My parents visited last week, not their first time to Florida, but certainly their first visit to Delray Beach and our new home here. So we pretended to be tourists for a few days, which is a great way to approach life in general – to always be looking with the eyes of a stranger.
So here’s our three-day itinerary to give a taste of life in Delray (and nearby), the things we most enjoy, the things that make us miss the Bay Area a wee bit less, the things we deem worth showcasing. These are all entitled to their own individual posts, which I’ll hopefully get to someday, but for now, just a taste… Oh, and I should add that this is by no means a comprehensive list; it’s simply what we could get to on this trip. Hope you enjoy…
Mounts Botanical Gardens – Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest public garden with over 2,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants from six continents, including plants native to Florida, exotic trees, tropical fruit, herbs, citrus and palms.
We enjoyed the cool relief of the tropical shade forest, perused the rain garden demonstrations, wound our way through the hedge maze, relaxed for a few in the butterfly garden, fed the turtles while watching a great blue heron decide whether the koi were too big for eatin’ (they definitely were), explored the edible garden where my father and husband said, Here, try this. It’s nature’s sweetener. Only after I’d chewed and swallowed did we get to the bottom of the sign which said, “May be toxic.” Hey, thanks guys! Fortunately, I survived.
Manatee Lagoon – During manatee season (September to March), and especially after extended cold-snaps, endangered Florida manatees gather to snuggle in the warm-water outflows of the Florida Power & Light (FPL) Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center. The eco-center and lagoon were constructed shortly after FPL modernized this natural gas plant as part of its environmental mission to not only educate the public about the relationship it has with these wonderful creatures, but to “inspire communities to preserve and protect Florida’s environment and wildlife for future generations.”
It had been quite warm last week so we did not see any manatees, but we did see lots of huge barracuda, coba, and one nurse shark. Now it’s quite cold this week, so we’re checking the manatee cam regularly to see if we should go back. Pic below from their Facebook page.
The Dune Deck – I can thank my neighbor Pat for this gem. She said it’s a great place to take visiting friends & family, and she was right. We hit it whenever guests are in town, rain or shine (and the rain is actually pretty fun, when a dark squall rolls in, the wait staff scramble to unroll the plastic shields, and you enjoy your mimosas as lightning flashes across the Atlantic). The food is good, the service great, and the view doesn’t get any better. We once saw a school of dolphins swim by!
I don’t have any good photos for some reason, so this one’s courtesy Palm Beach Post.
Delray Beach, North End – Our local beach is north of the busy intersection where Atlantic runs into A1A, so it tends to be less crowded, cleaner and quieter than the southern end. We love strolling farther north past the private mansions and country clubs (wondering what it might be like to have a gazillion dollars), collecting small shells while on the lookout for washed ashore man-o-wars, eyeing the pelicans floating in formation above or the sanderlings dancing at the water’s edge, not to mention the sailboats drifting by in the distance, plus all the surfers, paddle boarders, and kiteboarders frolicking in the waves. It’s absolutely beautiful and we went at sunset to watch the nearly full moon rise.
Sundy House Brunch – While the Dune Deck is a gem in the rough, this place is a five-carat brilliant-cut diamond. The brunch is not cheap here, but it’s well worth it, for the entire experience.
Built by Delray’s first Mayor, John Sundy, this Victorian, Queen Anne-style house is the oldest house in Delray Beach and was built in 1902 out of Dade County pine, featuring a high-pitched gable roof, bargeboard detail, decorative roof brackets, and a five-sided wraparound porch. The fully restored home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is surrounded by the Taru Garden, a true tropical paradise featuring a woodsy blend of tropical fruit trees, small edible plants, bamboo groves and flowering trees, including over 500 varieties of foliage from all over the world.
Guests can meander down quiet coral rock paths and discover Savannah-style gazebos and benches hidden among streams, waterfalls, and their famed Cenote, a naturalized, freshwater “living” pond. Much of the dining is outdoors, amidst all this beauty; there is gorgeous live music; and the mimosas & Bloody Mary’s are bottomless. Need I say more?
Green Cay Wetlands – The county’s newest nature center, established in 2004, overlooks 100 acres of constructed wetland via a mile-and-a-half elevated boardwalk featuring interpretive signage to educate visitors about this unique habitat. Like Wakodahatchee (which was closed for maintenance during my parent’s visit), this park is a water reclamation facility, and naturally filters millions of gallons of water each day. Despite being a younger ecosystem, Green Cay has already established an incredible amount of wildlife within its varied zones – ponds, marshes, cypress swamp, hammocks, open water, and an alligator hole.
We saw anhingas, cormorants, egrets, herons, ibis, swallows, purple gallinules, common moorhen, all manner of ducks, redwing blackbirds, turtles galore, precisely one alligator, and though we didn’t actually see it, we heard the very distinctive grunting of a pig frog! I have a ton of photos and will have to do a full-fledged post on this like I did for Wakodahatchee.
Flakowitz Deli – One of the things we love about South Florida is the profusion of Jewish delis – babkas and bagels! We have by no means even begun an exhaustive survey of them all… for some reason we always just head to Flakowitz. So if any of you Florida-based readers have other suggestions, please send them my way. I love me a good onion bagel smoked fish platter.
Monday was a short day of activities near Delray because my folks headed down to Miami to visit with relatives, so nothing else to report here.
Surf Shack – This is one of my favorite spots for lunch. Nestled amidst hula-draped umbrellas, tiki decor and surfboards, is the glorious little Surf Shack, run by Mike and crew, the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet. It’s literally a shack, you order your goods through a small window, and all seating is outdoors where surfboards serve as tables and the music is always reggae (except during Mardis Gras when they had a sweet Dixie-band playing that got everyone’s feet tappin’ & shufflin’). They serve up healthy smoothies, amazing Acai bowls, and tons of subs, wraps & sandwiches, not to mention their fantastic Taco Tuesdays. I so love this place!
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center – Our final stop before my folks headed to the airport. Founded in 1984, Gumbo Limbo serves as a beacon for environmental education, research, and conservation.
It’s best known for its protection of the area’s sea turtles, through nest-monitoring, rescuing and rehabilitating injured turtles for re-release, and releasing more than 9000 stranded hatchlings each nesting season. The center also instructs more than 6,000 school students in coastal and marine ecology every year, and the FAU lab conducts valuable scientific research to enhance our understanding of sea turtle behavior, physiology, and ecology, towards creating practical applications for the conservation of sea turtles and other marine life.
Gumbo Limbo’s 20 acres of protected barrier island not only provides refuge to many varieties of plants and animals – some rare or endangered – but represents a commitment to protect South Florida’s natural resources. A 1/4 mile boardwalk trail takes visitors through a preserved Hardwood Hammock, an ecosystem which once flourished throughout Florida, before modern development and industrialization. The center also includes a Butterfly Garden, outdoor amphitheatre, and an authentic Seminole Chiki which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.
We met three loggerheads undergoing rehabilitation (all due for release later this spring), toured the FAU lab where we got to see the babies they’re studying before release, strolled the boardwalk trail, and visited the stunning butterfly garden, where we saw Monarchs, Zebrawings, Giant Swallowtails and more. This place is awesome!