Palm Beaches Ecotourism Attractions and Activities
By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Unspoiled beaches, treasured animal sanctuaries and protected nature preserves make West Palm Beach and its surrounding area a desirable green retreat for conscious travel between the Atlantic Ocean and the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the largest lake in the southeastern United States.
Restaurants here earn “Sustainability Stars” for reducing straw usage and sunsets are viewed from the downward-facing dog position at yoga sessions on the beach.
There are plenty of opportunities to claim some earthy-friendly time on your visit to The Palm Beaches.
The shore and its wellbeing are always top of mind in The Palm Beaches, where 30 tropical beach parks span 47 miles along the Atlantic Ocean, from Jupiter Beach to Boca Raton. Most of the public beaches are free and post lifeguards. A complete list of the beaches can be found on the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation website.
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach is a 147,392-acre wildlife sanctuary that is the most northern remnant of the historic Everglades wetland ecosystem. It’s home to the American alligator and the critically endangered Everglade snail kite, as well as 257 species of birds. You can find out what birds have been seen recently using an eBird Trail Tracker. The refuge includes a 12-mile bike trail along the levee and a 5 ½ -mile paddling trail.
Mounts Botanical Garden
Mounts Botanical Garden is a 14-acre living plant museum hidden behind Palm Beach International Airport, with 25 garden areas, including a three-foot-high shrub maze for children, a butterfly garden, tropical forest and edible landscape. A vintage thrift shop sells used gardening tools, benches, flower pots and bird feeders during spring and fall plant sales.
Manatee Lagoon, a free Florida Power & Light eco-discovery center in Riviera Beach, opened in 2016 after FPL modernized its natural gas plant. The lagoon here is a haven for threatened Florida manatees, which gather in the warm-water outflows. The center has a dedicated area for viewing manatees up close, hands-on exhibits, Lake Worth Lagoon tours, free adult and kids yoga classes and environmental lectures. Peak manatee season runs from November through March.
Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens
The renovated Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach is a cultural treasure that contains more than 100 of Norton’s “megalith” vertical sculptures of brick and wood. The 1.7-acre grounds include her studio, historic home and a garden that contains one of the largest collections of rare palms in the United States. Norton, who died in 1982, was recently inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Green Cay Nature Center
The Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach features a 1 ½ -mile elevated boardwalk through 100 acres of wetland. Signs with QR codes can be scanned with a smartphone to enable self-guided tours through a cabbage palm hammock, cypress swamp, wetland hammock and tropical hardwood hammock.
MacArthur Beach State Park
In North Palm Beach, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is a barrier island tropical hammock and mangrove forest that provides haven for rare and endangered native tropical and coastal plants. Visitors can swim, picnic, surf, snorkel or scuba dive at the beach. Anglers can fish in the lagoon by wading, kayaking or canoeing. Depending on the season you may see dolphins, mullet, snook, rays and a variety of birds. Rent a kayak at the beach outfitters shop and paddle around the estuary or visit uninhabited Munyon Island. Visit Palm Beach offers eco-guided kayak tours of the island.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center
Loggerhead Marinelife Center is an ocean conservation organization and sea turtle hospital adjacent to Juno Beach, one of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world. With free admission, the center offers guided turtle walks, hatchling releases, eco-excursions with biologists, sea turtle sleepovers for kids, sea turtle rescue training, hammock hikes, science for seniors classes and more.
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton is a 20-acre refuge that includes a quarter-mile boardwalk through a preserved hardwood hammock, four saltwater aquariums, a nature center and beach turtle walks.
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary in West Palm Beach treats and releases sick and injured native animals, including foxes, bobcats, cranes, pelicans, owls and more. Guided tours are offered by reservation. In Jupiter, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary combines a nature center and a wildlife hospital, with guided tours by appointment.
