West Palm Beach is what you get when you mix white sandy beaches, palm trees, and a tropical climate with designer shops, historic architecture, and well-manicured country clubs. Known for its shopping and tourism, about 100,000 people call this suburb community home, and they enjoy the best of Southern Florida living.
This medium sized city is about 70 miles removed from the hustle of Miami, but it still draws its fair share of tourism as travelers make their way back and forth from the state’s largest city. Famous and wealthy personalities trek through town on their way to mansions and resorts on the Palm Beach barrier island. European settlers referred to the entire region as the “Lake Worth County.” Once the only municipality, the city now sits to the west of the Lake Worth Lagoon and serves as the county seat for Palm Beach County. It was during the population booms of the 1920s, 50s, and 60s that modern development began to take shape.
Find out what you need to know to get your new Southern Florida life started.
Living in West Palm Beach, FL: What to Know Before Moving to West Palm Beach
Maybe you’ve already gotten a glimpse of West Palm Beach while on vacation, or perhaps you’ve only seen the glossy tourism photos and heard the rumors. Regardless, here’s what you need to know before you decide to make this southern coastal community your permanent home:
Pros and Cons of Living in West Palm Beach, FL
South Florida has a growing population, and the area continually attracts new residents like yourself from all over the country.
Pros – the advantages you appreciate daily:
- The Tropical Heat – Seasonal temperature remains above freezing all year round.
- Outdoor Recreation – Natural environments, parks, hiking, horseback riding, and golf courses.
- Entertainment – Find some of the best dining and nightlife north of Miami.
- Shopping – Luxury boutiques retail the latest merchandise and fashions.
- Celebrities – Mingle with famous or influential visitors and residents who frequent the area.
Cons – the drawbacks you should prepare to accept:
- Hurricane Risk – At least a minor hurricane or tropical storm hits semiannually.
- Alligators – Any water more than few inches deep might conceal a lurking alligator.
- Mosquitos – Florida is home to 80 different species of this disease-carrying vermin.
- Cost of Living – Tourists and affluent neighbors drive up the price of housing and amenities.
- Traffic – As unpredictable as the weather, major thoroughfares clog without warning.
Don’t become discouraged. Your new neighbors have strategies for managing these minor nuisances, and you can adapt as well.
The State of Florida does not charge residents an income tax, and this policy is one of the reasons why so many retirees relocate to the area. It’s cheaper to cash out your 401K. The state does impose a 5.5% corporate income tax on some business, but nonprofit organizations are unaffected.
Palm County residents pay a total of 7% sales tax on all retail purchases. The statewide consumption tax rate is only 6%, but the county adds 1% to fund the local government. This tax does not apply to essentials like your packaged food purchases.
If you own your own home, you must also pay property tax. Rates vary, but 1.31% is the county average. On average, a typical homeowner can expect to pay a little more than $3200 a year.
Slightly more residents own their own homes than rent, but the distribution is mixed. In residential zones, most are homeowners. Closer to the city center, more people rent luxury apartments or condos.
Home values can exceed several million dollars for exclusive or luxury properties, but the median price for the average three-bedroom home is $237,600. You can rent a two-bedroom apartment for about $1500 a month.
If you’re from the Midwest, this may still seem high, but it’s a bargain compared to Miami and Fort Lauderdale. If your budget is tight, check out more affordable neighborhoods like Northwood Pines or the areas near South Tamarind. You may locate a small home for less than $1000 per month in those areas.
Cost of Living
The overall cost of living in West Palm Beach is about 17% higher than the rest of the United States. Your housing and transportation costs account for most of the extra expenses. Most residents depend on their vehicles to get around the city, and you may have limited parking options or alternatives.
Many new residents are also unprepared for the higher insurance costs. Increased risk of storm damage drives up home and auto insurance rates, impacting your budget. Coverage is essential, though. Don’t skimp on your premiums.
The median income for the area is only $45,000 per year. That’s low compared to the rest of the country. For a family of four, you should have a household income of at least $85,000 a year to cover your living expenses. If you’re single, you might get by with only $38,000 a year but don’t expect to have much left over after paying your bills.
Weather and Natural Disasters
West Palm Beach is in a tropical rainforest climate. Sitting right on the Atlantic coast, this city suffers a steady trade wind during much of year. Expect frequent wind and rain with varying intensity.
