Finding South Florida


Courtesy of Eli Heller

Refreshing warmth engulfed my body on a Saturday afternoon last month when I took my first steps into the Atlantic Ocean, a body of water I had not visited in seven years. I  remembered this feeling from my past trips to Florida, yet somehow the concept of warm, waveless ocean water seemed new to me after traveling here for an entirely different reason than before.

As a child, I frequently traveled to the Sunshine State with my family to visit various relatives and family friends. Yet, after earning a paid internship this summer at the Norton Museum of Art, the warmth of the refreshing ocean, the clear skies above it and the silky sand beneath my toes felt like something I had never before experienced.

In many ways, southern Florida, or “South Florida,” as the greater Miami area and the cities directly to the north and east of it are collectively called, is much like Southern California — warm weather, beautiful beaches and palm trees everywhere — yet still maintains its own distinct culture. Shorts and sunglasses are an absolute must, sudden downpours of rain are frequent even during the summer and residents enjoy Cuban food rather than Mexican cuisine. Still, my adjustment to my home for the summer has been relatively smooth.

The week after final exams at UC Irvine, I moved into the Coconut Palms House and Cottage, a residence in the Northwood Historic District of West Palm Beach, a city known for its opulence and for being one of the oldest municipalities in this region. The museum generously provided this housing here for the other three interns and me, and as the only guy,  I agreed to live in the cottage, a fully furnished space with a kitchen, bathroom and two beds.

Four days a week, the ladies and I carpool to our internship at the museum, where we give tours of the museum to children’s camps, research important works of art in the collection and work together to curate an exhibition of our own.

Since the internship is only four days a week, I have had plenty of time to explore the vibrant city that surrounds the museum and have discovered some fun hang out spots.

City Place, an outdoor mall somewhat similar to the Irvine Spectrum yet with an upscale tinge, is comprised of several shops, as well as West Palm Beach’s primary movie theaters and several small bars and clubs, which on weekends feature live music and spaces to dance outdoors.

The historic Clematis Street, located in the heart of downtown, runs perpendicular to Lake Worth Lagoon, on which the city lies, and features funky restaurants of every cuisine, including many pubs, sports bars and pizza parlors. In my three weeks here, I have learned that Floridians are quite fond of their burgers, pizza and beer. Fortunately, I am quite fond of these items as well. Grease Burger, Beer and Whiskey Bar, the self-proclaimed “Quintessential Local Burger and Beer Joint,” features craft beers and hand-crafted juicy burgers oozing flavor with each greasy bite. This establishment attracts a young and fashionable crowd. Also on Clematis is Roxy’s, an Irish Pub with rooftop seating complete with a view of the water, and Nico’s Pizza, which serves foot long slices of pizza. With fading pink streets and cobblestone sidewalks, downtown West Palm retains a historic vibe.

In a city with the word “beach” in its title, one would expect there to be a plethora of sandy beaches. Yet, although West Palm Beach lies directly on the water, Lake Worth Lagoon does not have a shoreline, and instead merely separates the city from Palm Beach, a narrow island to the east home to the city’s wealthiest residents and most valuable properties complete with private beaches. In lieu of a public beach in West Palm Beach, there is Flagler Drive, a path that lines the edge of the land and feeds into several costal parks. The closest public beach is just a short drive away, in Singer Island.

Perhaps the highlight of my time in Florida thus far has been my recent trip with the other interns to Miami. Staying at the home of one of my fellow interns one weekend, I was able to visit the fancy Lincoln Road, an outdoor promenade of pricey restaurants and Ocean Road, a paradisiacal boulevard of bars and clubs perpendicular to the world famous South Beach. The following Monday, courtesy of the museum, the four of us spent a night at a nearby hostel, and the following day met with art world professionals at various gallery spaces and arts institutions in and around Miami’s Wynwood district, a series of blocks adorned with large scale murals. Despite its lack of mountainous terrain, Miami is very much like L.A. in its celebration of outdoor dining, miles of public beaches and multicultural population.

Perhaps the only downside to my time in West Palm has been living in a quite spread-out region without access to a car. In South Florida, as in Southern California, a car is necessary. Yet lucky for me, since my father grew up in Miami, I have had the chance to reconnect with several close family friends during my time here. Though I sometimes miss my friends in Irvine and California’s lack of humidity, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be working and traveling in gator territory.

And yes, orange juice really does taste better in Florida.