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Why West Palm Beach, FL, Is a Best Place To Live

The biggest city in one of Florida's most desirable counties is a cultural hotspot for art, nightlife and water sports.

By Cheryl Rodewig on January 11, 2022

West Palm Beach FL downtown
iStock/Sean Pavone

Easygoing, artsy and international, West Palm Beach combines urban chic with breezy coastal living. While Palm Beach County might be best known as the winter retreat of the rich and famous, its largest city is diverse and cosmopolitan.

Shopping ranges from outlets to antiques and thrift stores to designer labels, and housing runs the gamut from affordable ranches to multimillion-dollar waterfront properties. And when you do want a luxe staycation, the posh town of Palm Beach, home to nearly 50 billionaires, is just across the bridge.

But you don’t need six (or 10) figures to live in West Palm Beach. This vibrant Florida city made our Best Places to Live list, in part, for its attainable luxury. Here’s why it’s one of the best places to live in Florida.

Waterfront view of West Palm Beach FL
Flavio Vallenari

Waterfront Culture

As with most Florida cities ranked on our list of the Best Places to Live, the main draw is being close to the water. Lake Worth Lagoon forms a scenic shoreline for West Palm Beach, and every kind of water sport is here for your pleasure: paddle boarding, parasailing, kayaking, canoeing, surfing, scuba diving. In addition, water temperatures conveniently stay in the 70s and 80s nearly year-round.

But despite its relaxed beach town vibe, West Palm Beach has a big-city style. It’s the cultural hub of the county with a wealth of art and entertainment. There’s opera, improv, theater and symphony, plus the state’s largest waterfront music and arts festival, SunFest. Catch a Broadway show at the recently expanded Kravis Center for the Performing Arts or carouse along Clematis Street with its many nightlife options.

Food is gourmet and often local. You’ll find upscale restaurants with vast wine menus as easily as casual bites at trendy cafes — and lots of fresh seafood. Don’t miss the weekly GreenMarket, featuring 100 vendors along the Intracoastal Waterway from October through April and voted the country’s top farmers market by USA Today 10Best readers.

Amenities for All To Enjoy

Besides the tropical climate, culture and lagoon views, West Palm Beach has quite a few perks for residents. It has some of the best schools in the state, including several charter and magnet schools, plus quality healthcare like the award-winning Good Samaritan Medical Center.

Getting around is easy. A free trolley shuttles passengers to shopping and dining destinations downtown as well as the Tri-Rail Station, where you can ride to over a dozen stops in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Need to get to Miami or Fort Lauderdale fast? The new high-speed Brightline opened one of its state-of-the-art stations in downtown West Palm Beach and will be expanding its service to Orlando. For jaunts even farther afield, head to the Palm Beach International Airport.

There are also quite a few free attractions. The sprawling Norton Museum of Art waives admission for residents every Saturday. Manatee Lagoon offers complimentary entry to its interactive exhibits and observation deck. So does the downtown history museum for its exhibits. And there are two free concert series, both waterfront, of course.

Natural Playground

There’s more than the coast when you want to get outdoors.

Locals enjoy nature inland at places like Okeeheelee Park (1,700 acres for hiking, horseback riding, BMX, mountain biking and more) and the wilder and much larger Grassy Waters Preserve. The latter is a remnant of the Everglades, spanning some 23 square miles of pristine wetlands.

If you like your nature a little more floral, the city has two impressive gardens: Mounts Botanical Garden and Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, both featuring art amid the greenery. Visit the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Palm Beach Zoo for wildlife.

Calling West Palm Beach Home

If all that makes West Palm Beach sound like a fun vacation spot, that’s because it is. Tourism is one of the top industries for the city, with other services jobs like retail and health care thriving as well.

Like most of Florida, home prices are rising but still competitive compared to the rest of the country. For example, the median listing price in West Palm Beach is under $325,000, about 15% less than the national average.

Where you live depends on your budget and tastes. If you want to be in the middle of it all, try downtown. Designed like an Italian piazza, The Square is a live-work-play destination with modern apartments. 

Grandview Heights, another downtown neighborhood, is known for bungalows and the nearby Grandview Public Market and Armory Art Center. Just north of downtown, find more historic homes in Northwood Village, paired with a boho vibe, monthly wine stroll and independent galleries.

Condos offer a more economical path to homeownership if you want to be near the action. Away from the coast, there are plenty of quaint neighborhoods with roomy backyards. For example, The Villages of West Palm Beach, right by I-95, includes affordable houses and townhomes popular with families. Meanwhile, in Lake Mangonia, homes are typically under $300,000, and you still can enjoy being right by the water — a scenic reservoir instead of the Intracoastal. 

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