Ranking Palm Beach County’s cities, from worst to best


Maybe you’re new around here, or maybe you’re just in the mood for another one of those annoying lists.

Like, for example, one that lists each of Palm Beach County’s 38 municipalities and ranks them in some sort of cosmic scale of one to thirty-eightness, whatever that means.

Who would even be remotely qualified to take on such a dubious task, which would be bound to raise well-founded objections from every community booster in the 5-6-1? Well, allow me to state my credentials.

When it comes to all things municipal in Palm Beach County, I have been a player, for better or worse.

I have been given the key to the City of Boynton Beach. When Lantana Lou, the key figure in Lantana’s version of Groundhog Day, got too sick to pronounce six more weeks of tourist season, I filled in. When Boca Raton announced the building of a dog park, I suggested the name for it, “Mizner Bark.”

So yes, I’m a bit of a self-appointed authority when it comes to Palm Beach County’s cities, towns, and villages.

Here’s my countdown of Palm Beach County’s municipalities from 38 to 1.

38. Mangonia Park

Municipal logo: A balanced scale

Random factoid: Town was supposed to be named “Magnolia Park”, but the name in Florida was already taken, so it settled for “Mangonia,” which is the genus of a flowering plant found only in Southern Brazil and Uruguay.

Reason for ranking: This small and mostly commercial postage stamp of suburbia run amok is marked by the biggest, ugliest eyesore in the county – the long-neglected Palm Beach Jai-Alai fronton, which remains there despite being closed for the past 22 years.

*

37. Pahokee

Municipal logo: Sailboat on the lake shore

Random factoid: An incubator for the NFL, but before that known as the childhood home of stuttering country singer Mel Tillis.

Reason for ranking: Pahokee’s constantly in a state of financial emergency, despite its prime location on Lake Okeechobee. What used to be the one of the biggest cities in Palm Beach County now teeters on the brink of dissolution.

*

36. Haverhill

Municipal logo: Great blue heron

Random factoid: Town sponsors annual picnic for residents and movie under the stars (and flight path of Palm Beach International).

Reason for ranking: Haverhill’s a small town of about 1,600 residents with its own park and youth sports leagues. But most people just know it as that voracious speed trap on Belvedere Road just west of Military Trail.

*

35. Highland Beach

Municipal logo: Sun setting on beach with palm trees

Random factoid: Has hidden U.S. Post Office that is a no-line alternative during Christmas package-mailing season.

Reason for ranking: Like Gulf Stream, Highland Beach is another coastal sliver of a municipality that goes out of its way to put out the unwelcome mat. Palm Beach County taxpayers paid nearly $4 million to purchase a 5.6-acre tract of undeveloped beachfront property on the south end of Highland Beach for use as a public park. The town has successfully delayed the park plan for the past 29 years.

*

34. Cloud Lake

Municipal logo: Wading bird with “a bird sanctuary” written above it

Random factoid: The “lake” in the name came from dredging to make the I-95 overpass on Southern Boulevard.

Reason for ranking: Chances are if you know about this one-square mile town of four streets near the Palm Beach International Airport, you’re one of its 139 residents. Its only commercial enterprise is a Southern Boulevard billboard that funds its government. It’s a good place to live if you’re in the witness protection program, a bird, or can’t stand the hustle-and-bustle of living among the 276 residents in the neighboring town of Glen Ridge.

*

33. South Bay

Municipal logo: “Cross Roads of South Florida” with tractor, vegetables, a bass and a cardinal.

Random factoid: Until the state sued, the city had pumped its raw sewage into the ground about a mile from the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, the drinking water source for the area.

Reason for ranking: One of the spectacularly mismanaged cities in Florida. If it weren’t for Pahokee, South Bay would have no local peer in this distinction.

*

32. Belle Glade

Municipal logo: Soil scene with motto “Her Soil is her fortune”

Random factoid: The other fortune is getting to the National Football League, which local youth do by being stars in the annual game against Pahokee, which is called “The Muck Bowl.”

