Palm Beach is the home of Roxanne Pulitzer, Yoko Ono and John McEnroe, which supports the theory that this is a place where the Robin Leach quotient runs high. It is a city that has a Season, a city that lies dormant in the unbearable summer humidity until November, when the Rich and Famous filter down to amuse themselves for the winter.
This little island 40 miles north of Fort Lauderdale off the southeast Florida coast is part L.A., part Northeastern moneyed conservatism and part tropical fantasy. The amount of tan haute chic per capita can be daunting. But luckily, a survival guide for a Palm Beach visit is a relatively easy thing to master -- and it's guaranteed to give the rest of us a swell time in the land of the glamo-rich.
1. Rent a convertible. South Florida weather screams for topless cars. Who needs a roof when the blue Florida sky hangs over your head? Once you've got the top down, put on your sunglasses (see Rule No. 2) and cruise Ocean Boulevard past the well-tended homes. Wave to Donald Trump's gardener or Estee Lauder's chauffeur.
2. Buy an outrageous pair of sunglasses. Wearing shades is terribly Palm Beach. Buy them -- the flashier the better -- in a cheesy airport souvenir shop. If anyone asks you where you bought them, say "Worth Avenue."
3. Stroll Worth Avenue. In Paris it's the Champs Elyse'es; in London, Bond Street; in L.A., Rodeo Drive. In Palm Beach, the street synonymous with the toniest shopping is Worth Avenue, where swank rules, and opulence and designer finery fill three blocks of Moorish architecture.
Worth Avenue began as a scrawny dirt road. In 1918, architect Addison Mizner was lured to Palm Beach by his friend Paris Singer, a wealthy socialite who owned land on Worth Avenue. Singer wanted a veteran's hospital built and he wanted Mizner's touch. The fabulous Mediterranean Revival structure was completed in less than a year, and quickly was transformed into the Everglades Club -- now the historical cornerstone of Worth Avenue.
As wealthy northerners continued migrating south, shops opened to lure away the plentiful leisure dollars. Mizner continued to design the shops and the street, borrowing favored elements from European architecture -- fountains, cul-de-sacs, archways and walkways.
Purchase a bauble and count the Rollses parked with motors running while the drivers wait for Madame and the packages from her afternoon blitz of retail therapy.
4. Visit the Breakers. Like a grand oceanfront palace, the Breakers Hotel sits in pronounced elegance on some of the most well-tended grounds in the state. The Breakers is a showcase for all that is grand and fine and civilized. Have breakfast here. Sip imported coffee around the pool. This is best done dressed in something white and sporty with light starch. Read, pontificate, think grandiose and well-mannered thoughts. Imagine that your most pressing decision of the month is whether to increase the number of servants in your employ from 10 to 12.
5. See a polo match. Polo has always seemed the kind of sport properly befitting designer cologne ads, which makes it the ideal sport for this city. There are three polo clubs in the Palm Beach area, and their parking lots are filled with automobiles that scream Status. The striped awnings on the spectator tents blaze across the clear Florida sky like modern art. The spectators look like hired extras for the party scenes from "The Great Gatsby."
The polo field, the size of nine football fields, goes on forever in an even, green stretch. Players are suited in white trousers, leather knee-high shinguards and striped T-shirts -- armor of cotton. Ponies in red and yellow leggings thunder down the field with their captive riders, each man furiously bobbling his mallet overhead.
The season runs December through April and general admission seats go for about $5. Games last about an hour and a half. Save this for early Sunday afternoon, after you've had brunch at Charley's Crab.
6. Brunch at Charley's Crab. Waterfront restaurants are tough to find in this little hamlet, and Charley's Crab sits solo on Ocean Boulevard. This restaurant has a warm, cozy feeling and a fabulous Sunday brunch. Start the morning here with a bloody Mary ("Stoly or Absolut?" the waiter asks) and line up for fresh fruits, smoked fish, a plateful of desserts, all the vegetable and potato dishes known to exist -- and then some. Brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and costs $15.95 a person. Digging in at about 11 a.m. should give you time to catch a 1 p.m. polo match.
7. Visit the Flagler Museum. For a lush slice of history, allot an hour to stroll through the Flagler Mansion, at 1 Whitehall Way. Henry Flagler built the railroad that brought the wealthy northerners to Palm Beach. His house is an elaborate, meticulously designed turn-of-the-century shrine to gracious living. A great place to pause and contemplate the lives of the super-rich.
8. Have a margarita at Chuck & Harold's. Wait until 5 o'clock or so, when the heat starts to recede, and head for Chuck & Harold's at 207 Royal Poinciana Way. It's been around forever and remains the in spot for an apre's-retail spirit. There is a decent menu of munchies and margaritas. They have other drinks, too, but some people think anything other than a margarita at the close of a Palm Beach day is a criminal offense. As you sip, watch the manicured masses stroll by. Sigh a lot because now that you've done Palm Beach, you'll have to trudge back to your mundane, everyday routine -- until next time.
Laura Kelly is managing editor of South Florida magazine.