Bi-Polar in Palm Beach County

Jupiter Beach shoreline

Everyone has heard of Palm Beach, right? As winter home to the Kennedys, Pulitzers, and other mega-names, the posh island steals all the fame for the entire 47-mile-long coastline stretch of Palm Beach County. At the two extreme boundaries of the county, however, Jupiter Beach and Delray Beach slide under the radar to present untapped gems for getaway artists looking to duck the over-discovered. Not only extremely polar geographically, these two communities couldn’t be further distanced by their character, demographics, resort scene, and oceanfront vibe.

Orbiting Jupiter

Someone once told me that the closest equivalent to Sanibel Island that Florida’s East Coast claims is the Jupiter area at Palm Beach County’s northernmost reaches. Fair enough: It has its lighthouse and eco-conscious parks and attractions. The beaches don’t quite compare, but then I’m biased; and the palatial homes on Jupiter Island put me more in mind of Captiva, but with the manicured yards that are trademark of Palm Beach.

Two things come to mind that I like better about Jupiter and its fellow community, Juno Beach: Fewer resorts and The Square Grouper.

The Square Grouper represents a freer nightlife attitude than Sanibel’s, one reminiscent of the old Timmy’s Nook days, for those who remember. Entirely outdoors on Jupiter Inlet overlooking the deep red exclamation mark that is the Jupiter Lighthouse, it serves some bar food items, but mostly caters to a bar-fly and dancing-in-the-sand crowd with a couple of tiki bars and live entertainment six days a week. It’s famous for its cameo appearance in the “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” Jimmy Buffett and Alan Jackson video.

A similar vibe energizes Guanabanas: Live bands pack ‘em in to party through the week. Even better, it serves tasty Latin-inspired dishes in a tropical jungle setting on the Intracoastal Waterway. I particularly love to wake up to breakfast here on the weekends with a Cuban roasted pork breakfast burritos or huevos rancheros. It’s also worshipped for its pina colada pancakes and tropical waffle.

Among the riotous flora, you can watch stand-up paddlers trying out the sport for the first time. Blueline SUP outfitters is right across the street, and SUP virgins launch just above Guanabanas. Paddling and pedaling are huge around the Jupiter area.

On weekends, Jupiter Island’s main thoroughfare fills with bikers two-wheeling its paths and around Blowing Rocks Preserve, named for the geysers of saltwater that shoot up through its limestone during high tide and winter storms. Across the road from the beach, an interpretative center supports a butterfly garden and a boardwalk along the Indian River Lagoon.

The stretch of high dunes-rimmed beach here hosts hundreds of sea turtle nests during the summer. In Juno Beach, where you’ll find the most public accesses, Loggerhead Park and Marinelife Center pays homage and educates about the most common visiting species with displays and seasonal turtle walks.

On the west side of town, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary is C.R.O.W.’s comparable on the East Coast. Staff take visitors on tours and conduct educational programs about its wildlife.

But back to the low-key resort scene in Jupiter: Other than a handful of chain hotels, the Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa is the one choice. Luckily, it’s a great choice. It feels old-Florida with its dark wood and marble, but settles the new-fashioned score with a pretty rock wall pool, a boutique spa where therapists rub you exactly the right way with Fiji-imported essential oils, and a gleaming lobby. Sinclairs Ocean Grill is worth a visit even if you’re not staying there, and surprisingly affordable. Try the egg white and boursin sandwich for breakfast, the Island Cobb Salad for lunch, and the Snapper Mediterranean with cheesy polenta for dinner.

Delray Day & Night

When the train runs through Delray Beach, conversation stops. People stand dead in their own tracks and turn, like sunflowers in daylight, to watch. Sure, the rumble effectively drowns out attempts to talk, but that’s not the cause of this phenomenon. Dressed for a night on the town though they may be, Delray folks pay respect to this raw interruption as a symbol of what the city was and is.

These days there’s no such thing as the wrong side of the tracks in Delray Beach, the county’s southernmost portal. During previous heydays, the railroad hauled away the pineapples farmed here by Japanese, Haitian, and other immigrants; and imported the writers and cartoonists who gathered in clubs up and down Atlantic Avenue in the ‘20s. The city thereafter steadily declined, unfortunately.

When it came time to reinvent Delray Beach a decade back, to resurrect it from its slump, wise planners decided to celebrate its cultural diversity, architecture, and arts. Pineapple Grove Art Walk and the Cultural Loop came into play, featuring street art, galleries, museums, and the ambitious Old School Square project.

Just off “The Ave,” the renovated old high school complex holds an art museum and gathering place for concerts, outdoor movies, and dozens of cultural festivals. Bankers Row and Cason Cottage House Museum lie just down the block. Spady Cultural Heritage Museum remembers the town’s African-American roots.

From there oceanward, hotels, clubs, restaurants, and shops bustle day and night along Atlantic Avenue. But like the train that runs past fashionable Buddha Sky bar and Vic & Anthony’s restaurant, Delray is about contrasts. In contrast to its high-end galleries and antique shops, new sushi bars, pricey boutique and chain hotels, and fine-dining oases, the town supports historic throwbacks and colorful blue-collar spots such as Pepe’s Hideaway Bar, the circa-1926 Colony Hotel, Hands Stationers, Doc’s All-American Grill & Dairy, and the Green Owl Restaurant.

We recently made our headquarters mid-Avenue at the shiny new Seagate Hotel & Spa, a triumph of modern design and spot-on service that has been touted from Southern Living to NBC’s Today Show. Its central location makes its Atlantic Grille restaurant and Jellies Bar (named for its jellyfish aquarium, one of four enchanting aquariums on-property) a hotspot. For guests, it means that the best of what Delray has to offer lies within a 15-minute walk. If you’d rather not walk, the hotel offers free Mercedes SUV transport within five miles and a free daytime shuttle to its beach club and second pool a half-mile away on Ocean Boulevard. Here, the original Seagate, destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, sat since 1932.

With the happening, dressy Ave scene, you tend to forget that this is a beach town, but the wide lap of sand is an inherent part of Delray on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Shops get beachier here, and restaurants such as landmark Boston’s on the Beach deliver casual attitudes. Like most Delray restaurants, Boston’s has outdoor seating plus an upper deck with more formal means. Downstairs is the place to mingle with Bostonians, eat lobstah and hear live tunes.

That’s where we began our Delray foray on a recent weekend. Then it was time to hit The Ave. Lively on a Friday night, we found plenty to keep us entertained. A scrumptious Coco Channel chocolate cupcake at Cupcake Couture and a two-fister margarita at Caliente sustained our wanderings along sidewalk bars with live music and people spilling out.

That weekend, we explored the town’s high life at Vic & Anthony’s Italian restaurant ( best lasagna ever!), Euro-Mediterranean Boheme Bistro, and Seagate’s pampering Beach Club; it’s casual verve at the Green Owl for budget breakfast, Big Al’s Steaks cheesesteak stand for the real deal at lunch, shopping at the Epic Surf & Swim, and Pepe’s for a nightcap. When the lights went out at 1 a.m. in our gorgeous, spacious room with its jetted tub behind sliding wood doors that opened onto the bedroom, the town of Delray Beach was still partying. It’s a town that runs on people-powered energy and railroad-strength momentum day and night.

So whereas in Palm Beach County, quiet-seekers are from Jupiter, action-lovers head to Delray.

IF YOU GO:

Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-554-7256, www.palmbeachfl.com

Northern Palm Beach (Jupiter et al) Chamber of Commerce, 561-746-7111, www.npbchamber.com

Blowing Rocks Preserve, www.nature.org

Blueline Stand Up Paddle Surf, 561-744-7474, http://www.bluelinepaddlesurf-fl.com

Guanabanas, 561-747-8878, www.guanabanas.com

Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa, 866-943-0950, www.jupiterbeachresort.com

Jupiter Lighthouse & Museum, 561-747-8380, www.lrhs.org

Loggerhead Park and Marinelife Center, 561-627-8280, www.marinelife.org

Sinclairs Ocean Grill, 866-943-0950, www.jupiterbeachresort.com

Square Grouper, 561-575-0252, www.squaregrouper.net

Delray Beach Chamber, 561-279-1380, www.visitdelraybeach.us

Atlantic Grille at the Seagate, 561-665-4900, www.theseagatehotel.com

Big Al’s Steaks, 561-866-7516, www.bigalssteaks.com

Boheme Bistro, 561-278-4899

Boston’s on the Beach, 561-278-3364, www.bostonsonthebeach.com

Caliente Kitchen, 561-450-6940, www.calientekitchen.net

Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, 561-276-4123, www.thecolonyhotel.com

Doc’s All-American Grill & Dairy, 561-278-3627

Green Owl Restaurant, 561-272-7766

Old School Square Cultural Arts Center, 561-243-7922, www.oldschool.org

Pepe’s Hideaway, 561-276-3570

Seagate Hotel & Spa, 877-57-SEAGATE, www.theseagatehotel.com

Vic & Angelo’s, 561-278-9570, www.vicandangelos.com

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