See This, Skip That: West Palm Beach

This Florida hot spot has much more than just the beach.

Jan. 18, 2014— -- There’s little need to tout the mass appeal of West Palm Beach, especially in the midst of what’s already been a brutal winter for many of us. This Florida hot spot has been seeing lots of sunshine lately, and lots of 70s. And Travelzoo is seeing a warm-up in searches for travel to West Palm Beach on our site: up more than 130 percent year over year in the last few weeks alone. So now that you’ve made up your mind to go, what to do? Besides the beach, of course. Here are some ideas.

Skip the Gym, Play CroquetIt’s great that your hotel features a gym, but wouldn’t the outdoors do you better? West Palm Beach is home to the National Croquet Center, the largest venue of its kind in the world. Picture it: four acres of beautifully manicured lawns and a clubhouse that resembles a colonial estate somewhere in the tropics. You’re allowed to play croquet for free – at least your first four visits. And they offer lessons on how to play golf croquet – considered the oldest form of the sport – on Saturday mornings. You might enjoy it so much, you’ll want to invest in your own set of wickets at the pro shop.

Skip Croquet, Watch PoloOk, if croquet is not for you – if you’d rather watch someone else whack balls with a stick – head to the International Polo Club in Wellington, a real throwback to a classic polo experience. Tickets start at $10 to take in a Sunday game from elegant grandstand seating or from the lawn. Treat yourself to their spectacular brunch. The season goes from January to April. The club offers private polo lessons, too.

Don’t Walk, FlyTo really appreciate the natural wonders that surround West Palm Beach, you’ve got to go up. Beach Aviation offers scenic flights over Palm Beach County that include bird’s-eye views of hot spots like Boca Raton and the Everglades. Flights can be scheduled for any day of the week and include a preflight briefing. Then you’re on a 45-minute flight aboard a Cessna or Piper aircraft; you can take the controls yourself and practice things like steering, navigation and mid-flight turns. Bring a friend on board for free. Beach Aviation operates out of both Palm Beach International and Boca Raton Airport.

Skip the Zoo, See the LionsWe love the Palm Beach Zoo – more than 20 lush acres housing more than 1400 animals. But for something truly wild, check out the Lion Country Safari in nearby Loxahatchee. Open since the mid-1960s, they say this was the first cage-less zoo in the country. Home to more than 900 wild animals, the preserve offers a unique set of experiences, like the ability to drive yourself through seven themed sections. You see the lion prides when you drive through the Gorongosa Reserve, for example, while zebras, rhinos, chimps and giraffes reside inside HwangeNational Park. There’s a walk-through safari, too, with hands-on experiences like giraffe feedings, camel rides and a petting zoo. The kids will tire out nicely on the amusement park rides. This place is open every day of the year.

OK, Don’t Skip the Zoo, But Go When it RainsThe Palm Beach Zoo says many animals are at their most active when it rains. They’ll also knock 50 percent off your admission price when it does, so you can see for yourself. Coupons will pop upon their Twitter and Facebook pages when it starts to pour.

Skip the Sand, Set SailFun water activities bound here, but the Hakuna Matata offers an extra dose of fun. On Sundays, the 50-foot, 43-passenger,Coast Guard-certified catamaran sails out of West Palm Beach’s new waterside docks on a three-hour adventure. Cruising the waterway takes you past sprawling estates and fancy yachts. And when you anchor, the ocean becomes your playground: snorkeling, kayaking, swimming or taking a ride on the 12-foot banana boat that’s being pulled by a jet ski. This is a family-friendly experience, and everyone’s asked to remove their shoes before they board. Adult drinks are included, but only during the sail back to shore.

Skip the Meal, Go to ClassTalia’s Tuscan Table in Boca Raton is a huge hit for its authenticity, the reasonable prices and the generous portions. This is no-frills dining inspired by recipes passed down for generations. But Chef Andrew Bernardo (those who know him call him Chef Baba) is willing to share some of those secrets and hosts cooking classes on Sundays. A one-time class – limited to 20 people – is $95 and includes a one-hour lecture followed by some three hours of hands-on instruction in the kitchen. Students follow a menu designed by the chef and have their dishes critiqued and paired with just the right wine before it’s packaged to take home. Or back to your hotel. Dinner solved!

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive local deals in and around West Palm Beach