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Exclusive Palm Beach: Luxury Without Blowing the Bank

Exclusive Palm Beach: Luxury Without Blowing the Bank

Palm Beach, Florida has a long tradition as a magnet of wealthy scions, celebrities, and politicians, offering, as the Palm Beach County slogan puts it, "The Best of Everything," including gorgeous beaches, top-notch boutiques, immaculate streets, sprawling mansions and beautiful people. And it's lesbian and gay friendly too!


Palm Beach, Florida has a long tradition as a magnet of wealthy scions, celebrities, and politicians, offering, as the Palm Beach County slogan puts it, "The Best of Everything," including gorgeous beaches, top-notch boutiques, immaculate streets, sprawling mansions and beautiful people.

Although it's located on the southeastern edge of Florida, only 45 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach is a world away from the party town atmosphere most Florida beach cities are known for.

Situated on a barrier island with miles of pristine beaches, today's classy and refined Palm Beach was hacked out of Florida's jungles in the late 1800s and founded as a retreat for the country's wealthy.  Since then it has served as a summer home for affluent elite families like the du Ponts, Posts, Dodges, Whitneys and Vanderbilts.  The Kennedy Compound is located here, as is Mar-A-Lago, the mansion now owned by Donald Trump. 

The city is kept immaculately clean by strict building codes and an army of service workers, who toil through the night to maintain the landscaping without blocking roadways or interrupting views of the white beaches and turquoise ocean during daylight hours.

There are nearly 800 more women than men living in Palm Beach and there's a long history of powerful women-from Marjorie Merriweather Post to Lilly Pulitzer-who infused the town with art and music and made philanthropy one of the area's biggest businesses (there are more nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach than any other city of its size).

Unfortunately, most of us can't afford a second home there (the average home on the barrier island costs $4.5 million dollars) or even a short vacation at local exclusive luxury hotels like Ritz-Carlton, The Colony or The Breakers.  Until now.

If you take advantage of current conditions, you'll see that the recession and off-season prices have colluded to make Palm Beach surprisingly affordable.

During the summer season lull, even Palm Beach's luxury hotels offer steep discounts and special packages and many of them are surprisingly kid friendly.

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Putting on the Ritz

For example, Ritz Carlton's Resort Reconnect package  ($269 and up for two) offers overnight accommodations in the five-star hotel's beach-side guest rooms where you can relax on their Sleep System bed (where you can operate the TV, order room service, and almost anything else without getting up) Daily breakfast for two at the oceanfront restaurant and to spend a $50 resort credit included (spend it on the spa the Ritz Carlton's Eau Spa).

Bringing your surly teen with you? They'll be begging you to send them to the Ritz's Bonus: Coast, a one of a kind teen lounge that-as hard as this is to believe-your teens are guaranteed to enjoy.  In this private, staff monitored, teen den, kids 13-17 can use a DJ booth to record and create their own music mix, play video games, surf the Internet, lounge on bean bags, play pool or Guitar Hero. On many nights, Coast transforms into a teen club with music and dancing.  For glamour conscious teens, Coast also offers a teen only beauty salon where make-up application, hair styling, manicures, and fashion attire can be commemorated with a glamour photograph.

The Garden of Eden

When Rick Rose and his partner began renovating a historic 1924 Spanish Mediterranean home in the Grandview Heights Historic Neighborhood they planned their bed and breakfast (and additional vacation cottages) to draw other gay men.  Instead, the top ranked Grandview GardensB&B, with its terracotta floors and private terraces overlooking a swimming pool-has become most popular with the queer women.  Rooms for two are as low as $125, including buffet breakfast.  Kids under 12 stay free; and you can add a third a fourth adult for just $20 per person per night.  Dogs are allowed in some rooms and there's a dog park in neighboring Howard Park.

Art Crawl

Other hotels, like West Palm Beach's eclectic Hotel Biba-a eco-friendly boutique hotel annually transformed into conceptual art during April's ShowTel event (and conveniently located near Antique Row)-are participating in "The Deal of The Century," celebrating Palm Beach County's 100th birthday by offering rooms for $19.09 between April and December after you've paid regular rates for two nights.