It stays warm in South Florida all year round. The average annual temperature is 65 degrees. In the summer months, highs reach the 100-degree mark during the day, though it can get chilly on occasion. In the winter, lows fall to the 40-degree range, though it never snows or freezes. Summer is the rainy season, and the yearly rainfall usually measures about 63”. Starting in May and lasting through September, thunderstorms pelt the area and then suddenly disappear.
You will experience hurricanes and tropical storms living in West Palm Beach. Category three storms, where wind speeds reach at least 111 miles per hour, visit the area about once a decade. Less severe storms blow in nearly every other year. Residents also experience the occasional sinkhole. Shifting underground water and soft earth allow empty pockets to form underground. When the surface collapses, sinkholes destroy roads, topple buildings, and swallow cars.
Economy and Job Market
Florida’s economy is strong overall, and West Palm Beach is growing. As of 2018, the city’s unemployment rate was just 3.4%, which is slightly lower than the national rate.
Services industries like retail, hospitality, and food service dominate. The most visible commercial activities cater to the tourists who stream through the shopping districts of the city. If you’re ambitious and wish to start your own small business, landscaping services are always in demand. You might also find work in healthcare, education, professional, and technical trades. Aerospace manufacturing has a small but determined presence in the city with employers like Pratt and Whitney, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sikorsky Aircraft, and General Dynamics maintaining offices in the area.
Traffic and Transportation
Interstate 95 is the main highway through town, running from north to south. Highway 704 on Okeechobee Blvd connects you along an east-west route with the city center. Once in town, the North Dixie Highway on US Route One is the main thoroughfare through the city. It also runs north to south.
The Palm Tran is a public transit agency operating buses throughout the city. You’ll find the central transit station at the same downtown location as the Greyhound bus terminal and Amtrak train station. You can take the Tri-Rail commuter to communities north and south of West Palm Beach during the week. As an alternative, the Molly Trolley is a fare-free public bus designed to ferry shoppers to hotspots throughout the city. The service operates on a limited schedule but does help to distribute visitors to the city’s various attractions.
You can walk just about anywhere downtown, but for most routine errands a car is essential. Traffic gets terrible during regular commuter hours but is especially onerous when US President Trump visits his private residence at Mar-a-Lago. This estate is just outside of the city in neighboring Palm Beach.
What to Do
Like all of Florida, you have some terrific options for outdoor recreation. John D. Macarthur Beach State Park is a short drive north. This favorite spot features public ocean access and a nature center with live animal exhibits, including sea turtles.
To the south, get over to Okeeheelee Park when you have a chance. Managed by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, this 1700-acre public green space has just about every outdoor amenity imaginable. It’s a popular place for league sports, boating, hiking, cycling, and even freshwater fishing.
For shopping, dining, and nightlife, check out the City Place downtown plaza, recently renamed Rosemary Square. You can also head up to Northwood Village or the Palm Beach Outlet Mall for more options.
The Norton Museum of Art and the Palm Beach Zoo are both worth exploring all year long. Check event schedules to attend the Palm Beach Boat Show, The Palm Beach International Film Festival, The Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, and Sunfest.
For the sports fans in your family, head over to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to watch the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals during spring training. This 160-acre complex has a full stadium surrounding by twelve practice fields.
Schools and Universities
The School District of Palm Beach County is the 11th largest district by enrollment in the nation. It has an 85% graduation rate, and the average SAT scores are above the mean at 1120. Most graduates continuing to higher education attend colleges within Florida.
Palm Beach Atlantic University is right on the edge of the water just south of the downtown district. Many local students enroll at this institution. Palm Beach State College enrolls over 48,000 students in over 100 areas of study. For alternatives, students might opt to attend the Keiser University for career training in business or technical fields. The Evangelical Bible Seminary is close by, and Southeastern Technical offers preparation for careers in accounting, management, healthcare, and technology.
The crime rate is high in Florida. In some regions of West Palm Beach, you are twice as likely to become a victim than in other parts of the state. Safe neighborhoods exist near the waterfront and farther west in more recent suburban developments.
Overall, violent crimes occur to 8.28 out of 1000 residents throughout the year. Property crimes, such as theft or vandalism, impact 48.27 out of every 1000 residents annually.