Reason for ranking: For the overwhelming majority of local residents who aren’t talented and driven enough to make it to the NFL, unemployment is as high as 40 percent.

*

31. Palm Springs

Municipal logo: A bent palm tree

Random factoid: Calls itself “the garden spot of Palm Beach County”

Reason for ranking: But it ought to be known as the spot for the last drive-in movie theater in Palm Beach County.

*

30. Glen Ridge

Municipal logo: Green letters “GR” on a white background.

Random factoid: The town has its own Facebook page, which has a total of 8 “likes.”

Reason for ranking: It’s supposed to be impressive that the entire town is a bird sanctuary. But it’s also worth pointing out that the entire town is only 100 acres. The only question here is whether living in tiny Glen Ridge is better or worse than living in neighboring Cloud Lake, which is about 100 residents tinier.

*

29. Hypoluxo

Municipal logo: Barefoot Mailman

Random factoid: Town’s name is Seminole for “Water all ‘round. No get out.”

Reason for ranking: A website proclaiming the top 10 things to do in this small town between Boynton Beach and Lantana listed only one thing: Renting a boat and going fishing. I guess you could say “Water all ‘round, get out!”

*

28. Boynton Beach

Municipal logo: A white-outlined and vertically oriented swordfish on a blue background

Random factoid: While other local cities have abandoned red light cameras in light of successful legal challenges, Boynton Beach continues to use them.

Reason for ranking: Boynton Beach is like the lesser of the Baldwin brothers, maybe Billy. Sandwiched between much more happening downtowns in Lake Worth and Delray Beach, Boynton seems to be perpetually overshadowed and trying to catch up.

Boynton even got a beat-down in the recent movie, Spotlight, when the reporter played by actor Mark Ruffalo tells his editor: “I’m not in Miami Beach. I’m in Boynton Beach. Big difference.”

*

27. Gulf Stream

Municipal logo: One guy whacking a golf ball away from the ocean surf, while another guy riding a polo pony seems poised to hit the ball into the ocean.

Random factoid: Bernie Sanders will not be campaigning here. Ever.

Reason for ranking: This coastal community north of Boca Raton was founded around the Gulf Stream Country Club, and was ranked recently as the 11th-highest income place in America. Unless you belong to one of three private clubs here, you’d better keep moving, but not too fast.

*

26. Atlantis

Municipal logo: Putting green surrounded by four palm trees. No people visible.

Random factoid: Older residents are close enough to JFK Hospital to make the trip in their golf carts.

Reason for ranking: If you like walled mini-cities built around a golf course, Atlantis is the place for you. With an annual community boccie tournament, and a local police force more prone to shooting unruly peacocks than people, this is a neighborly place to live. But there are times you must venture beyond the feudal walls.

*

25. Palm Beach Shores

Municipal logo: Sun on the horizon of a bizarre purple sky

Random factoid: Calls itself “the best little town in Florida”

Reason for ranking: It’s got a swell location being the thumb on the bottom end of Singer Island. Water on three sides and a Chowder Festival. And it’s too far for the weekend drunks on Peanut Island to swim ashore.

*

24. Lantana

Municipal logo: Seagull flying over sailboat

Random factoid: In an attempt to recreate what groundhogs have done for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Lantana’s civic boosters created the annual “Lantana Lou” event on Groundhog Day. Former town councilman Lou Canter appeared on the town beach in a King Neptune costume to predict six more weeks of good weather. The event ended three years ago when Canter got too old to keep doing it.

Reason for ranking: The two entities that put Lantana on the map are no longer there. A.G. Holley, the state-run tuberculosis hospital, shut down a few years ago, and the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid relocated to Boca. Even so, Lantana has its charms, mostly centered on its Ocean Avenue strip, its tiny beach, and the surfside Dune Deck Café.

