Minutes from West Palm Beach, Wellington is a village bounded by the Everglades and renowned for its equestrian culture.
Wellington has been Dubbed the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World, and is home to the Wellington International complex. This is the venue for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), attended by showjumping competitors from around the world.
The village is also the site of the National Polo Center, so you can fill the winter months with tons of horse-oriented action.
What I adore about Wellington is the amount of nature preserves and wildlife rehabilitation centers in the area.
During my time here, I met a baby sloth, took a Segway tour on a patch of the Everglades, saw some beautiful birdlife, and got close to an ocelot being nursed back to health.
So check out my 15 best things to do in Wellington.
1. Panther Ridge Conservation Center
Run by a non-profit organization, this conservation center is home to a host cat species, from caracals to clouded leopards, that were once injured and have been rescued from the wild.
On my visit, there were 20 cats from nine different species. I joined an hour-long tour, learning the heartwarming story behind the center’s inhabitants and finding out more about the conservators’ important work.
I also learned about the panthers that still prowl the Florida Everglades, and how their numbers have sadly dwindled over the last century.
For safety reasons, you won’t be able to touch the majestic animals, but you’ll get close enough to take photos and appreciate their power and beauty.
2. Wellington International
The world’s largest and longest-running equestrian show takes place in Wellington for 13 weeks between January and March.
This is the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), welcoming riders from all 50 states and more than 30 countries around the world.
Wellington International, the award-winning venue for this prestigious event is suitably impressive, on more than 150 acres and featuring 18 competition arenas and hundreds of equine stalls.
During the festival you can enter for free to watch world-class showjumping, do a bit of shopping, and enjoy some excellent food.
My tip is to be here for Saturday Night Lights, when there’s exciting competition, food trucks, live music, face-painting, petting zoos and fairground rides.
3. National Polo Center
Wellington is also the center of excellence for the sport of polo in the United States. The National Polo Center is among the largest polo clubs in the world, with five fields, a grandstand, restaurants, and a wealth of accompanying amenities on 300 acres.
This facility has been the setting for the U.S. Open Polo Championship since 2004, and has hosted the International Polo Cup several times over the last 15 years.
Whether you’re a polo aficionado or are just curious about this sport, there are plenty of events open to the public during the season, which runs from around January to May.
4. Palm Beach Museum of Natural History
Something exciting in Wellington that you might not know about is this compact paleontology museum tucked into the Wellington Green Mall.
The Palm Beach Museum of Natural History is the only institution of its kind in southern Florida, and was established by experts in the field, conducting ongoing excavations in North and South Dakota.
Although this is a small museum, it’s an essential detour if you’re in the area with children. What amazed me when I was here was Cheryll, an almost complete triceratops skeleton, and the only one of its kind in the region.
Expedition Ice Age has a blend of fossils and replicas for awesome megafauna like giant sloths, mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed cats.
5. Wellington Conservation Center
Dedicated to rehabilitating animals that have been injured or abandoned, the Wellington Conservation Center strives to return many of the animals it assists back to the wild.
Some of the center’s more dangerous and popular inhabitants are bears and big cats from different areas of the country.
The center is home to lots of birds as well; one of its focuses is on exotic South American animals that have become rare or endangered due to deforestation and poaching.
Among them are capybaras and sloths, and one mama sloth had a baby clinging to her, which just melted my heart.
Tours of the facility are available, and donations are always encouraged and gladly accepted to help the center continue its essential work.
6. Village Park
On Pierson Road in Wellington, Village Park is full of indoor and outdoor activities that’ll keep you and your travel partners engaged.
Equally, I had a fine time just enjoying the open air for a while, wandering along the walking trails, clocking up more than a mile without even realizing.
Active amenities include basketball and volleyball courts, two roller-hockey rinks, baseball and soccer fields, and a playground for the little ones.
Many of the park’s facilities are free, like the playgrounds and outdoor pavilions, which are great for picnics and birthday parties.
The sports facilities are available to rent, so check out their website before you go.
7. Take a Painting Lesson
For aspiring artists in need of little professional guidance, inspiration, and motivation, taking an art program at the Art Cellar is a great way to get all three. They also work for people like me, who have no artistic skills.
Specializing in paint & sip experiences, Art Cellar is staffed by artsy and enthusiastic teachers. They’ll demystify the process of composing a great painting while making sure everyone has fun.
Different courses with varying themes are available throughout the week. In addition to all the training and supplies you’ll need, the class also includes wine.
Meanwhile KidzArt is the child-friendly side of the studio, with all kinds of classes and camps to help kids’ artistic side flourish.
8. Wellington Aquatics Complex
The Wellington Aquatics Complex is a municipal center that’s open to the public and includes amenities for every age and ability.