- Water and Sewage: The Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department manages your drinking water, stormwater, and sewage. The City of West Palm Beach provides a convenient online portal for you to set up and pay for these services as well as your sanitation, recycling, and utility taxes. Expect to pay a deposit to establish services. This fee is two months of the average usage in advance. After twelve months of continuous payment history, the city credits your deposit toward your account.
- Electricity: Florida Power and Light manages your electrical grid. Check online to open your account, start services, and pay your bill.
- Natural Gas: Florida Public Utilities provides propane and natural gas services. The utility maintains an office in West Palm Beach, but before you count on a gas line, contact their representative to find out if their gas line network extends to your neighborhood. Gas tanks are used in some areas that don’t have gas lines.
- Cable and Internet: AT&T, Xfinity, and Spectrum are the top high-speed internet providers. Wireless providers like Sprint and Verizon also offer service in West Palm Beach. Dish TV and Direct TV offer additional television and entertainment services. You might save with a bundled package.
Best Neighborhoods in West Palm Beach, FL
While West Palm Beach is itself a suburb of Miami, there are many great small neighborhoods in the area.
The downtown district is on the edge of the Lake Worth Lagoon and features views of the Palm Beach barrier island. Highway 704 passes along the southern border and connects the mainland with wealthy, exclusive neighborhoods on the other side over the Royal Park Bridge.
In this central location, you have easy access to the best dining, shopping, and nightlife in West Palm Beach. Tourists, on their way to and from Miami, browse and spend time in upscale shopping malls and at special events.
This area has beautiful walking and biking trails as well as lush green spaces and public parks along the edge of the water. Local festivals and special events fill the calendar of performing arts stages and venues year-round.
- Population – 1500
- Median Income – $55,500 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $447,000 for a luxury condo
- Rental Rates – $1800 for a two-bedroom apartment
- Employers – Tomsich Health and Medical Center, Services industry employers, local government
- Schools – Palm Beach State College, Palm Beach Atlantic University
Something to Try: Browse the shops and restaurants at City Place and enjoy the live entertainment that frequently performs in the market areas.
Head south from downtown on Highway One. Look to your right after you pass the Norton Museum of Art to see the commercially zoned facing of the Flamingo Parks neighborhood. Tucked back behind the shops and restaurants, residents enjoy quiet streets and easy access to the rest of the city’s amenities.
You’ll find well-built single-family homes that were constructed in the 1920s. Prices can be high, but incomes for residents compensate. Most are working professionals or small business owners with a few inhabitants working in local shops.
Apartments are nonexistent, and home rentals are rare. Don’t let that discourage you. Some homeowners rent out extra rooms to single professionals or convert their houses into vacation rentals.
- Population – 1000
- Median Income – $76,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $525,000 for a single-family home
- Rental Rates – $850 for a furnished room
- Employers – Construction and contractor trades, local services employers
- Schools – The Green School, Belvedere Elementary School
Something to Try: Stroll across Lake Ave to Howard Park and the Howard Park Community Center to participate in games, special events, and fitness training.
Old Northwood Historic District
The Northwood area has several attractive areas to live, but you’ll find the Old Northwood historic neighborhood along Spruce Avenue. It’s quiet and well maintained. Get there by traveling north from downtown along the North Dixie Highway. Turn Right at 36th Ave to connect with the primary access to the district.
Most residents own their own homes and commute to jobs in other parts of the city. Renters might find accommodations, but the economic stability of the neighborhood favors long term occupancy.
Old Northwood is away from the water, which some prefer to take a break from the alligators and mosquitos. It’s still plenty close to the Northwood Village where you’ll find a community of small local businesses.
- Population – 850
- Median Income – $54,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $228,000 for a single-family home
- Rental Rates – $1000 per month
- Employers – Nearby retail shops
- Schools – Northboro Elementary School
Something to Try: Learn to paint or play the ukulele during special events at Harold’s Coffee Lounge in the Northwood Village district.
This upscale neighborhood is along the water’s edge south of the downtown area. Characterized by its palm trees, clean sidewalks, and Mediterranean style architecture, this suburb is perfect for middle-class families.
Individual residences comprise most of the housing options with only a handful of apartments or condos. You’ll meet a few retirees and young professionals here, but the lack of rental options limit access to those with low or fixed incomes.
El Cid has excellent amenities close by along the Dixie Highway. The Palm Tran public bus service connects you with the downtown area on route one if you don’t own a vehicle. On the other side of the district, a paved, narrow path gives pedestrians convenient access to the waterfront.
