Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach: Both Are Worth a Visit But Where Should You Stay?

I’ve been to a LOT of places in Florida (some I’ve been visiting for decades), but until recently I’d never made it to the Palm Beach area.

It’s always been on my list because of its Gilded Age lore, historic hotels, charming European vias hidden off of Worth Avenue, and reputation for being the most opulent spot in Florida so I finally decided to book a little trip to the Palm Beach area to check out Palm Beach AND West Palm Beach to see what it’s all about.

Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach

Since I’m kind of known on the internet for comparing different Florida destinations and helping people pick the best spot for their vacation, I’ve gotten this question quite a bit…which is better…Palm Beach or West Palm Beach?

Well, for starters…This isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison.

As a vacationer, I tend to think of these two spots as complimentary destinations…if you’re staying in Palm Beach, you’ll likely go over the bridge to West Palm Beach and vice versa.

But while Palm Beach and West Palm Beach are right next to each other, they definitely feel like a world apart!

They both have their own (completely opposite) vibe and attract totally different types of visitors, but there are things I love about both places and I think as a pair they make for a nice getaway.

But if you’re planning a trip to the area and trying to decide where to stay, this post will give you an idea of what to expect and where you might want to spend the most time.

Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach: Location

Let’s start with some geography, because that will tell you…a lot.

Palm Beach is an island (a long, skinny barrier island) and West Palm Beach is the city across the bridge on the mainland.

Palm Beach fronts the ocean, and West Palm Beach fronts the Intercoastal Waterway.

Palm Beach has BEACHES, and West Palm Beach DOES NOT.

So if you’re looking for a true beach vacation, Palm Beach is your pick. If you want some beach time, some pool time, and some shopping, dining, culture time…then West Palm Beach can still fit the bill because it’s a very short drive to the beach.

Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach: The Vibe

The vibes between the two could not be any more different (which is what I think makes them a nice joint destination), but you’ll probably be pretty drawn to one over the other.

Basically, Palm Beach is a billionaire’s paradise. The island was originally developed by Henry Flagler during the Gilded Age as a winter destination for members of New York and Boston’s high society to escape the cold for a sunny winter season.

And honestly, not much has changed. The beach, yacht, golf, and tennis clubs, elite shopping, extravagant dining. It’s a whole scene. But I would say there are people who are part of the scene and people who come because they want to see the scene (I’m the latter).

95% of Palm Beach seems pretty inaccessible to me (or at least there are a dozen other places I’d rather go and spend the kind of money it takes to do Palm Beach), but it really is something to see.

If you 1) love Gilded Age history/architecture/lore or 2) appreciate a certain aesthetic and the Lilly Pulitzer lifestyle, then Palm Beach is something that you’ll definitely want to experience. Even if it’s just for a few days.

West Palm Beach, on the other hand, is a working class city that’s in the middle of a major glow up making it one of Florida’s most attractive places to live with a younger, trendy set. It feels more like a little urban oasis on the edge of the Intercoastal Waterway with really good access to Palm Beach when you want to pop over for a bit.

Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach: $$$ or Value for the $$$

While I could definitely be happy spending a few days in Palm Beach, I can’t justify the $$$ (I’d rather go to Hawaii, a dozen places in the Caribbean, or even just the Gulf Coast of Florida which has way better beaches) that it takes to stay at a nice place on the island.

The Colony is so precious, but consistently gets reviews that it’s not nearly as nice as the price tag (it’s mostly just really Instagramable), and I thought the Breakers was just okay.

So I really liked that I could find a super cool hotel in West Palm Beach on the water (at a fraction of the price) and just drive across the bridge to check out and see what I wanted. It felt like the best of both worlds (more about the hotel later).

And from what I’ve seen, if you’re set on the Palm Beach area and you want a truly nice beach experience, you’ll definitely want to head to the Four Seasons and plan on just driving into town to shop and eat (it’s a ways south of the main hub of Palm Beach).

My Trip to Palm Beach & West Palm Beach

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Where to Stay: The Ben in West Palm Beach

I’ve been hearing amazing things about The Ben for a while now. Well it turns out it’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and that’s about all of the convincing I need ; )

I cashed in a few free nights (it’s a lot lower cash rate than hotels in Palm Beach but I think it has a really good point redemption rate too) and it ended up being the PERFECT place to stay for this trip.

There are a LOT of reasons to love The Ben. Here are some of my favorites:

The Ben is right on the Intercoastal Waterway so you get amazing views from the rooftop pool and restaurant and a lot of the rooms.

It is an aesthetic masterpiece and it’s easy to get lost in the details of the public spaces, but it’s very laid back and welcoming. Warm and cozy isn’t a vibe that you get at a lot of places in Florida, but they do it so well here while still acting like they know it’s tropical.

There’s a book butler. They curate a selection of books (some of which are inspired by the local area) which can be brought to your room on a silver platter.

The rooms feel more luxurious than you would expect. This isn’t a cookie cutter “boutique hotel,” it’s definitely on the more high end side.

The Ben has really good onsite restaurants. I’m usually pretty skeptical about hotel restaurants, but we had a really good dinner at Proper Grit. I missed out on booking their afternoon tea (it has to be booked 48 hours in advance) but I’d really like to try it next time. And Spruzzo is probably the most scenic spot for dinner (or drinks) in West Palm Beach.

They have an electric car service (why do I love riding in a golf cart so much??!) that will take you different places around West Palm Beach and over to the island. They’ll even drop you off at the beach with chairs and umbrellas.

Where to Stay in Palm Beach

Now that I’ve been, I don’t think Palm Beach will be at the top of my list for a return trip, but I would eventually like to go back and stay a few nights at The Colony. It’s just so iconic, and if I could get it at the right price, I’d definitely do a quick girls trip.

