In spring, when high season rates begin to ebb and reservations are easier to come by, it’s an ideal—and relatively affordable—time to hit the open road in Florida.
Miami is a full-throttle destination, but it’s always nice to escape the mad crush. At this time of year, peak rates are coming down and the activity is slowing down in the city, making it an ideal time to get out and explore the surrounding area. It’s an easy drive to the moneyed Boca Raton and then on to nearby Delray Beach, with its first-rate museums and restaurants. To the south of Miami, the civilized Key West is a short drive away, while to the west, the Gulf Coast offers gentle beaches and smart restaurants. These five great getaway destinations are just the ticket for falling in love all over again with Florida.
Boca Raton, a cozier and slightly less glitzy neighbor of Palm Beach, is still dominated by the 1920s elegance of the Boca Raton Resort and Club with a newer sister property, Boca Raton Beach Club. The hotel, known as “The Pink Palace,” just launched its 90th anniversary celebration, with “Pink Palace” cocktails now available at the Monkey Bar. The Boca Raton Resort also has the all-star Morimoto Sushi Bar, in step with Waldorf Astoria’s culinary heritage (the brand has teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to present the international Taste of Waldorf Astoria cooking competition). At the Boca Raton Museum of Art, don’t miss the new Andy Warhol exhibition exploring Warhol’s album covers, silkscreen prints, and, of course, his infamous social life.
Delray Beach is an Old Florida-style beach town, and home to the annual Delray Beach Garlic Festival each January, and such restaurants as 50 Ocean and the new Max’s Social House. Hotel options include the sleek Seagate Hotel & Spa, a T+L World’s Best Winner in 2015, the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, and Crane’s Beach House.
For pure charm, stay at the circa-1902, shades-of-Victoriana Sundy House, set amid the waterfalls of the one-acre Taru garden: the restaurant features Sundy House Cioppino with lobster and mussels. It’s also close to the artists’ studios and shops in Pineapple Grove and Artists Alley.
Key West is forever ratcheting up its levels of sophistication, hosting the annual Key West Literary Seminar and other events geared toward writers and artists. The time-honored Louie’s Backyard still has a knack with Key West pink shrimp and grits, and the new Clemente’s Trolley Pizzeria—set in a vintage San Francisco trolley—serves artisanal hand-kneaded pizza. On the hotel beat, Sunset Key Cottages, A Luxury Collection Resort, now has a “Conch Cruiser Ice Cream Cycle,” a tricked-out bicycle dispensing a daily dose of free gourmet gelato and sorbet.
In the tony Palm Beach, there’s a new Cultural Concierge program linking cultural institutions with visitors and such hotel partners as the Four Seasons Palm Beach and the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. Bill Cunningham, the famed New York Times street fashion photographer, has an exhibition at the Society for Four Arts this seaon. On the dining front, star chef Clay Conley of Buccan and Imoto, has ventured into West Palm Beach with Grato, featuring brick oven pizza, savory wood-grilled hanger steak, and housemade Limoncello. It’s not far from the new Hilton West Palm Beach and its Manor restaurant, helmed by Matthew Byrne of West Palm’s Kitchen.
The Gulf Coast
A two-hour drive across the Everglades from Miami yields Naples, the Palm Beach of the Gulf Coast. The culinary landscape of Naples includes two stellar restaurants with healthy, organic food: The Local and the Cider Press Café. In Tampa, a few hours north, Mise en Place restaurant, the old-school Bern’s Steak House, and Cigar City Brewing were recently featured on Emeril Lagasse’s show, “Emeril’s Florida.” The most elegant hotel in town is Le Meridien Tampa, a Historic Hotels of America property set in a 100-year-old restored courthouse and featuring Bizou Brasserie restaurant.
Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin__.