Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler discovered Florida in search of an idyllic spot for his beloved wife to recover from her ailing health. When he saw Florida he saw gold—in the form of sunshine. The temperate weather and the Atlantic Ocean beckoned so he decided to branch out into the hospitality industry and built a few resorts—the famed The Breakers Palm Beach is one—and a railroad to transport the well-heeled from the chilly north to the bright and restorative Sunshine State, palm trees and warm weather included.
Flagler also built his wife a beautiful Beaux-Arts mansion called Whitehall, completed in 1902, as their winter residence. To get to Palm Beach each year Henry and Mary Lily traveled in one of their private railcars on Flagler’s own railroad.
Today, Whitehall is now the Flagler Museum. The 4,800-square-foot Grand Hall can be the breathtaking backdrop of a swank party to rival one from the Gilded Age, where butlers pass cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and revelers marvel at the opulent gold finishes, dome ceiling paintings and stunning double staircase.
During an event, guests can explore the museum’s first-floor rooms, including the library, music room, dining room, ballroom and drawing room. Groups can also enjoy a seated dinner in the West and Lake rooms with scenic views of Lake Worth and the West Palm Beach skyline. The Flagler Kenan Pavilion can also be used for a reception or dinner with stunning views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
“The Flagler Museum is just one of several wonderful unique venues meeting planners seek out when they come to the Palm Beaches. This destination is known as ‘Florida’s Cultural Capital,’” said Kelly Cavers, senior vice president, group sales, Discover the Palm Beaches. “The outstanding events meeting planners stage in venues like the Flagler Museum, our art museums and our historic hotels all make meeting here something our groups always remember.”
Another interesting venue is the Conservation Course in West Palm Beach. This new miniature golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus’ son, Gary Nicklaus, and Jim Fazio, debuted to the public in November 2016 at the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium. The custom-designed course, described as “a golf course laid out in a huge butterfly garden,” was developed as a green space to provide recreational and environmental benefits to visitors, while educating people about Florida’s native habitats. Each hole is named for a plant or animal found in the Everglades.
North of Palm Beach are the towns of Jupiter, Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach. One of the historic venues in Jupiter is the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. The Maltz just announced plans for an approximately $25 million to $30 million expansion to begin following its 2017-2018 season, scheduled for completion November 2019. The theater’s plans qualify it for pre-Broadway and national tours.
Its Green Room Club Level Lounge is perfect for a cocktail party or small meeting. With a bar and a piano, it’s a great venue for a cabaret-themed event. The image room is a small meeting space that can hold up to 10 or 12 for a meeting and up to 30 for a cocktail party.
“Jupiter has wonderful venues for groups, and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is no exception,” said Linnea Bailey, the theater’s public relations representative. “It offers a variety of entertainment throughout our season, as well as pre- and post-show opportunities. Our Green Room Club Level Lounge is a wonderful space for parties and events.”
“We offer a variety of boutique meeting venues so participants can engage in the area’s vast array of undeveloped green spaces while enjoying the destination’s sophisticated culinary scene, and shop at small retail venues,” said Allison McNeal, director of tourism, Indian River County.
One of the top spots on the list for meeting professionals is the Vero Beach Museum of Art, known for its works by William Wegman and Dale Chihuly. A wide variety of meeting spaces available for events include the Holmes Great Hall and Laura and Bill Buck Atrium. The Holmen Hall provides space for more intimate gatherings, and the impressive stage in the Leonhardt Auditorium is perfect for a corporate speaking event.
Saved from shopping center developers, the 18-acre McKee Botanical Garden is on the National Register of Historic Places. Filled with native plants, trees, exotic botanicals and waterfalls, it also boasts the largest water lily collection in all of Florida. The 1,800-square-foot Hall of Giants/Spanish Kitchen can be used for groups of up to 100 and the Educational Building works best for groups of 40 to 80. The Greeting Area, which can accommodate up to 100, can be used for outdoor group painting events, yoga and cooking classes.
Audubon House, adjacent to the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area in Indian River County, is a structure that looks like two birdhouses featuring two giant round windows in front of each building. For groups of up to 80, it’s a unique rustic meeting venue in the middle of a 440-acre nature preserve. Some of the foliage surrounding the preserve includes pine flatwoods and palm hammock. The area is also home to the University of Florida’s Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, next door to Audubon House.
St. Lucie/Ft. Pierce
“We are located near Orlando and Miami but a lot less crowded,” said Charlotte Bireley, director of tourism and marketing for Visit St. Lucie. “Our coastal destination off the beaten path offers a relaxing vibe with really unique places to meet. We are a great fit for small meetings.”
Two of the more popular museums meeting professionals use for special events, according to Bireley, are the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery and the Havert L. Fenn Center. The Fenn Center can host receptions, meetings, conferences, exhibits, sporting events and more. With 32,000 square feet of space, planners can choose from a variety of meeting rooms and a 20,000-square-foot-plus exhibit hall used for tradeshows, receptions and more.
The A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery, located in historic downtown Ft. Pierce, is an 8,000-square-foot public visual arts facility established in 1960 by American artist Albert Ernest Backus (1906–1990) and a group of local art lovers. Open five days a week from October through mid-June, the museum features the largest display of original paintings by Backus. Additional exhibition wings feature rotating exhibits of artwork by contemporary artists.
“This is a great venue for a cocktail reception or gala and can hold about 100 inside and out,” Bireley said.
South of Palm Beach in Delray Beach is a perfect spot for a retro party with some original 1981 Ms. Pac-Man video machines, among others. The Silverball Museum features more than 150 video games and pinball machines dating as far back as the 1930s. Its restaurant serves favorites like pulled-pork sliders, lobster rolls and crab cakes, and has more than 40 beers on tap. The best part? All the games are set for free plays, which means unlimited plays are included in the price of admission.
This 9,000-square-foot museum also offers classic video games such as Asteroids. Two floors of pinball machines, arcade games and even the original Skee-Ball alleys from New York’s Coney Island Eldorado Arcade await.