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Passport to Palm Beach

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    Palm Beach

    The High Life at Sea Level


    To everything there is a season, and in the case of Palm Beach, that season would be fun-in-the-sun winter. Just like a juicy Florida orange, this island playground is at its peak from December to March–just after the threat of fall hurricanes abates and just before the summer heat makes things positively sticky. It’s a place where The Season deserves capitalization: stylish snowbirds blow in from points north, mingling with international jetsetters and rich-and-famous locals to create a buzzing, chirping Sunshine State scene ripe with possibilities for pleasure and preening.

    If great resorts with a wealth of amenities (beach, pool, spa, golf, and tennis) are your thing, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit to be had here. The cream of the crop is undoubtedly The Breakers, a grand dame originally built by the founder of Palm Beach himself. Its beachfront property–complete with pamper-you-silly beach club–puts you in the center of the action. Those seeking a little more serenity, however, won't miss out on amenities at properties slightly farther afield. The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach and The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach have family appeal, while The Omphoy Ocean Resort leans younger and hipper. You'll be shelling out some serious clams for accommodations in season, though if you're willing to brave the sweltering summer, the upside is that you'll find some sweet hotel deals.

    But you definitely won't want to miss out on The Season's fashion trunk shows by top couture designers. They're but one example of the New-York-runway-meets-small-town-Florida charm that characterizes the Palm Beach shopping scene. Various shopping branches about town (conveniently located within a small radius) are heavy with clusters of international luxury brands and local resort wear havens. For the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton as well as more fresh-squeezed labels like Juicy Couture, head to legendary Worth Avenue. Explore the vias off the main drag to really look the part: slip into something flowy at Calypso St. Barth, and treat your feet to bejeweled sandals at il Sandalo or classic walking slippers at Stubbs & Wootton. Along slightly more low-key South County Road, stop by C. Orrico for a sampling of iconic Palm Beach designer Lilly Pulitzer (among others), whose bright shift dresses were inspired by–what else?–citrus stains on her clothes.

    If all this talk of citrus is making you thirsty, you might want to start the day (or, um, end the night) with a breakfast mimosa at Cucina Dell' Arte, a Med-Italian restaurant that clears away the tables for dancing after 10:00pm and will take care of your hangover cure with eggs and cappuccino the next morning. It's a reminder that even in tame Palm Beach (where the energy is more country club than nightclub), there's a time to every purpose–even a time to dance. But if you'd prefer cocktails and conversation to an all-out party, stop in at Michael R. McCarty's for its seasonally packed bar.

    Both of these late-night spots make our list of restaurant picks, but the focus is more on the scene than the food–as is the case with many Palm Beach restaurants. If you need a foodie fix, reserve a table at French-inflected New York City import Café Boulud (don't miss the prix fixe brunch on the terrace). Or, you can give yourself over to the see-and-be-seening at upscale Italian Bice or pan-European Café L'Europe. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the greasy-good diner fare at Hamburger Heaven (prepare for long Saturday lines). For a great compromise between the chic and the casual, settle in with some comfort food at locals' fave the Palm Beach Grill–the key lime pie is a must for your citrus fix.

    For spa treatments that are good enough to eat, spend a day at Eau Spa by Cornelia in The Ritz-Carlton. Order up your own custom scrub from the mixologist at the Scrub and Polish Bar (a twist of citrus and a dash of vanilla, perchance?), settle in for a treatment (there's a honey citrus body rapture–just saying), and finish in the whimsical relaxation garden complete with hanging chairs over a reflecting pool. The Spa at The Breakers and the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach also excel at referencing the South Florida context with marine-inspired décor and treatments.

    Sunning yourself on one of the pristine beaches (even the Public Beaches here are fab) is really the whole point of making the trip. But if you for some reason tire of all the leisure, there's plenty to keep your mind and body active in Palm Beach, too. Golf opportunities abound at courses both public and private. Get your heart rate a bit higher with a Core Fusion class at exhale at the Omphoy or a run on the Palm Beach Lake Trail. When the weather's sour, head for a helping of Palm Beach history at the Flagler Museum, or feast your eyes on museum-worthy pieces at the well-stocked Art Galleries on and around Worth Avenue. After all, even if it rains, Palm Beach is a place where you can always take lemons and make lemonade.

    Photo of The Breakers