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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Historic Clematis Street in Downtown West Palm Beach

By Sandra Schulman - Arts writer, music and film producer.

The downtown of a city is the most visible indicator of its community’s pride; its buildings embody the community’s past and current identity. Historic Clematis street in downtown West Palm Beach with its restaurants, shops, art galleries, office buildings and nightclubs, speaks volumes about the health of our local economy and has attracted and retained residents, business institutions, jobs, and investments that enable West Palm Beach to endure and thrive.

When Henry Flagler first came here in 1893, he called the Lake Worth area “a veritable paradise” and decided upon a radical dual plan for the area. He would turn Palm Beach into a resort for the wealthy, and he would build a commercial city across the lake for his workers. That “worker city” would become beautiful West Palm Beach. When he was planning the city of his dreams, he named the streets after the beautiful and exotic plants that surrounded him in his wild tangle of bay and lake front property. Running from east to west were the streets of Althea, Banyan, Clematis, Datura, Evernia and Fern. North-South avenues were Lantana, Myrtle, Narcissus, Olive, Poinsettia (now called Dixie Highway), Rosemary, Sapodilla and Tamarind.

On November 5, 1894, by a majority vote of 77 to 1, residents of the little pioneering town made it official to incorporate the city of West Palm Beach. Within a few years it became a bustling frontier town with storefronts centering all along Clematis and Narcissus streets, and saloons lining Banyan Street. The area became a little too wild and was so notorious that famed anti-alcohol crusader Carry Nation visited this humid town in 1904, wielding her preaching hatchet and her Bible.

Things have grown dramatically in the decades since, the Clematis Street Historic Commercial District was listed in the West Palm Beach Register of Historic Places in 1996 and in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The district is significant for its mainstay building housing the library and for the large waterfront park at the east end. It is also architecturally significant for its block to block collection of unusual, distinguished commercial architecture of the early 20th-century which fuse elements of design, detailing, materials and craftsmanship. Many of the buildings still proudly bear the year they were built on their storefronts.

bar-louiClematis Street is the historical heart of Downtown West Palm Beach. Starting at Flagler Drive on the Intracoastal Waterway, walk west along Clematis Street and experience the varied, unique to South Florida flavor of the area’s colorful boutiques, art galleries, nightclubs, live music, restaurants, antique shops and historical landmarks. In the winter season there is the farmers’ market and the spring has SunFest. It also is the main destination in the city for special events for all the major holidays, including annual occurrences like: MoonFest, 4th of July celebration and New Year’s festivities.

Historical Clematis Street is an important dining destination

With an original mix of both national brands and unique local retailers; there is also a menu of international dining destinations – sushi, Italian, Cuban, French, Mexican, vegetarian and seafood – and nightlife with dance, Latin and rock music. There are top-tier cultural venues flavored with 100 years of history such as the Palm Beach Dramaworks Theater which presents plays, musicals and award winning shows year round.

The area’s spectacular waterfront is home to the longtime establishment E.R. Bradleys with a cuisine that is trend setting yet approachable, great for everyone from the discerning foodie to the family with hungry kids in tow straight off the beach. Owned by the same family for 30 years, they serve organic meats and poultry and only the freshest in local seafood. A laid back vibe, great cuisine and live music make this one of the most special family-run independent restaurants. You can also rent paddleboards right next door to the restaurant and tote them down to the dock for a day of SUP along the waterfront.

Rocco’s Tacos is one of the many Clematis Street Restaurants making this area a top dining destinations for residents and visitors. The taste of new old Mexico runs rampant at the wildly decorated Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar. Step through the door and become part of the atmosphere, joining a diverse crowd enjoying flavors picked directly from Mexico, with 425 varieties of tequilas to choose from, a guacamole station where diners can custom order ingredients in their luscious avocado bowls. Corn tortillas are made by hand and cooked fresh on the premises as well. Chips are even baked on site. A favorite dish is the carne asada and the poblano pepper stuffed with cheese. The fun even continues in the restrooms that screen movies such as Three Amigos.


There are dozens of restaurants, a great variety of cafes, fast food venues and bars along Clematis Street. The food scene here is highly international with restaurants like: Pistache serving upscale casual French fare; Kabuki, a sleek, contemporary place offering innovative sushi rolls and other excellent Japanese & Thai dishes; or Lynora’s Osteria where chefs impressively dominate the old school Italian flavors to provide a unique dining experience that will change the way you think about Italian Cuisine. Such variety of restaurants are helping to make this city strip a new destination for South Florida foodies.

People-having-fun-in-west-palm-beachSome years ago the Clematis Street nightlife scene used to be no second to other destinations in South Florida, like in Miami Beach. In 2008 Clematis Street used to be West Palm Beach’s hub of nightlife as an immense resurgence of the downtown area was taking place with a slew of new dining spots and retailers, creating a hot spot for a night out, especially on weekends. Several nightclubs lined up next to each other in the same block gathering a hipster crowd. Today, as not everything is a cup of coffee, there is still something for everyone and you will find various places where to go dancing and hear live music. The Pawn Shop is leading the nightlife scene on Clematis Street nowadays. Some other dining locations and bars will also delight customers staying longer at night with a different cozy atmosphere featuring live bands, open mic and karaoke.

The Centennial Square at the south end of Clematis Street hosts major regular events such as Clematis by Night while the waterfront attracts thousands to the Palm Beach International Boat Show and frequent arts and crafts festivals. The Meyer Amphitheater hosts live music and events for kids every month.

West Palm Beach Waterfront is at the far east of Clematis Street and provides three long public docks for parking boats, including a floating pier with a “window” to an artificial reef, that brings the water’s edge to life. It is a wonderful place for walking and sitting to gaze at the downtown’s skyline.

Clematis District has clearly defined itself as one of South Florida’s favorite destinations for stylish and distinctive home furnishings and accessories as well, with beachy or sophisticated décor stores. Pioneer Linens is famous for the finest luxury goods and a Downtown landmark that has been open since 1912. The area is also home to gyms and innovative fitness options as well as a number of great spas and hair salons that complement the quality of life for dwellers who prefer living in the downtown area.

Besides being a means of transportation for many West Palm Beach downtown residents, the trolleys running around Clematis Street are a main attraction as well. They are a convenient way to hop around between restaurants, art galleries, and shops and also offering a quick way to connect CityPlace and the Tri-Rail Train Station with the Clematis Street historic commercial district.

Park and walk along Clematis, discover new places, old favorites and what makes West Palm Beach so special.

Guiding you around the Historic Clematis Street in Downtown West Palm Beach

→ Find here the listing of restaurants in downtown West Palm Beach by districts and cuisine types, check menus, photos, videos and current offers.

→ For an update of Clematis Street events during the year, access VisitWPB, the online directory in the city of West Palm Beach for all things to do, events and attractions.




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