, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Vuitton and Tiffany and Co. When you’re looking for a grand shopping expedition, this 700-yard epi-centre of grand style is as smart as it gets. In all, there are more than 200 stores packed into just four blocks of gorgeous grandeur.
But retail therapy – admittedly of the most exquisite kind – is only part of the story. Dining is, as you’d expect, another glittering highlight, featuring equally impressive offerings and signature experiences.
Dining in Worth Avenue
Choose from modern Italian classics at Bice; small-plate contemporary American dishes at Buccan; oceanfront al fresco dining at Breeze Coastal Kitchen; casual elegance at Café Via Flora; the secluded, romantic charm of Renato’s; the sheer glamour of the Leopard Lounge & Restaurant; and the coveted dining destination of Café Boulud at the historic Brazilian Court Hotel, which dates back to 1926 and included Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo and the Kennedys among its regular visitors.
You also need to enjoy the many ‘Vias’ – the little interconnected pedestrian walkways and back-streets – that highlight the architectural heritage of Mizner and his contemporaries, studded with attractive gardens and fountains that richly reward the casual wanderer.
Worth Avenue Celebrity Culture
Worth Avenue has its own celebrity culture, too. The place to see and be seen in the 1950s was cocktail lounge Ta-boo, and A-listers still find their way here some 78 years after its founding by owner/impresario Ted Stone. Just around the corner, The Colony Hotel was the genteel hangout of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the 1950s and 60s, and it remains a haven of cultured charm, more Mediterranean than American, but totally ensconced in intimate refinement.
Palm Beach and its mainland attendant city of West Palm Beach are among our favourite places for a relaxed, refined getaway in Florida, but Worth Avenue is the crown jewel. Make sure you have it on your must-see list for any visit to this part of the world.
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Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.