Superman can fly, X-Men’s Storm can control the weather, Wonder Woman can pull off an over-the-top patriotic leotard in literally any setting and Aqua Man can … uh … Aqua Man can talk to seahorses. And that makes his super power almost as cool as mine.
Getting lost is my super power.
Okay, so perhaps it isn’t exactly a super power, but it is something I’m super good at doing, and thanks to TWIS Travel, I get to put my super power to use by helping you plan a truly spectacular, stress-eliminating weekend getaway — and that’s something I believe we can all agree is pretty super.
The Tiniest TWIS Traveler’s Delray Beach Adventure
As far as vacation spots go, Sarasota sets a high bar — so high, in fact, that it’s easy for those of us who live here to become somewhat anchored to our paradise. However, even the residents of paradise need a vacation from time to time — and Sarasota’s small-town sister, Delray Beach, makes for the perfect escape just 3.5 hours away on the Atlantic coast.
When I caught wind of the news that Delray Beach was crowned “The Most Fun Small Town in America” in Rand McNally’s annual “Best of the Road” contest, I knew it was time to pack a bag and see what the hullabaloo was all about.
Because my existence is one great personification of Murphy’s Law, I scheduled my mini-vacation to a beach town in South Florida during the same weekend that Tropical Nuisance Isaac decided to pay a visit. Luckily, Delray Beach wasn’t about to let a little inclement weather spoil the trip.
The sky was beginning to darken as I found my way to the lobby of the historic Colony Hotel, but I was too distracted by the sensation of stepping into a Humphrey Bogart movie (think Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca) to care about the brewing storm.
Built in the 1920s, the boutique hotel is furnished with rich tropical colors, hardwood floors, antique furniture and an old-fashioned crank elevator, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to picture the Rat Pack lighting up Cuban cigars and knocking back Manhattans under the shade of umbrellas on the hotel’s street-side patio.
Atlantic Avenue, the robust main vein of downtown Delray Beach, beckoned just below my second story window, so I promptly abandoned my bags (including the one containing a map, of course) and hit the street to spend the remainder of the drizzly afternoon scoping out the downtown scene.
Although getting lost is my super power, even I can’t manage such a feat when all I have to do is walk in a straight line to find a unique restaurant or café, posh night club or friendly pub, casual coffee shop, juice bar or boutique at every step. A jaunt down Atlantic Avenue is a vacation in and of itself.
Imagine if you will, Miami’s South Beach in an alternate universe — a universe where the species Snooki does not exist and Orange Tang™ is not a skin tone; where you never have to wait in line or pay an outrageous cover just to dance and where you can order a cocktail without taking out a mortgage on your home.
It may sound too good to be true, but that place does exist, and it is downtown Delray Beach. Businesses along the easily walk-able Atlantic Avenue retain a spirit of neighborly camaraderie reminiscent of Sarasota’s Main Street, but infuse that down-to-earth vibe with a shot of South Florida’s famed nightlife.
From the premium burger and craft beer gastropub The Office, to the swanky late-night sushi lounge Buddha Sky Bar, to the organic, farm-to-fork gourmet restaurant Max’s Harvest, the only difficult thing about eating and drinking well in Delray Beach is deciding where to do it.
With a head full of ideas about places to later explore, I headed over to the Morakami Museum and Japanese Gardens to catch “Sushi and Stroll,” an after-hours special that takes place monthly at the museum throughout the summer.
Ideally, the universe would have scheduled a pleasant, sunny day for me to spend in the Morikami Gardens — I may have taken creative license and written in a couple butterflies or a bluebird on my shoulder — but alas, the sun had long since taken its leave when thunderstorm finally erupted and I found myself soggy and very much lost in the garden.
Lightning ignited the sky as the monsoon broke loose, so I took refuge in the nearest gazebo. From the vantage point of my private shelter, I was awash with the scent of the jasmine in bloom around me as I watched the raindrops trickle through the lush foliage and race streams through the Zen rock garden. By the time the rain let up and I found my way back to the museum, I could think of no better weather for a stroll through the Morikami Gardens — no actual sunshine or creative license required.