*

23. Loxahatchee Groves

Municipal logo: a tortoise

Random factoid: Home to Sunsport Gardens, the county’s only nudist camp.

Reason for ranking: The newest of Palm Beach County’s municipalities, the town was founded in 2006, calling itself “Florida’s last frontier.” It’s the place created for local iconoclasts who prefer dirt roads, well water and roaming livestock than the sprawling suburbia in its midst. But the pressures of suburbia appear to be making some inroads. Palm Beach State College is building a campus in Loxahatchee Groves. There may have to be another last frontier in Florida.

*

22. Lake Park

Municipal logo: Spanish-style clock tower

Random factoid: Lake Park used to have the area’s best parade. It was so good that the town shut down its “Christmas in Dixie” parade in 1989 after bikini-clad women on floats caused holiday spirit to swell, prompting spectators drinking beers to join the parade.

Reason for ranking: Lake Park is Pronti’s Italian Kitchen, and that great Pho and Hot Pot Vietnamese restaurant and adjoining grocery store on Park Avenue. It’s even got a vinyl record store (remember them?) Lake Park’s an unpolished, younger, less-affluent slice of northern Palm Beach County.

*

21. Ocean Ridge

Municipal logo: a red roofed building in a palm tree setting

Random factoid: Town has its own lecture series; in March, a resident talked about taking care of the wounded in Vietnam.

Reason for ranking: A small seaside community between Briny Breezes and the Boynton Inlet where cops give bicycle riders traffic tickets.

*

20. Greenacres

Municipal logo: A squirrel sitting on a branch

Random factoid: It’s a “tree city,” which explains the squirrel.

Reason for ranking: In the middle of Palm Beach County’s suburban sprawl, Greenacres is a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing. It’s a balanced gumbo of young and old, white, black, and an extra dollop of Hispanic. It’s a bedroom community between the glitzier Wellington and the cooler Lake Worth.

*

19. Golf

Municipal logo: A golf ball, of course

Random factoid: Inner circle of residents there belong to “The Par Club,” a corporation of homeowners that has first rights to buying most property in the village.

Reason for ranking: If you’re a sucker for a tiny town of strict yard-grooming regulations and its own nano-filtration water treatment plant, this may be the place for you. Good luck finding it.

*

18. Lake Clarke Shores

Municipal logo: Great blue heron with palm trees

Random factoid: Named after Palm Beach pioneer John Clarke who bought the land to grow pineapples. Once Henry Flagler’s railroad extended to the Florida Keys, it was cheaper just to ship Cuban pineapples on the trains.

Reason for ranking: Lake Clarke Shores is a small, neighborly town with lots of community events for its residents. There’s an annual Christmas parade, when residents get prizes for marching with their decorated lawnmowers. There are outdoor movie nights at Town Hall Park and the 23rd annual town barbecue is in April.

*

17. Riviera Beach

Municipal logo: Jumping sailfish with beach scene

Random factoid: Thanks to its bishop/mayor, the home of more supernatural miracles than any other municipality in Palm Beach County.

Reason for ranking: A city of mostly black residents separated by a bridge and a couple of income brackets from an island of high-rise condos populated mostly by white residents. How is this one city?

*

16. Manalapan

Municipal logo: A heron with a sailboat in the background

Random factoid: Town was named because many of the first Northerners who came here were from Manalapan, New Jersey. I guess it’s good they got here before the Long Islanders from Hicksville or Shinnecock.

Reason for ranking: Palm Beach for people who think Palm Beach is too fast-paced. Plus, you could end up living next to Yanni or Don King.

*

15. North Palm Beach

Municipal logo: A ship’s wheel

Random factoid: A small village that’s big on golf. For $150, residents can be “golf ready” at the North Palm Beach Country Club with a five-week instruction program.

