The Palm Beach area is made up of two distinct and different citiesworkaday West Palm Beach on the mainland and tony Palm Beach on the barrier island across the Intracoastal Waterway bridges (locals simply call it "the Island"). The Island was founded in 1902 by city father Henry Flagler (his mustachioed statue crops up all over town) when he built his trademark hotels like the Breakers; soon East Coast society was wintering here, drawn in part by fabulous Mediterranean-revival architectural follies along Worth Avenue dreamed up by local architect Addison Mizner in the 1920s. And it's Mizner's aestheticall wonky roofs, low-slung hacienda houses, and unexpected alleywaysthat defines the town today. West Palm Beach's history is much less storied and its vernacular architecture more varied: It exists essentially because Flagler had to house his workmen somewhere. Though they're linked by a series of bridges and causeways, the social and financial divisions that created the two cities persist today.
WHEN TO GO
The Season proper runs from Thanksgiving through the end of February, though it's been extending in recent years so that some snowbird socialites are still here at the end of April. Either way, to experience Palm Beach at its Waspy, preppy best, book a weekend jaunt in winterthough expect to pay top rate at the hotels. A more cost-conscious alternative is to come in November: Hurricane season has past but the weather is pleasantly warm and hotel rates haven't spiked yet. The same is true of the spring shoulder season (May and June).
HOW TO GET THERE
The local air hub is Palm Beach International Airport (www.pbia.org). The major carriers all serve this airport, as do budget lines like JetBlue and Spirit. It's only a four-mile drive to downtown Palm Beach (a $15$18 cab ride). If rates into PBI are high, check Fort Lauderdale (FLL). It's only a 40-minute drive up I-95 to Palm Beach and has more daily flights. When it comes to public transport, there's a combined Greyhound, Amtrak, and Tri-Rail station in downtown West Palm (201205 S. Tamarind Ave.); from there, use the local PalmTrans bus service to reach the beach. If you are bringing the yacht, there are slips at the Australian Docks (500 Australian Ave.; 561-838-5463).
Palm Beach proper is tinyWorth Avenue spans just four blocks bay to oceanso by far the best transport method is foot (the lack of handy parking and high meter prices don't help, either). For any longer jauntssay, dinner downtown in West Palmhop a cab. In West Palm Beach, there's a handy and free hop-on/hop-off trolley service that connects the new City Place development with Clematis Street (Sun.Wed. 11 am9 pm, Thurs.Sat. 11 am11 pm; www.cityofwpb.com/trolley.htm).
For information, maps, and leaflets on the entire area, hit the Palm Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (1555 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.; West Palm Beach; 561-233-3000; www.palmbeachfl.com). There's also the local Chamber of Commerce (401 N. Flagler Dr.; West Palm Beach; (561-833-3711; www.palmbeaches.org), which offers much the same information. For a glimpse into Palm Beach's society, grab a copy of the Palm Beach Daily News, the local rag nicknamed "the Shiny Sheet," which chronicles the to-ings and fro-ings of the jet set (www.palmbeachdailynews.com). For listings and a better grasp of West Palm, pick up the free New Times Broward/Palm Beach County editions from any street-side box (www.browardpalmbeach.com).