For many Americans, spring break means one thing: beaches. But seasoned travelers know that tropical getaways offer more than just sandy shorelines packed with crowds.
One coastal Florida town draws international visitors year-round thanks to its combination of idyllic outdoors and renowned cultural offerings. In addition to its spring-break-worthy beaches, the small, swanky Florida barrier island of Palm Beach and its surrounding area also boasts hipster neighborhoods, historic and emerging arts, and even an authentic 16-acre Japanese garden. There are plenty of al fresco delights in hip West Palm Beach, sunny Delray Beach, colorful Boca Raton, and the other towns and cities of Palm Beach County.
Here’s how to turn a Florida beach jaunt into a sunshine-drenched culture fest.
Palm Beach Street Art
Exploring Downtown West Palm Beach on a street art walk is the perfect way to see the rapidly changing neighborhood: This arts and entertainment district is dotted with multi-story murals. Famed international artists have transformed entire downtown buildings into works of art. The annual CANVAS Outdoor Museum Show has brought street artists like Croatia’s Lonac and Brazil’s Sipros to make their mark on Palm Beach’s transforming streets and cityscape. Don’t miss Lonac’s sky-high painting of two children sitting on a precarious ledge (pictured above), entitled I Lost My Shoe When I Saw You.
Alleys and vacant lots in Downtown West Palm Beach have also transformed into public spaces where you can enjoy games, cafes, and large-scale art. Independent theaters, taco shops, and coffee houses make it easy to pop in and out of unique small business on bustling Clematis Street. Spots like Rocco’s Tacos and Subculture Coffee are among the area favorites.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Street murals are just the beginning of this town’s far-reaching international arts scene. Florida is probably the last place you’d expect to get an entire afternoon’s worth of Japanese culture, but the 16-acre Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden delivers such a complete experience that you may forget you’re in Florida—unless you notice an occasional alligator resting in the garden’s central pond. Bonsai trees, Zen and rock gardens, waterfalls, and centuries-old artifacts like stone lanterns punctuate this unique getaway in Palm Beach County’s Delray Beach.
The Morikami hosts cultural programs like authentic tea ceremony demonstrations, plus origami, kimono, and lantern exhibits and festivals. There’s also a popular sushi restaurant on site, and the gift shop is stocked with unique handmade items from Japan for you to stock up on, from chopstick rests to full-length kimonos.
Spending hours indoors isn’t necessary in Palm Beach if you’re looking to take in prestigious art. The tropical setting merges with culture at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens—the historic former home, grounds, and workshop of a renowned local sculptor. Ann Norton’s towering Seven Beings and other larger-than-life modernist sculptures hide in the home’s gardens amidst palm trees and paths, waiting to be discovered.
Other sculpture gardens in greater Palm Beach County include the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s outdoor installations, and the Society of the Four Arts’ botanical gardens, which have housed colorful subtropical plant species as well as a growing collection of sculptures since the 1930s. The Four Arts gardens are free to enter.
Experiencing the county’s industrial revolution-era history means discovering unique outdoor spots. Tour railroad mogul Henry Flagler’s waterfront mansion, now the Flagler Museum, to get a firsthand look at his original private railroad car and enjoy afternoon tea on his copper-clad tea pavilion, which happens to overlooks the downtown area’s skyline. The extravagant white mansion was a wedding gift to his second wife, and has just as much to see inside as it does around its grounds.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Best Places to Go in Florida
- 10 Cheap Florida Hotels in Amazing Locations
- How to Do a Weekend in Palm Beach, Florida
Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Palm Beach County as a guest of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more about the Cultural Council here.