Hip things to do in West Palm Beach

A view of the Intracoastal Waterway and the skyline of tony Palm Beach from the eastern end of Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. SI LIBERMAN
A view of the Intracoastal Waterway and the skyline of tony Palm Beach from the eastern end of Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. SI LIBERMAN
Posted: July 15, 2012

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It doesn't have a bathing beach or a five-star hotel, but what this city of 105,000 does have for fun-lovers is Clematis Street and CityPlace, a pair of hip entertainment/shopping complexes with a South Beach flavor that grew out of downtown slum areas.

U.S. News & World Report has ranked West Palm Beach as the 11th-best summer vacation destination and the fourth-best for a golf vacation. And right now, hotels and restaurants are offering off-season discounts of up to 50 percent.

The long depressed, urban Palm Beach County seat has come alive, and Donald Trump, who never met a superlative he didn't embrace, has been quoted in People magazine as describing Clematis as "the hottest street in South Florida."

No wonder.

It's near where the billionaire promoter has put his name, bucks, and prestige into twin 32-story downtown condominium towers overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. He also has announced plans for another high-rise waterfront condominium building within walking distance of Clematis Street and CityPlace.

Once a virtually abandoned, ghostly downtown area, Clematis has been transformed into a lively five-block, palm-tree-lined section of interesting restaurants, shops, jazz and rock joints, outdoor cafes, and art galleries.

CityPlace, its neighbor less than a mile away, is a European-style, palm-tree-studded center with dancing water fountains amid 100 trendy shops, a dozen restaurants and nightclubs, a 20-screen movie theater, and nearly 600 new residences in pastel-colored high-rise buildings.

Clematis is a nightclubber's delight, with a dozen dance clubs and taverns with names like Lost Weekend, Dr. Feelgood, and Blind Monk catering to hipster crowds.

On Thursday nights, there are free concerts by the area's top rock, jazz, blues, and reggae bands at the street's recently completed $30 million waterfront park, art pavilion, and docking area on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.

On almost any sunny day you see young pedal-pushing entrepreneurs wheeling tourists around town and between Clematis and CityPlace in bicycle-pulled carriages. A free 10-minute ride in an open-air, vintage-style trolley also connects the street with CityPlace.

Impetus for CityPlace was the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, a $68 million glass and steel showplace that opened in 1992. It replaced a weedy, derelict section of the city near I-95. Eight years later came the $600 million development of CityPlace.

Named after the late philanthropist Raymond F. Kravis, the Kravis Center is an ornate, state-of-the-art, two-stage showplace that spotlights celebrity entertainers, international artists, and Tony Award-winning Broadway shows. It also is the home of the celebrated Palm Beach Pops Orchestra and its multitalented conductor, Bob Lappin, a gifted pianist and a recent Florida Atlantic University Cultural Leader of the Year honoree.

According to Kravis Center spokeswoman Ilene Arons, the center's 642 shows and related events during the last year attracted nearly 400,000 patrons and provided facilities for 4,917 students to participate in performing-arts programs.

"It's just an amazing place," she says.

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