This Idyllic Florida City Is a Hidden Gem Near Palm Beach, and Just As Chic and Happening

Everything you need to know about West Palm Beach, according to a local.

When I headed south for college, I didn’t expect to fall head over heels for West Palm Beach and adopt it as my second hometown. But I’ve visited four continents and nearly 50 countries since then and still haven’t found any city more picture-perfect and livable than this sunny, tropical small-town-slash-big-city on Florida’s southeast coast.

West Palm Beach is centrally located, fabulously diverse, filled to the brim with things to do, and has new restaurants, bars, shops, arts and culture, and entertainment happenings hitting the docket all the time. It’s home to world-class creatives, artists, and musicians eager to share their talents with the community. Your social calendar can be filled every day of the week if you choose, but it’s also the ideal place to relax thanks to the colorful flora and fauna, serene Intracoastal Waterway, and nearby beaches.

City scape of Downtown West Palm Beach during sunset

Courtesy of West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority

Planning a visit to this historic but ever-youthful hotspot? Here’s everything you need to know.

What’s New in West Palm Beach

Aerial view of The Square in West Palm Beach, Florida

Courtesy of The Square

West Palm Beach is growing like a weed, but unlike many boomtowns, the growth here is purpose-driven, the result of a vision cast by urban planners in the early '90s. In 1994, at a time when West Palm Beach’s population was on the decline and small American cities were struggling from sea to shining sea, revitalizing its then-modest downtown and developing “a 24-hour, live-work-play environment” was set as the top priority of the Downtown Master Plan.

Today, that goal has been accomplished thanks to West Palm Beach’s increasing popularity (especially with New Yorkers) and the influx of billions of development dollars over the past 20 years. Offices, restaurants, shops, and new buildings seem to pop up on a daily basis; one developer, Related Companies (of Hudson Yards fame), has $1 billion in the development pipeline in West Palm Beach alone. There are many other happening cities within a small radius, but with Broadway shows, celebrity chefs, and award-winning galleries here, you never really have to leave.

While West Palm Beach is often grouped under “the Palm Beaches” umbrella, which spans Palm Beach County (including the neighboring barrier island of Palm Beach, which is just a short walk away; the two cities function as extensions of each other), West Palm Beach as a destination can stand alone — especially these days.

The city’s on the rise, getting better by the day. Below, here’s one longtime resident’s take on what to do, where to eat and drink, and how to make the most of your stay in West Palm Beach.

What to Do in West Palm Beach

Flowers and crowds walking about the GreenMarket in West Palm Beach

Courtesy of the City of West Palm Beach

Let’s get one thing cleared up right away: There’s no actual beach in West Palm Beach. There’s Palm Beach just across the Intracoastal Waterway, Singer Island to the north, and Lake Worth Beach to the south. But in West Palm Beach proper, there’s no Atlantic Ocean shoreline. 

Most visitors’ first stop in West Palm Beach is The Square, and for good reason. This idyllic dining and entertainment destination features interactive art like the illuminated Wishing Tree and the splashy Water Pavilion (beloved by kiddos) as well as shops, a movie theater, a comedy club, and a variety of trendy restaurants.

For something a bit less polished, wander outside the downtown core to the Warehouse District, an industrial neighborhood being transformed into a can’t-miss destination with unique retailers, offices, and a local brewery and distillery. The main attraction here is Grandview Public Market, a food hall with a large outdoor dining patio, live music, and weekly brunch and bingo.

In the heart of downtown, Clematis Street is one of the main drags of West Palm Beach. The mile-long main street is filled with restaurants, bars, stores, and Subculture Coffee, one of the city’s favorite home-grown coffee shops. (Composition Coffee House, The Pumphouse Pouratorium, Candid Coffee, Common Grounds, and Salento Colombian Coffee are also favorites, though only Salento is on Clematis).

