PALM BEACH, Fla. -- What do you think of when you hear Palm Beach mentioned as a travel destination -- other than that you probably can't afford it? Mar-a-Lago and the Trump clan? Worth Avenue and its phalanx of uber-expensive fashionable stores? A mecca for international jet-setters, once favored by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Kennedys, and various and assorted Vanderbilts, Whitneys and Astors?
OK, fair enough, but now meet the Palm Beaches, a colorful melange of Japanese gardens, a landmark lighthouse, a theater founded by a Hollywood icon, an elegant high tea equaling anything offered in Blighty, a historic home built by a legendary railroad magnate and a museum where the art is unique to say the least. And just to be clear, you definitely can afford it.
Palm Beach County, the largest in Florida, consists of 39 unique cities and towns, and all of them seem to have one thing in common, and it's not the 47 miles of pristine beaches.
The one thing that always shines in the Palm Beaches is the arts, with 42,000 annual cultural events. From the Street Painting Festival in Lake Worth to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, the county offers a smorgasbord of tasty offerings for culture vultures.
Visitors to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach often do a double take at the 19-foot tall circular disc with an extending sweep of thick brushes rising from a reflecting pool at the front entrance. Millennials will scratch their heads and wonder what it is. Their parents can smugly inform them that it's a typewriter eraser, although this one is made of stainless steel and fiberglass and weighs in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Expect this type of whimsy from the Norton, recently re-opened after a transformative expansion by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Lord Norman Foster. But also expect a world-class collection of European, Chinese, American and contemporary art, as well as a dazzling display of photography and a sculpture garden where pieces are set amid lush tropical vegetation.
A different type of vegetation provides the stunning landscape for Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. Serenity is the key word as garden-goers stroll through Roji-en: Gardens of the Drops of Dew, encompassing six different periods of Japanese gardening over a one-mile meander.
Internationally recognized for its excellence, Morikami offers a collage of towering bamboo thickets, rushing waterfalls and beds of pebbles arranged in artfully raked patterns.
Inside the museum, the centerpiece is the Seishin-an Tea House, a rustic model designed to showcase the harmony, respect, purity and tranquility of the tea ceremony. The museum has changing exhibitions, and special events such as the Kite and Lantern festivals and the summer sushi strolls enhance the garden experience.
For another peaceful garden experience, take a leisurely wander through the Society of the Four Arts garden, located on the island of Palm Beach itself. The gardens, representing literature, dance, music and painting, offer secluded nooks to pause and reflect on how important the arts are to any community.