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DETAILS: Palm Beach on a Budget

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

GETTING THERE: A number of airlines offer service between the Washington area and West Palm Beach; if you find a cheaper flight to Fort Lauderdale, consider driving 50 minutes north to Palm Beach. Fares on Southwest, which offers nonstop flights from BWI and connecting flights from Dulles to West Palm Beach, often dip well below $200 if you catch a sale.

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WHERE TO STAY: Consider staying just off the island in West Palm Beach, where room rates are markedly cheaper, especially during the peak season (generally Christmas to the end of April). During low season, hotels on Palm Beach drop their prices by at least half.

I stayed at Grandview Gardens (1608 Lake Ave., 561-833-9023, http://www.grandview-gardens.com), an immaculate B&B across the bridge in West Palm Beach and 15 minutes by bike (included with rate) from the Breakers. The innkeepers can set you up with a private tour (including celebrity house-spotting) for $20. The large rooms have private entrances and outdoor sitting areas, and there's a heated pool. Rates are $199 per night double in the high season and start from $125 in the low.

The Bradley Park Hotel (280 Sunset Ave., Palm Beach, 561-832-7050, http://www.bradleyparkhotel.com), a few blocks from the Breakers, has suites containing kitchens and multiple rooms. Rates start at $295 in the high season, $129 in the low.

The Palm Beach Historic Inn (365 S. County Rd., Palm Beach, 561-832-4009, http://www.palmbeachhistoricinn.com), near Worth Avenue and the beach, is the opposite of trendy, with wicker furnishings, hardwood floors, kitschy tropical paintings and window air-conditioning units. Rates start at $325 in the high season, $125 in the low.

WHERE TO EAT: Palm Beach is full of extravagant dining options, but here are some relatively inexpensive choices.

*Testa's (221 Royal Poinciana Way) is a prime spot for eggs Benedict brunches (from $7.50) and casual lunches (most sandwiches are less than $10).

* Like a mini Whole Foods, Market Salamander (155 N. County Rd.) is a good spot to snag a takeaway lunch. Most sandwiches are about $9.

* There's no shortage of silicone at Ta-boo (221 Worth Ave.), a celebrity-spotting mecca. And if you stick with one of the large dinner salads (from $15.50) or a selection of appetizers, the prices are downright affordable. Bonus: Few of the by-the-glass wines surpass $8.

* Cucina dell'arte (257 Royal Poinciana Way), an Italian restaurant with a breezy street-front patio (gourmet pizzas average about $17, pasta dishes from $19), morphs into one of the island's most freewheeling and unpretentious bar scenes after 10 p.m.

BUDGET ACTIVITIES: Staying at the Breakers (1 S. County Rd., 561-655-6611, http://www.thebreakers.com) isn't an option for penny-pinchers, but even in the high season you can access the pools, spa area and beach for a day with any 50-minute-plus spa treatment. I opted for the $108 Classic Pedicure; other qualifying services include the Classic Facial ($165).

The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum (1 Whitehall Way, 561-655-2833, http://www.flaglermuseum.us), the white marble mansion that was Henry Flagler's gift to his wife, is chockablock with Gilded Age lore and Florida railway history. If the museum's $15 fee is too much for you, head to the Lake Trail, where there's no charge to walk, bike or blade along this beautiful waterfront path that stretches for roughly six miles on the north end of the island. Rent bicycles 100 yards from the trail at Palm Beach Bicycle (233 Sunrise Ave.); rates are $12 per hour or $29 for a half-day (four hours).

Mid-Town Beach (400 S. Ocean Blvd.), just north of Worth Avenue, is as beautiful as urban Florida beaches get. Beach access is free, and metered parking is $2 per hour. There are lifeguards year-round.

INFO: The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-833-5733, http://www.palmbeachfl.com) can provide information on both Palm Beach and West Palm.

-- T.W.


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