A Winter’s Trip to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

It was a cold day in Pennsylvania when I hopped on a U.S. Air flight commuter plane in State College, PA heading for West Palm Beach and a 7 day vacation in sunny FloridaI to visit my long time friend. Although February and March in Pennsylvania can be beautiful with white snow freshly covering trees and streets, the warmth of the sun in mid winter is always an invitation you just can’t pass up.
It had been at least 15 years since I visited Florida and the changes were astonishing. Palm Beach Gardens, which was once a small community, has now blossomed into a busy metropolitan area. The sandy landscape on the side of many roads with overgrown natural vegetation has now been transformed into lush green landscape spotted with bright flowers and beautiful palm trees. Buildings and shopping surround the area along with restaurants and businesses – a booming metropolis.

Our first stop was Singer Island, another slow growing area back 15 years ago, now lush with beautiful vegetation and many oceanfront condos lining its shore. We headed for lunch and cocktails at the Sailfish Marina Restaurant (www.sailfishmarina.com). The many windows facing the Intracoastal Waterway was a wonderful touch to the delicious, fresh food and wonderful service. The pelicans flew by and sat on the posts entertaining you with their fascinating look. Vacation had begun!

The next day I had a car for the day and I went on a new adventure in an old neighborhood. I tried not to venture too far as the changes in the landscape made me unfamiliar in the place I had spent 8 years raising my children. But there were a couple places I was anxious to revisit.

Carlin Park (www.co.palm-beach.fl.us/parks/locations/carlin.htm) was one of those places. We used to take our children to the beach for the day; public bathrooms and lifeguards were key to taking children. It was nice to see that not a whole lot had changed, but adding a small cafe for drinks and food was certainly a plus.
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I also ventured to DuBois Park which is a very nice area for families to picnic and watch the pelicans. The Intracoastal water flows through creating a shallow area for small children to enjoy and be safe. On the other side of the shallow swimming area is Jupiter Inlet Park. The park used to be filled with people mostly between the ages of 20 to 30 along with their children, all pulled along the sides of the narrow sandy road listening to music, grilling, and laughing…what a great time we had. Today it is and not as wild as it used to be, as the roadsides have been groomed and parking spaces provided for organized parking. Still a nice place to go and picnic.

Take a drive or walk along Double Roads, aka Alternate AIA. It takes you along the beach from Jupiter to the Juno Beach area. In Juno there is a sub shop called The French Connection. It was there 15 years ago and is still there today. Stop by and enjoy an inexpensive lunch with a beer! Right in Juno is a nice community park to stroll and observe several species of tropical birds.
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Also in Juno is a Sea Turtle Rescue Center. Stop in and learn about the rescues and pet a sea turtle. From large to small turtles, you can see how this rescue and its volunteers take care of the injured sea turtles well know to the area. Observe sea turtles hatching and heading for the sea in a swim frenzy; the rescue center can provide you with all the details.
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A few of us ventured to Dreher Park Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org) and Lion Country Safari. Dreher Park Zoo was very nice with beautifully colored birds, alligators, monkeys and other animals. There is even a bird sanctuary where you can handle brightly colored birds, but watch out, they’re hungry.

On the other hand, Lion Country Safari (www.lioncountrysafari.com/Info/History.htm) wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I was disappointed to find out that a $25 charge basically enabled us to ride around and have close contact with few animals. It was very unsettling to see the dry, unshaded areas that were provided for the animals and unavailable green grass for them to eat or lie in. I’m not sure if it was the care they receive or the hurricanes that may have damaged the grounds that way. Seeing a healthy way of life for the animals would have been much more entertaining and they might have been more active as well. But the variety of animals was a pleasure to see and capture with my camera. I did get to feed a giraffe – that was cool!

You may just want to hop around a bit to catch a little of the scenery here and there without going too far out of your way. Stopping at a coupleof local restaurant/bars with outside seating always makes you feel like you’re on vacation. I would suggest the Crab House in Jupiter (www.crabhouseseafood.com/index.html) with its great view of the lighthouse along the Intracoastal. It has a warm atmosphere and the calamari is great! Also, Panama Hatties in North Palm Beach; nice restaurant on the Intracoastal and a 2 hour tour boat ride that travels the Intracoastal with a very entertaining captain; be sure to grab a bucket of drinks for the ride. You may get to see a manatee, at least that’s what the captain said, but I didn’t see any!

For the nightlife, may I suggest stopping by the Yard House and Club Safari. Go to Club Safari before 11:00 and get in free; the crowd starts arriving late. Good music and fun. Have a scrumptious dinner at PF Chang’s in the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens. Good service and great Chinese food. Have a little Saki if you dare!
And the Cheesecake Factory (www.cheesecakefactory.com). If you have never had the pleasure it’s a must go! It’s not just cheesecake; the food is fresh and delicious with big portions, full bar and nice atmosphere. The cheesecake is to die for! I recommend the Cheesecake Factory in any town for a definite stop.
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A walk through Morikami Gardens (a Japanese Garden)(www.morikami.org) is very nice and peaceful. Try not to go on a hot day, but do try to go after April or May as the flowering plants would be best for viewing. I had the thrill of see a large Iguana in the wild. It was a beautiful green and orange: what an awesome reptile.
And finally,.an airboat ride on Okeechobee Lake (www.okeechobeeairboat.com); one of the highlights of my trip. It takes approximately one hour north from Palm Beach Gardens to get there. What a fun thing to do! Our guide was nice and very informative. It was exciting to see alligators, including a nest of young, and several species of birds while gliding through the high grasses of Okeechobee Lake on an airboat,…what could be better? I highly recommend the airboat ride! Well that’s my vacation in Florida…did I have fun or what?!!