We lived in northern Palm Beach County (separately and together) for decades. I grew up in Martin County, which is immediately north of Palm Beach County. Over the course of those years we have visited All. The. Places. whether on our own or while hosting visitors from out of town. The area is full of friends and family. As a result, it is impossible for me to be even remotely objective when describing this area, so in this post I’ll just give a few reasons why this part of South Florida is the best.
The Best State Park
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, it’s very difficult to get winter reservations at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, but there is a reason for all the fuss. Not only is the park located in a scenic area of South Florida, but the park itself has a lot to offer visitors. The Pine Grove Campground was obviously laid out by someone with plenty of RV experience, because the sites are great. Sites are large and level with full hookups (electric, water, sewer), and even though there is little tree cover on this sand dune (don’t be fooled by the name!) there is still a decent amount of privacy. The park strategically angles and offsets the sites and uses some large seagrape mounds to create a surprising level of privacy in this fairly open campground. The bathhouses are modern and spotless, and there are four separate bathhouses serving just 90 sites so there are no lines for showers and it’s never a long trek to the bathhouse. Unusually for public parks, this state park even receives mail for campers. All this good stuff comes at the very affordable price of $26/night. There is a second campground located further into the park, near the river recreation area, called the River Campground. It’s a little more rustic and more suited for smaller rigs, though several of the long pull-throughs on the outside of the loop would work for big rigs and offer great nature views and a much quieter environment away from US1.
Outside of the campground, the main attraction of the park is the lovely Loxahatchee River, which is federally designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. The portion of the river from the state park inland is almost completely undeveloped, making for a real Florida adventure by water. The concessionaire at the park’s boat ramp rents kayaks and canoes, but we took the opportunity to try out our new inflatable kayak. There are many options on the market, and after much research we ended up with the Driftsun Almanor 130. We don’t have a lot of extra storage space; our truck bed is covered with a tonneau cover that is the height of the bed alone and not a cap that goes up to the full height of the cab. Most of our truck bed space is full with our generator, grill, solar panel, electrical cords, water hoses, and tools. The kayak model we chose packs down to a very small size, weighs only 35 pounds, and yet according to reviews is very durable. We are not expert kayakers, but we thought the tracking, maneuverability, and steering of the boat were fairly comparable to hard-sided sit-on-top kayaks that we have rented. We have a water-intensive itinerary in 2020, and I think our new craft will be a perfect tool to help us enjoy many of those places.
The Best Golf
I am a graduate of Wake Forest University which has a proud tradition of golf greatness. Among my fellow Demon Deacons are The King (Arnold Palmer), Len Mattiace, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Billy Andrade, three Haases (Jerry, Jay, and Bill), and Webb Simpson. I have never played a round of golf in my life but obviously my BA from WFU qualifies me to comment critically on all things golf.
The World Golf Hall of Fame may be located in Ponte Vedra Beach, up the coast between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, but in our hearts we know that northern Palm Beach County is the true home of American golf. Not only is the PGA of America headquartered here, but ever since Jack Nicklaus moved to the area in 1967 the place has been crawling with golfers. Local news tells us that 45 current PGA tour members live in this area. When we lived in northern Palm Beach County, professional golfers who lived within a 5-mile radius of our home included Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, and Louis Oosthuizen. These golfers were an everyday part of the community; Ernie and his wife established a local charter school for kids with disabilities, and many golfers were frequently seen at restaurants around town. Sadly, I am so oblivious that I never noticed any, but I am pretty sure I was once in line at Whole Foods behind Tiger’s then-wife Elin, so that’s something.
There are many great courses in the area, but the top dog is the outstanding Champion Course at PGA National. The famous three-hole stretch designed by Jack Nicklaus and known as the Bear Trap (holes 15 through 17) is a real technical and mental challenge for golfers, not just a gimmick like the annoying little 17th green island at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra. Happily, our visit coincided with the Honda Classic golf tournament, a PGA Tour event played each year on the Champion Course which we have attended many times.
We spent a glorious Saturday at the tournament, arriving before 9 a.m. and spending the whole day. Attending a golf tournament is a very different experience from most live professional sports. In contrast to fans sitting in assigned seats at football, baseball, hockey, or basketball games, golf spectators are free to move around the (very large) course. We walked most of the course and Fitbit says we clocked 5.5 miles that day. And because fans are out on the course along with the golfers, it’s easy for general ticket holders to get very close to the action. It’s not at all unusual to be standing 6 feet from a pro golfer and his caddy while they discuss an upcoming shot. Some of the players chat with fans as they walk through the course. There are some stadium-style seats placed around some of the popular holes, and it can also be fun to sit at one hole watching multiple groups of golfers come through parade style. The large course is full of lakes and pristine grassy areas, meaning that it’s also full of wildlife. When we had lulls in the golf action we enjoyed watching fearless sandhill cranes milling around amidst the groups of people, wading birds wandering along the sides of lakes, and loud Egyptian geese staking out their territories. As a lover of all things technical and industrial, I was also fascinated by the temporary equipment set up for TV coverage and watching the analysts who walk the course carrying microphones and transmitting equipment to provide TV narration from the course.
The only negative about our experience at the Honda was that the PGA Tour schedule this year was not favorable to the tournament, sandwiching it on the weekend between the World Golf Classic in Mexico City and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (which is followed immediately by The Players Championship, the so-called Fifth Major). As a result many of the top players skipped this year’s Honda, despite having the opportunity to sleep in their own beds during the tournament. Even with the absence of big names in the field we saw plenty of good golf and tremendously enjoyed the event. We capped off the day by joining a festive group of Wake Forest alumni and parents at one of the bar-style venues set up on the course for the tournament.
The Best Beaches
Our former home beach (3 miles from our house) is the lovely Juno Beach, and of course it is the best. Many beaches in Florida are unfortunately crowded with condominiums and hard to access, but at Juno there is plenty of parking and public access along A1A since the beach side of the road has all been preserved as public land. The beach north of the pier is dog-friendly Jupiter Beach, where we used to take our greyhounds. Even though we don’t have a dog now, it’s still fun to walk a beach that’s alive with furry friends chasing after balls and barking at waves. This is also a favorite spot with kiteboarders, who make this complicated skill look very easy.
For those seeking a less crowded beach, the perfect answer is a short drive from Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge covers the northern 5+ miles of Jupiter Island, and thanks to the very low population of that exclusive barrier island and the nominal entry fee to the refuge ($5, free with the federal interagency pass) the beach is pretty much deserted. We visited on a day that was a little too windy but it was still soothing to walk on a pristine, empty beach that serves as a haven for nesting sea turtles in the summer.
The Best Tropical Gardens
No stay in the area would be complete without a visit to our home botanical garden. The Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach really shows off the area’s subtropical climate, with orchids and bromeliads gaudily decorating every tree. Instead of being confined to stuffy little greenhouses, gorgeous and interesting species from all over the world, like the Madagascar vanilla orchid, live outside here and can grow to their full potential. The garden has particularly strong collections of plants from the Caribbean, South and Central America (especially begonias), and Southeast Asia. The outdoor butterfly garden is always alive with critters — no need for a butterfly house here!
The garden does suffer a bit from being located directly in the flight path of Palm Beach International Airport, so moments of contemplation are regularly interrupted by the roar of jet engines. But it’s easy to tune that out and focus on the interesting vistas and plants that populate the 14 acre garden. The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami and the Naples Botanical Garden are much larger and also excellent examples of tropical gardens, but of course I am partial to the place where I spent many hours volunteering. Since I was last a regular volunteer, the garden has upped its game of hosting interesting art exhibits. The current show features 25 large anthropomorphic frog sculptures made from metal and other media, and adds an element of whimsy to the lovely garden. Even the name (“Ribbit the Exhibit”) makes me laugh.
