Delray Beach is the Cinderella of South Florida. In the 1990s, this Gold Coast town was plagued by drug-related crime; in 2007 it was labelled the drug-recovery capital of the US. In 2012, thanks to a 20-year effort by a passionate and determined band of residents, Rand McNally/USA Today named it the Most Fun Small Town in North America.
Nicknamed the Village by the Sea, Delray, population 60,000, has so far escaped the condo explosion that has blanketed Fort Lauderdale and Miami to the south. Visitors will discover a laid-back, stylish town with a surfer vibe; six and a half kilometres of wide, pristine beaches; an indie spirit (aside from a Starbucks, a Subway, and a Ben and Jerry’s, there are no chain stores or restaurants downtown); a vibrant arts scene; and plenty of urban amenities.
What to see
Start at Old School Square, the heart of town and home to its many special events, including the annual lighting of the 100-foot Christmas tree. There you’ll find the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture and the Crest Theatre, in the old school buildings. On the ground level of the square’s parking garage is the wonderful Arts Garage; its mission is to put “arts in every life every day,” via live theatre, music, art exhibits and education.
From there, stroll through the funky Pineapple Grove Arts District, rife with public art installations and artists’ studios (on the third Thursday evening of each month, many open to the public for Artists Alley). West of downtown, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens’ beautiful grounds, rotating exhibits and renowned café are an ideal spot to pass an afternoon.
The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum is dedicated to collecting and sharing Florida and Delray Beach’s African-American history. West of downtown, the Morikami Japanese arts and culture centre’s serene gardens, rotating exhibits and café are an ideal spot to pass an afternoon.
Where to dine
With its house-roasted coffee beans and homemade pastries, the family-run Caffe Luna Rosa is a great spot for any meal, but breakfast is particularly good. Try to get one of the tables outside, facing Ocean Boulevard and the beach just beyond.
Along with many other South Florida restaurants, the ambitious Max’s Harvest has embraced the farm-to-fork concept. Highlights from chef Eric Baker’s menu include shrimp-stuffed shishito peppers, from Swank Farms in Loxahatchee; burrata, made by Vito Mozzarita in Pompano Beach, served with caviar that’s sustainably raised in Sarasota; and line-caught pumpkin swordfish (named for the slightly pink hue of its flesh, a result of its shrimp-heavy diet).
At 50 Ocean, above the lively Boston’s on the Beach, chef Blake Malatesta’s menu focuses on local seafood with a Louisiana twist. Go before dark to get the full effect of the ocean views from the second-floor verandah.
If you’re planning to be in South Florida March 27, be sure to make a reservation at one of the restaurants participating in Savor the Avenue, which sees 1,200 people seated down the middle of Atlantic Avenue at the nation’s longest dining table.
Those feeling the effects of vacation excess might want to stop in at DU20 Holistic Oasis’s tea bar, whose blends include the Royal Chrys Blossoms hangover cure. For the ultimate relaxation experience, book a float in the salt-water sensory deprivation tank.
Where to hang out
Stop at Sandbar, just steps from the ocean, for some post-beach refreshment. With its plastic cups, trucked-in sand and scantily dressed waitresses, you won’t feel underdressed.
The most recent attempt at a gay bar failed just over a year ago, but Dada on Swinton Avenue is both a respected restaurant and a late-night lounge that draws a diverse crowd.
There are a number of lively bars along Atlantic Avenue, Delray’s famous main drag, which bustles from morning until late at night.
Where to stay
The Marriott, at the eastern end of Atlantic Avenue, is slightly dated in décor and amenities, but its location can’t be beat (its recently built one-, two- and three-bedroom villas are spacious and modern and surround a private pool area): it’s just steps from the beach and a short walk from the centre of town.