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How This Florida Destination Became the 'Hamptons of the South'
 | Travel+Leisure

How This Florida Destination Became the 'Hamptons of the South'

With the COVID-19-spurred influx of New Yorkers and a wave of new developments, the formerly quiet holiday town is livelier than ever, blooming into the 'Hamptons of the South.'

If you were to identify a Floridian destination based on its clichés, Palm Beach would be an easy guess. The seaside enclave has had a distinct vibe for generations: people are still wearing Pucci and Panama hats, sipping on Arnold Palmers, and filling their days with leisurely activities like tennis, swimming, shopping, and golf. Beyond the beach, you'll find glossy gardens, Spanish colonial architecture, and vibrant, tropical interiors – scenes that have been immortalized in Slim Aarons' photography.

This joie de vivre, cocktail-hour-at-any-hour vibe has prevailed in Palm Beach for more than a century. But with the COVID-19-spurred influx of New Yorkers and a wave of new developments, the formerly quiet holiday town is livelier than ever, blooming into what the community (and several other publications of note) is calling the 'Hamptons of the South.'

"Since 2020, there has been a dramatic increase in luxury brands moving into the Palm Beach market," says Joanna Gong from Sotheby's Luxury & Lifestyle Division. Those brands read like a map of Madison Avenue: Hermès, Cartier, Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel. "With newer developments like The Royal Poinciana Plaza, a curated pocket of real estate has been made available on the traditionally tight island and has subsequently attracted some of the world's largest names in art and luxury."

Glimmers of the Northeast have also emerged on the local dining scene, with the arrival of Sant Ambroeus, La Goulue, Almond, and Le Bilboquet — a fixture of Upper East Side nightlife and the buzziest bistro in the Hamptons. And then there's the chic White Elephant Hotel and its lively restaurant Lola 41, both with origins in Nantucket (another popular escape for well-heeled Manhattanites).

Hotels, restaurants, and retail have always had the ability to revitalize an area (just look at SoHo in the 1990s). But in Palm Beach, these flashy openings have coincided with a surge in migration. In 2021 alone, The Palm Beach Post reported that 547,000 people exchanged out-of-state driver's licenses for ones with Florida addresses, most of whom were from New York. Interestingly, 14% were from overseas, which is a trend that Phillipe Delgrange of Le Bilboquet Group expects to see more of.

"I think that in the next two years, we will see even more people moving down to Palm Beach and West Palm, including a lot of Europeans," he says. "We are just at the beginning — I know so many people that are preparing to move in the next year or two. I think in the next two years there will be a major European component." Seasonal residents are also on the rise; many wealthy New Yorkers are opting to spend summers in the Hamptons, winters in Palm Beach, and the months between seasons in Manhattan.

For those who view Palm Beach as more of a seasonal destination, like its Long Island equivalent, better accommodation options are in the works: The Colony Hotel is closing for a full renovation this summer, The Breakers recently unveiled new suites and is investing $25 million into modernization this year alone, and there are 17 new hotel projects throughout the region, slated for completion by 2025.

This swift influx could seem daunting for locals, but they seem to be viewing it with optimism. Nobody's trying to turn it into South Beach or change its refined character (any attempts simply would not fly, for obvious reasons). Palm Beach is undergoing the sort of evolution that the Hamptons has seen before: new money and younger generations inspiring more modernity and more to do. That, and the steady flow of New Yorkers seeking easy escapes that are low-key but high-end.

Aerin Lauder, the beauty magnate who has been holidaying there since her childhood, explains how she loves the mix of the old and the new. "Palm Beach has a way of welcoming newness, while keeping its sense of tradition and elegance alive," she says. That newness has come in five-star form, with the crème de la crème of food and fashion setting up shop.

Delgrange echoes Lauder's sentiment, pointing out that "Palm Beach represents the civility of the old world with the kinetic energy of the new." Civility is indeed an appealing characteristic in these times. Combine that with low taxes (a draw for the financial titans that have relocated their operations), and the quality of life that comes with safe streets and beachside living, and it's easy to see why people are following the party south.

One thing is certain: Palm Beach is more vibrant now than ever before, and it appears that things are just getting started. Inclined to join the crowd? Here the very best hotels and restaurants to add to your itinerary.

Where to Stay

The Colony Hotel

The Colony is a Palm Beach icon, culturally and architecturally, and this year marks its 75th anniversary. Since opening in 1947, the boutique hotel has been a home away from home for British royalty and a coveted venue for fashion events. Whimsical wallpapers, hanging gardens, and candy-colored pink hues feature throughout, and its more-is-more aesthetic is just as enchanting for children as it is for adults. Bon vivants are greeted with Champagne on arrival and every detail is meticulously polished, from the summery entrance through to the luxurious suites and villas. The 89-room property sits adjacent to Worth Avenue, just a block from the beach, where tasseled parasols, loungers, and water coolers are set up for guests. Even if you're not spending the night, stop by Swifty's for dinner and a drink — it's another New York transplant with a crowd-pleasing menu and a lively poolside scene.

The Breakers

Developed by Henry Flagler in 1896, The Breakers is a mega-resort with every amenity you could ever want. There's a golf course, four pools, a private beach, 10 restaurants, a playground, a children's club, a tennis court, several designer boutiques, a spa, and four ballrooms. As the list suggests, it caters to all generations and all types of trips. And it's continuously being improved.

"Each year, the company invests an average of $25 million to carefully balance preservation and modernization," advises Tricia Taylor, executive vice president and general manager. It's hard to pinpoint any one highlight within the historic 140-acre property, but the attention to detail is something to applaud. The supreme service is perhaps why people have been checking in for extended periods. "We have seen an increase in inquiries for hotel residency, which includes long-term stays (30 days)," advises Taylor. Another observation? People are booking much further in advance, so planning ahead of time is advised.

The Brazilian Court

There are places where people go to see and be seen, and then there are discreet destinations that boast style and luxury without any of the flashiness. The Brazilian Court falls into the latter category. Since opening in the 1920s, it's possessed an air of old Hollywood glamour, and has been the preferred address for celebrities visiting Palm Beach. The yellow-hued Mediterranean-style hotel has 80 suites situated around a secluded internal courtyard filled with bougainvillea and leafy palms, enabling even the most photographed guests to find some seclusion. It features a pool, a full-service salon, and an excellent fine dining restaurant by globally renowned chef, Daniel Boulud (more on that below).

White Elephant Palm Beach

White Elephant Palm Beach is the sister property of Nantucket's most revered hotel, and unlike many of the historic accommodations in Palm Beach, the style is sleek and modern, featuring Scandinavian interiors and a MoMa-worthy collection of contemporary art. It's brought a youthful vibe to Palm Beach and is a haven for millennials, who gravitate to its lively alfresco restaurant, Lola 41. There are 32 rooms in total, including 19 suites, all containing private balconies. The central position is ideal for exploring; it's right across from the Royal Poinciana Plaza, within walking distance of Worth Avenue, and just two blocks from the beach, where the staff can arrange chairs and parasols. But if you'd prefer to stay on-site, the hotel has a pool that is framed with sun loungers. And just around the corner is the island's most iconic ice-cream parlor, Sprinkles.

Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach

You can always expect excellence from the Four Seasons, and this location is no different. It's located right on the beach, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean, where sunbeds and loungers are lined up and friendly staff serve everything from sunscreen to surfboards and delicious fare from its beachfront restaurant, Seaway. Other highlights include its modern Italian restaurant, Florie's, and award-winning spa, complete with a full-service salon by Davines. The hotel was completely renovated in 2018, and its refreshed style blends coastal elegance with retro Floridian glamour. During the peak of COVID-19, a billionaire hedge funder famously booked the entire property for his team and their families, to give you a sense of the gravitas of this resort.

Where to Dine

Le Bilboquet

Le Bilboquet is one of the best restaurants in the Hamptons, so it's no surprise that its Palm Beach outpost rocketed to the top of the dining scene when it opened last year. Visit on any night of the week and it feels like a special occasion; everyone looks like they've come off a superyacht in Saint-Tropez and no one would bat an eyelid if you were dressed in full couture. The Euro-centric restaurant is centrally located down Via Encantada, where you arrive into a world of sophisticated décor and upbeat music. The menu features fresh seafood along with French classics, and it has an impressive wine and cocktail list. Save room for dessert and order the Le Vacherin – a beautiful concoction of raspberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and meringue.

Sant Ambroeus

Palm Beach marks Sant Ambroeus' first location outside of New York and the Hamptons, and it is a beautiful location indeed. The fashionable Italian restaurant is situated at the entrance of The Royal Poinciana Plaza, where pink umbrellas and bistro tables surround lush gardens and a fountain. Inside, you'll find classic art deco décor that's become a hallmark of Sant Ambroeus. There's a cabinet of cakes, cookies, and croissants to go, along with a coffee bar and a gorgeous gelato cart. There is something for everyone on the menu, whether it's decadent desserts or lighter fare, and it's just as good for breakfast as it is for a late-night dinner and cocktails.

Café Boulud

Located within The Brazilian Court Hotel, Café Boulud offers one of the finest culinary experiences in Palm Beach. It's the island's most romantic restaurant, set in a Mediterranean-style courtyard surrounded by flowering plants, fountains, and fairy lights – a proposal setting if there ever was one. The food is presented like art and guests can enjoy classics from renowned chef Daniel Boulud, along with dishes that showcase the produce of the region: Key West shrimp, octopus à la Gallega, and Dover sole meunière. As you would expect from a Daniel Boulud restaurant, the wine list is equally impressive.

La Goulue

La Goulue is an Upper East Side institution that opened in Palm Beach in 2020. It's a chic bistro where you can order French classics like soufflé au fromage, escargot, and foie gras, along with popular staples like the New York strip, lobster pasta, and branzino. It also does an excellent cheeseburger, best served with a chilled glass of Dom Perignon.

Buccan

If you're into inventive sharing plates, Buccan is the spot to book. The vibe is semi-casual but chic, and it's a popular starting point for groups embarking on a night out. Some of the favorites include the Hamachi tiradito, the short rib empanadas, and the sweetcorn agnolotti.

Lola 41

This lively pan-Asian restaurant is not to be missed. Located in the center of the White Elephant, Lola 41 offers an incredible selection of sushi along with recipes that take inspiration from all over Asia. There are also American classics, like burgers, grilled fish, and chopped salads. The food is great, but many come just for the cocktails — start with the concubine, a refreshing mix of cucumber vodka, sake, passionfruit, and lychee.

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