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Palm Beach Spins Back

Fly into Palm Beach International Airport (or drive up from Ft. Lauderdale). From there, Palm Beach County, with its reasonably rectilinear grid of major thoroughfares, looks on a map as though it ought to be fairly easy to navigate; and in general, it is. Two factors, however, somewhat complicate the task. The first is growth's evil twin—construction—which seems to be going on somewhere in the county at all times, especially on I-95, the most useful artery for out-of-towners. The second confounding influence is the flatness of the terrain, which makes identifying landmarks problematic. So bring your internal compass.

Gargantuan county that it is, Palm Beach is informally but neatly divided into four segments, the population more dense the farther south one goes. Thus, South County, anchored by Boca Raton, is the most urban in feel—"the sixth borough of New York City," as the joke has it. Central County, home of the town of Palm Beach, is somewhat less congested, with a populous that includes many snowbirds—residents who spend only the winter here. North County conforms to the stereotypically wealthy image of Palm Beach, with huge, landscaped estates. West County is also known as the Lake Region.

Palm Beach County's near-constant sunshine is a huge part of its allure, of course, but the flip side is that sun protection is no trifling matter. Another meteorological counterpoint is the area's sometimes-violent thunderstorms, which struck on more than 100 days last year. Experts say that the worst of these can produce 5,000 lightning strikes.

Palm Beach is one of the most affluent communities in the country, and if the profusion of retailing is any indication, the money isn't just being stuffed under the mattress. Even nonshoppers ought to be cheered, since the numerous retail outlets have attained the kind of critical mass that invariably embraces other activities, typically theaters, bars and restaurants. In all, there are 160 shopping centers and four regional malls.

WORTH AVENUE: Aptly known as the "Rodeo Drive of the East Coast," this Palm Beach paean to opulence is the place to see and be seen, as well as to buy. Corridors named Via Mizner, Via Parigi, Via Roma, Via De Mario and Via Bice are home to more than 120 boutiques, as well as Tiffany's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Upscale restaurants include Acquario, Bice, Parisorbet and Ta-Boo, a local institution.

CITYPLACE: A fifty-five-acre mixed-use complex modeled on an Italian town, this West Palm Beach property features a twenty-screen movie theater, cultural arts center with live entertainment, plazas, fountains, outdoor terraces and ten restaurants. Its seventy-eight stores include Macy's, Barnes & Noble, Anthropologie and FAO Schwarz.

CLEMATIS STREET DISTRICT: Also in West Palm Beach, the emphasis here is less on national retailers and more on art galleries, jewelry stores, interior design galleries, cafés, pubs and dining, particularly the alfresco variety. Thursday night is Clematis by Night, part of which is an outdoor concert series in Centennial Square.

MIZNER PARK: This Boca Raton district, which surrounds a Mediterranean-style courtyard, is anchored by Jacobson's, an upscale department store. There are also art and jewelry dealers, a multiplex theater, an amphitheater and numerous gourmet shops and restaurants.

The Gardens of the Palm Beaches: A "megamall" in Palm Beach Gardens with 1.35 million square feet, it is also reportedly the only place in the world to feature Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Burdines, Macy's and Sears in one location.

Beaches: With forty-seven miles of shoreline and winter water temperatures in the seventies, the beaches of Palm Beach County are justifiably famous. In addition to hotel waterfronts, visitors can enjoy thirteen seaside parks, including the two-and-a-half-mile-long beach at John D. MacArthur State Park on Singer Island and the sixty-seven acres of sand at Red Reef Park in Boca Raton.

Fishing: Try your hand at bass fishing in Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the U.S., or go deep-sea fishing with one of the numerous area outfitters. Check with your hotel concierge for both.


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