Palm Beach County is the largest county by land area in Florida. Situated in the southeastern corner of the state, many of South Florida's most notable cities are located in Palm Beach County, including its namesake, Palm Beach.
Geographically the largest county in Florida, Palm Beach County is by far the most developed in the eastern third or so of its landmass, where the vast majority of its residents live. The eastern portion of the county buffers the Atlantic Ocean, and is home to developed metropolises and urban population centers both up and down the coastline (and slightly further inland). Western Palm Beach County (past the Florida Turnpike or so) is more rural, but rapidly growing, with vast expanses of conservation areas and farmland dotted with an increasing number of small suburban cities and farther-flung subdivisions. The county's Glades region, which borders Lake Okeechobee in its northwestern corner, has a lot more in common culturally with the communities of the Florida Heartland than it does the cities of the rest of the county.
|South County |
The narrowest and most densely populated region along the Atlantic Coast includes Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Boynton Beach, along with smaller coastal communities to the east.
The heart of the "Palm Beaches" includes the county's eponymous island town, home to one of the wealthiest enclaves in the state, along with the county seat of West Palm Beach, up-and-coming Lake Worth Beach, and sprawling suburbs like Royal Palm Beach and Wellington.
|North County |
Compared to old-money Palm Beach, booming Boca Raton, and diverse West Palm, North County has been a bit slower to develop and has a more laid-back vibe. Communities include Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach, and Jupiter.
About an hour's drive down Southern Boulevard from Palm Beach's country clubs and resorts, the tiny communities that line the coast of Lake Okeechobee feel more remote from the rest of South Florida than many foreign countries. Unless they're avid fishers, don't expect many locals of the county's eastern edge to have ever set foot in these deeply agricultural towns, which include Belle Glade and Pahokee. However, they offer the rare traveler who seeks them out excellent recreational opportunities, from fishing to birdwatching, and a chance to see a very different side of the state.
The largest cities in Palm Beach County are stacked north-to-south along I-95. Most have one or two access points to the beach, but much of the barrier islands that directly abut the Atlantic are incorporated as tiny seaside villages (including Highland Beach, Ocean Ridge, South Palm Beach, and Singer Island), populated by seasonal retired residents derogatorily referred to as "snowbirds" by native Floridians, with few tourist facilities. To the west are suburban cities like Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Greenacres, and Loxahatchee, alongside vast swaths of unincorporated gated communities that are steadily encroaching on the area's wilderness and farmlands.
English is the most widely-spoken language in the county, though farther south, Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole can be heard.
Palm Beach International Airport (PBI IATA), located on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach, is the county's largest airport. It offers non-stop service from a number of cities, mostly American destinations on the East Coast via budget airlines like Allegiant and Spirit Air. It also has a few international non-stop flights from destinations in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The small terminal offers only a handful of shops and restaurants but has the advantage of central location, 3 miles from downtown West Palm Beach, and a few highway exits from most other destinations in the county.
Many travelers, particularly those headed for southern Palm Beach County, find Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL IATA) cheaper and more convenient. It's about 40 miles south of West Palm Beach. FLL serves a much longer list of both domestic and international locations than PBIA, including most major cities in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, and even a handful of destinations in Canada. In addition to car rentals and airport shuttles, the airport is linked to Palm Beach County by the Tri-Rail commuter train (see "By train", below).
Miami International Airport (MIA IATA), 70 miles south of West Palm Beach, serves cities as far away as London, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Moscow, and Tel Aviv. Due to Miami's status as a major business and international tourism destination, flights here tend to be a bit more expensive than West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale.
The county has a handful of smaller municipal airports as well, serving mostly private and chartered air traffic.
Passenger rail travel in South Florida is as disappointing as anywhere in the country, but there are a handful of options. Three Amtrak lines, the Silver Star, Silver Meteor, and Palmetto, serve stations in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach, connecting to destinations elsewhere in Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard. On the same tracks, the Tri-Rail commuter service connects many more destinations throughout the county to Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
East of the Amtrak and Tri-Rail, shiny, bright yellow new train cars zoom through downtown areas. Launched in 2017, the Brightline bills itself as Florida's answer to high-speed rail, and while it can't yet match the speed and reach found in Europe and Asia, it does provide a much faster connection between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami at a premium price targeting business travelers. When the line's Orlando station opens in 2022, it will be a faster and more convenient car-free way to travel between South and Central Florida than current methods.
The Port of Palm Beach, located in the small city of Riviera Beach just northeast of West Palm, is served primarily by cargo ships, but does see the occasional two-night cruise to the Bahamas.
To the south, both PortMiami and Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades rank among the busiest passenger cruise terminals in the United States. In addition to near-daily sailings to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, these cities offer ferry service to the Bahamas.
