Home to 12 golf courses, this South Florida calls itself The Golf Capital of the World. Honestly, I don’t think it’s an empty boast.
Until a few years ago, the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) was headquartered here in Palm Beach Gardens.
Six of the those courses can be found at the PGA National Resort, where the Honda Classic takes place every February.
As well as golf, the city is known for upscale shopping thanks to The Gardens Mall, which is a who’s who of luxury fashion.
Away from these rarefied attractions, you can visit mangroves, beautiful pieces of Atlantic shoreline, and steamy cypress swamps.
1. The Gardens Mall
For fashion-forward shopping, straight from the runway, my first port of call is The Gardens Mall.
Opened in 1988, and still at the top of its game, this sprawling enclosed mall is as high-end as it gets.
In a glittering array of exclusive brands, you’ve got Dolce & Gabbana, Boss, Emporio Armani, Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors.
Folded in with these names are plenty of more familiar stores, like Macy’s, Sears, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn, Sephora, and Banana Republic.
When I came there was one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, with something for everyone. To name a few, there was Shake Shack, Haagen Dazs, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, and California Pizza Kitchen.
2. PGA National Resort
I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the city’s area is taken up by golf courses. After all, this is The Golf Capital of the World.
There’s a dozen courses within the limits of Palm Beach Gardens, although playing a round here is not something you can do at the drop of a hat.
Six of the courses can be found at the PGA National Resort, a world-class destination, setting new standards for luxury.
The centerpiece here is The Champion, which hosts the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic every winter.
This course is officially the most difficult in Florida, with a fearsome reputation that comes from a Nicklaus-designed trio of holes nicknamed The Bear Trap.
3. The Gardens GreenMarket
The weekly farmers’ market in Palm Beach Gardens has been running for more than 20 years, and is as vibrant as they come.
Taking place at the City Hall Municipal Campus on Sunday mornings, rain or shine, this is a wonderful community event.
There are vendors for everything from fresh produce to pastries, honey, dairy, flowers, spice mixes, and a smorgasbord of tempting prepared foods.
There’s also live music every week without fail, as well as themed markets and seasonal events.
For instance, there was a free yoga class on the plaza on my visit, as well as a cooking demonstration by a professional chef.
4. Downtown Palm Beach Gardens
Contrary to the name, this retail development is laid out like a luxury outdoor mall, with covered walkways and palms for shade.
Something I appreciate about Downtown Palm Beach Gardens is that it’s reserved for local retailers. You can shop here for golf gear, baby clothes, exotic spices, pottery, fashion, and artsy gifts.
In terms of dining, there are locations for national chains like Sweetgreen and Yard House. You’ll also find some independent spots for coffee, Mexican, Southern cuisine and frozen yogurt.
For entertainment you’ve got the newly updated CMD Downtown at the Gardens 16, which had just been fitted with leather recliners at the time of writing.
5. Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area
Hiding among Palm Beach Gardens’ subdivisions is a taste of what was here before the city was developed.
Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area is a 172-acre pocket with seven native ecosystems, among them cypress swamp, oak hammocks, pine flatwoods, and tidal swamp.
On what is a pretty small site there are more than 200 plant species, while over 500 different animals have been documented here.
You can make your way along a number of trails, admiring saw palmettos and staggerbush. The best part for me was the boardwalk through the steamy cypress swamp, as well as the platform overlooking the tidal swamp.
6. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
Moments from Palm Beach Gardens, there’s a real biological treasure, covering more than 400 acres of an Atlantic barrier island.
This is the only state park in Palm Beach County, protecting coastal and tropical hammock and mangrove, as well as almost two miles of awesome sandy beachfront.
I was amazed by the long boardwalk, spanning a big sweep of the estuary and linking the parking lot with the ocean.
Meanwhile, you can let your sense of curiosity take over, on short nature trails, with the chance to see wading birds like terns, sandpipers and herons. There’s also a colorful array of snakes and spiders if you’re brave.
The choice of recreation is huge, from kayaking and paddleboarding among the mangroves in the estuary, to swimming and snorkeling in the ocean.
7. PGA Commons
Palm Beach Gardens’ premier arts and dining district is on a long block of PGA Boulevard, between I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike.
With plenty of natural shade and landscaping, PGA Commons can be explored on a system of walkways.
These will lead you past engaging works of public art, as well as three galleries—Native Visions Galleries, Studio E Gallery, Onessimo Fine Art— each with a different specialty.
When I compiled this list the dining options included Thai-tapas-sushi fusion, elevated tacos, pizza, and a stylish seafood restaurant and oyster bay.
