Whoever named Boca Raton (pop. 84,392), which translates literally as “Rat’s Mouth,” clearly didn’t have an ear for future promotional bonanza. Despite the awkward name, the town has become one of the more chichi spots in the state. As in Palm Beach, Coral Gables, and Miami’s South Beach, the best of Boca dates from the 1920s, when architect and real estate promoter Addison Mizner, flush from his success building Mediterranean-style manors in Palm Beach, created a mini Venice of resorts and canals, which survives mainly in the shocking pink palazzo of the Boca Raton Resort (501 E. Camino Real, 561/447-3000, $289 and up), on the southeast side of town.
Downtown Boca has been turned into a massive stucco shopping mall, but it’s worth braving for a look inside the ornate Mizner-designed Town Hall, on US-1 (old Dixie Highway) in Palmetto Park downtown, which now houses the local historical museum (closed weekends, $5).
Hwy-A1A misses most of Boca Raton, cruising past along the densely pine-forested coast. The beaches are accessible but hard to find; one well-marked stop along the way is the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (561/544-8605, Mon.-Sat. 9am-4pm, Sun. noon-4pm, $5 donation) on the inland side of the highway, a mile north of Mizner Park. A variety of native Floridian landscapes have been re-created here, letting you wander at will past coastal dunes, mangrove wetlands, and rare sabal palm hammocks. Across Hwy-A1A, Red Reef Park is a popular surfing beach.