Smaller craft will find dozens of public and private marinas throughout the Palm Beaches, mostly in the inland Intracoastal Waterway. Short inlets and channels connect the Intracoastal to the Atlantic Ocean. Boaters should research ahead of their trip to find an available place to drop anchor, as most of the berths are occupied by local and seasonal residents with long-term leases.
Most vehicles enter the county from the north or south via I-95, the county's main thoroughfare, which is centrally located in most of the bigger cities. In neighboring Broward County, I-95 connects to I-75, which crosses the Florida Peninsula and reaches the state's Gulf Coast before heading north to the Midwest. A few miles west of 95, the Florida Turnpike toll road provides a less-trafficked alternative; north of Palm Beach County, it veers farther west, connecting the region to Orlando, Ocala, and Gainesville. Frequent visitors to the area may consider investing in a SunPass transponder, which allows one to prepay tolls, bypassing the congested toll booth lines and perhaps saving a couple of dollars.
Palm Beach County's main draw is its 50-mile coastline, much of which is found on the barrier islands that line nearly all of Florida's coast. Compared to other top-tier resort areas in Florida, Palm Beach County's beaches tend to be a bit minimalist; typically, each city and town will have one or more city-owned access parks offering few amenities beyond a parking lot, restrooms, picnic area, and perhaps a playground or a covered observation deck. Exceptions include Lake Worth Beach's old casino complex, which has been redeveloped into a multi-use shopping, dining, and event space, and Delray Beach, where Atlantic Avenue provides easy access to downtown bars and restaurants. Most city- or county-owned beaches will have lifeguards during official hours, while private beaches and those that function as nature preserves will not. In some communities, much of the beachfront access is taken up by massive condo towers in ritzy vacation homes; anyone can wander onto any beach below the high-tide line, but you may get dirty looks from residents. Expect to pay $2 an hour or more for parking at just about any public beach in the county.
Palm Beach County's longer coastline and lower profile among spring-break partiers means people have a bit more room to spread out than in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Crowds are at their densest in Boca Raton and Delray Beach at the county's southernmost end, while in the central part of the coastline, the majority of beaches are too far from public access points to see real crowds. For example, the town of Palm Beach has just one public-access park; the rest is privately owned. Some hotels may turn a blind eye to non-guests sneaking onto their beach, especially if you buy a couple drinks. North of West Palm Beach, the throngs of tourists give way to unspoiled, pristine expanses of white sand and even some unique rocky coastline, with much of the beaches under the protection of nearby conservation lands. Expect to do a bit more work to find these hidden gems, some of which lack basic facilities like bathrooms and access boardwalks.
Some of the more notable beaches in the county include:
- 1 Red Reef Park, 1400 N Ocean Blvd, Boca Raton. One of the largest public beaches in Boca Raton, this oceanfront park is known for its rocky reef which attracts an abundance of fish for easy snorkeling. The park has a short nature boardwalk and a golf course and nature center are close at hand.
- 2 Delray Public Beach, 400 S Ocean Blvd, Delray Beach. Delray's long, narrow beach can be accessed just east of its bustling downtown district. A paved sidewalk offers great dog- and people-watching from the observation deck or one of the nearby restaurants. Only street parking is available, which can be dicey during the busy season.
- 3 Boynton Inlet, 6970 N Ocean Blvd. Demarcating the south end of the famous Lake Worth Lagoon, this small park has a pier and facilities like a snack bar, marina, and picnic shelters.
- 4 Lake Worth Beach Park, 10 S Ocean Blvd, Lake Worth Beach. One of the few developed beaches in the county includes several restaurants, shops, and a large event space in a renovated former casino, along with a large fishing pier.
- 5 Peanut Island Park (Just east of the Port of Palm Beach at the north end of Lake Worth Lagoon). This tiny island just northeast of West Palm Beach is only accessible by boat, but the short, $12 ferry ride from the nearby port is well worth it. Facilities include a near-360-degree beach frontage with particularly excellent snorkeling, reservable campsites, and a paved trail encircling the island, which is also home to a historic Coast Guard station and the bunker where President John F. Kennedy took refuge during the Cuban Missile Crisis (the bunker closed for public tours in 2017).
- 6 John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, 10900 Jack Nicklaus Dr, North Palm Beach. Visitors to one of Palm Beach County's wildest and most pristine beaches cross a vast lagoon via a long, picturesque boardwalk to reach the rugged dunes and unspoiled coast of this state park. The park also offers a nature center and concessionaire where you can rent a kayak to explore one of Florida's jungle-like mangrove hammocks. $5 per vehicle.
