The Reinvention of Delray Beach
Anyone seeking a Florida vacation this winter that has more sand than scene, needn't look further than Delray Beach - the Sunshine State's new best-kept secret.
After decades of being branded an enclave of the saggy support hose set (thanks to a plethora of retirement communities), this hidden gem of the Palm Beaches has undergone a transformation not seen since South Beach's late 80s renaissance. The town now teems with hot bodies, funky hotels and some of the best eateries on the state's east coast. No longer the shabby cousin of Boca or Palm Beach, Delray has arrived.
For urban dwellers like myself, Delray is more than doable without a car. Its nearly two miles of beach are within easy walking distance west of many of the city's new or newly renovated hotels. A bustling nightlife is a scenic walk over the Atlantic Avenue bridge. My stay in Delray at The Seagate Hotel & Spa gave me the best of both.
Standing only four floors high with classic blue awnings, the Seagate boasts a sleek modern interior décor. Straddling the best of both worlds, the Seagate is Palm Beach on the outside and South Beach on the inside. Large rooms with huge private balconies offer maximum comfort wrapped in old school Floridian style.
One of the best amenities of the Seagate is its private beach club. Located a mile walk or five minute shuttle ride (provided by the property), the British Colonial style club sports a pool, bar and restaurant. And while there were more children than I cared to deal with by the pool, it was only steps away from the Atlantic, where cute cabana boys were more than happy to set me up with a beach chair, umbrella and cocktail. More intrepid members of my party chose to paddle board or kayak in the ocean, but I was here for relaxation -and a second Bloody Mary.
On my walk back from the beach, I peeked in on Crane's Beach House - a delightful hidden renovated mid-20th century hotel. With its flowering gardens, pool and Tiki Bar, Crane's is the embodiment of oasis. Perfect for long-term vacationers, Crane's offers a variety of studio and one-bedroom units with full kitchens.
Dining in Delray
After a day at the beach, Delray will give you a hundred reasons to lose your beach body with an abundance of first-rate restaurants. Standouts include Mastino's Italian Soul Food. Its wood-fired pizza had a chic urban flare that cured any New Yorker culinary homesickness. The eggplant stack was sublime.
For sushi lovers, Buddha Sky Bar boasts an extensive sushi menu that can be consumed inside in classic Asian style or al fresco on a private outdoor dining room.
Fans of classic barbecue won't want to miss Smoke BBQ. Home of chef Bryan Tyrell - member of the two-time American Royal World Series of Barbecue Championship Team, Smoke is a carnivore's dream. I had a dual tasting of savory smoked brisket and pulled pork sliders. As a side dish, the fried Parmesan brussel sprouts is not to be missed.
In keeping with the vibe of the town, Delray's restaurants are significantly less formal than in neighboring Boca Raton or Palm Beach. And while you'd be best to leave your flip-flops at the hotel, this is still very much a beach community where fashion definitely leans to chic casual.
A caveat to diners, Delray's restaurants are notorious for their long waits. If you don't have a reservation, you may end up barhopping for a while before you get your table. One way to avoid this is by taking a Savor Our City culinary tour, where a group of ten or more have the opportunity to sample a number of the city's fabulous restaurants all in the course of one evening with little or no wait time.
Taking It Easy
While the city has largely shed it's "blue hair" reputation, cultural offerings for performing arts remain geared to seniors. That said, for this classic movie lover and diehard showmosexual, the Costume Museum at the Wick Theatre was almost worth sitting through a rather staid production of "Oklahoma."
On paper, the gay scene in Delray is pretty thin, with little or no establishments that cater exclusively to an LGBT crowd. That is not to say that gay vacationers will feel out of place. Strolling around the downtown restaurant district on Atlantic, I saw lots of gay couples holding hands. On the city's two miles of beach, gay sun worshippers seemed more than comfortable around the straight singles and families - and vice versa. All signifying that like Delray, we've arrived.