The free, public Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach were created on 50 acres that were once a wastewater utility property. Today, there’s a boardwalk that spans open water ponds and islands that belong to the Great Florida Birding Trail, with 178 bird species identified there. Each day, the Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility pumps 2 million gallons of highly treated wastewater into the wetlands, which in turn act as a percolation pond, returning billions of gallons of fresh water back into the water table.Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
The six gardens at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, inspired by famous gardens of Japan, are serene sanctuaries just west of Delray Beach. There’s a Stroll for Well-Being Therapeutic Garden Walking program, along with Japanese tea ceremonies, a bonsai collection and an annual lantern festival.ECOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES
Diving and Snorkeling
Close to the Gulf Stream current, The Palm Beaches offer excellent conditions for diving and snorkeling on artificial reefs, which draw divers aware from natural reefs to ensure their sustainability. From six to nearly 300 feet deep, the reefs include the Ana Cecilia Cargo Ship, a 170-foot ship sunk in 2016 about a mile off the Lake Worth Inlet in 85 feet of water, and Andrea’s Reef in Singer Island featuring Roman columns and other sculptures.
Other popular snorkeling spots include Coral Cove Park in Tequesta and the Underwater Snorkel Trail at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach, where stingrays and giant starfish can be spotted amid sculptures of sharks and mermaids.
Outfitters like Paddle Boarding Palm Beach and the Jupiter Outdoor Center lead guided tours for every experience level, from mangrove forests to manatee waters to sunset and full-moon paddles. Visit Palm Beach rents single and tandem kayaks, as well as stand up paddleboards from downtown West Palm Beach for periods ranging from 24 hours to one week, and will deliver to your location for an additional cost. It also provides guided snorkel-and-kayak and paddleboard tours.
Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail is a 1,600-mile sea kayaking route that is the saltwater version of the Appalachian Trail, covering barrier island dune systems, salt marshes and mangroves. Use “Paddling Treasures: A Guide to Lake Worth Lagoon and Loxahatchee River Estuary” to plan your outing and locate more than 20 kayak or canoe launch ramps.
Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society
The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society offers hands-on wildlife experiences that range from mingling with flamingos to feeding Aldabra Tortoises. Watch loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach on a Loggerhead Marinelife Center Turtle Walk, held in the evenings in June and July.
Fishing charters are plentiful in Palm Beach County. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides a searchable directory of outfitters and fishing guides who follow environmentally ethical best practices.
Join a sunset yoga class on the beach in Delray Beach, where 80-minute sessions are open to all ages and levels on Wednesdays and Sundays.
FOOD AND DINING
Swank Specialty Produce
Swank Specialty Produce is a 20-acre pesticide-free, hydroponic farm in Loxahatchee that supplies produce to nearly every farm-to-table restaurant in South Florida. It offers a wildly popular series of al fresco brunches and dinners called “Swank Table” at the farm. “Top Chef” star Jeremy Ford and local celebrity chefs host the meals, held under in a custom pole barn for up to 200 people, with live local music.
Owned by a surfer turned chef, Farmer’s Table in Boca Raton focuses on healthy, farm-to-table and sustainable fare, with a plant-based daily special and entrees like seared local swordfish and grass-fed beef short rib.
In Palm Beach Gardens, The Cooper is a farm-to-table, upscale restaurant that always has a season vegetable plate, along with tomato-watermelon gazpacho, flash-fried cauliflower and pan-seared branzino. Also in Palm Beach Gardens, Christopher’s Kitchen is a pure plant-based restaurant with a wine bar and a juice market on the side.
Field of Greens
Field of Greens has three locations in Palm Beach County – West Palm Beach, Wellington and Palm Beach – for quick, casual salads, sandwiches and wraps, along with cold-pressed juices, smoothies and protein shakes.
Darbster in West Palm Beach gets green points for its veggie-forward menu and its pet-friendly patio. It also devotes a portion of earnings to animal rescue causes.
PB Catch in Palm Beach hosts World Oceans Day dinners to recognize the importance of sustainable seafood. It also has a small plates vegan menu.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a state-by-state Seafood Watch guide to help green travelers make sustainable menu choices. The guide’s Florida “best choices” include pompano, mutton snapper and wahoo.
The O.G. (Oceanside Grocers) is a secret neighborhood cocktail bar that poses as a general store in Delray Beach. Owner Challo Schott is spearheading the mission for Delray Beach to become a straw-free and eco-friendly city. He’s teamed up with the Delray Beach Sustainability Board to host educational events for community bars and restaurants.
