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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Weekend Getaway

De Land offers a three-in-one package deal of Florida attractions: In one weekend (without excessive hours whiled away on Interstate 95) you can enjoy Spanish moss-strewn Old South, Disney-tinged commercialism, and lush natural beauty. Located about 225 miles north of West Palm Beach, De Land echoes Savannah, Georgia: Both towns boast graceful architecture and bona fide downtowns. But unlike the isolated Savannah, De Land sits conveniently between Orlando and the Ocala National Forest. While you're in De Land, have dinner at the Holiday House Restaurant, located at 704 N. Woodland Blvd., across from Stetson University. While you clean off your plate of Southern-style buffet samplings, members of restaurant cofounder Willa Cook's family watch: Family portraits, each painted by Cook herself, literally cover the walls. Cook, aside from starting a thriving restaurant in 1959 and working as a professional painter, also happens to be a three-time water-skiing world champion. Eating aside, the turn-of-the-century storefronts warrant a nice stroll through downtown De Land, and the university's architecturally diverse campus beckons. If you like hiking, the best section of the Florida Trail happens to cut right through the nearby national forest, where the trail weaves through gently rolling hills. And when you tire of the outdoors and sleepy Southern charm, the mouse awaits.

Best Activist Neighborhood

When the Norton Museum of Art asked the West Palm Beach city commission to overrule the city's historic preservation board and OK the destruction of a 1920s garage to make way for the museum's latest round of expansion, the trustees expected to get their way. Not in Mango Promenade. The residents of this narrow peninsula of a neighborhood, less than 12 blocks long and a block and a half wide, have watched the well-funded cultural Goliath grow and devour their district's northernmost blocks through the years. Not this time. Mango Promenade was the city's very first automobile suburb, said the working folk whose sweat equity had revived the neighborhood in recent years, and those old garages are central to its character. The Mangoistas took that argument to a packed city hall hearing in February, outdueled a team of Norton lawyers and architects, and convinced the commission, for once, to do the right thing.

Best Anti-Boca Bar in Boca

Boca Raton is notorious for symbolizing South Florida's anticulture: stuffy, platinum-pated, insufferably posh, and full of itself. We wouldn't want to grow up there. But if worse came to worst, at least there's one small pinpoint of hipness in this vast bad-jewelry-and-plastic-surgery capital. It's stuck behind a 7-Eleven off the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Dixie Highway. It's dark, dank, and about as unpretentiously pretentious as can be. For Boca's disaffected youth (or at least those of legal drinking age), it's nice to have a walk-to watering hole sans $13 chocolate martinis or dress-code elitism. What it does offer, besides reasonably priced cold frosty ones, is music of the live, local, and loud variety. How does such a bastion of anarchy survive in tanned, tony Tinselville? We haven't a clue, but we're sure glad the Boca Pub exists. Maybe there's hope for Boca Raton after all.

Best Architecture
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Courtesy of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Who would have expected Japanese colonists in South Florida? Well, they were here, nearly a century ago, and although their Yamato farming community in Boca Raton didn't last, their legacy lives on in the form of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Think of this 200-acre complex as an organic whole, the way a Zen Buddhist might, and you'll begin to appreciate the architectural splendor of the place, which is actually made up of two distinct museum buildings and an intricate series of gardens linking them. The original "Yamato-kan," which opened in 1977, is a replica of a traditional Japanese villa, wrapped around a starkly beautiful rock garden and set on a small island. Nearly a mile of carefully manicured trails winds through half a dozen styles of gardens, each magnificent in its own way, to take you up the hill to the new museum, which opened in 1993. It's a much grander structure, also inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, featuring galleries, a teahouse, and a 225-seat theater. Between the two buildings is a large lake stocked with turtles and big, colorful Japanese carp that gather at a feeding station on the island, where, by the way, you can take in a collection of bonsai trees, which demonstrate that, in Japanese hands, even nature can be transformed into architecture.

4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach, 33446
Best Bar in a Warehouse

If David Lynch were scouting for locations around Fort Lauderdale to film his next bizarre odyssey, chances are that Charlie's Rustic Bay Inn would be near the top of his list. But even if Lynch doesn't introduce dancing midgets, locals can say with some certainty that this is one of the weirdest watering holes around. Wedged between auto body shops in a forbidding industrial neighborhood, Charlie's looks like a place you'd bring your truck to have the engine valves adjusted. But inside the tiny, smoky, wood-paneled room is a small range of liquor and bottled beers peeking from an old cooler. The clientele is rough, gruff, and seedy -- just the type you'd expect at a clandestine joint such as this. But the real attractions are the tag-team servers behind the bar. These pneumatic women exude a certain scent of naughtiness that makes one wonder what might happen if the mood were to strike them. Imagine the possibilities.

Best Bed and Breakfast

If you've done any B&B-hopping in your life, you know the stellar inns are historied, meandering mansions. Stay in those B&Bs -- often Victorian style -- and you can almost hear the echoes of butlers announcing guests and piano lessons in the music room. Trouble is, Queen Victoria held little sway in South Florida, and venerable homesteads are few. Though it doesn't date back quite to Her Majesty's reign, the mansionesque Caribbean Quarters, built in 1939, captures some of the feel of yesteryear -- and stands within a block of the beach. The three-story B&B's spacious courtyard is an oasis from the hubbub of the beachfront and features a spa, lush vegetation, trellis centerpiece, and tables from which to eat that namesake breakfast. Rooms are swank, some with hardwood flooring and tiles preserved from original construction. Prices range from $75 to $175 during summer season, $110 to $220 in the winter. We are amused.


Best Weekend Getaway: De Land, Florida


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