Another Clematis Street highlight is Respectable Street, a live music venue for the alternative set, and Lost Weekend next door, which is an always-buzzing bar packed with billiard tables and vintage 1980s video games. Above Lost Weekend is its sibling bar, Voltaire’s Lair, offering vintage arcade games, pinball, duckpin bowling, and skeeball. Toward the eastern end of Clematis, hit Roxy’s Pub, 123 Datura, Clematis Social, Banko Cantina, and Camelot for the best of the city’s nightlife scene.

If you’re still at the eastern end of Clematis when day breaks after a rowdy Friday night, you’re in the right place: the West Palm Beach GreenMarket attracts thousands every Saturday. Taking place weekly October through May, GreenMarket features more than 100 local vendors and artisans selling all kinds of homemade goodness. Go early (the market is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) to avoid the lines — and don’t bother trying to resist the smell of freshly baked cider donuts.

As the GreenMarket winds down, spend the afternoon strolling Flagler Drive. No matter what time of day you hit this strip, you’ll find locals and visitors jogging, roller blading, and walking their dogs with an unbeatable view of the Intracoastal Waterway, the sailboats that call it home, and the waterfront mansions of Palm Beach across the way. Work up an appetite because stopping for happy hour and live music at E.R. Bradley’s, a local institution, is a must — and, believe it or not, offers the only true waterfront dining in downtown West Palm Beach.

At the northern end of the city is the eclectic Northwood Village, which offers a funky bohemian feel across a variety of shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes, including Malakor Thai and Harold’s Coffee Lounge, where the 18-hour-brewed Kyoto-style tower cold brew is always a hit. The area is also being enlivened by Nora, a neighborhood of turn-of-the-century railway warehouses soon to be transformed into an arts and entertainment district.

Want a day on the water without renting a boat? Take the 10-minute shuttle boat to Peanut Island, where you can snorkel, soak up the sun, have a beach picnic, or book a sunset sail on the Hakuna Matata catamaran.

Aside from the main downtown area and its nonstop goings-on, there’s parks and preserves, a killer outlet mall for discount shopping, amazing vintage finds along Antique Row, and a plethora of top-notch cultural institutions to explore, from the Norton Museum of Art to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Mounts Botanical Garden, Palm Beach Dramaworks, and the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. If you rent a car, don’t miss the one-of-a-kind Lion Country Safari — a cageless drive-through safari experience.

Though there’s plenty to do in West Palm Beach, another fun aspect of this city is its proximity to other South Florida hotspots. Hop over to Palm Beach (just across the bridges) for a taste of the high life, or head down to Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach or up to the surf shops and dog beaches of Jupiter. Or, grab a ticket on the Brightline and hit Boca Raton, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, or Miami.

Where to Eat and Drink in West Palm Beach

A strip in Downtown West Palm Beach filled with bars and restaurants

Courtesy of West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority

Pick any restaurant set in The Square, Grandview Public Market, Clematis Street, or Northwood, and you won’t be disappointed. However, as every foodie knows, some of the best meals are off the tourist-beaten path. 

One such spot is Grato, James Beard-nominated chef Clay Conley’s take on a casual yet refined eatery, serving Italian-inspired dishes such as house-made pasta and wood-fired pizzas as well as an ever-evolving selection of seasonal, multi-cuisine, and vegan options. Go on any given night for dinner, and you’ll find tables full of locals getting their Grato fix.

Other local-beloved spots are Celis Juice Bar and Field of Greens for healthy daytime eats, Havana and Cholo Soy Cocina for delicious Latin American comfort food, Table 26 for an elegant night out, and Kitchen to feel like you’re eating in the dining room of your best friend (who just happens to be an all-star chef).

Looking for the perfect place to start your day with breakfast, a fresh pastry, or a lovely lunch? Head to Hive Bakery & Cafe, the gastronomic expression of a local interior design and home goods store. Everything’s as beautiful as it is delicious. Johan’s Joe is another gorgeous (and tasty) pick serving Swedish delights, while the Frenchman behind Loic Bakery crafts the best croissants outside Paris.