8. Catch a Game at Roger Dean Stadium
Florida’s baseball spring training season is known as the Grapefruit League. For fans of America’s pastime, there’s a big serving of baseball action.
The Roger Dean Stadium is best known as the home of the St. Louis Cardinals in the off-season. This is the perfect venue to see some of MLB’s biggest stars in February and March.
During the regular season, there’s even more baseball, courtesy of four different minor league teams. The most prominent are the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads of the Jupiter State League.
9. Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
For the best panoramas in Palm Beach County, I’d make the short drive north to this magnificent lighthouse.
A brooding coastal sentinel, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (1860) is more than 100 feet tall, rising from a mound-like dune among mature woods.
I had the time of my life at this place, climbing the 100+ steps to the top and picking up interesting facts from the guides.
I came during the day, but I’ve seen photos of the view at sunset. Fair to say, it looks amazing when the low sun catches the Loxahatchee River.
The grounds are equally beautiful, and something that caught my eye was a huge banyan tree that has been growing here for hundreds of years.
10. Rapids Waterpark
The largest waterpark in South Florida is five minutes from Palm Beach Gardens, with more than 40 water rides.
Attractions at Rapids Waterpark are on a scale from ‘Mild’ to ‘Wild’. At the wilder end of the spectrum are rides like Black Thunder, with its dark vortex funnel, and Brain Drain, twin slides dropping you 75 feet at speeds of up to 35 MPH.
If that sounds like a lot, you can float along the lazy river for a quarter of a mile. The last time I was here I was supervising my little guy. He was thrilled with the interactive play structure at Barefootin Bay, with its sprays and pineapple tipping bucket.
Lighting is a familiar problem at outdoor attractions in Florida, and can wreck a day out. So I’d urge you to stay up to date with weather forecasts before heading here.
11. Historic Flagler Museum
For some Gilded Age glamor, let me point you in the direction of Whitehall in Palm Beach.
Consisting of 75 rooms, this sumptuous Beaux-Arts mansion was built for the third wife of Standard Oil co-founder, Henry Flagler
The residence was completed in 1902, and has been restored to near-original condition, giving you a glimpse into the lifestyles of the uber-wealthy in eras past.
Replete with original art, furniture, and fixtures that were the height of luxury by the standards of the time, the home and museum are a must for history-minded travelers.
The amount of ornate things to see is almost overwhelming, so if you’re visiting without a docent, I’d suggest getting the audio tour.
12. Loggerhead Marinelife Center
Named after the famous loggerhead marine turtles, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center is free to visit, although donations are suggested.
This is a rehabilitation center, and is not to be missed if you’re traveling with animal-loving children like mine.
I must admit, I got pretty emotional on my tour, hearing about the turtles’ stories and treatment. Some were on the road to recovery and release, while others will remain at the center permanently.
My little one loved this interactive station they have, where you draw a fish on a screen and can see it brought to life in 3D.
13. Blowing Rocks Preserve
In Palm Beach Gardens you’re about ten minutes from a stretch of shoreline that looks like nowhere else in Florida.
Awaiting you at Blowing Rocks Preserve is the largest Anastasia limestone outcropping on the East Coast. The Atlantic waves have eroded this rack into strange craggy forms .
You’ll see how the preserve got its name if you come at high tide when the sea is rough. On these days the waves smash against the shore. The seawater rushes through holes and blasts into the air in plumes as high as 50 feet.
Accompanying the rocks is a mosaic of habitats, including dunes, maritime hammocks and mangroves.
One of my favorite parts of the visit was the walk to the shore, passing through a dense tunnel of seagrape trees.
14. Busch Wildlife Sanctuary
For more than 40 years now, the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary has provided vital care for injured or sick native wildlife.
What’s great is that you can visit the grounds of this non-profit organization for unique animal encounters. I saw foxes, turtles, snakes, eagles, bears, and even a panther and a crocodile during my time here.
The enclosures are set in a lovely natural landscape, with cypress wetlands, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks.
Every day there’s a different wildlife program, from alligator talks on Mondays to birds of prey demonstrations on Thursdays.
15. Cox Science Center and Aquarium
In West Palm Beach, the Cox Science Center and Aquarium dates back to 1961. The whole site was in the process of a massive expansion when I wrote this article.
As part of this $45 million project, the center will be home to one of the largest aquariums in Florida. So it’s well worth keeping an eye on the progress.
At the time of my visit, the science center had more than 100 interactive exhibits, a conservation-themed mini golf course, as well as shows at the planetarium.
Kids will love being able to control a robotic arm, seeing the underwater root system of a mangrove, and walking among life-size dinosaur models.
Also, make sure to check the calendar, because there’s always some kind of event going on, from food trucks to laser concerts to Nights at the Museum.