Planning a family road trip along Florida’s east coast? There’s plenty to see, from Key West to St. Augustine, but if you’re looking to experience one of the swankiest corners of the Sunshine State, you need to make time for Palm Beach County.
This is where the rich and famous live, but you don’t need to be either to experience the highlights on vacation. Drive down I-95, U.S. Highway 1 or the scenic A1A, all running parallel to the coast, from Jupiter to Boca Raton. Allow 4-5 days for this itinerary. Here’s what to see and do.
This coastal town will be your first stop as you enter Palm Beach County.
Get out and stretch your legs. Climb a few steps — maybe 105. That’s how many it takes to reach the panoramic lookout from the 1860 Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. There’s also a historical museum on-site, included with admission.
Afterward, check out the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary for 6 acres of trails and animal encounters. Even better, it’s completely free!
As you head south, you have a couple options:
- Stay on U.S. 1 and visit the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. This nonprofit has educational experiences and shows for all ages.
- Hop on I-95 and explore Palm Beach Gardens. Downtown Palm Beach Gardens is a fun place to hang out with its train rides and wooden carousel (with free rides around lunchtime Wednesdays).
West Palm Beach
This is the hub of your trip and the best place to stay. You can easily visit the whole county from here.
Settle in at the newly opened Home2 Suites by Hilton West Palm Beach Airport. (This link gets you 5% off your stay!) Kids will love the outdoor pool — winter temps here are in the mid-70s. And you’ll love the amenities like the spacious fitness center, 24/7 market, and rooms outfitted with kitchenettes and huge TVs. Breakfast is also nice for families thanks to the wide selection, from oatmeal with choose-your-own toppings to fresh fruit to sandwiches.
I especially appreciated how clean our room was: no carpet, a spotless walk-in shower, my remote control wrapped. For COVID-19 safety, their Clean Stay program includes enhanced cleaning, a hand sanitizing station in the elevator, social distancing and more.
Tip: Get your Digital Key for contactless check-in via the Hilton Honors App. You get a notification when your room is ready and can use your phone to open doors, just like a key card.
But the best part was being minutes from West Palm Beach attractions. Drive Shack was right next door. The Palm Beach Zoo was just south of us. To the west, we discovered one of our favorite spots, the beautiful Mounts Botanical Garden.
We timed our visit to the 16-acre garden well. They’ve just opened a permanent moai exhibit: massive concrete sculptures that recreate some of the mystery of Chile’s Easter Island in a tropical Florida setting.
There’s art throughout the gardens. (Their self-guided tour tells you where to find it.) If you go during the holidays, don’t miss the Garden of Lights.
For shopping and dining, head to historic Clematis Street. Then hop on the free trolley over to Rosemary Square. This Instagrammable outdoor mall has a play fountain and “Wishing Tree” that lights up at night.
Palm Beach, the barrier island town east of West Palm Beach, is exclusive yet relaxed, and nothing lets you see it quite like a bicycle ride along the Palm Beach Lake Trail.
Rent a set of wheels from the family-owned Palm Beach Bicycle Trail Shop, located in the Royal Poinciana Plaza right off the trail. They have bikes for all sizes, plus locks, helmets, ebikes, inline skates and more. Staff are happy to direct you the right way for sightseeing, and the bikes are high quality, offering a smooth ride along the trail.
Head north for the bulk of the 5.5-mile paved trail, a residential stretch lined with waterfront mansions. Then on the way back, stop by one of the grandest mansions of all, Whitehall, now the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. Finished in 1902, this palatial estate numbers over 75 rooms with lavish decor, art and painted ceilings.
Spend 2-3 hours exploring the first and second floors, grounds and pavilion. You can even climb inside Flagler’s private railcar, a favorite with kids. We’ve toured a few dozen historic homes over the years, and this is one of the best.
Where To Eat in Palm Beach
Before you go biking, one thing is essential — pack a picnic!
Celis Produce is perfect for this, conveniently in the same plaza as the bicycle shop and offering fresh grab-and-go fare. It’s run by brothers who grew up in West Palm Beach (where they have another location), and much of what they sell has local flavor, from the sourdough that elevates sandwiches to gourmet status to locally roasted coffee beans. Even the impeccably seasoned bag of corn chips we got were from right up the road in Martin County.
Here are a few of their most popular items:
- Turkey Sammy, with a creamy avocado spread on that heavenly sourdough
- Classic açai bowl with fruit, coconut flakes, granola and more
- Palm Breezy smoothie (pineapple, mango, banana, coconut milk, spinach)
- A breakfast burrito of eggs, avocado, turkey and cheddar dubbed The Al
- Kale-a-Bunga juice to wake you up (kale, cucumber, apple, lemon, ginger)
We were blown away by how crisp and flavorful the feta and pear salad was. And our date-sweetened, espresso-flavored Dirty Funk smoothie gave us the energy to keep going without weighing us down. Meanwhile, kids will enjoy the grilled cheese and PB&J smoothie. There are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, too.
If you don’t want to picnic on the trail, there’s quaint seating in the outdoor mall that’s fun to walk around (and has immaculate restrooms).
After biking, hop back in the car to drive a mile to the other side of the island so you’re facing the Atlantic. Here you’ll find The Breakers. Founded by Flagler in 1896, this 140-acre resort is splurge-worthy for overnight guests, but anyone can visit for the day for shopping and dining. They have 14 boutiques, 11 located on-site. Our top picks for families include News & Gourmet for its cute displays, books and coffee, the toys and trendy kids’ clothes at Coconut Crew, and Mary Lily’s because gelato.
Tip: You can hop the shuttle to visit Via Flagler by The Breakers for more shops and eateries.
Next up is Delray Beach. I admit we had to breeze through this city when our itinerary ended up too packed, but you can plan ahead better. Here are some of the top sights for families:
- Delray Municipal Beach for sand and surf
- The educational Sandoway Discovery Center
- Browsing the Pineapple Grove Arts District
- Unlimited play at the 9,000-square-foot Silverball Retro Arcade
For family fun in Boca Raton, I suggest starting with the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in the morning when it’s cool out. Admission is free, and you can walk the boardwalks, watch sea turtles in their tanks, and more.
Afterward, grab lunch at Living Green Cafe, right off U.S. Highway 1. Their Boca location is cozy and family-friendly. It even has games, like Giant Uno, to keep you entertained while you dine inside or out.
Design your own meal from their food bar, offering specialties like chicken salad made with yogurt instead of mayo, spanakopita (imported from Greece!) and roasted veggies. Or opt for a gourmet wrap or sandwich. I tried the best-selling Chicken Gordo and loved its goat-cheesy goodness. The Beast, stuffed with grass-fed beef, chicken, portobello mushrooms and more, was just as good, but you can probably split this one — after all, you’ll want to save room for dessert. The banana bread is excellent.
What’s different about this cafe is their healthy, high-quality ingredients. Proteins are free-range. The salmon is right off the boat. There’s nothing prepackaged or premade, no artificial flavors, no vegetable oils. You know your family is eating food that tastes good and is good for them.
After lunch, head indoors. Nearby Mizner Park, one of the prettiest places in town, also includes the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Don’t expect bland art on blank walls here. The museum transforms itself for each exhibit, and there’s always something new to see.
The current exhibition, Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru, takes visitors on a journey through some 3,000 years of Andean history, led by the mythical hero, Ai Apaec. This world premiere is truly immersive. As you admire treasures from royal tombs and ancient household objects, you’ll hear the cries of macaws and glimpse prowling jaguars on giant wall projections.
Tip: Be sure to get your exhibition tickets in advance.
If you have time or a second day in Boca, carve out a couple hours for Sugar Sand Park. The park is free and boasts a three-level, inclusive Science Playground plus an interactive Children’s Science Explorium, geared toward ages 5-12.
Visiting the Palm Beaches With Kids
What surprised us the most about Palm Beach County was how affordable it was. We ate at counter-service cafes. Our entertainment was museums, walking and biking. Several attractions were even free. There’s so much nature and impressive architecture here that half the fun is just looking around.
You can easily add Palm Beach County onto more Florida family road trips. Check out our travel guides for inspiration.
About the Author
Cheryl Rodewig is storyteller, marketer, and award-winning feature writer specializing in travel. Her Venn diagram includes minimalism, waterfalls, French, and the em dash. Find her at cherylrodewig.com or on Twitter at @cherylrodewig.