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Robb Report's Best Places to Live

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Best Place to Live for Entertainment

PALM BEACH. Like its many glamorous residents, Palm Beach is long and slim, resting on a 14-mile-long barrier island that at its broadest point is only half a mile wide. Even in the beginning, it was a playground for the well-heeled. since 1894, when railroad tycoon Henry Flagler built the town’s first major luxury hotel, Palm Beach has attracted generations of socialites seeking a sparkling, sunlit escape from the ravages of winter. The town docks, constructed in the 1940s, have long accommodated the largest of yachts, and recent extensions now enable them to accept vessels stretching to 262 feet. Worth Avenue shopping is second to none; Bulgari, Cartier, Escada, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co. are among the luxury goods dealers that have set up shop there. The dining scene is reaching new heights, with the Breakers hotel revamping its restaurants as part of a major renovation of the entire property, and Daniel Boulud preparing to open his first dining venue outside of New York in the Brazilian Court Hotel, which is also undergoing a renovation.

Golf is plentiful, with spectacular courses by Tom Fazio and Donald Ross, among others, just over the bridges that connect Palm Beach to the Florida mainland. On-island courses can be found at the Breakers and at private clubs. There is even a municipal course—the Town of Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Club.

Palm Beach’s social scene is as vibrant as ever, with enough parties to keep social butterflies aflutter for months. When so many powerful and interesting people descend en masse on such a small strip of land, legends and scandals inevitably ensue. Palm Beach is the place where Lilly Pulitzer made her name and Roxanne Pulitzer ruined hers.

Higher forms of culture thrive thanks to the Royal Poinciana Playhouse, the Society of the Four Arts, and the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. The 10-year-old Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which lies across the channel in West Palm Beach, provides a full range of entertainment, from the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra to Shakespearean plays to comedian George Carlin. Palm Beach also displays distinctive local architecture courtesy of Addison Mizner, who designed Spanish-inspired confections for his wealthy clients.

Palm Beach police, who boast an average response time of slightly more than three minutes, can utilize a crime-fighting weapon available to few other departments. When suspects are loose on the island, the police can raise the bridges to stop them from escaping.

Local children are well-educated, with both a public and a private school on the island and reputable private high schools in West Palm Beach.
While no single community can offer absolutely everything, the ideal location for a home should deliver on most of the pleasures and activities associated with an affluent lifestyle. Venues for golf and yachting should be plentiful, and the shopping, dining, and cultural offerings should be robust as well. A thriving social scene is not required but certainly preferred, and beauty, both natural and man-made, should be a given, as should a highly competent police force and excellent schools. Palm Beach, Robb Report’s 2003 selection for the Best Place to Live, offers its residents all of these attributes as well as something less tangible yet no less significant: a community-oriented sensibility, which has emerged in recent years as the town has transformed into a place that many of its inhabitants—winter as well as summer—now consider home.


A number of subtle events have occurred over time to reveal a shift in how the town is viewed by its residents. Originally, Palm Beach was a strictly seasonal destination that thrived from mid-December to late February and was deserted during the other 42 weeks of the year. The advent of air-conditioning lengthened the season from as early as Thanksgiving to as late as Easter. Today, Palm Beach has a permanent population of 9,000 to augment its seasonal high of 20,000. Permanent populations have permanent needs, and to meet those needs, the basic infrastructure of the town evolved accordingly. “I remember the way it was,” says Edward Kassatly, president of the Worth Avenue Association, who grew up in Palm Beach and raised his three children there. “The town is run a lot more efficiently than it used to be.”

This retreat from a seasonal mentality is evident in a 2001 law that requires residents to mow their lawns, trim their hedges, and generally mind the appearance of their land. The town can fine scofflaws and even place liens against their properties to fund the needed maintenance work. Chief Code Compliance Officer Brian House is quick to state that he has not yet been compelled to employ such drastic measures against any residents. “People generally take pride in their property, and they certainly want to keep it up,” he says.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the shift in residents’ mentality from part-time to permanent can be seen at the Palm Beach Day School, an 81-year-old, private, coed kindergarten-through-ninth-grade institution located a few blocks south of Worth Avenue. Headmaster Jack Thompson explains that in earlier years, “a lot of what the school did was quasitutorial. Students could enroll for as short a time as three weeks.”


Today, things are very different. “About half [of the students] have been here since kindergarten—lifers, as we call them,” says Thompson. “That’s how the town has changed. They live here. It’s home rather than a place to visit.”

