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21 Towns Like Boca Raton, FL

Explore 21 towns similar to Boca Raton, Florida. Each town boasts an old-world elegance filled with glamor, luxury, and class. Historic attractions and rich cultures are a plus.

Aerial view of Blue Boca Raton Inlet in Florida.

Boca Raton is an American jewel. From the heart of Florida’s marshland, it gleams glamour, luxury, and class. I’ve struggled to see how a city could balance understatement and luxury with such delicacy. But casting about, I’ve discovered enclaves of excellence that affect the same mix in their own way.

We’ll tour twenty-one towns that answer Boca Raton’s challenge. Ten of them are in the US, and the remaining eleven are in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and Australia. Each shows a way of combining old-world elegance with bleeding-edge social mobility on all fronts, underpinned by natural beauty.

We’ll start our journey with a profile of the benchmark town. This will paint our picture of reference.

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A Look at Boca Raton

StateFlorida
CountyPalm Beach
Population97.422
Surface Area31.590 m2
Median Household Income$85.350
Median House Price$458.600

Boca Raton (“Boca,” to the locals) is a South Florida city forty-five miles to the north of Miami. It started life as an agricultural center when in 1925, architect Addison Mizner announced his plans to transform it into North America’s foremost resort town.

The (spectacularly successful) result was the creation of a holiday town with a distinct engineered façade. It is home to Florida Atlantic University and a portfolio of sought-after golf estates.

Geography

Boca is a coastal city with a harbor opening to the Atlantic ocean. Early maps referred to this treacherous bay as “the rat’s mouth” (in Spanish Boca da ratones) for its proclivity to gnaw at the hulls and undersea cables of the incoming ship. Extensive beaches sprawl eastward of the town.

Situated in swampland, the city has a tropical rainforest climate. Most of the year is warm, with rainfall concentrated in the summer when the city experiences thunderstorms. The tropical climate conduces the growth of the region’s characteristic tropical vegetation.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the adjacent lagoon was dredged and fused with the Florida East Coast Canal. This formed the basis for the Intracoastal Waterway. It includes the C-15 canal, which joins with the El Rio Canal north of the city.

The I-95 and Florida Turnpike form a fuzzy boundary between the east and west areas of the city. East Boca houses the younger college community and the downtown area around Mizner Park. This is where tourists congregate.

West Boca has mainline commercial interests like the bigger malls. It sports corporate headquarters, golf courses, and suburbs. Because of the marsh, building ordinances forbid basements. Roadside tunnels run through built-up mounds.

History

The Tequesta were the first occupants of the area. The invading Spanish killed large numbers of Tequesta, and the remainder were exiled to Cuba when the Spanish surrendered the territory to Britain in 1763.

By 1920, Boca had established itself as a desolate farming town with 100 residents. The Yamato Colony, a contingent of Japanese pineapple farmers, left the area following crop failure. Five years later, Mizner’s construction shaped the megacity of today.

World War II saw the conversion of confiscated Yamato Colony land to the Boca Raton Army Air Force Airfield and Base. In 1961 that land would again be repurposed as the main campus of the Florida Atlantic University.

In the eighties and nineties, increased property development, impressing the Mizner design style on larger parts of the city, took shape. This led to the development of downtown Mitzner park and was accompanied by increased immigration of retirees from the rest of the Union.

Over these phases, the town’s character as an affluent retirement destination took shape.

Economy

Boca Raton’s affluence is indicated in its median income, which is 26% higher than the national average. The economy employs forty-six thousand people, with management, sales, and office administration being the biggest employers. Occupations in these jobs, as well as legal services, are factors higher than the national average.

Despite its success as a resort town, the City has a diversified economy. Real Estate, Manufacturing, Retail Trade, Educational Services, Medical and Technological Services are the leading sectors.

Top employers are the Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Florida Atlantic University, Office Depot, and the City of Boca Raton.

IBM played a key role in the modernization of the Boca economy when it established a manufacturing and office complex in the 1960s. This facility became the original production center of the personal computer.

Mixed Freight, Electronics, and Gasoline are the three leading domestic production items. Boca contributes to Florida’s interstate trade, with the biggest trading partners being (in order) Georgia, Texas, and California.

Culture

In the absence of Tequesta artifacts, the city’s cultural hallmark is the faux Mediterranean design style that earmarked Mizner’s architecture. The buildings are characterized by low pitched, red-tiled roofs, stucco siding, and arched portals. This Spanish Revivalist style dominates subsequent development around Mizner Park.

