Sun, sailing, golf, and ultra-exclusive real estate, Palm Beach, Florida, has plenty to offer. Nestled on the Atlantic Ocean less than 90 minutes north of Miami, the island has been in high demand since the late 1800s, when prominent aristocrats and steel and railroad barons flocked to its shores for the warm weather and abundant sunshine, earning it the moniker of America’s First Resort Destination.
Today, when someone says, “The Palm Beaches”, they’re likely referring to the region comprising dozens of swanky towns, such as Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Delray Beach, and Boca Raton. Palm Beach—the most well known—is only 16 miles long and half a mile wide (26 x 0.8 km), which gives it the air of a small, upscale coastal town where celebrities and dignitaries just happen to live and play.
For those looking to put down permanent or part-time roots in Palm Beach, real estate is in demand. There are about 2,500 single-family homes on the island and only a few condo buildings with a maximum height of six stories. There’s no more land to build, so homebuyers who prefer custom homes will have to tear one down and rebuild, says longtime Palm Beach real-estate agent and investor Jim McCann of Premier Estate Properties.
Strict zoning codes overseen by an architectural review commission mean rigid requirements as to what you can build, however. “There is a sense of history here. Most of the original homes were built in the 1920s and 1930s by noted architects such as Addison Mizner, Maurice Fatio, and John L. Volk, so they are historically protected,” McCann says. “It’s part of the ambiance that made the town appealing 75 or 100 years ago, and the homes are still here today.”
The island is broken up into three parts: the Estate Section, where the most extravagant, historic homes can be found behind manicured privacy hedges and gilded gates; Midtown, in the heart of the island, where many homeowners are able to walk to fine dining and shopping; and the North End, which tends to be quieter, more relaxed, and family friendly, with plentiful beach access points.
“Real-estate prices in Palm Beach have almost doubled in the past year and a half,” McCann says. “That’s an unprecedented level of appreciation I hadn’t seen in the 35 years I’ve been selling real estate here.” The median price point, he adds, is now about $18 million.
West Palm Beach: A Sister City Just as Pretty
Three picturesque bridges connect Palm Beach to its sister city, West Palm Beach, the county seat and heart of the region. And, with limited real-estate inventory in tony Palm Beach, the area has emerged as an attractive alternative. “You still have beautiful views and historic neighborhoods, but the prices are a bit lower,” McCann says.
More urban than Palm Beach, West Palm, as the locals call it, has been a hot, up-and-coming market for several years now, but interest in the area exploded during the height of the pandemic. While it’s the more affordable choice for Palm Beach living, don’t expect to find mega deals and rows and rows of fixer-uppers.
“It’s become a viable alternative to Palm Beach, but with more commercial options forshopping, dining, and culture,” McCann says. “Golfers, yacht aficionados, and equestrians love it here. As a result, there’s been a rise in hedge fund, private equity, and wealth management firms announcing they’re taking office space in downtown West Palm Beach because so much of their clientele has moved to the area. It’s the combination of climate, a tax-friendly atmosphere, and the high-quality lifestyle.”
Premium neighborhoods in West Palm Beach include the historic El Cid and the more up-and-coming SoSo (short for South of Southern Blvd and the downtown core). “Investment-wise, there is great appreciation and redevelopment in West Palm Beach,” McCann says.
A Luxury Lifestyle Wherever You Are
Whether you opt to invest in real estate in Palm Beach or West Palm Beach, the region is full of the sort of cultural, dining, and shopping pursuits often found in much bigger cities. Right in the center of the island, Worth Avenue is home to enough high-end designers to rival Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. “In the 1980s, Worth Avenue was known for having more locally owned shops, but now it’s all high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci, Chanel, and Tiffany,” McCann says.
The surrounding area is also home to many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants, including Buccan, known for its inventive American cuisine focused on fresh, regional seafood and local produce. There’s also Imoto, a small-plates take on Japanese cuisine, featuring fresh sushi and sashimi, unique dumplings, and wood-fired selections.
The popular eateries belong to Clay Conley, a five-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: South. Conley moved from Miami’s Mandarin Oriental hotel to Palm Beach in 2011 to open Buccan, and is credited with putting Palm Beach on the culinary map.
His wife, Averill Conley, says: “Most people would be surprised to hear it, but Palm Beach is actually a great place to raise a family.” She and Conley live in West Palm Beach, where the Clematis waterfront district is one of the foodie family’s favorite places. “We also love Phipps Ocean Park in Palm Beach,” Conley says. “We pick up a picnic from The Sandwich Shop at Buccan and spend a day on the water.”
It’s no surprise that the Conleys are fans of the West Palm Beach GreenMarket, which was named the number one farmers’ market in the U.S. by USA Today. The lively outdoor market offers some of the region’s best fruits, vegetables, and locally made pastries every Saturday between October and May. For a more everyday market vibe, the Grandview Public Market is a multi-vendor food hall in a newly developed warehouse district known simply as “The District.”
Golfers, yacht aficionados, and equestrians love it here… it’s the combination of climate, a tax-friendly atmosphere, and the high-quality lifestyle—Jim McCann
Culture hounds need only gaze at the abundance of Mediterranean Revival architecture throughout the area to appreciate why the Palm Beach lifestyle is rooted in both elegance and opulence. Perhaps the most exquisite of the Gilded Age mansions, Whitehall, the 75-room, 100,000 square-foot (9,290 sq m) former home of Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler, is today the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.
Open to the public for free, the estate is a perfect example of neoclassical Beaux-Arts architecture. Brunch at the acclaimed Breakers Hotel just a few blocks away, followed by a visit to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum makes for a perfect Saturday—or any day—itinerary.
For a more modern vibe, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is an Art Deco masterpiece that recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation. The space originally opened in 1941 to showcase the exquisite art collection of industrialist Ralph Hubbard Norton and his wife, Elizabeth Calhoun Norton.
Today, it’s home to nearly 7,000 works with a concentration in European, American, Chinese, and contemporary art. On Friday nights, it hosts Art After Dark, a community gathering featuring live performances, film screenings, art workshops, and more.
Wherever you are in the region, the Palm Beach International Airport is only 10 to 15 minutes away by car. With nonstop service to many major hubs, you’re assured direct access to the region, whether you’re a permanent resident, a seasonal resident, or visiting the area’s attractions.
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