Kevin O’Dea, the night manager at Ta-boó restaurant on Worth Avenue, has seen the changes in the schools as well. In fact, an unmarried friend of his, a Porsche owner, has been victimized by them. The friend has had to learn to time his morning commutes carefully. Otherwise, says O’Dea, “he gets stuck behind six or seven SUVs taking children to school.”

 

 

Ta-boó is a Palm Beach institution that dates to 1941. Rumor has it that Joseph P. Kennedy and Gloria Swanson barricaded themselves in the ladies’ room at some point during their affair. Ta-boó also has its own apocryphal Bloody Mary birthplace legend, in which its bartender invents the drink to salve Barbara Hutton after a night of ferocious partying. However, the restaurant is more wholesome than its tall tales would indicate: Booster seats are available for its younger clientele. “We’re on our third and fourth generations of customers,” O’Dea says. “I love it when a family comes in here together to celebrate the milestones of life.”

One of O’Dea’s favorite incidents occurred five years ago when the restaurant hosted a party of eight that included a man who planned to propose to his girlfriend over dinner that night. Another man in the group learned of the plan and spontaneously decided to propose to his girlfriend as well, but he did not have a ring. He summoned O’Dea and asked for assistance. “I called a jeweler friend, and in about half an hour, he came over with a selection of diamonds,” O’Dea recalls. The man selected a four-carat stone to give to his beloved. Both women said yes.

Such is the magic of Palm Beach, a town where socialites coexist with soccer moms, the local Publix supermarket stocks beluga, osetra, and sevruga caviar, and a restaurant manager—when he is not tending to the demands of a party’s toddler—can deliver diamonds to satisfy a romantic whim.

Best Place to Live for Shopping

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA. Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive is a three-block-long roll call of the world’s leading luxury retailers, from A. Testoni to Ermenegildo Zegna, but this was not always so. In 1972, local merchants formed the Rodeo Drive Committee to promote the street and convince prestigious tenants to set up shop. They succeeded brilliantly. • Currently, 74 individual storefronts line Rodeo Drive. The area also includes two shopping complexes: the Rodeo Collection, which contains 10 stores, and 2 Rodeo, which is home to 16. • Bijan should be credited with the ultimate Beverly Hills shopping innovation. He hit upon the idea of opening his men’s clothing boutique by appointment only.

 

Best Place to Live for Being Outdoors

JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING. While Jackson Hole may have its share of art galleries, wine tastings, writers’ conferences, and celebrity residents, outdoorsy folks who would usually be leery of such peripheral attractions can succumb to the area’s innate charms and abundance of year-round recreational activities. Skiing, fly-fishing, and river rafting are perhaps the most popular pursuits, but the region also offers kayaking, horseback riding, mountaineering, hiking, dogsledding, paragliding, bird-watching, mountain biking, and many others. • Jackson Hole is not a town, but a valley that is 15 miles wide and 40 miles long. The town of Jackson sits at the southern end of the valley. • Of the 2.7 million acres in Teton County, where the valley is located, 97 percent are part of national forests and parkland and other protected public lands. • A typical winter dumps from 400 inches to 450 inches of snow on Jackson Hole’s mountains.

 

Best Place for Playing Polo

WELLINGTON, FLORIDA. Technically speaking, the playing fields at the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club are older than Wellington itself. The club was opened in 1979, while Wellington incorporated as a municipality in 1995. Wellington is popular with equestrians of all types, but polo fans are particularly well served. Palm Beach Polo & Country Club upholds a reputation as the country’s leading polo venue, but a new challenger arrived on the scene last year in the form of the Palm Beach International Polo Club, which also hosts high-goal tourneys. In the competition between the two clubs, polo fans are the winners. • Realtor Wanda Smith of RE/MAX Realty Wellington estimates that from 2 percent to 3 percent of Wellington homes have private polo fields. • While no one maintains an official equine census, it is believed that 2,000 to 3,000 polo ponies are boarded in Wellington during the December-through-April polo season.

Best Place to Live for Sailing

NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND. In 1979, David White announced to the patrons of Newport’s Goat Island Marina Pub his idea for a grueling competition, Around Alone, in which sailors would race solo around the world. White’s notion is said to have been received with “inebriated-induced enthusiasm.” The detail that testifies to Newport’s status as a peerless sailing community is that everyone still thought it was a good idea once they were sober. • The America’s Cup race was held in Newport from 1958 through 1983. • The sixth and most recent Around Alone race began in Newport last September and finished there in May. • Newport’s harbor contains roughly 1,200 slips, all of which belong to the nine private marinas in the area. There are also 938 moorings in the harbor.