- Population – 1400
- Median Income – $59,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $484,733
- Rental Rates – $800 for a furnished guest room
- Employers – Customer service work in local shops, Publix Super Market, The Palm Beach Post
- Schools – The Green School
Something to Try: Take an afternoon to visit the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden.
Located directly to the south of the city center, this neighborhood has all the advantages of being close to the urban action but with fewer disruptions. Cross over Highway 704 near the Henry J. Rolfs statue. Then head past the Palm Beach Convention Center to find yourself in the middle of Grandview Heights.
Some housing rentals and a collection of short-term vacation properties are available, but a lack of public schools nearby puts a strain on families with small children. Still, this area is perfect for retirees or young working professionals.
Howard Park Community Center is right next door, and the convention center, which hosts special events all year round, is within walking distance. You may find work in the hospitality industry or work in retail. The luxury auto sales businesses located to the north also employ residents.
- Population – 1200
- Median Income – $58,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $278,000
- Rental Rates – $1300 for a small apartment
- Employers – Hilton West Palm Beach, Jaguar Palm Beach
- Schools – Palm Beach Atlantic University, Palm Beach Christian Academy
Something to Try: Take a self-guided tour through the 27-acre Howard Park Arboretum and learn about the community’s collection of exotic tropical trees.
You’ll find this district just north of the main city center next to the Flagler Memorial Bridge. It’s home to working young professionals. It has many open public spaces for community gatherings and a thriving nightlife.
There’s a mix of single-family homes as well as towering luxury condo buildings. Many renters enjoy a view of the city, but you can purchase a modest house at the street level if desired. The narrow streets are clean, and some roadways feature parking zones allowing to you tuck your vehicle out of the path of traffic.
The waterfront bike trail connects you with employers in the downtown district, saving you the hassle of driving into work. For half of the week, Molly Trolley’s blue line runs right through the neighborhood on North Olive Avenue.
- Population – 1600
- Median Income – $47,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $198,000 for a condo or townhouse
- Rental Rates – $1200 for a small condo or apartment
- Employers – St Mary’s Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center, local services providers
- Schools – The Rosarian Academy
Something to Try: Connect with your fellow outdoor sporting enthusiasts at the nearby West Palm Beach Fishing Club.
In 2015, West Palm Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency started investing over $9 million into Pleasant City’s infrastructure. A new buffer wall separates residents from the rail lines to the west. The agency has also dramatically enhanced aesthetics and property values with its Plant, Paint, and Pave program.
Affordable single-family homes near public schools make the neighborhood a desirable choice for young families. Area residents are also close enough to the city center to commute to jobs downtown. Commercial services along the highway are convenient and employ many locals.
Several churches and a local community center connect you with your neighbors. Pleasant City is also the home to one of the oldest family-owned businesses in West Palm Beach, Bush Brothers Provisioning Company.
- Population – 2900
- Median Income – $47,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $168,000
- Rental Rates – $1100 for a small house
- Employers – Retailers along the Dixie Highway and in the Northwood Village
- Schools – Pleasant City Elementary
Something to Try: Stroll a few blocks north to visit up to the Northwood village and browse through shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Wellington isn’t in the city boundaries of West Palm Beach, but it’s close enough. Also, it’s incredible. This suburban development often ranks high in national lists of desirable communities. If you’re comfortable with the 30-minute drive to downtown, it’s well worth considering. Wellington is famous for its horses, and the equestrian sporting community dominates the local culture. Find horse property, ranches, boarding, training, and competition facilities throughout the area. The Winter Equestrian Festival runs from January through April and is the largest horse show in the country.
Development began in the 1950s over the 31 square miles of area that is now the Wellington Village. Incorporated in 1995, the local municipality caters to the needs of the residents who enjoy a much lower crime rate than the rest of Florida, and better public schools.
- Population – 68,000
- Median Income – $83,000 annual per household
- Median Home Price – $327,000
- Rental Rates – $1550 per month for a modest apartment
- Employers – Shops at The Mall at Wellington Greens, Wellington Regional Medical Center, Palm Beach Polo and Country Club, The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center
- Schools – Wellington Elementary, Wellington Landings Middle School, Wellington Community High School, Palm Beach State College
Something to Try: Take a short break from all that horseback riding for a little hiking, cycling, or outdoor photography at the Wellington Environmental Preserve.