The City of West Palm Beach Green Market is in the historic downtown on the Waterfront every Saturday, October thru April. Its 90 vendors have pledged to eliminate plastic straws, coffee stirrers and Styrofoam cups and containers from the market. The city also encourages vendors to eliminate single-use plastic bags and is suggesting patrons arrive by the City’s popular and free trolleys.
The City of Boca Raton has launched an initiative called The Coastal Connection Restaurant Program that recognizes restaurants making sustainable and eco-friendly changes to benefit the coastal community. Participating restaurants earn "Sustainability Stars" that reflect their level of commitment to the environment through such actions as discouraging straws and not using plastic or Styrofoam takeout containers.
The Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council provides more information about farm-to-table eateries in Palm Beach County on its website.
Downtown West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton are walkable neighborhoods. The Historical Society of Palm Beach County hosts monthly Downtown West Palm Beach History Strolls with a local architect and historian. Self-guided walking tours to explore West Palm Beach on foot at your own pace are available on a GPSmyCity App.
Molly’s Trolleys are a free downtown trolley service. The yellow-and-green trolleys are enclosed and air-conditioned, with three routes that pick up passengers every 10-15 minutes. Stops include Cityplace, Clematis Street, Palm Beach Outlets and the Tri Rail Station, among other locations.
Carts, Electric Cars
In Delray Beach, the Delray Downtowner Golf Cart Service provides eco-friendly lifts on electric carts that will pick you up on demand from a free mobile app. Boca Raton offers free electric car charging stations at its public library and city hall.
Both Lyft and Uber operate throughout Palm Beach County. Tri Rail is the commuter line that links West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, with connections to three major airports.
Another way to travel throughout South Florida is the new Brightline high-speed train that provides service between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, with future plans to connect to Orlando. The train’s station in West Palm Beach is within walking distance of Clematis District, CityPlace, Centennial Park and the Waterfront.
Hotel Biba, a 43-room historic boutique hotel in West Palm Beach’s El Cid Historic District, was the first in the city to be admitted to the Florida Green Lodging Program for its recycling program, green cleaners and high-efficiency air conditioning.
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa earned Green Key Global’s ultimate honor: a 4 Green Keys rating. It's the first hotel in Palm Beach County to achieve the designation, which is reserved for hotels that show national industry leadership and commitment to protecting the environment through wide-ranging policies and practices.
Chesterfield Palm Beach
The stately Chesterfield Palm Beach, just off Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, is part of the Red Carnations Hotels Line, which is dedicated to eliminating single-use plastic water bottles and other plastics.
The iconic, 540-room Palm Beach resort The Breakers was the first hotel in Palm Beach County awarded Green Lodging certification by the state. Eco-friendly practices there include a green market, an on-site organic garden and reserve osmosis irrigation for the resort’s ocean golf course.
Delray Beach Lodgings
In Delray Beach, the historic Colony Hotel & Cabana Club donates a dollar for each room night sold to a local green organization every year and uses low-flow showerheads, high-efficiency lighting, recycled lumber for renovations and VOC-free paint. Dover House Resort, also in Delray, reduced its carbon footprint by renovating rooms with rapidly replenished wood and laminate products approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council, recycled and green-certified fabrics, water-saving plumbing fixtures and low-wattage LED lighting.
Green Lodging Program
To find other Palm Beach County properties recognized for water- and energy-saving measures, the Florida Green Lodging Program provides a directory here.
Adopt a Turtle
Support Loggerhead Marinelife Center by “adopting” a sea turtle patient or sea turtle nest. The adoption directly benefits the continued care and treatment of sick and injured sea turtles or further study of the green, leatherback, and loggerhead sea turtles that nest on the shores of Juno Beach, Jupiter and Tequesta.
Palm Beach County Food Bank recruits volunteers for three-hours shifts spent sorting and organizing food in its warehouse, among other jobs.
Cleanup in the Palm Beaches
Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department has a sign-up sheet for one-time events and clean-ups here.
VolunteerMatch is an online platform that links volunteers with service projects in the West Palm Beach area. Community Angel Network has a free interactive directory of nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County that seek volunteer service from people.