The year was 1926. Saks Fifth Avenue president Adam Gimbel was seeking out a site to set up his first seasonal resort store outside of New York. Palm Beach, an affluent town full of businessmen in big hats and refined women in bigger dresses, seemed like a good fit for the outpost, so he opened one on Worth Avenue.
Saks still sits at the tony address to this day, only now Chanel, Gucci and a host of other flashy fashion and jewelry brands join it. Ask any serious shopper and he’ll tell you that Worth Avenue is the haven for high-end stores.
During a recent visit to the area—the Palm Beaches is actually a collection of 38 cities and towns and 15 tourist districts—we certainly did our share of window shopping around the avenue’s charming vias and main stretches. But we also found time to eat at wonderful restaurants and stay in some fabulous hotels, all the while reaffirming what Gimbel knew almost a century ago—Palm Beach is an amazing place to set up shop permanently or just for a few precious days.
This slither of South Florida—when traffic cooperates, you can get from Miami to Palm Beach in an hour and a half—is known for its lavish ways, and never is that more obvious than with its selection of stunning hotels. No matter your mood, the city has the proper accommodations to fit you. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property The Breakers Palm Beach is a perennial favorite, mainly for the way it holds dear to its past (a castle-inspired main lobby) while keeping its eyes squarely on the future (an all-new, 6,000-square-foot Ocean Fitness center; the retro-cool HMF restaurant). Five-Star Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach is another area stunner. From the spacious, Art Deco-leaning guest rooms and Four-Star spa sanctuary all the way down to little details, such as L’Occitane toiletries in the bathrooms, the hotel exudes an elegance at nearly every turn. And then there’s Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, a spectacular setup situated where a Ritz-Carlton once thrived. Credit design maestro Jonathan Adler for helping the hotel shake off memories of the former inhabitant with fresh coats of colorful paint, padded headboards and other personality-filled trinkets. You’ll find a strong carefree vibe in the Five-Star spa and you won’t have a second thought about stealing a chocolate cupcake in the relaxation area after your treatment.
The aforementioned hotels all offer spectacular dining options—if we had to eat the octopus in red pepper sauce or the line-caught halibut at the Four Seasons’ Jové Kitchen & Bar for a week straight, we wouldn’t complain—but there are some equally amazing dishes just off property as well. One of the standout eateries is Buccan. If you can envision a coastal chic residence with a pinch of industrialism (living room-inspired seating area near the door; open kitchen; exposed ductwork), you’ll have a fair sense of the space. Now, fill said area with ladies in Lilly Pulitzer tops and gents in linen pants, all talking over shortrib empanadas and other small plates, and you have yourself a decent visual of what a Friday night looks like there. And just so you know, the sister sushi bar next door, Imoto at Buccan, and the appropriately named Sandwich Shop around the block get nearly as frantic at certain times.
Another restaurant that has wowed a high-society clientele for some time now is Bice, an Italian eatery back on Worth Avenue living by the priceless creed of only using the finest ingredients and employing the top staff. We came to Bice (pronounced “Bee-Chay”) for the pappardelle al telefono della Bice (housemade noodles with basil, mozzarella, tomato and cream) but we contemplated staying overnight because of the chocolate cake with amaretto ice cream.
Now, if it’s serious libations you crave, you have to stop by Meat Market Palm Beach, a fairly new steakhouse dripping in sex appeal. If you can take your eye off the animal print on the wall and maneuver your way to the congested bar, you’ll find a host of sweet-sounding options like the vodka- and strawberry-packed Honey Bunny or Nolet’s Gin-fueled Tangerine Dream from resident mixologist Ezra Pattek. Can’t get past all the tanned bodies at the bar? Simply take a seat in one of the leather banquettes and order a drink to go along with your Kobe wagyu filet.
If you called Palm Beach America’s polo-playing capital, not many folks would put up a fuss. As the site of April 2015’s 111th U.S. Open Polo Championship, and home to eight operational fields, the International Polo Club Palm Beach is the epicenter of the city’s equine obsession. Should you visit when the season is down (May to December), don’t worry; Palm Beach doesn’t pull in the reins when it comes to having a good time. Want to learn to play croquet, but you wouldn’t know a wicket if it hit you in the tush? Stop by the National Croquet Center for a free lesson at 10 a.m. every Saturday. If the arts are more your thing, Palm Beach County proudly boasts more than 200 arts organizations and more cultural venues than any city south of Atlanta.
Of course, if your favorite pastime happens to involve credit cards instead of Claudius, you can always make your way back to Worth Avenue for a bit more browsing. With shops filled with everything from high-end swimwear (Vilebrequin) to Italian loafers (Rangoni Firenze Shoes), you cannot go wrong. Finally, after stopping by 150 Worth, a mall stuffed with one-of-a-kind stops like Kiosk and popular high-end retailers like Tory Burch, you understand why Adam Gimbel didn’t leave in the 1920s and why well-to-do travelers keep coming back today.