Lastly, Serenity Garden Tea House offers an experience unlike any other in West Palm Beach; head here for proper high tea in a 1919 historic cottage. It doesn’t get more quaint or charming.

Where to Stay in West Palm Beach

Aerial view of Hilton West Palm Beach

Courtesy of Related

Hotel inventory in West Palm Beach is, admittedly, limited. Luckily, the options that are available run the gamut from charming bed-and-breakfasts to modern, luxurious hotels with hundreds of rooms.

There are many fabulous options just over the bridge in Palm Beach, but for those who want to stay local, there are a few main options. And while there are chain hotels in various pockets of West Palm Beach, your best bet is to stay in the heart of the action east of I-95. 

Perhaps the most popular hotel for visitors is the centrally located Hilton West Palm Beach, located next to the Palm Beach County Convention Center and home to a lively pool scene and delicious restaurant, Galley. Nearby is Canopy by Hilton West Palm Beach Downtown, also well-situated, with a rooftop pool and lounge.

Another popular pad is The Ben, located along the waterfront on Flagler Drive and boasting a rooftop pool and bar with unparalleled views of the Intracoastal. This elaborately decorated hotel is devoted to whimsy and celebrates both the fascinating history and bright future of the area. 

Want to live like a local? Book a room at Casa Grandview, a charming five-suite property located in the Grandview Heights Historic District. For longer stays, the Residence Inn by Marriott West Palm Beach Downtown is a centrally located extended-stay hotel that provides easy walking access to all the main areas of downtown West Palm Beach.

And, of course, there are a plethora of fabulous Airbnbs (one of them is owned and designed by me: The Palm Penthouse), and many in the historic neighborhoods to the north and south of the downtown core, such as this top-rated home in Flamingo Park

The Best Time to Visit West Palm Beach

City scape of Downtown West Palm Beach seen over bridge

Courtesy of West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority

There’s no bad time to visit West Palm Beach. Florida is called the Sunshine State for a reason; West Palm Beach is a bright and lively place all year long. To out-of-towners, every day may feel the same — you’ll generally encounter warm, sunny, mild weather in this Southeastern Florida city — but there are some seasonal nuances you may want to note.

Springtime is nothing short of glorious, with warm days, cool breezes, ample sun, low humidity, and every colorful tree and flower in the city in bloom. It’s also the high season, which begins in late fall; From November through April, expect higher prices, more people, and less availability than in the off-season. Still, seeing Sandi Tree in all her glory in December makes it worth it.

May through October is a slower season in West Palm Beach and neighboring Palm Beach. You’ll score better deals and face less traffic, but the weather can be hot and muggy, especially in the height of summer. It’s a great time of year for beach days and lower prices, but maybe not for long walks at high noon. August and September (which is also when Flavor Palm Beach, the Palm Beaches’ restaurant month, takes place) are the slowest months.

Also, note that the Atlantic hurricane season runs June to November, so there’s always a chance of storms dampening your plans during these months.

How to Get to West Palm Beach

Brilghtline at West Palm Beach

Courtesy of Brightline

Locals are convinced Palm Beach International Airport is one of the wonders of the world, and rightly so: the experience at this small aviation hub is so hassle-free, you might forget you’re in an airport. (I’ve personally clocked 15 minutes from my front door to my boarding gate.)

However, if needed, getting to a bigger airport is easy. A drive or Brightline-ride-plus-shuttle-bus to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport takes about an hour; allow two to Miami International Airport. (Soon, the Brightline will also link West Palm Beach directly to Orlando International Airport.) Those on a budget can take the TriRail, which is equally convenient, though slightly less luxurious.

Those within driving distance of West Palm Beach can take I-95 or the Florida Turnpike for direct access to this coastal city. By car, it’s about an hour north of Miami, two-and-a-half hours southeast of Orlando, and three-and-a-half hours southeast of Tampa.

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