A version of this story originally appeared in the Florida Weekly Palm Beach Gardens May 20, 2011 edition.
By Jan Norris
If gas woes have you down, consider a staycation in a spot where you can park the car for a week and never need it. With everything you want in shopping, dining and entertainment within walking distance, the downtown Delray Beach area might just be the answer.
In mid June, longtime restaurateur Dennis Max will open his first new venture in a decade. Max’s Harvest will go into Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove – just one part of the thriving downtown area based along Atlantic Avenue.
Max said what he likes about Delray is the neighborhood feel the area has – with a more relaxed crowd than Boca Raton, where his Max’s Grille just celebrated 20 years.
It’s that small-town in a bigger-city feel that attracts many to the once-sleepy beachside city where the Barefoot Mailman once delivered his posts on foot, via the beach. A pavilion still stands at Ocean Boulevard where once winter visitors came to gamble at the city’s casino and swim in the salt-water pool.
Day or night, the Avenue, as it’s called, hums with foot and auto traffic that’s still only two lanes, with street parking – and no meters – available.
Despite all the new construction projects all around, including condos in Pineapple Grove and near the Tennis Center or around Old School Square, the town’s long-timers survive well.
Locals and visitors alike are coming to dine and shop, or hang out with friends – maybe at the Green Owl, a diner that’s been here since the ‘70s, and still serves up banana pancakes and tunafish sandwiches to the politicos and city wags. It’s packed on weekends, when even the sidewalk tables are on a wait.
Not far away is Mercer-Wentzel, a family-owned department store rooted in the ‘50s, and near that is Hand’s, the stationery and office supply shop that’s outfitted office workers and schoolkids with their supplies since 1934. Buy shoes at Vince Canning or have them repaired at George’s Shoe Repair.
The Cornell Museum is housed in Old School Square – site of Delray’s old schoolhouse. Across the street is Doc’s Ice Cream, where residents have been getting their cold, creamy licks for decades.
Sprinkled among eye doctor offices, old furniture stores, newsstands, and trouser shops that have served more than two generations of the town are the newcomers – The Office, a gastro pub with a reputation for great burgers; Scuola Vecchia, an Old World style pizzeria, or Deck 84, a new casual waterfront American bar and grill.
Oyster bars, sushi restaurants, a British pub, a new steakhouse (Prime), bakeries and numerous pizza parlors are woven in.
Murder on the Beach is the kitschy mystery book shop; Snappy Turtle sells clothing, accessories and giftware with a tropical theme. For vintage wear, there’s Kismet Recycled Vintage and Designer Clothing in Pineapple Grove, or Second Time Around on Fourth Avenue.
Beachfront dining includes the locals’ hangout, Boston’s on the Beach (wear your Red Sox apparel), and Caffe Luna Rosa, an indoor-outdoor Italian that’s open morning to night.
Sundy House Set in a Romantic Botanical Garden
As for places to stay in the heart of the district, there are several choices. The Sundy House is just that – a house, or rather estate, turned inn. The old mayor’s homestead, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was transformed into a boutique inn with 11 rooms, each with its own décor. Set among the lush tropical botanical gardens on the grounds, it’s also noted for the restaurant that serves a romantic Sunday brunch. A “free Sundy nights” package (stay two nights, get one free) is one of several available here this summer.
Colony and Cabana Club Overlooks Avenue
Visitors to the Colony and Cabana Club, another historic landmark property along Atlantic Avenue, can choose from a number of uniquely designed rooms based on Old Florida themes with new Florida amenities. The hotel is one of the first to go “green” and prides itself on environmentally friendly practices.
Packages include a pet summer special that includes a Waggs to Riches grooming session – but no dogs can book alone – the hotel’s note says “canines must be accompanied by a human companion.”
If you’re dog-free, check out the Yoga special, with yoga classes in the lobby daily.
The Cabana Club gives hotel guests private beach access with a pool set oceanside, and cabanas, of course, available for a day-at-the-beach use.
Crane’s Beach House a Tropical Oasis
Tucked away on a side street within blocks of the beach is Crane’s BeachHouse and Tiki Bar, with 27 rooms and suites all decorated in different tropical, Key West type themes.
Two poolside tiki bars offer up mojitos and pina coladas, among other drinks, to thirsty sunbathers; the lush gardens with water elements and outdoor artwork give the small hotel a mini-resort-like feel.
Special “staycation” rates apply for summer – with 20 percent off rooms and suites that can accommodate families – and their pets.
Beachfront Marriott a Resort
Those wanting a bigger, mainstream resort can check out the Marriott on S.R. A1A, facing the ocean. With everything a large resort offers, including a spa, room choices varying from luxury suites to standard rooms, a business center for the poor saps who must take working vacations, to a fitness center, it accommodates all types of travelers. Spa packages and others – including a $50 gas credit for staying two nights, are available here.
IF YOU STAY
- Sundy House, 106 Swinton Ave., Delray Beach
- 561-272-5678; www.sundyhouse.com
- The Colony Hotel and Cabana Club, 525 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
- 561-276-4123; www.thecolonyhotel.com/florida/
- Crane’s BeachHouse and Tiki Bar, 82 Gleason St., Delray Beach;
- 561-278-1700; www.cranesbeachhouse.com
- Marriott Delray Beach, 10 N. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach
- 561-278-8111; www.Marriott.com/DelrayBeach/