The Best Place to Live for Dining

CHICAGO. When Rick Tramonto moved to Chicago from Manhattan in 1989, he encountered a culinary scene that he thought was ready for a gastronomic upgrade, and evidently, he was not alone. Jean Joho of Everest, Rick Bayless of Topolobampo, Gabino Sotelino of Ambria, and many others joined Charlie Trotter in raising the bar on Chicago cuisine during the 1990s, and won Best Midwest Chef honors from the James Beard Foundation for their efforts. Tramonto, now the chef-owner of Tru, is the 2002 winner of the foundation’s regional honor. “People know food here. They appreciate it, respect it,” he says. “They have trusted me and supported me, allowing me to [create] cutting-edge food at a high level.” • Charlie Trotter’s holds the rare culinary distinction of earning the top five-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association (AAA) guide and the maximum five-star rating from the Mobil guide. Only nine other U.S. restaurants can claim that honor. • Chicago diners can choose from more than 7,000 restaurants, offering cuisine that ranges from Caribbean to Vietnamese.

The Best Place for Being a Vintner

ST. HELENA, CALIFORNIA. St. Helena (population 6,019) provided the backdrop for many scenes in the 1980s prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest, which revolved around the foibles of a family who ran a Napa Valley winery. In fact, Spring Mountain Vineyard, located on the outskirts of the town, served as the exterior for the fictional winery depicted on the show, transforming it into a tourist attraction for the soap’s fans. However, the vineyard’s current owners have closed the property to the public while they pursue a more noble calling: creating superlative wine. • Budding vintners seeking viticultural knowledge should visit the Napa Valley Wine Library Association, whose collection is archived at the St. Helena Public Library. • St. Helena is also home to a branch of the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America, that is. Housed in a local landmark building known as Greystone, the CIA offers a range of top-notch wine education programs. 

 

The Best Place to Live For Golfing

LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA. Golf development has not decreased in California’s Coachella Valley since Bob Hope reached his seventh decade. Consider what has been taking place in La Quinta, and it is easy to understand why more golfers than ever are asking, “Which way is Indio?” (Local lore maintains that all putts break toward Indio, the lowest and easternmost town in the valley.) The region known as Palm Springs, which includes La Quinta as well as seven other towns, is hopping again, offering warm desert sun and the three Cs: California cuisine, celebrity, and class. • La Quinta includes 21 courses, public and private, serving the city’s population base of just 24,000. • The town is home to the golf course communities of PGA West and Rancho La Quinta.

The Best Place To Live for Entertainment

NEW YORK CITY. To say that New York is awash in entertainment options does not tell the entire story. In addition to offering enough pleasant distractions to occupy the leisure hours of several hundred lifetimes—regardless of where one’s tastes lie on the spectrum of cultural refinement—New York is a place where new artistic genres, styles, and movements are forged and introduced. • New York’s theater scene includes 39 active Broadway theaters and 125 off-Broadway performance spaces. • Madison Square Garden has played a role in New York entertainment since 1879, the year that the first building by that name opened. The fourth and current MSG, which debuted on February 11, 1968, has hosted an eclectic collection of performers—from Elvis to Led Zeppelin to the 1992 Democratic conventioneers to Pope John Paul II.

 

The Best Place to Live for Architecture

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA. When Savannah surrendered to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on December 22, 1864, the general stayed his hand, preserving the city from destruction. This allowed a wealth of antebellum buildings to survive, joined in later years by examples of late-19th- and early-20th-century architecture. “What captures people’s hearts is that they are enveloped in [architecture],” says Dirk Hardison, architectural design consultant for the Historic Savannah Foundation. “It’s not one odd building on a street looking like a forlorn relic from the past. It has neighbors.” • Designed in 1733, Savannah is widely believed to be America’s first planned city. • Since 1966, Savannah has designated eight historic districts. • Hardison says that at least 11 major styles of architecture can be seen in Savannah.

The Best Place to Live for Flying Planes

SPRUCE CREEK, FLORIDA. The private runway at Spruce Creek, a 33-year-old gated fly-in community, is 180 feet wide, 4,000 feet long, and completely unrestricted, meaning that residents can land any plane at any time. However, the runway does not receive as much use as one might expect from its residents. “Most people just hang around the community,” says Leonard Ohlsson, owner of Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty. With amenities that include an 18-hole golf course, a small spa, and a neighborhood Italian restaurant near the taxiway that delivers (by golf cart), it is easy to see why. • The largest private hangar in Spruce Creek measures 65 feet by 65 feet and can accommodate a Beech Super King Air. • Home prices begin at $130,000 for a condo on the golf course and peak at $5.7 million; homes adjacent to the taxiway are the priciest.

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