It features an Olympic size pool, concession stands, showers and even lockers for the safekeeping of your valuables while you’re enjoying the facilities.
For the little ones, there’s a water park and splash pad. If you’d rather swim laps quietly away from the children, there are designated areas for that as well.
If you want a big, family-friendly event in summer, I recommend the Patriotic Pool Party on the Fourth of July, with a whole afternoon of activities and contests.
The complex also offers swimming lessons and CPR and lifeguard certification courses, so check their website to see when they’re available and how much they cost.
9. Peaceful Waters Sanctuary
I’ve saved some room to talk about this oasis-like wetlands sanctuary, set within the Village Park Athletic Complex.
These 30 acres have been set aside to promote their natural beauty and ensure they remain undeveloped.
The park is full of native plants and animals, and features well-marked trails and informative signs. There’s 1,500 feet of elevated boardwalks, leading you around the different wetland ponds.
The sanctuary is a favorite of bird lovers and nature photographers, and I was lucky enough to identify a few egrets, cranes, and spoonbills on my walk.
10. Okeeheelee Nature Center and Trail
Featuring a two-mile loop trail full of birds and wildflowers, Okeeheelee Nature Center is conveniently located between Wellington and West Palm beach and usually isn’t very crowded.
Passing through flatwoods and wetlands, the trail is easy enough for nearly everyone, but due to Florida’s oppressive summer heat and humidity, is best used from September to May.
The center includes a variety of ponds and wetlands; with a little luck, you may see tortoises, deer, and a fantastic array of indigenous birds.
I was fascinated to learn about the history of the site. It may be hard to believe, but these ponds are former rock pits that have returned to nature. The indoor exhibits are also neat, and there’s a litany of public nature programs all year.
The center’s trails can get wet and muddy, so wear appropriate shoes. Be sure to bring your camera and binoculars if you have them.
11. Green Motion Segway Tours
Segways are fun and unique ways to scoot around and see lots of sights without expending a lot of energy.
For me, they’re the perfect mode of transport for the low-lying terrain around Wellington, producing zero emissions while letting you enjoy the natural beauty of the Everglades.
Green Motion Segway Tours is based at the Wellington Environmental Preserve, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat (Section 24).
This is a 365-acre rainwater storage area, criss-crossed by paved nature trails, and with a six-story observation tower.
Tour groups are limited to six, and you’ll receive all the training you need before heading out.
12. Play a few rounds of golf
In the winter time, when most of America’s golf courses are dormant, Florida enjoys a climate that makes obsessive golfers like me jealous.
It’s a big area for the so-called snowbirds that flock here to play golf; the Palm Beach and Wellington areas are the hotspots.
There are dozens of courses within a half hour of Wellington, ranging from inexpensive municipal courses to uber-expensive courses generally reserved for the rich and snooty.
Madison Green Country Club on Crestwood Boulevard and Okeeheelee Golf Course on Forest Hill Boulevard are two of my local favorites. They’re reasonably priced, offer lots of natural scenery, and have restaurants and bars onsite.
13. Tiger Shark Cove Community Park
Made possible with private donations and designed with the help of the community, this wonderful park has, for my money, the best playground in the village.
The play area is massive, with an amazing array of castle-like structures full of ladders, slides, and obstacles.
The outdoor park is free, and there are covered seating areas perfect for picnics, birthday parties, or an afternoon of reading and relaxation.
It’s an excellent place for those on a tight budget or for those with little ones with short attention spans in dire need of exercise and outdoor time.
14. Piquet Entertainment & Race Park
When I compiled this article, this outdoor entertainment park was going through some changes.
The main activity at Piquet Entertainment & Race Park is paintballing, with six fields across 20 acres. Each battle zone is flexible enough to accommodate a range of party sizes and battle scenarios.
To go with that there’s a gellyball field, along the same lines as paintball, but much safer, and suitable for ages five and up.
The center also has a newly renovated 18-hole mini golf course, which you can play without a reservation. But the big news is the brand new asphalt karting track, billed as the largest and fastest in South Florida.
15. South Florida Fairgrounds
The South Florida Fairgrounds are close by in West Palm Beach and host one of the state’s most popular fairs.
This 17-day extravaganza has been going strong since 1912 and takes place in January and February every year when Florida’s weather is just right.
The fair is full of games, shopping, livestock shows, activities for kids, carnival rides, live entertainment, and lots of fantastic food.
We’re talking funnel cake, curly fries, and deep-fried oreos, a real guilty pleasure of mine.
The Yesteryear Village is an intriguing collection of buildings and artifacts from 1895 to 1945, and if you’re up for a visit, this is one of a handful of elements on the fairgrounds open all year round.
During the fair, Weekends are more expensive and crowded than weekdays. So if you’d rather avoid the chaotic crowds, I’d go during the week or early in the morning when the fair opens.