Reason for ranking: If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, chances are there’s a village-sponsored activity for you, everything from weekly pickle ball, 20th Century novels discussions, water aerobics at the community pool, chess for adults and kids, yoga at the library, coloring for grown ups … the list goes on.

*

14. Boca Raton

Municipal logo: Spanish galleon near shore with map and words “Boca de Ratones”

Random factoid: Only the people who don’t live in Boca call it “Boca Rah-tan”

Reason for ranking: You think Boca Raton is a swell place until you spend five minutes at the local Costco parking lot, or have an entire movie at the Cinemark narrated aloud by the couple sitting near you, or listen to the sideline shouts of parents at youth soccer games. It’s an acquired taste. If you come to Boca, you’d better be ready to stand your ground, because comfortable living has never seemed like such a struggle — except, of course, for the dogs in strollers.

*

13. Royal Palm Beach

Municipal logo: A tree-lined hexagon

Random factoid: Village changed the name of its Masilotti Park due to the indictment and conviction of its namesake.

Reason for ranking: Royal Palm Beach is a casual Fridays version of Wellington. No polo, but who needs all that Euro-pretension when you’ve got a “Miss West Fest” beauty pageant?

*

12. Jupiter Inlet Colony

Municipal logo: the Jupiter Lighthouse

Random factoid: Even though there are a little over 400 people who live on this little peninsula on the south end of Jupiter Island, the mayor gives an annual “State of the Colony” speech at the Beach Club.

Reason for ranking: This is the poor end of Jupiter Island, which means the state of the colony is still pretty sweet. If you want to get wound up about something here, join The Colony Garden Club and inflict “Florida friendly landscaping practices” on your neighbors.

*

11. South Palm Beach

Municipal logo: Palm trees on the beach

Random factoid: The town passed a resolution this year to urge businesses not to sell flavored tobacco, because it could encourage youthful consumption.

Reason for ranking: There is little youthful anything in South Palm Beach, a condo-canyon stretch of A1A that connects Lake Worth with Palm Beach. It’s a snowbird paradise, with lots of people on the stroll along the paved path bordering the Lake Worth Lagoon.

*

10. Tequesta

Municipal logo: A Tequesta Native-American

Random factoid: Tequesta straddles Martin and Palm Beach Counties, with some of the village on Jupiter Island.

Reason for ranking: For a village that’s only about 2 square miles, it does more than its fair share of taking big-dog roles, whether it’s opposing All Aboard Florida trains or being the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the county over the funding method for an inspector general. Don’t let those peaceful vistas of the Loxahatchee River fool you. Tequesta’s a little warrior.

*

9. Palm Beach Gardens

Municipal logo: A cluttered, four-paneled crest

Random factoid: An animal nuisance law in the city makes it illegal to own more than 25 goldfish.

Reason for ranking: It’s hard to figure out where the center of gravity is in this more-is-more swath of suburbia. Is it The Gardens mall, Downtown at the Gardens, or Mainstreet at Midtown? And why does midtown seem more like the end of town? And why is it OK for those people in Jupiter to have that 26th goldfish?

*

8. Juno Beach

Municipal logo: sea turtle

Random factoid: The Juno Beach Pier is a gathering spot for fishermen, photographers, cyclists, insomniacs and meditative types. At sunrise, it’s practically a religious experience.

Reason for ranking: Lots of action to the north and south with Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens, but Juno Beach still maintains its small town vibe in northern Palm Beach County, even while being the corporate home to Florida Power & Light. The Lake Walk around the town’s Pelican Park allows the strolling public to make a pleasant mile loop in a soothing natural setting. And a mile is the right length in Juno Beach, where about half the town’s 3,000 residents are 65 years old or older.

*

7. Palm Beach

Municipal logo: Single palm tree on deserted beach

Random factoid: A “town-serving” provision requires local businesses to prove that they primarily serve town residents rather people from the wrong side of the bridge.

Reason for ranking: License plate surveillance cameras on the bridges; leaf blower decibel testing; $5-an-hour parking meters at the beach; daily garbage pickup. Manicured paranoia. Basically, Disneyland without the rides.

*

6. Lake Worth

Municipal logo: An empty beach chair on the ocean shoreline

Random Factoid: Home of “Madame Cleo,” the former pay-per-call TV psychic turned gay activist and spoken-word artist.

Reason for ranking: Lake Worth’s different, and proud of it. It’s the place where backyard chicken farming is proposed, local anarchists plot strategies, and snowbirds from Finland mix with refugees from Guatemala. And once a year, the downtown is closed to traffic to allow artists to make chalk drawings on the street. Downtown Lake Worth’s a funkier version of surrounding downtowns. It’s not for everybody, but that’s OK too.

*

5. Briny Breezes

Municipal logo: A blue swordfish

Random factoid: The residents of this mobile-home enclave wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway balked at making $1 million each on the sale of their modest trailer plots to a developer.

Reason for ranking: When you’re ready to call it quits with an exclamation point, there’s no place like Briny Breezes, a retiree-saturated community where your lawn is the green square of Astroturf under the folding chair outside your trailer, and your neighbor is some Canadian who blows down here every year, and, like you, is looking to gently amuse himself or herself to oblivion. You can let it all hang out here, and play in the community hobby shop. The only thing that’s uptight here is the waistline on last year’s Bermuda shorts.

*

4. Wellington

Municipal logo: Three trees, sun and orange sky

Random factoid: The village installed a GPS tracking device inside the Baby Jesus figure to deter thieves from taking it from the annual nativity scene outside the Wellington Community Center.

Reason for ranking: Boca with horses. Welly World manages to pull off a small-town family-friendly vibe while being equally attractive to international jet setters. And all on a land-locked patch of recovered swampland. Now, if they only knew what to do with all that horse crap.

*

3. Delray Beach

Municipal logo: Seagull flying over a sunny beach

Random factoid: When businesses say they’re in the “Boca area,” it means they’re in Delray.

Reason for ranking: Delray used to be a sleepy place with a downtown Howard Johnson’s. Then it packaged the gentrification of its downtown into a source of civic pride, transforming “God Bless America” into “God Bless Delray,” but avoiding that whole “white with foam” line. Now, Delray’s all grown up, turning Atlantic Avenue and its offshoots into a more family-friendly version of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale or Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. It celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, garlic, and tennis – a strange branding trifecta, and even more important, Delray has capitalized on the local population’s unquenchable desire to aimlessly stroll.

*

2. Jupiter

Municipal logo: the Jupiter Lighthouse

Random factoid: Abacoa community first in county to employ DNA testing of dog poop to nab homeowners who don’t pick up after their pets.

Reason for ranking: Jupiter is Miami for people who live in Stuart. Jupiter still has that new city smell, as the town continues to bloom with projects like Harbourside Place. Jupiter’s population doubled between 2000 and 2010, and it’s still the fastest growing city in Palm Beach County. Which is fine until the residents of Admiral’s Cove start wondering what happened to their sleepy little town.

*

1. West Palm Beach

Municipal logo: Water, sun, palm tree

Random factoid: Police once tried to stop drug dealing on a corner by installing speakers on a nearby building and blasting classical music. But somebody shot the speakers.

Reason for ranking: West Palm Beach is the center of gravity in Palm Beach County. And not just because it has the zoo, the county courthouse, convention center and the only county stop on the yet-to-be-built All Aboard Florida route. West Palm Beach has led the way with the arts — with the Kravis Center, Palm Beach Dramaworks and SunFest — and figured out that nurturing public space, even if it’s just a big fountain that kids can play in, is really important. It’s a city of muraled walls, rental-bike stations, and an ever-changing roster of trendy dining spots and re-invented neighborhoods.

And besides, without West Palm Beach, where would Palm Beachers get their water, store their town’s garbage trucks and go to have some fun?


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