The Gold Coast stretches for about 60 miles (97km) down Florida's southeast coast, from Palm Beach in the north to Miami Beach in the south. This stretch of coastline is hosts a string of tropical beach resorts which are very popular with visitors to Florida. The Gold Coast strip currently attracts close on nine million holidaymakers every year. Development is proceeding apace as the natural landscape of sprawling grassland is replaced with opulent resorts and high-rise apartment blocks. The larger resort cities along the coast, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, are experiencing unprecedented building booms as the number of immigrants rises. Visitors and residents alike come to enjoy the natural attractions of the area, the laid-back atmosphere, the almost constant warm, sunny weather, the luxurious 'country-club' lifestyle, and the hundreds of sophisticated shopping malls. The best way to explore it all is to take a meander by car along Florida A1A, a narrow road that winds along the coast connecting the long thin barrier islands. Alternatively, pick a resort, kick off your shoes and enjoy a summer vacation, any time of year.
Culture lovers should not miss out on one of Florida's major cultural attractions, the Norton Museum of Art in the upmarket West Palm Beach. The museum's permanent collection is internationally renowned, including European, American, Chinese, and contemporary art, from the Renaissance through to the present. The museum regularly hosts travelling exhibitions and offers educational programmes for children. There is a museum shop and café serving refreshments. Guided tours are available. Photography is allowed in certain parts of the museum, but not in many of the exhibition areas - be sure to ask permission before taking a photo.
An hour west of Fort Lauderdale, on the road to Naples, travelors can visit the Big Cypress Seminole, where Florida's 'unconquered' Indian tribe still reside. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Khi museum in the reservation features historical exhibits and a living village where visitors can watch artisans at work. There is also a nature trail to explore, and a film on Seminole history shown regularly. Apart from the many interesting cultural artifacts on display, panoramic scenery at the reservation is spectacular, showcasing some of the typical everglades' flora and fauna. The Big Cypress Seminole Reservation is the ideal place to immerse oneself in the American Indian heritage of Florida.
Palm trees arrived at Palm Beach in 1878, when a ship laden with Cuban coconuts was wrecked on the offshore barrier island that is only 14 miles (23km) long and half a mile (1km) wide. Palm Beach has long been the traditional winter holiday home of America's aristocracy, the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Trumps, and other society names filling the Gatsby-era mansions on the island. Henry Morrison Flagler put Palm Beach on the map in 1894 when he opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel on the island and promoted Palm Beach as America's premier winter resort. The mansion Whitehall, which he built in 1901 for his wife, is now the Flagler Museum dedicated to his memory. Today there are many more hotels in Palm Beach, and hundreds of restaurants, some of which rank among the finest in the world.
Over thirty years ago Juno Beach resident Eleanor Fletcher, affectionately known locally as 'the Turtle Lady', began assembling a collection of turtle artefacts and information that has grown to become the Marine Life Center on the oceanfront at Loggerhead Park, which monitors turtles along the Gold Coast. The Center is essentially a turtle hospital, and visitors can see ill and injured creatures being rehabilitated. The Center has numerous exhibits, including tropical fish and shells, and a gift shop. Evening guided 'turtle walks' are offered during June and July, but bookings must be made in advance. There are a number of other guided tours, hikes and talks available - check the official website for details.
The main attractions of the Gold Coast are the glamorous hotels and resorts, beaches, and the upmarket shopping malls. There are also cultural and natural attractions for sightseers who manage to leave the beach. Scuba divers and snorkelers in the region would do well to pay a visit to the Biscayne National Park, while those wanting to meet some of the local wildlife will find a number of animal rehabilitation and conservation centres, including the Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex in Boca Raton, and the Marine Life Center of Juno Beach. Those wanting a taste of the indigenous local culture should visit the Big Cyprus Seminole Reservation, west of Fort Lauderdale, where the American Indian heritage of Florida is showcased.
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