The Very Best Family and Friends
Of course the main attraction of this area is the wealth of friends and family in the area. I was particularly happy that I could be in town while my mom underwent eye surgery at nearby Bascom Palmer Eye Institute to correct a retina problem. Being present to support her during many appointments and during her recovery proved to be one of the best features of being mobile. We also had ample opportunity to catch up with friends. Most of those folks follow the blog so they know what we’ve been up to, so we were happy to learn what our friends have been doing in the last several years. The best part, of course, was a warmth that can only come from long separation, along with that immediate rapport that only comes from well-established friendships. It was a welcome contrast to all the interactions we have with relative strangers in our travels. I also welcomed the opportunity to subject people (not just animals and plants) to Portrait Mode…. with apologies to those we saw who didn’t get photos in the blog. We were having such a good time with you that we forgot to take pictures.
More of the Best Activities
Since we spent a lot of time on chores and spending time with friends and family we barely scratched the surface of the many attractions in the area. Some of the things we didn’t have time to do, but which we have enjoyed in the past, include:
- An afternoon of polo at the International Polo Club in Wellington. A $10 general admission ticket provides front row seats (albeit uncovered benches) to hours of truly interesting and exciting play, with agile horses thundering down the field just in front of the stands. Matches occur every Sunday at 3 pm from January through March.
- Free and excellent birdwatching at two water department facilities that have been turned into natural filtration marshes: Wakodahatchee Wetlands (my prior post here) and Green Cay Nature Center (prior post here).
- Biking or hiking in the Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which preserves the northern reaches of the Everglades ecosystem. It’s much closer and easier than driving all the way down to Miami.
- Learning about Florida’s early maritime history by visiting the only remaining House of Refuge, one of ten structures built by the Coast Guard in 1876 along Florida’s unpopulated Atlantic coast to provide shelter for shipwrecked sailors.
- Climbing the historic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. We did admire its iconic red paint job as we drove by it almost every day.
- Appreciating unique monumental brick sculptures at one of the hidden gems of West Palm Beach: the peaceful Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens.
- Cooing over cute sea turtles being rehabilitated at the impressive Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
It’s All Fun and Games Until the Toilet Breaks
Living in a house that’s constantly experiencing earthquake conditions means that we are always doing maintenance on the rig, and furnishings definitely do not last as long as in a regular house. Now that we have two years of full time living in the trailer, there are plenty of latches and hinges that have failed and needed replacement, and we still regularly find random screws on the floor that appeared out of nowhere when we arrive at a new camping spot. Until now, none of these failures has been more than a nuisance and we’ve been able to limp along using temporary solutions until we were at a place with access to parts. But when the flush pedal snapped off our toilet, we needed to fix that immediately. We quickly determined that our toilet unit (the Dometic 310) is a single manufactured piece and replacing the pedal alone is not an option. The closest RV dealer (Copley’s in Hobe Sound) was able to get us a replacement toilet the following day and installation was fairly easy once we figured out how to wedge our bodies into the narrow confines of our bathroom to reach the necessary valves and screws. People who dream of hitting the road based on spectacular Instagram photos of dramatic scenery probably aren’t imagining giving themselves back problems doing their own plumbing, but regular readers of the blog will know that this sort of fun is par for the course.
In other news, I took my laptop in for much-needed service at the Apple store. The left side of my keyboard was failing, especially the C key, and it was pretty annoying that my blog posts talked about “ampgrounds” and “beahes” that we visited. Happily this is a known problem with an established fix covered by warranty, so I can stop trying to avoid the ubiquitous letter C in my writing.
We also finalized and filed our 2019 taxes, and were pleased to find that we still qualify for a premium tax credit to offset much of the cost of our health insurance. The post detailing our 2019 cost of full time RVing has been updated to reflect the premium tax credit.
Next: it’s already getting hot in South Florida so it is high time we start heading up the peninsula. Plus, we are exhausted. Our next stop is a leisurely one at Blue Spring State Park northeast of Orlando.