When most people think of Palm Beach (or the Palm Beaches, as the locals call it), they picture images of bright green palm trees swaying in the cool breeze on the beach while sipping fruity margaritas. While there are an impressive amount of palm trees and beaches (almost 50 miles of them), they only make up a small part of Palm Beach county. In fact, I hardly spent any time at the beach. I found myself pleasantly surprised that there was so much to discover in the area.
About 33% of the residents that make up the population are from other countries – one of the largest in the nation. I heard a lot of Spanish while I was there, but also French, German, and Italian. Several restaurant owners visited from foreign countries on vacation, fell in love with the area, and ended up moving to start their own restaurant. I also met a lot of New Yorkers who have a second home here. Only a handful of people I interacted with were born and raised in Palm Beach.
The Gulf Stream in Florida maintains a pleasant average of 55 degrees during the winter, making outdoor activities popular year round. It also has such diverse marine life that the only other place in the world that compares is Indonesia. Just snorkeling 50 feet off shore, there was a whole world of vibrantly colored fish, crabs, jellyfish, and even a camouflaging octopus (I couldn’t get a picture in time, but watch this video if you’re curious – it’s a little amazing/scary!). I will do a more detailed post, but I also had the chance to go to the Everglades. I couldn’t believe how many birds, fish, alligators, and even iguanas were there. It was beautiful to see them in that setting, relatively undisturbed in the early morning except for the occasional bird watcher.
It’s impossible to pin down one type of “typical” cuisine for the area. Due to the variety of people who have settled down, almost every type of food can be found here. Southern-influenced restaurants line the streets with grits and creole. Seafood restaurants are a given here, with grouper, snapper, and mahi mani being quite popular. Surprisingly, a large number of European restaurants like French cuisine take up a good portion (I tried my first beignet here, not Paris, ironically). Farm to table is a huge trend as well, with an importance on locally sourced food. I got to meet several of the chefs, who enthusiastically told me how fresh the fish was I was about to eat, or tried pointing on a map to exactly where the catch of the day was caught.
Due to the year-round warm weather (it was in the 80s while I was there in December – so nice!), many restaurants and bars are open-air. Some of them have everything but the bar and cooking area outside, while some have automatic windows and shades that shut when there’s a downpour (which I did experience, complete with lightning so powerful it knocked the power out). I absolutely loved the island feel many of the restaurants have with the decor and unique touches to the menu. On the Downtown West Palm Beach Food Tour, I got to try coconut water straight out of a coconut!
There are over a dozen centers in Palm Beach County alone dedicated to wildlife sanctuaries or rehabilitating animals. I had the chance to stop at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and see the amazing work they’ve done there. You can see the turtles outside in their pools and read about what struggles they went through before they were rescued. A sea turtle hospital is on site to see the experienced staff carefully examining and diagnosing them upon arrival. There’s also an exhibit to see how Florida’s ecosystem works, and what can be done to save it. It was an experience I really enjoyed.
I met many passionate people on this trip, which was so inspiring to see. Just getting a slice of pizza at Pizza Girls, the server was so excited I was in the restaurant and couldn’t have been happier to bring it to me (plus he had an amazing pizza hat). There is the restaurant owner who organizes a monthly beach clean up, and doesn’t serve plastic straws unless requested to help the beaches be cleaner and safer for the wildlife there. Another man I met runs a snorkeling and scuba diving company while trying to stop the commercial fishing of sharks. He educates everyone he meets on the importance of his cause, and has truly dedicated his life to it.
Going to tourist attractions can be fun, but meeting the people who are the heart and soul of the city are what really make an impact on me. They shape the community as well as the future. I was so grateful that I had time on this trip to get to know some of the locals instead of just whizzing through activities.
I will be posting much more about where to go and what to do, so stayed tuned!
This trip was sponsored by Discover the Palm Beaches, but the opinions are my own as always.
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