Whispered secrets. Massive fortunes. Marked graves off Worth Avenue and sequestered public gardens; billionaires and heiresses and presidential retreats … this is Palm Beach, and there’s no place in the world quite as tantalizing.
By Skye Sherman September 13, 2019 | Travel + Leisure Magazine One of the most moneyed zip codes in America, Palm Beach is the destination of choice for thousands of the world’s wealthiest snowbirds. A secluded sanctuary for the jet set and around 40 billionaires, Palm Beach is geographically separated from sultry, anything-goes Miami by a mere two hours — and only one on the Brightline — but in reality, it’s worlds away.
The 10-square-mile barrier island making up Palm Beach proper is notoriously hard to penetrate, but peeking behind the shimmering and seemingly untouchable curtain is half the fun of visiting. Fortunately, in my nearly seven years of living here (and thanks in part to the brazenly curious, unquenchably adventurous spirit of my husband), I’ve done the digging for you.
Unravel the island’s web of intrigue for yourself and explore these nine hidden gems of Palm Beach that will immediately elevate your status from tourist to in-the-know insider.
Find the only two marked graves in Palm Beach.
It’s odd for an island to hold just two marked graves, and it’s odder still that they’re located side by side in the palm-shaded, bougainvillea-shrouded courtyard of Worth Avenue’s swankiest pizza place. Strange as it is, the tiny tombstones of Johnnie Brown and Laddie are hidden amidst the outdoor elegance of Pizza Al Fresco.
It’s a bit less bizarre, however, when you consider the fact that Johnnie Brown was a monkey. And Laddie was a dog. (Or does that make it more bizarre?) Addison Mizner, eccentric architect of Palm Beach’s signature Mediterranean Revival style, carried his pet spider monkey everywhere and even hand-stitched him a silk-lined sombrero with a chin strap, so it’s only appropriate that Johnnie Brown received a prominent burial site. His gravestone reads, “Johnnie Brown. The Human Monkey. Died April 30, 1927.”
Socialites Rose and Morton Sachs, who later purchased Mizner’s iconic villa and lived there for nearly 50 years, sought special permission from the town to bury their dog, Laddie, next to Johnnie Brown. Today, a “service pig” named Mona Lisa has taken up residence in Mizner’s old home with owners Dee and Nick Adams.
To find another homage to pets on the avenue take Fido for a walk to the Mexican-tiled dog watering trough designed by architect John Volk in honor of his Schnauzer, Hans.
Go celebrity spotting at Palm Beach mainstays. Rub elbows with the glitterati at island favorites. At Green’s Pharmacy & Luncheonette, every social standing finds equal footing over thick milkshakes and clunky plates of diner-style comfort food — the same way it’s been since 1938. A classic soda fountain, Green’s is more than just a nod to nostalgia; it’s still a working pharmacy with house accounts and a drugstore, too. John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, and Jimmy Buffett have all been known to pay a visit when in town, eating alongside blue-collar workers and beach bums.
Another in-town go-to of the rich and the famous is Sprinkles Ice Cream. The old-timey scoop shop’s walls are adorned with photos of celebs like Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, and Tony Robbins who all stopped in for a sweet treat.
Carve your own under-the-radar itinerary at area resorts.
Here’s one of Palm Beach’s best-kept insider tips: You don’t have to be the guest of a ritzy resort to enjoy some of its most alluring amenities. For example, at The Breakers, the undisputed icon of Palm Beach, even non-guests can waltz in and claim a seat at the oceanfront Seafood Bar, where an elongated aquarium with live fish serves as the bar’s countertop. (Ask to self-park upon arrival to avoid the $30 valet fee.)
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A mainstay of quintessential Palm Beach, The Colony has been a hideaway for the rich and respected ever since its 1947 debut. Dressed in a pale pink façade, the hotel is now equally appealing to the Instagram set. Its modern verve — there’s a frosé dispenser at the outdoor Bimini Bar and a palette of sunny pastels is used throughout — carries through to the backyard pool, which is surrounded by tropical foliage and a lush carpet of mown grass. Here, lawn games like corn hole and croquet make every happy hour more lively, for guests and non-guests alike. And you’ll notice something unusual if you view the patio from its southern end: The pool is ever-so-slightly Florida-shaped. There are private villas for rent across from the main hotel if you find that you can’t resist a month-long sojourn.
In addition, you can snag a day pass to Eau Palm Beach’s opulent Eau Spa for just $80.
Hit late-night, high-brow hotspots.
Courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels
Though you can’t always tell — their handsomely compensated plastic surgeons keep them tight-faced, bright-eyed, and permanently surprised — the vast majority of Palm Beach residents are, um, well into retirement age. Still, that doesn’t mean the party stops when the four-figure gala goody bags are dispensed. It just relocates — to places like the Leopard Lounge for a classier take on cutting the rug, or to Cucina if you really want to get wild. Palm Beach may not pack the sizzle of Miami nightlife, but if you know where to look, it’s far from sleepy when the sun goes down.
