Many travelers don’t realize that Palm Beach is America’s first resort destination. In 1894 Henry Flagler opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel, a magnificent 1,200 room resort, which was the largest structure of its kind in the world. The Royal Poinciana Hotel was razed during the depression, but Flagler’s stamp on the area will remain in perpetuity.
Visit the Flagler Museum, Henry Flager’s Palm Beach home that was a present to his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan. When it was completed in 1902, the New York Herald proclaimed that it was “more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.” As wonderful as it was in 1902, and remains today, it was built to be, and has always been, so much more than a house. It’s a living homage to the grandeur of America’s Gilded Age and the development of South Florida.
Another great way to see historical insights into Palm Beach County is at the Richard and Pat Johnson History Museum in the 1916 Courthouse in Downtown West Palm Beach. The county-wide history museum enriches the lives of children and adults alike by making local history accessible, interesting and meaningful. The restored building also serves as the headquarters of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Another great historical overview is at the Boca Raton Historical Society, which offers a wide range of educational opportunities that provide visitors with a tangible link between the past and present. Located in Boca Raton’s original Town Hall, the society owns a vital repository of archival information about the formative years of Boca Raton, its families, and its economy. The building’s research library houses a permanent exhibition of historic maps, photographs, documents, Addison Mizner memorabilia and other treasures. They also provide guided tours of the historic Boca Raton Resort and Club.
Great historical neighborhoods and experiences can be found throughout Palm Beach County, but only one structure is the county’s oldest: The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, which recently celebrated its 150th Birthday. The lighthouse and its surrounding area were declared by President George W. Bush in 2008 an Outstanding Natural Area — the only one east of the Mississippi. The 1860 lighthouse is available for climbing tours. The waterfront museum in the newly restored World War II building features history exhibits, while the Dubois Pioneer Home and Tindall Homestead offer a great look at Florida pioneer days.
For an authentic view of early living through the eyes of the African-American and Caribbean experience, visit the Annual Spady Living Heritage Festival at the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum Complex in Delray Beach. The festival features vintage farm equipment, storytelling, live music, Southern foods, turn-of-the-century hand tools and life on the farm demonstrations.
To experience really, really early Florida, visit the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which is the northernmost portion of the unique Everglades. It encompasses over 221 square miles of habitat that is home to the American alligator, the critically endangered Everglade snail kite and as many as 257 species of birds.
Visitors can see a very old Everglades inhabitant at the South Florida Science Museum. That’s where Susie is, the only adult female Mastodon on display in the state! “Sue” was discovered in Palm Beach County in 1961. The Science Museum also has a wonderful selection of rotating and permanent exhibits for the entire family.
If Japanese tea ceremonies are more desirable than Ice Age animals, then visitors should go to the Morikiami Museum and Japanese Gardens, where all things Japanese are celebrated. The Morikami has the largest selection of Japanese gardens outside of Japan, rotating exhibits in its galleries, tea ceremonies performed monthly in its Seishin-an tea house, Japanese traditional festivals several times a year and an educational outreach program with local schools and organizations.
Actually, all of the organizations mentioned above have education programs and work closely with students.
“As exciting as Palm Beach County is for our cultural tourism visitors, there are many outstanding organizations that offer students equally exciting experiences year round,” says Alyx Kellington, the Director of Arts and Cultural Education at the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.
The adventure doesn’t stop with history in Palm Beach County, which is Florida’s Cultural Capital. There is one of the best zoos in the country and world-class performing arts, museums, theaters, festivals and art fairs throughout the year.
From America’s first resort destination to an exciting, rich collection of cultural tourism experiences, Palm Beach County is a tropical destination with adventure!