Picturesque and almost patrician, Palm Beach first became big with the arrival of the railroad in south Florida subsequent to the efforts of affluent developer Henry Flagler. This wealthy tycoon was taken by the charms of the modest village Palm Beach then was, and decided to rebuild it as a passport community for the rich and famous. A flurry of monied families followed to help seal the deal for this scenic seaside destination, though until relatively recent years it was only the winter retreat of choice, virtually vacant in summer. Palm Beach maintains the reputation of exclusivity to this day with a show of flamboyance that is unrivaled in the Sunshine State. West Palm Beach, in contrast, was conceived as a residence for servants of the Palm Beach estates and stands in today as the area's center for all things commercial.
Driving along South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach reveals several of the wealthy estates for which this city is known like Donald Trump's 117-room nest; President Kennedy's "Winter White House"; and the mansion of French businessman Robert de Balkany and his Princess-wife Maria Gabriella of Savoy. The only significant public attraction in Palm Beach is the Flagler Museum, a.k.a. the "Taj Mahal of North America", the former winter residence of Henry Flagler, now a 55-room exhibit space packed with lavish period furnishings.
There is a more varied assortment of sights accessible to travelers in West Palm Beach, including wet fun at Rapids Water Park, animal sightings at Dreher Park Zoo on Summit Boulevard and the nation's first drive-through safari park, Lion Country (where yes, the lions do roam free). Dreher Park is also host to the South Florida Science Museum, Planetarium and Aquarium, as well as a nature trail. Fine arts aficionados will also want to make time for a leisurely meander through one of the state's best art facilities, the Norton Museum of Art, which boasts a good selection of works by well-known 20th-century painters as well as a number of artifacts from ancient civilizations.
Yachts in Palm Beach are the transportation method of choice on the water; short such a showy watercraft, consider instead a yacht charter, a motor boat rental or, on desperate days, a canoe (paddles, boat and accessories can be rented from local outfitters). Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach offers some great water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, biking, tennis, golf, and a 1.2-mile nature trail, and there are also some good places to enjoy a cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway or around sand padded spots like Peanut Island. The Grassy Water Preserve, which is actually the beginnings of the Florida Everglades, is also a pleasant spot in which to enjoy a paddle (with an eye out for gators), and there are boardwalk trails and hiking opportunities for the land-lubbers in your party.
West Palm Beach is about 65 miles north of Miami on I-95.