The Inquisitive Traveler
Turn a visit into a vacation
By Patty Burness
Visiting aging family or friends can be stressful, especially when it seems like there isn’t much to do. Recently, my husband and I flew to south Florida to see my mother. But what made this visit different was turning it into a vacation for her. Around her town of Boca Raton and just north to Palm Beach, we ate out, enjoyed the sites and stayed at hotels we might not otherwise get to. Turned out, this mini vacation around my mother’s home was just what the doctor ordered.
Boca Raton, Spanish for rat’s mouth, actually refers to an inlet depicted on early maps in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. By the beginning of the 19th century, the name was incorrectly applied to Lake Boca Raton. The name stuck. Today Boca Raton sits an hour north of Miami on the Atlantic Coast.
Incorporated in 1925, the town council hired well-known architect Addison Mizner to design a high-end resort community. One of his Mediterranean-styled buildings, the Cloister Inn, was completed in 1926. It continues to reign as the venerable Boca Raton Resort & Club. Often called the Pink Hotel for its flamingo-like color, the property sits adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s there we headed for lunch at Lucca.
Lucca, named after Tuscany’s walled town, exudes the character of northern Italy. The restaurant’s wood-burning oven and open kitchen, ceramic tile mural and hand-blown Murano chandeliers set the tone for the Italian cuisine to follow. Floor to ceiling windows offer a phenomenal view of the boats on the Intercoastal. As we watched the harbor action and contemplated what to order, luscious aromas tempted from the kitchen.
We were smitten from the start by the zuppa del giorno, a lobster-seafood chowder. Rich and delicious, it was ideal with a grilled cheese panini of fontina and mozzarella cheeses. If it’s a bit more protein you crave, try the Tuscan grilled chicken panini with arugula, caramelized onions and gorgonzola, served with decadent fries cooked in truffle oil. The salmon agrodolce, pan seared in sweet and sour sauce, was tender, juicy and flaked perfectly. A 2006 Caymus Conundrum from Napa Valley was the right match.
Save room for dessert! “Dip it & Dunk It” is as indulgent as it sounds: mini cannoli, cinnamon sugar cookies and assorted biscotti served with a valrhona chocolate sauce. Need I say more?
After lunch, we visited the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Located in Mizner Plaza (Addison Mizner’s architectural style still impacts the city), the museum houses works by Picasso, Matisse, Degas, Nevelson, Warhol, and more. Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture garden.
Time to head one hour north to Palm Beach Gardens and the PGA National Resort & Spa. The resort is one of the first to receive “green lodging” recognition by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection because of its extensive conservation and recycling programs.
Headquarters to the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA) and the recipient of a recent $65 million facelift, the resort offers 90 holes of championship golf, a European spa, numerous restaurants and bars, and a health and racquet club. It’s impossible to do it all in a short visit, so we chose the relaxing route – lunch by the pool, golf, spa treatments, cocktails at iBar, and dinner at Ironwood Grille.
We began with frozen mango daiquiris at the Wave, the poolside bar and grill. Fueled by the Florida seafood wrap (gulf shrimp, lobster and crabmeat), we were ready to hit the links (well sort of). We toured both the Palmer and Champion courses in the knick of time before a thunderstorm broke. We ducked out of the rain and found the high-def virtual-golf simulator, which was perfect for my private lesson with one of the pros.
The simulator was a blast! You can play a number of fabulous courses. Even though it’s well beyond my capabilities, I chose Spyglass Hill. The hour was well spent and the instructor was spot on with areas of my game that need practice (a lot of practice).
Enough struggling with golf – time to get pampered at the spa. With the assortment of treatments and the lure of the unique outdoor mineral pools, you’ll find something for every part of your body and soul. The full body massages we chose left us completely relaxed and ready for a nap. We settled into spacious and plush rooms with pleasant views of fairways and greens.
Cocktail hour drew us to iBar. Located just off the lobby, this modern lounge offers extensive vistas of the surrounding courses. Sipping wine and nibbling spicy fried calamari, we compared notes on the intricacies of our massages. Then it was onward to the Ironwood Grille for dinner.
San Franciscans take for granted that good food means the freshest ingredients from local purveyors, and we were not disappointed. The she crab soup (a cross between bisque and chowder made with blue crab, and a southern favorite) was finished with sherry and a luscious way to start the meal. Jumbo lump crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller and even a chicken BLT spring roll followed. The real surprise came when the “duckaroni” and cheese arrived. That’s right – a grown-up version of that old-time classic with wild mushrooms, duck meat and a rich sauce. With over 200 wines by the glass, we had fun trying some pairings we might not ordinarily experience.
Feel full? There’s always room for chocolate blackout cake, and Ironwood spiked the chocolate quotient to an all-time high. It was an easy walk across the lobby back to our comfy rooms with flat screen TVs, fluffy bedding and sweet dreams.
Back in Boca, we found time to stay at the Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel before packing up, saying goodbye to Mom, and heading home to the Northside. Located across the street from the stylish Town Center shopping center, the Renaissance offers easy access to stores, restaurants and theaters – whatever you choose, you’ll have a ball. And when you’re not out and about, hit the pool, relax and bask under the palm trees.
Take the pressure out of your next visit with relatives and get the most from your surroundings. Figure out what’s entertaining, see the sites, stay at a fun hotel, and try local restaurants. Turning your stay into a vacation helps everyone feel better.
Fly from San Francisco to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach (www.expedia.com/gogreen, www.eco.orbitz.com); rent a car or take a shuttle to Boca Raton (www.palmbeachfl.com, www.ci.boca-raton.fl.us, www.palmbeachfl.com).
Where To Stay
PGA National Resort & Spa: 400 Avenue of Champions, Palm Beach Gardens, 800-633-9150, 561-627-2000, www.pgaresort.com; winter rates from $329
Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel: NW 19th Street, 561-368-5252, www.marriott.com; rates from $199.
What To Do
PGA National Golf Academy: private lesson $225/hour.
The Spa at PGA National: full body 50 minute-massages/$120
Where To Eat
Lucca: 501 East Camino Real, Boca Raton, 800-327-0101, 561-447-5822, www.bocaresort.com; lunch appetizers from $8, panini from $16, entrees from $12, desserts from $6, wine from $32/bottle.
Wave Bar & Grill (at the PGA Resort): cocktails $8, burgers/sandwiches from $8.
iBar and Ironwood Grille (at the PGA Resort): appetizers from $8, entrees from $18, wines by the glass from $6.
Not To Miss
Boca Raton Museum of Art: 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, 561-392-2500, www.bocamuseum.org; general admission $8.
Super Shuttle: 800-258-3826, www.supershuttle.com, for a fast trip to the airport, especially if you’re the last to be picked up.
US Airways Club: www.usairways.com, when you need a respite from the hassles of travel. From day passes to annual memberships, you’ll gain entry to places to sit back or work, enjoy wireless access and some beverages and snacks.
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco.