Delray Beach has always been a colorful destination. From the six multi-hued columns that make up the city’s iconic gateway sculpture to the jewel tones of an authentic Japanese kimono and the neon glow of a contemporary sculpture, this vibrant “Village by the Sea” knows how to put a creative spin on every visit.
There’s a Festival for That
In the 1940s, Delray Beach emerged as the gladiola capital of the country. By 1950, local growers were shipping two million brightly colored bundles of gladiolas annually. As a way to promote the “growing” industry and celebrate the blooms, city leaders organized an annual Gladiola Festival, complete with a parade of flower-bedecked floats and the crowning of a Gladiola Queen. In time, the flowers faded but the festival lived on as the Delray Affair. Held every April, it is now billed as the largest arts & craft festival in the southeastern U.S.
The Delray Affair, which attracted artists and crafters from 30 states and 12 countries in 2019, may be the biggest, but it is hardly the only festival to fill the city’s streets with life and color. In addition to holiday happenings, the city celebrates everything from sonnets to beer. Among the highlights are:
• The Palm Beach Poetry Festival (January)
• Downtown Delray Beach Festival of the Arts (January)
• Delray Fashion Week (January)
• Art on the Square (February & November)
• Savor the Avenue (March)
• Delray Beach Craft Beer Fest (May)
• Downtown Delray Beach Craft Festival (September)
• Orchids on the Square (October)
• Delray Yoga Festival (November)
• Downtown Delray Beach Thanksgiving Weekend Art Festival (November)
Do You Like Surprises?
Delray has more than a few! Like the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, a renowned center for Japanese arts and culture built on land worked by a small Japanese farming community in the early years of the 20th century. The Morikami features rotating exhibitions, an impressive bonsai collection, monthly tea ceremonies and traditional Japanese festivals. It is the tranquil Japanese gardens, however, that will allow you to escape whatever is weighing you down, so be sure to give yourself time to wander through the six distinctively styled gardens spread over 16 acres. You may also want to allow time for a visit to the museum gift store or the Cornell Café, serving everything from sushi and sake to green tea ice cream.
Now That’s Class!
Old School Square is the briskly beating heart of Delray’s art and entertainment scene. The historic elementary school, which dates back to 1913, is now the Cornell Art Museum, an innovative showplace of contemporary art. Next door is the high school building built in 1925, which now houses the Crest Theatre, where you can catch a cabaret show, listen to a lecture or share a fun family outing. The old Fieldhouse, which also dates to the mid-1920s, provides an unexpected venue for a range of activities and events. The grounds of Old School Square also include the open-air Pavilion, which opened in 2002. The sometimes-rambunctious youngster hosts an entertaining lineup of community concerts and headlining shows.
Get Your Grove On!
Delray Beach is known as an arts destination – at least in part thanks to the Pineapple Grove Arts District. Stretching north from Atlantic Avenue, Pineapple Grove delights visitors with intriguing galleries and playful examples of public art, as well as deliciously popular restaurants. The arts district is also home to two of the city’s most talked-about arts institutions – the Arts Garage, a cutting-edge entertainment venue, and the Arts Warehouse, an innovative arts incubator that houses both working artist studios and gallery space and hosts a number of entertaining events throughout the year.
Stories to Tell
Delray Beach has its own distinctive personality. You might think of it like that somewhat nonconformist cousin who always shows up to family gatherings with interesting tales to tell. If you’re curious about those tales, be sure to add a visit to the Delray Beach Historical Society to your itinerary. You’ll find exhibits tracing the city’s story from the region’s earliest inhabitants to its emergence as an arts destination. If you’re interested in the role that African Americans and Caribbean islanders played in the story, you’ll also want to stop by the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum.
The Wild Side
If you’d like to learn more about what goes on along the shore and below the waves, plan to visit the Sandoway Discovery Center. The intimate facility offers hands-on opportunities to learn about Florida’s native and invasive reptiles, ocean life and freshwater species as well as Southeast Florida’s largest private shell collection and regular shark, stingray and alligator feedings. For another perspective on Delray’s wild side, head about 5 or 6 miles west from the beach to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a created wetlands that is as popular with birds as it is with visitors. Money magazine likes it, too – they named Wakodahatchee the “best park” in Florida in 2018. From the three-quarter mile boardwalk or one of the park’s many benches, you can see a wonderful array of wildlife. More than 178 bird species have been spotted as well as a variety of turtles, rabbits, fish, frogs, raccoons and a 12-foot alligator named Big George. And let’s not forget the soft sand and surf of Delray’s beautiful public beach!
North, South, East, West—all points lead to arts and culture when you plan your trip to The Palm Beaches, Florida’s Cultural Capital. Take a closer look at our destination’s seven cultural regions online (or download the PDF guide) and find which one you and your family will travel to next!
Christina Wood is a freelance writer and editor based in Delray Beach, who has a passion for the arts. The former editor of art&culture magazine, she is the recipient of numerous awards from the Florida Magazine Association, and has also been honored with Communicator, Golden Ink, Addy and Stevie Awards.