Fans’ guide to spring training, Part 2: The town

OK, you’ve made the decision to head to spring training in West Palm Beach. You’ve picked out your dates to watch the Nationals, whether for the mid-February morning workouts or the late March Grapefruit League final tune-ups. You know where to best position yourself to get autographs.

But you don’t know how to get to West Palm Beach yet. Or where to stay. Or what to eat or do when you’re not at the ballpark.

You’re in luck, because you’re reading Part 2 of our annual Fans’ Guide to Nationals Spring Training. (If you missed Part 1, with tips on the baseball portion of your trip, be sure to read that.) Part 2 focuses on everything besides baseball.

We’ll begin with your travel options, because there are several ...

* Fly to Palm Beach International Airport. It’s only 10 minutes from FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. It’s a small, very-easy-to-navigate airport. The only problem: There are minimal nonstop flights from the Washington area. You can catch one of the few American or JetBlue flights out of DCA or one of the few Southwest flights out of BWI, but that’s it. There are no non-stops from Dulles.

* Fly to Fort Lauderdale. It’s an hour’s drive from West Palm Beach, but you can get here non-stop from Dulles via United or Southwest, from DCA via Southwest or JetBlue and from BWI via Southwest.

* Fly to Miami. I mean, if you really want to deal with that airport and the extra drive, have at it.

* Take Amtrak’s Auto Train from Lorton, Va., to Sanford, Fla. I’ve never done this myself, but I’m told it’s a pleasant experience. And you get to have your own car with you.

* Drive the whole way. I have made the drive from D.C. to Viera. To continue down Interstate 95 to West Palm Beach, it’ll take about 14 to 16 hours in total.

OK, you’re now in Palm Beach. Where are you going to stay? Again, there are plenty of options. But beware, rooms can get quite pricey, especially during this time of year.

If you want to be close to the ballpark, there’s a cluster of mid-to-low-range hotels about 1 1/2 miles east of the complex, right by the 45th Street exit off I-95. There’s a Holiday Inn Express, a Residence Inn, a Homewood Suites, a SpringHill Suites, a Red Roof Inn, a Courtyard by Marriott and an Extended Stay America. Keep in mind there aren’t many dining options in the immediate vicinity, but you don’t have to drive far to find something decent to eat.

If you want be closer to chain restaurants (and outlet malls), head one exit south on I-95 (Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard). There you’ll find a Best Western, Ramada and La Quinta Inn.

If you want to be closer to the downtown scene, head one more exit south on I-95 (Okeechobee Boulevard) and stay at the Marriott, the Hilton, the Hyatt Place or the other Residence Inn.

If you really want to splurge, head out to the beach and stay at the Ritz-Carlton on Singer Island.

OK, you’ve traveled to Palm Beach. You’ve checked into your hotel. You’ve spent the day watching baseball. Now, where are you going to have dinner? Again, you’re in luck because there are far more quality options around town than we could ever cover in full in this guide. Consider this just a snippet of choices, because there are many more.

We’ll start with some of the downtown hotspots, beginning with Clematis Street. It’s busy every night of the week, but especially on weekends. Rocco’s Tacos has quickly become a favorite. Same for Grease Burger. I was going to recommend The Alchemist Gastropub, but I just realized it has closed since last spring. That’s unfortunate. Head a little farther toward the waterfront, though, and try Avocado Grill and E.R. Bradley’s Saloon.

Not far from Clematis Street is CityPlace, an outdoor mall with lots of shopping and dining options, plus a movie theater and improv comedy club. Brother Jimmy’s has good barbeque. IL Belagio serves family-style Italian food. The Regional Kitchen and Public House has some great Southern-inspired dishes.

Ballpark-of-the-Palm-Beaches-Sidebar.jpgIf you like steak, there are both a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris downtown. But head just a couple miles west on Okeechobee Boulevard and check out the classic Okeechobee Steak House.

If you like Cuban food, Havana Restaurant on U.S. 1 is the place to go. It was a particular favorite of Dusty Baker’s when he managed the Nationals. Speaking of restaurants recommended by members of the Nationals, no less an authority on Italian food than Mike Rizzo prefers Zuccarelli’s (at the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and Military Trail).

There are several options in the Village Commons shopping center, including Torero’s Mexican, Amici Brick Oven Pizza (no relation, sadly, to Amici’s Italian Restaurant in Viera) and of course Panera Bread (because it wouldn’t be spring training in Florida without a Panera).

I’m still searching for good seafood-by-the-water places in the area, but among those I’ve visited, I recommend the Old Key Lime House in Lantana, Frigate’s Waterfront Bar and Grill on U.S. 1 and Johnny Longboats in Riviera Beach.

OK, now that you’ve eaten yourselves silly, you need to work off some of those extra calories. And you’re not going to lose much weight watching baseball (trust me, I’ve tried to no avail). So how about some local attractions to check out before or after baseball?

The Palm Beach Zoo was a pleasant surprise to me and my family last spring when we attended. It’s not nearly as big as the National Zoo or the San Diego Zoo, but it’s still pretty substantial and features a lot of cool creatures I hadn’t seen before, all in a very pleasant, walkable setting.

Just up the road in Jupiter is the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, where they rescue injured or sick sea turtles, nurse them back to good health and release them back into the ocean. It’s fascinating stuff, and you get to see these huge turtles and the noble volunteers who help them up close.

And, of course, there’s always the beach and tons of golf courses to choose from if the weather’s nice (which it almost certainly will be).

So there you have it. If that doesn’t keep you busy during your trip to spring training, I don’t know what else to tell you. That said, please share your own recommendations in the comments section below, because I know many of you have personal favorites.

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