Drenched and chilled to the bone, but feeling spiritually invigorated, I returned to downtown Delray and picked up a Zagat-rated Philly Cheesesteak sandwich (seriously, this town has a sterling answer to every craving) at Big Al’s Steaks before returning to my hotel to run a hot bubble bath.
(Yes, I ate the sandwich in my bubble bath and yes, it was an obscenely glorious way to close out my evening. However, it’s a part of the trip I cannot illustrate in any further detail because for some reason, no one wants to let me brand the first TWIS Travel article as a smutty novella about a girl and her Philly Cheesesteak. Sorry, guys.)
On Saturday morning, I took a damp stroll to downtown Delray Beach’s arts district, Pineapple Grove — and that’s where my ability to get very lost truly kicked in and led me straight into some of Delray’s best hidden secrets.
First, my wanderings took me into Kismet Recycled Vintage and Designer Clothing, an absolute must-browse for retro fashionistas. I lost myself in a sea of decades of paisley and polka-dots, a leather jacket collection rivaling that of the Fonz, denim in its every incarnation and racks of designer vintage-wear that looked straight off the set of Mad Men.
Later in my amblings, I nearly passed by an innocuous strip mall storefront, but the scent of nag champa lured me into Project Mate, a gourmet Yerba Mate bar and concept shop that serves up ice-cold mason jars of the delicious, antioxidant rich super-tea from Brazil, and sells the work of local and international artists.
Project Mate co-owners Daniele Flores and Jonathan Delgado told me about the thriving artist community in Pineapple Grove and led me through the shop’s back door into “Artist Alley,” where Flores pointed out sculptures by local artists and helped me tell the difference between “garage” and “awesome secret art studio” — it’s tough to tell in Artist Alley.
This is the truly off-the-beaten-path district of Delray Beach, full of artists creating and displaying their work in abandoned industrial spaces such as Cacace Fine Art, an old generator repair garage converted into a sophisticated gallery featuring a little of everything from early 20th century wood engravings to contemporary Steampunk style clocks.
At Flores’ suggestion, I also paid a visit to Brenda’s Birds, a family-owned exotic bird sanctuary where chickens and roosters mingle freely with hand-tamed macaw parrots and cockatoos. If variety truly is the spice of life, then Pineapple Grove is bursting with flavor.
I ran into the industrial-space-turned-cultural-hub phenomenon again later that evening, when I attended an intimate concert featuring jazz guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg in the downtown Arts Garage, a hip, multidisciplinary space for visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, performers and art educators located in the bottom level of a city parking garage.
Heeding the suggestions of the folks seated near me who are obviously way cooler than I am (they always knew the appropriate time to clap, which for some reason tends to be a mystery to me at jazz concerts) I rounded out the suitable-for-print portion of the second and final night of my far-too-short Delray Beach vacation at Dada, a late-night restaurant and lounge housed in a 1920s cottage home.
Folk-punk one night and a live art performance the next is standard at Dada, whose culinary offerings are just as impressive as the entertainment. Any place I can get food after midnight is a winner in my book, but a place where I can enjoy maple glazed habanero salmon with a whiskey ginger and live music? Sold.
Unfortunately, Isaac whipped through the Keys and delivered bands of heavy wind and rain that robbed me of my final day in Delray Beach, but the vacation I managed in less than two days left me looking forward to my return — and next time, I’ll know my lay of the land.
Here are some dates to consider planning a trip to Delray to catch the best of what the city has to offer:
- November 10 and 11, 2012: The First Annual Delray Beach Food and Wine Festival comes to downtown Delray Beach this fall.
- February 8 – 10, 2013: The 14th Annual Garlic Festival celebrates the titan of the spice world during the “Best stinkin’ party in town.”
- April 5 – 7, 2013: The 51st Annual Delray Affair is the largest arts and crafts festival in the Southeast United States, dubbed “The Greatest Show Under the Sun.”
Have a weekend getaway destination you want me to check out next? Let us know in the comments, and I’ll get to work on getting lost, becoming immersed, and sharing the best that Florida has to offer. Let’s have some adventures together, TWIS-lers!
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