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Budget Conscious Options

Still not in your price range?  Well, if you're the kind of no-nonsense lesbian who doesn't mind roughing it here are two other options.  Lion Country Safari KOA in West Palm Beach is an award winning campground that offers RV hookups, tent sites, cabins and a heated pool in the midst of a drive-through safari where 900 animals roam free.  Lion Country Safari is regularly voted "best local attraction," and offers an amusement park and 4,000 square-foot water playground.  RV sites are $40 a day while cabins run for $72 a night for 2 people.

Or you might try Peanut Island Campground. A tropical island in the Intracoastal Waterway near the Lake Worth Inlet, Peanut Island offers 20 landscaped campsites, Chiki huts (also known a tiki huts, these are traditional Seminole structures), a boat dock, hot indoor showers, a fishing pier, a swimming lagoon, a snorkeling area and reef habitat.  The best part? Fido can travel with you.

Shop (and eat) Till You Drop

Sure, summers in Palm Beach are hot-the average temperature in July is 90° and the humidity can ratchet up the heat index-but you'll probably be spending most of your time lounging in water or touring air-conditioned boutiques.  For even greater savings on attractions, dinning and shopping, be sure you ask your concierge for a booklet offering $1,000 worth of Palm Beach savings.  Compliments of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau, you can also request one ahead of time via the PBCCVB website.

Visitors come from around the globe to shop the elite boutiques that line Palm Beach's legendary Worth Avenue.  Developed by Florida's world famous gay architect, Addison Mizner, Worth Avenue's Mediterranean-inspired design is exemplified in the vias: narrow walkways that lead to inner courtyards and are topped by arching bridges that recall the Venetian canals that inspired them. 

Emblematic of Palm Beach affluence (and the inspiration for Beverly Hill's Rodeo Drive), Worth Avenue is home to top of the line retailers like Chanel, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., Hermès, Cartier and Nieman Marcus . While you won't find it widely advertised, locals tell us that during summer months even the designer stores slash prices on their bling up to seventy percent off.  With all that savings, and with 250 boutiques to browse, you'll definitely need a break mid-way down the quarter mile avenue.  

You'll find the perfect spot at Ta-boó.  Founded in 1941, this American Bistro with a jungle motif is a favorite for Ladies who Lunch, who chat, nosh and drink Taboó's signature Bloody Marys, (a drink reportedly invented by a Taboó bartender to resuscitate a hungover Barbara Hutton).  For lunch, start with the Baked Brie (stuffed with sundried cranberries, fresh basil and toasted almonds, then drizzled with balsamic vinegar reduction & raspberry coulis). The imported brie wrapped in pastry will melt in your mouth.  As an entrée take the Pistachio Encrusted Salmon Over Traditional Greek Salad and follow it up with a desert called Ta-boó Lust, a delectable treat with coconut cream filling topping a walnut cookie crust.  

Like many of Palm Beach County's top restaurants, Ta-boó is participating in the inaugural Palm Beach Restaurant Month (recently extended through the end of August), in which eateries offer three-course, prix fix menus from the area's best chefs for the incredible low price of only $20.09 for lunch and $35 for dinner. 

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For your second day of shopping, you'll want to visit nearby West Palm Beach's world renowned Antique Row.  Heralded by design magazines and The New York Times as the East Coast's premier antique district, the West Palm Beach Antique Row is made up of 50 shops stretched along (and adjacent to) South Dixie Highway.  They feature an eclectic collection of  17th to 20th century antiques, fine arts, furnishings, garden and interior design elements. 

Three of our favorite shops are Dolce Antiques with it functional yet funky array of 19th and 20th century items; Domino magazine pick, Cashmere Buffalo, which offers two stores, one modern and one antiquey; and Floral Emporium with its gorgeous Greek-style fountains and sculptures, bonsai trees and furniture-with matching chandelier-that is encrusted with seashells.    

If you're in good shape and wearing comfortable shoes, you can walk from one end of the district to the other, but we still recommend stopping off at two of the fine local restaurants.  Start with coffee (or teas from around the world) at Belle & Maxwell's Café, where you'll want to sample the award-winning European-style café's desserts (a desert platter offers a delicious array of options including peanut butter pie, pistachio biscotti and almond croissant).

Further down South Dixie Highway, you'll find Rhythm Café where rippling lamps light shelves cluttered with an odd assortment of knick-knacks and black walls bedecked with red art work.  Rhythm is gay owned and features a new small plates "Tapas-tizer" menu that's easy on the wallet but rich on flavor.  Faves:  Key Lime Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, Sautéed Scallops, basil pesto Flatbread, Fettuccine Jambalaya and Duck breast with Blackberry Cabernet Sauce.