At the Leopard Lounge, where old Palm Beach goes to party, revelers enjoy live music and jars of gummy sharks (just go with it) amidst funky over-the-top decor — think black lacquered walls, punkah fans, and a semi-raunchy hand-painted ceiling.
At Cucina, free pizza used to circulate around 2 a.m. to keep you going ‘til the break of dawn. That tradition has quietly died, but flaming sparkler-topped bottles of Yellow Label Veuve — Cucina’s take on bottle service — are also rumored to do the trick.
Looking for something a bit more … low key? Swing by HMF at The Breakers to experience an ode to Gilded-Age glamour. Short for Henry Morrison Flagler, legendary real estate baron and the hotel’s founder, HMF specializes in cocktails inspired by the prohibition era, and its posh appointments, blanketed in dimmed lights, feels exactly how I imagine a stylish 1920s speakeasy would. There may not be hair-down dancing, but the clinking of crystal and the murmur of secrets being spilled over fussily poured Redheads will nonetheless transport you elsewhere.
Bike the 5.5-mile Lake Trail.
Tour around on two wheels by biking the 5.5-mile Lake Trail, which runs parallel to the Intracoastal Waterway and delivers views of Palm Beach estates to the east and the West Palm Beach skyline to the west. Along the way you’ll spot natural wonders including the otherworldly coral cut and a sprawling kapok tree lovingly nicknamed “Big Tree.”
Coral towers high on both sides of the passage where North Lake Trail meets Country Club Road, and the nondescript barred window cut into the rock — a bit reminiscent of the Bastille — has spawned many an urban legend. (In reality, it’s just a water department door. Or so they say.)
Pro tip: If your resort doesn’t provide bicycle access as a courtesy — and many do — by-the-hour SkyBike rentals are available just over the bridge in West Palm Beach.
Uncover the secrets of Worth Avenue.
While Worth Avenue is an undisputed highlight of Palm Beach, few take time to fully explore the enchanting vias that wind around and behind the avenue’s high-fashion storefronts.
You’ll have to dig deeper to uncover Worth Avenue hidden layer. Alleys like Via Amore hide garden patios, playful sculptures, and shady sitting areas, while Via Mizner is imbued with historical significance as the former home of famed Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner. You’ll even find a tiny Starbucks and a gelato shop if you look hard enough.
On the main drag, smaller, winsome shops like Raptis Rare Books — don’t miss its collection of signed first editions by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Julia Child — are worth tucking into when you tire of all the Louis, Gucci, and Tiffany.
Pro tip: Hidden gem it isn’t, but the retail experience at the brand-new Lilly Pulitzer store is out of this palm-studded world.
Charter the Honey Fitz, John F. Kennedy’s presidential yacht.
For a new perspective on this notoriously tight-lipped island (and waterfront mansion views you can’t get from the hedge-lined streets), explore Palm Beach by water. You can do it in style with up to 70 of your closest friends by chartering President John F. Kennedy’s own yacht, the famed Honey Fitz, which is stored at Lots of Yachts in West Palm Beach.
Renamed for JFK’s grandfather, the Honey Fitz is a 93-foot wooden yacht that has been used by five U.S. presidents since its construction in 1931. A day aboard the Honey Fitz (pricing begins at $5,390) gives cruisers a chance to tour Palm Beach and relive Kennedy’s Camelot-era golden days in the same way he would have done.
Shop the Royal Poinciana Plaza.
Considered Worth Avenue’s hipper little sister, the recently revitalized Royal Poinciana Plaza is blossoming into a shopping mecca for the new wave of Palm Beachers.
With trendy restaurants — there’s even an outpost of Wynwood’s Coyo Taco, speakeasy and all — a seasonal SoulCycle pop-up, pilates and yoga studios, an organic Celis Produce mini-market, high-end boutiques, the first TooJay’s Deli, a wine academy, and more, the plaza has emerged as a hub for Palm Beach’s cool kids. Walk its checkerboard-tiled corridors and stop for an espresso at Sant Ambroeus when you tire — there’s a wallpapered coffee bar off the dining room.
Visit hush-hush public gardens and lushly cloaked courtyards.
Though the island exudes an impenetrable air, public spaces here work the same way they do anywhere: arrive during opening hours and you’re free to enjoy. Little-known gardens dot the island — uncrowded havens offering semi-private viewing of the tropics’ flashiest foliage.
Fountains, sculptures, and bright-pink bougainvillea-laden pergolas are tucked into The Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden and a bronze statue of Pan of Rohallion graces the entrance pool at the half-acre Pan’s Garden, where 300 species of native trees and wildflowers thrive. And at The Brazilian Court Hotel, a discreet enclave dating back to the 1920s, visitors will find one of the most intimate courtyards on the island.