The World of Lake Worth/West Palm
Lions and mangoes and arts! Oh my!
We were warned to drive slowly through the fenced-in area, leaving the car windows up at all times. Security personnel were stationed throughout the 4-mile enclosure. We may be tempted to give the residents food or call out to them, we were told, but we must not, even if they come up very close to the car and stare at us. We could stare back, definitely, but we were not to get out of our cars. That was fine, especially since so many living there had scary horns. Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee was the least civilized of the places we visited on a fall-feeling-like-summer late September weekend near Florida's East Coast. As West Coasters, we set out to see how the other half lived. Some 900 were a real bunch of animals, including nosy-looking ostriches, snoozing lions, swinging gibbons and a few Asiatic buffalo that stood defiantly and blocked most of the road. Far less primitive but still pleasantly rustic was the Mango Inn Bed and Breakfast in Lake Worth, a 10-room inn owned for just a year or so by the relaxed and accommodating Chet and Po Patel. Chet acted as host in a low-key, old-friend way, explaining that the couple and their two young sons live next door so we should just give a ring when we arrive and he would meet us to check in. Hidden from the street at the inn was a courtyard with a barely tame landscape surrounding a lovely Mediterraneanstyle pool, with at least one red hibiscus flower perpetually floating on the surface. The Mango Inn is in a residential area of mostly old Florida–style houses, a few blocks away from
the bridge to Lake Worth Beach—on Palm Beach Island—in one direction and an artsy downtown in the other. Mango trees on the property seasonally yield the ingredients for the inn’s signature mango jelly and mango French toast, served free, year-round, between the civilized hours of 9 and 10 a.m. Late September tends to be a little slow, Chet Patel explained, so he regularly upgrades guests’ reservations, which put us in the poolside Magnolia Room, decked out in a beach theme and opening to a veranda with café tables and chairs. Lake Worth bills itself as the place “where the tropics begin,” and that’s almost true. In latitudinal terms, it’s the northernmost point of the subtropics. Its seven square miles contain 37,000 residents, a population much more diverse than its Palm Beach neighbors. Its first residents, in the 1880s, were an African-American couple thought to be ex-slaves. After World War II, retirees from Quebec, Finland and Germany arrived. The weekend we visited, the local Mayan community was holding a festival in a nearby park. For a little more than two decades, Lake Worth has fashioned an image as a haven for art. On Feb. 25 and 26, more than
For a little more than two decades, Lake Worth has fashioned an image as a haven for art.
100,000 people are expected to attend the free Street Painting Festival, the city's 23rd, when about 600 artists with chalk will turn downtown streets into an outdoor gallery of designs. In fall and winter, the Lake Worth Art League holds Art Al Fresco gallery days at the Casino Building (despite the name, no gambling) at Lake Worth Beach every two weeks. The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County is headquartered in downtown Lake Worth and serves as an arts hub for the region. It’s inevitable that Lake Worth seems a little rough around the edges compared with neighboring West Palm Beach. But we agree with Mango Inn guest Marlene Ruiz of Miami, there with her husband, Michael. Avid staycationers, they prefer a smaller inn over a palatial hotel, à la the Breakers in Palm Beach. “We love the location. It’s quiet and peaceful. And the owners are so welcoming,” she says. They had arrived on motorcycles the night before for a Toby Keith concert at the fairgrounds in West Palm Beach. We walked on the well-heeled side in West Palm, ambling in for lunch at the new Hilton Hotel, opened last year. Sharing the hotel that day was a Sweet 16 party, headed to the 100-plus stores a street away at downtown’s City Place. Seeming equally at ease were a young woman with cobalt hair and a young man in a “Darkstar” T-shirt, “ComicCon” nametags swinging on their necks. From the Hilton, we walked less than a mile to the Norton Museum of Art. Included in its 7,000-piece collection are works by Pablo Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, plus ancient Chinese artifacts and a world-class photography collection. We were highest on the food chain for dinner at Pistache French Bistro near the West Palm Beach waterfront. Chef de cuisine Isaac Cerny’s fresh ingredients, artful presentation and tasty and imaginative menu were delightful—so much so that I didn’t flinch when telling my vegan daughter later that I had dined on duck and snails (Hudson Valley, with truffled polenta, spinach and sweet cherry sauce, and escargot), followed by a quintessential crème brulée. Back at the Mango Inn, the silence—broken only by the soothing sound of the pool waterfall—was all the nightcap we needed.
Lake Worth Beach has an expanse of sand and cool, blue Atlantic water. Feeding the giraffes (right) is a highlight of Lion Country Safari. The annual Lake Worth Street Painting Festival (below) turns the downtown streets into masterpieces.
The Lake Worth pier reaches into the Atlantic and offers some spectacular fishing. Below: The city of West Palm Beach glistens.
Manor is one of the restaurants at the new West Palm Beach Hilton. Right: The Norton Museum of Art contains 7,000 works of American, European and Chinese art. The skyline (below) of West Palm Beach glows in pinks and purples.