After all that shopping, you'll need some relaxation and Ritz Carlton's new $20 million, 41,000 square-foot Eau Spa absolutely delivers.  It's a great way to end your visit too, sending you home with an all over sense of relaxation and pampering that somehow transcends your skin and gets absorbed into your soul.  Get a massage, soak in the hot tub, create a personalized blend at the Scrub and Polish Bar, relax on a heated tile chaise or dangle your feet in cool water while sitting in hanging pod-like chairs in the oddly named Self-Centered Garden.

Want to come back from vacation and make all the other girls jealous?  You'll want to get the Model's Secret Slimmer treatment ($220) at Anushka Spa. Favored by the glitterati and universally hailed by publications from People to Cosmopolitan.  Anushka was even called a "cellulite exorcist extraordinaire" by Vogue.

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Don't Forget the Beaches

When you're not shopping, visiting local attractions or relaxing in one of these spas, you'll definitely want to spend time on the gorgeous beaches, taking advantage of shallow waters warmed by the Gulf Stream-and aquamarine waters just 45 miles north of the Bahamas. 

Palm Beach Child's Play

More and more queer travelers are taking the family with them and Palm Beach County offers dozens of family and kid friendly activities.  Here's some of the best:

  • Palm Beach Gardens's 20,000 sq feet PLAYMOBIL®-Fun Park has received numerous awards, including Florida's "Official Best Creative Children's Park, 2008" and South Florida Parenting magazine's Best of the Best.  Added bonus?  Admission is under one dollar.
  • After a tour of Palm Beach's Norton Museum's music of Disney exhibit  kids can create own art in Reynolds Art Education Room as part of the Family Studio  (for kids 5-9 and their parents) or Youth Studio (ages 10-13). There are also Sunday Funday family tours and hands on workshops.
  • Celebrate BARBIE's birthday as she hits the big 5-0, at Delray Beach's BARBIE'S Back and She's 50!, which runs through October 25 at the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture, Old School Square Cultural Arts Center, where more than 1,000 dolls and accessories are on display and there's an interactive BARBIE Dream House for kids. 
  • Calypso Bay Waterpark. Get out of the sun and cool off in this Royal Palm Beach park featuring a 870-foot river ride, two 4-story water slides, and a little kid's water playground.
  • Palm Beach residents ruthlessly debate who's family arrived in the country first, but to get a real native perspective on the area visit the Seminole reservation's heritage wildlife park and take the Billie Swamp Safari tour to explore 2,200 acres of untamed everglades on a swamp buggy or airboat.
  • The Palm Beach Zoo has 23 acres of habitat, 1100 animals, a lakefront carousel, interactive fountain and a recent multimillion-dollar addition, Tropics of the Americas.
  • South Florida Science Museum This kid friendly West Palm Beach  museum as has an aquarium, planetarium (with laser concerts) and mini golf.

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Dog-gone Vacation

Okay, so just admit it.  Those of us without kids make fun of all the silly stuff parents do for their kids-until we have fur-babies.  Then we pamper them like crazy.  If you couldn't imagine going on vacation without your four-legged pal, Palm Beach has all the amenities they'd ever want. 

  • Plenty of hotels are pet friendly, but the Brazilian Court Hotel takes it to a whole new level, welcoming pet guests with gift bags filled with toys, biscuits and a bowl of purified water.  At the Hotel'sCafé Boulud, chief Daniel Boulud bakes special Boulund BowWow Biscuits and prepares a pet menu for room service that includes specialties like the Bowser Burger and Chicken Meow Mein.
  • On Worth Avenue, architect John L. Volk, installed The Dog Bar, where a silver spigot delivers fresh running water to a Mosaic tiled trough.  There's another dog bar in Earl ET Smith Preservation Park (
  • If your pet won't be staying with you, check them into West Palm Beach's VIP-Very Important Paws -where they can stay in a Deluxe Suite, which includes bedding, bowls, filtered water, treats and 3 walks per day at nearby City Paws Dog Park in Howard Park.  VIP also offers a variety of specialty services, like the "Massaging Buddy Wash Bath."
  • Pick up a copy of Palm Beach Pet Society'sannual hard cover coffee table book featuring Palm Beach pets
  • Come back for March's Pet Parade, to see Palm Beach society dogs and cats prance down a fashion runway dressed in the latest couture.

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall