Avoid the tourists - head to Delray Beach and sip cocktails in the upmarket seclusion of Florida's answer to Beverley Hills.
Not a theme park in site
Just fifty miles north of Miami, far away from the Disney-bound masses of Orlando, sits the idyllic town of Delray Beach. As the name suggests the town adjoins the glistening blue Atlantic Ocean with only pristine golden sands buffering the two. All this is topped off with a dose of Florida sunshine offering a perfect bathing climate year round.
The downtown area, nestled between an intra-coastal waterway and the ocean, is relatively large but retains a feeling of intimacy. Acting as a cultural and retail hub, it’s filled with an eclectic mix of upmarket boutiques, wonderful eateries and a multitude of spas, art galleries and museums.
To find your feet, take a stroll to Caffe Luna Rosa, across the road from the beach at Atlantic Avenue (34 Ocean Boulevard; 561 274 9404; www.caffelunarosa.com) where you can sit at the bar and chat to the locals about what’s happening in the area during your stay. If you’re hungry - and you will be when you see the menu - the Italian chefs will cook you up breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner and serve you in the open-air dining room surrounded by authentic Italian artwork. In the evening the restaurant offers candlelit intimacy, with musicians to serenade you as you eat.
The Delray Beach Marriott hotel on Ocean Boulevard is an ideal base to discover the town. Perfectly situated on the beach at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, within minutes you could be out of your room and splashing about in the sea, or pottering around the intricate boutiques along Atlantic Avenue. The hotel is modern and, as you would expect from a major operator, provides everything needed for an enjoyable stay. Their upmarket restaurant, the Seacrest Grill, provides the perfect setting for a romantic meal or family dinner. The food is of a high standard and the staff are very professional. If you’re just after a drink or even a light meal, in a refined, elegant atmosphere with live music then O’Grady’s, the hotel’s lobby-bar and lounge, is for you. Appetisers start from $10, entrées from $16. Rooms are available from around $200 prpn.
When you're In the mood for a less formal meal call into Boston’s on the Beach (Ocean Boulevard; 866 493 4632; www.bostonsonthebeach.com) and sit on the upper deck - a colonial style balcony overlooking the Atlantic where you can take advantage of the cool evening air and ocean views. Try the surf & turf - a truly delicious fist-sized steak cooked to perfection complete with a fresh grilled lobster. Complement it with imported beers or one of the assorted varieties of Mojitos. Once fed and watered head downstairs to the main bar where the cocktails keep flowing - my wife thoroughly recommends the Appletinis, rocket-fuel apparently - and watch the live entertainment until the early hours. Appetisers start from $5, entrées from $7.
More than just a beach
Life’s not all cocktails and sandcastles so if you yearn to do something other than eat, drink and sunbathe fear not, Delray has plenty to offer. Head over to the Pineapple Grove Arts district, off Atlantic Avenue where you'll find a fine mix of public artworks, museums and galleries to potter around and keep an eye out for the ‘Gallery Walk’ event, held on Friday nights when all the artists’ studios open their doors to the public.
To learn more about Florida’s unique environment and eco-system take a ten minute drive south on the picturesque Ocean Boulevard, past the multi-million dollar mansions and yachts, where you’ll find the Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre (Ocean Boulevard, Boca Raton; 561 338 1473; www.gumbolimbo.org). We found this fantastic coastal and marine preserve by accident early one morning and virtually had the place to ourselves. Positioned between Ocean Boulevard and the intra-coastal waterway, the centre provides a wonderful opportunity to watch rescued sea turtles as they go about their rehabilitation, climb a 40ft observation tower and even have a personal guided tour, wandering the boardwalk under a tropical canopy of hardwood trees. The staff, including many volunteers, are passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about their local environment and will make your visit feel that extra bit special.
If those dollars are burning a whole in your pocket, head north on I-95 and get some retail therapy at the Palm Beach Gardens Mall (3101 PGA Boulevard, Palm Beach Gardens; 561 622 2115; www.thegardensmall.com) where over one million square feet of the very best clothing, electrical and jewellery retailers await you.
If you’re in the area for long enough the hustle and bustle of Miami is less than an hour's drive south, the Everglades are within two hours or you could even drive down to the famous Florida Keys for a few nights of island tranquillity.
Florida is an extremely competitive route for airlines - take advantage of the low fares and fly direct to Miami. Pick up a car at the airport and Delray Beach is less than an hour’s drive north on I-95; you’ll be sipping Mojitos in no time!