There is attention to performance and visual art with music festivals and modern galleries showcasing leading contemporary art. The universities sustain the alternative cultural interests that flourish around college campuses.

While the city does much to showcase a collection of global culture, it parades little authentic culture of its own. The resort town retirement culture has seen the proliferation of golf greens and parks. The vast Atlantic seafront strip has been developed for its leisure potential and sports popular beaches.

There is a lively music scene featuring live offerings from diverse genres. Music festivals draw large crowds of visitors, and the city is home to bands with a national following.

Attractions

Places and events to look for include:

  • The Palm Beaches: Red Reed Park and Inlet Park describe two miles of beaches. The abut the Gumbo Limbo Environmental Park and Sugar Sand Park.
  • Boca Raton Museum of Art: This downtown museum hosts an impressive permanent collection and a well-curated Avante grade offering.
  • Mizner Park: This lifestyle center houses the museum of art, as well as movie theatres, stores, and restaurants.
  • Sunset Cove Amphitheatre: This is a popular outdoor staging facility for community movies and live events.
  • Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium: Although it tilts towards an older audience, this facility on the University Students Union hosts standup, cabaret, and other live events.
  • Town Center Mall: One of the largest South Florida indoor malls, this is regarded as an upscale shopping center.
  • Holiday Boat Parade: A homegrown tradition in which Floridians parade decorated boats on the intercoastal at Christmas time. It is believed to have originated as an answer to the state’s all-around lack of snow.

10 Similar US Towns

In searching for something like the Boca Raton experience in the rest of the Union, we’ve looked for large resort towns that have to combine the laid-back retired expectation with a city that has it all.

We list here cities that have a level of affluence and economic diversity able to sustain a higher-end holiday while still having access points to all classes of budget.

Town1: Palm Springs

City street view during summer in Palm Springs, California.
StateCalifornia
CountyRiverside
Population44.552
Surface Area94.680 sq m
Median Household Income$53.441
Median House Price$389.800

This town lives on land first occupied by the Cahuilla two millennia ago. Their name for the settlement was Se-Khi (“boiling water”), in reference to the natural springs that made the area liveable during the winters.

Palm Springs today is a bustling resort town, where the winter population trebles around November as skiers arrive. Its resort status began in the twentieth century when health spas attracted clientele because of the dry weather.

The city boasts the world’s largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture. The Desert Modern style on show is a modification of International and Bauhaus styles. Modernism Week is an annual event that celebrates this heritage.

The city contains a vast number of galleries and museums, including the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. The historic Indian Canyons lie outside the town.

Town2: Lake Geneva

Street view overlooking the lake in Geneva, Wisconsin.
StateWisconsin
CountyWalworth
Population7.894
Surface Area6.870 sq m
Median Household Income$51.875
Median House Price$197.300

This town surrounds the eponymous lake along the banks of the White River. Its proximity to Milwaukee and Chicago (respectively forty and sixty-five miles away northeast and southeast) boosts tourist traffic during the holiday season.

The Main Street Historic District showcases the historic buildings that have sprung up over a century of settlement from wealthy Midwesterners. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ice Castles and Geneva Lake Shore Path are key attractions. Hugh Heffner established the first Penthouse Playboy Club Hotel in 1968. It has since morphed into the Grand Geneva Resort.

Town3: Napa

Vineyard landscape during sunrise in Napa, California.
StateCalifornia
CountyNapa
Population79.079
Surface Area18.280 sq m
Median Household Income$84.043
Median House Price$616.700

This Californian valley town locates the resort experience in the western Winelands, viticulture that thrives off the region’s Mediterranean climate. The Napa River cuts through the city on its way to San Pablo Bay.

Key attractions are vineyard visits and Wineland tours. There is an array of culinary excursions to match, including cooking classes. Apart from the wine, bike tours, outdoor concerts, and golf are key attractions.

Winters are wet and chilly, with little rain falling during the hot, dry summers (the preferred times for touring.) The economy is diverse, with education, medical services, and tourism being leading employers.

Town4: East Hampton

Aerial view of the beach on East Hampton, New York.
StateNew York
CountySuffolk
Population21.457
Surface Area386.550 sq m
Median Household Income$89.115
Median House Price$709.100

East Hampton sits on an Atlantic Ocean peninsula, straddling three bays and the Block Island Sound. It has a subtropical climate, marked by warm, dry summers and winters that are wet and chilly.