- Northeast Everglades Natural Area: Even many longtime residents overlook this informal grouping of over 160,000 acres of natural areas, city and county parks, and wildlife preserves stretching from West Palm Beach over the county line to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Those who do venture here are rewarded with the area's finest multi-use trails, and a taste of the diverse biome and wildlife found in the much larger and more remote Everglades National Park. Some of the larger of these areas include:
- 7 Grassy Waters Preserve, 8264 Northlake Blvd, West Palm Beach (Entrances on Northlake Blvd west of Bee Line Hwy and on Jog Rd north of Okeechobee Blvd). 7AM-6PM daily. An Everglades habitat roughly the size of Manhattan, this area serves as the freshwater supply for much of the area. A nature center near the north entrance hosts rotating exhibits on the history of the Everglades and acts as the starting point for occasional guided walks. The nearby 1-mile Cypress Boardwalk is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, while the longer Hog Hammock and Apoxee Trails and behemoth 16.6-mile Owahee Trail offer more adventurous hikers a view of the park's stunning natural areas and wildlife. Many of the trails are also open to bikes; check before leaving that none of them are closed as they tend to flood after especially heavy rain. Only Gator Lake, north of the nature center on the other side of Northlake Blvd, welcomes canoes, kayaks and catch-and-release fishing. Free.
- 8 Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area, 11855 Bee Line Hwy, Palm Beach Gardens (Main entrance is on Bee Line Highway about 2 miles west of the Turnpike; also accessible via small parks along PGA Blvd). Sunrise-sunset daily. Palm Beach County's largest natural area features nine different native Florida ecosystems, ranging from swampy slough marches to dry hammock forests. Trails include short, paved paths and portions of much longer trails like the Ocean to Lake Trail that spans much of northern Palm Beach County. The main entrance also has a fishing pier and observation tower, and a 2-mile kayaking trail is available in the area's south end. Most trails are open to bikers and equestrians; if approached by a horse, yield and proceed carefully. Free.
- 9 Hungryland Slough Natural Area, 12385 Seminole Pratt Whitney Rd, West Palm Beach (Parking is available on Seminole Pratt Whitney Rd, 3 miles north of Northlake Blvd). Sunrise-sunset daily. This small remaining segment of the once-massive Hungryland Slough offers wilderness areas similar to those in the neighboring Loxahatchee Slough and Corbett areas. Multi-use trails include the sandy 4-mile South Loop Trail and sections of much longer trails. Free.
- 10 J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, 11835 Seminole Pratt Whitney Rd (West of Bee Line Highway about 20 miles northwest of downtown West Palm Beach). This vast wilderness is truly off the beaten path for most South Florida visitors. Hunters make up most of the traffic during the season, although the area is also popular with off-road ATVs. If visiting during hunting season, wear fluorescent colors (like a bright orange vest). Camping is permitted throughout much of the area, but expect the absolute minimum in the way of facilities. Occasionally, the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp is rumored to allow thru-hikers to camp on its premises. $3 day-use permit required; Ocean-to-Lake Trail thru-hikers may enter for free.
- 11 DuPuis Wildlife and Environmental Area, 23500 Southwest Kanner Hwy, Canal Point (About 6 miles west of the Bee Line Hwy adjacent to Lake Okeechobee). Formerly a working livestock range, this state-owned area provides a similar experience to the adjacent Corbett WMA without the hassle of getting a permit. Activities include 35 miles of hiking trails and primitive campsites, along with an equestrian center with horses, paddocks, campsites and 40 miles of equestrian trails. Take care during hunting season. Free.
- 12 Riverbend Park, 9060 Indiantown Rd, Jupiter (just west of the Turnpike on Indiantown Rd; accessible by foot from any of the neighboring natural areas), ☏ . 6AM-7PM daily. One of the most popular outdoor recreation spots in the county, this park in Jupiter serves as the hub for all the longer hiking trails in the area, while boasting 10 miles of hiking/biking trails, 7 miles of equestrian trails and 5 miles of kayaking trails of its own. Situated at the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River, the park is especially popular among bikers. Most trails are short and easy. Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent. Free.
- 13 Cypress Creek Natural Area, 10035 W Indiantown Rd, Jupiter. Sunrise-sunset daily. It's immediately northwest of Riverbend Park, and is most notable for its blackwater streams that feed the Loxahatchee River and its historic and cultural resources, including the site of the Loxahatchee River Battle during the 1838 Seminole War. The planned Jupiter-Indiantown Trail runs from Riverbend Park through the area, and horses, canoes, and kayaks are also welcome. Free.
- 1 Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge: Filling most of the vast expanse of land west of US 441 south of Lake Okeechobee, this 145,000 acres of northern Everglades and cypress swamp offers a variety of educational and recreational opportunities, including interpretive nature programs, mountain biking, boating, and fishing, but its crown jewel is its pristine Florida habitat and vast collection of wildlife, which includes more than 250 species of birds, 60 species of reptiles and amphibians, 40 species of butterflies, and 20 types of mammals.
- Martin County - north
- Broward County - south
- Hendry County - west
- Okeechobee County - northwest
- Glades County - northwest