Like I said earlier, for a proper beach vacation, the Four Seasons is the place to be (this should come as a surprise to no one) and it is on my list for a stay another time.

I’ve also heard good things about Eau Palm Beach Resort. The spa is supposed to be amazing!

Where to Eat in Palm Beach & West Palm Beach

There is a whole food SCENE in both Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. I like a good meal, but I trend towards more casual spots so I didn’t hit up some of the more talked about places, but here’s a round up of where I ate:

Hive Bakery & Cafe

If I only had time for one breakfast in the Palm Beach area, this would probably be it. I was so impressed with this place. Not only is it cute as a button, everything we had was amazing and their pastry case selection was out of this world.

Pizza al Fresco

And if I only had time for dinner at one spot, this is probably the place I would pick. Off of Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, it’s a favorite spot with everyone. It couldn’t be more picturesque plus their pizza and pasta is divine.

Seafood Bar at the Breakers

I wanted to check out the Breakers (it was pretty much the last spot on my Gilded Age tour of Florida), and the Seafood Bar is probably the best restaurant to try if you want to see the Breakers without staying at the Breakers.

They don’t take reservations, and it’s fairly casual (don’t confuse that with inexpensive though ; ) but they’ve got great beachfront views and of course that super fun aquarium bar.

I had the grilled cheese and tomato soup (the grilled cheese is made on their famous Parker rolls and it’s divine) but we also loved the fish tacos and filet sliders.

Swifty’s at the Colony

This is another place where you’ll want to eat to check out the hotel if you’re not staying there. It’s so charming and quintessential Palm Beach.

Yes, the food is good, but it’s absurdly expensive (even for breakfast). I consider the big bill almost as an attraction fee for coming to the hotel. It’s silly, but you really can’t come to Palm Beach without coming to the Colony.

Proper Grit 

This is the main restaurant at The Ben in West Palm Beach, and honestly if I wasn’t staying here I would probably still go out of my way to come here especially for brunch or afternoon tea (needs to be reserved 48 hours in advance).

Grandview Public Market

I’d heard a lot of good things about Grandview Public Market in WPB acknowledging that it’s not on par with food halls in major cities but that it’s definitely worth checking out. I’m glad I went but honestly I wouldn’t say it’s on par with food halls in smaller cities either. I think it’s more of a spot for locals (there are some nice co-working spaces there), but as a visitor I’m not sure I would go out of my way.

But I really did like the Gypsy Life Surf Shop.

Loic Bakery & Cafe

This isn’t the fanciest place but they have really good coffee and pastries and it was a really pleasant walk from The Ben towards The Square.

Things to Do in Palm Beach & West Palm Beach

Flagler Museum

This was really one of my top reasons for wanting to visit Palm Beach. I’ve been visiting different Gilded Age mansions in Florida for the last few years and this was the last big one on my list.

Henry Flagler (the railroad tycoon who is largely responsible for developing Florida) built White Hall in Palm Beach as his personal residence and it’s really something to see.

I spent a couple of hours here touring the mansion and the property and their audio guide is really good.

If I did it again, I would try to sign up for one of their docent-led tours (on select Tuesdays and Thursdays) that includes a tour of White Hall AND a tour of the Breakers Hotel. There currently aren’t any tours at the Breakers besides this one and I would really have enjoyed seeing more of the hotel than I did just poking around and eating at one of the restaurants. But I waited too late and it was sold out!

There’s also the option to do afternoon tea in the Railcar 91 Tea Room at the Flagler Museum and it’s pretty dreamy.

The Beach

As a self proclaimed Florida Gulf Coast beach snob, I’m never terribly impressed with the beaches on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, but the water really is very pretty in the Palm Beach area.

Peanut Island

If you’re a beach lover, don’t miss Peanut Island. It’s the best beach experience you’ll find in the area and it’s worth the short ferry ride over to spend the day snorkeling in the clear water and playing on the white sand beach.

Antique Row

West Palm Beach is pretty famous for its  Antique Row. You’re probably not going to find many steals and hidden gems here, but it’s packed with shops hoarding treasures that are very location specific.

Worth Avenue

Worth Avenue is the hub of Palm Beach and it’s a shopping scene like you’ve never seen before. Honestly, it’s not the kind of shopping I’m interested in you can only window shop for so long, but it’s worth strolling up and down the street and getting lost in the hidden vias. You just might forget you’re in Florida!

Royal Poinciana Plaza

Another one of Palm Beach’s favorite shopping destinations, I like to stop in Stoney Clover and Love Shack Fancy.

Greenmarket in West Palm Beach

I didn’t get to check this out since it only happens on Saturdays, but the Greenmarket in West Palm Beach is supposed to be one of the best farmers markets in the country. Besides local produce, there are a lot of food vendors and plenty of fun shopping with local artisans.

The Square

The Square is West Palm Beach’s shopping hub and we enjoyed grabbing coffee and walking over from our hotel. It’s a nice outdoor space that’s really well used and loved by locals.

Want to Read More Posts about Florida? I’ve got plenty!

Check out these destinations: Miami (Things to Do Besides Party & Where to Stay) // Key Biscayne // Sanibel & Captiva // Longboat Key & Anna Maria Island // Marco Island // 30a // St Augustine // Amelia Island // St Pete Beach // St Petersburg // Fort Myers // Dunedin // Crystal River & Weeki Wachee Springs // Honeymoon Island & Caladesi Island State Parks // Tarpon Springs // Matlacha & Pine Island // Apalachicola

Trying to narrow it down? Siesta Key vs Anna Maria Island // St Pete Beach vs Clearwater Beach // Sanibel vs Marco Island // Destin vs Panama City Beach // Destin vs 30a // Key Biscayne vs South Beach // Seaside vs Rosemary Beach

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