The gentrification of East Hampton began before the turn of the twentieth century when the Montaukket were evicted to make way for the development of a complex of mansions. These were marketed as holiday homes to wealthy New Yorkers.

Jackson Pollock cemented the island’s reputation as an artist colony. A succession of first ladies established it as a White House retreat, and moguls from across the spectrum have been drawn. Steven Spielberg maintains a house here.

Town5: Delray Beach

Aerial view of Delray Beach Florida.
StateFlorida
CountyPalm Beach
Population68.217
Surface Area16.520 sq m
Median Household Income$60.746
Median House Price$280.200

Billed as a town that marries intimacy with the sophistication of the big city, Delray Beach offers a similar climate and maritime experience and climate to Boca Raton. Its rendition of resort life has considerable overlap.

Delray is an arty place, with the Delray Beach Art Trail and First Friday Art Walk popular tours of the town’s creative character. Atlantic Avenue is a regular venue for art fairs and street festivals.

Wakodahatchee Wetland is a public park with a three-quarter-mile boardwalk over marshland. It adjoins the Great Florida Birding Trail, with more than 150 species of birdlife. Fauna includes raccoons, alligators, and rabbits.

Town6: Key West

Footbridge going to the beach on Key West, Florida.
StateFlorida
CountyMonroe
Population26.444
Surface Area7.210 sq m
Median Household Income$70.033
Median House Price$494.100

Key West’s tropical climate has dry winters and rainy summers. The Florida Keys are generally susceptible to hurricanes, which brings the risk of flooding. In extreme cases, businesses are shuttered, and the entire island may be evacuated.

This Floridian resort town has a unique architectural style, influenced by the so-called “conch” boatbuilders who constructed early dwellings in the town. The buildings typically have raised foundations with cavernous porches and numerous windows. These ventilation designs show their roots in boatbuilding.

Situated in the Keys archipelago, there are many outdoor activities. These include snorkeling, sailing, and touring the mangroves. Ernest Hemingway’s home is a much-visited museum. Other notable residences are Tennessee Williams’s home and Harry Truman’s Little White House.

Town7: Galveston

Beach umbrellas and Pleasure Pier amusement park on Galveston Island Texas.
StateTexas
CountyGalveston
Population50.241
Surface Area211.720 sq m
Median Household Income$49.319
Median House Price$182.800

Bernardo de Galvez’s town was the epicenter of high life during the Golden Age of the late 1800s. Its stately architecture reflects the glory of those days, with landmarks in the Victorian, Gothic, and Romanesque Revival styles. Signature buildings include Aston Villa, The Grand 1894 Opera House, and the Galvez Hotel.

The city has a rich artistic heritage, hosting artistic residencies, artist lofts, and historic sculptures. The Galveston Artwalk is a six-weekly tour of the city’s treasures. Today the town shadows its former affluence and still attracts holidaymakers to its extensive beaches.

Hurricanes batter the subtropical summer months. The clime is humid and hot.

Town8: Aspen

Stunning peaks of Maroon Bells Aspen in Colorado.
StateColorado
CountyPitkin
Population7,431
Surface Area3.860 sq m
Median Household Income$78.292
Median House Price$646.400

The tiniest and toniest on our list, Aspen reverse-mirrors Boca Raton for weather and terrain. Based on ski resorts (as opposed to beaches) and mountains instead of marsh, this inland town started its modern life as a late 1800s silver mining boomtown.

Nestled in a valley lined with aspen groves and purple-tinged mountains. Aspen is a favorite ski resort with a walkable downtown. The walkable downtown features high cuisine, galleries, and swanky boutiques.

Aspen houses the US’s most expensive resort town realty. The stately, well-preserved Victorian buildings echo the town’s mining roots. They live alongside modern constructions, echoing the town’s Bauhaus leanings.

Town9: Hilton Head Island

Aerial view over Coligny beach on Hilton Head island.
StateSouth Carolina
CountyBeaufort
Population40.007
Surface Area69.130 sq m
Median Household Income$84.575
Median House Price$483.600

Incorporated as recently as 1983, with a median age of 58, this resort town is simultaneously the youngest and oldest in our survey. The Sea Pines Resort, opened in 1956, started the island’s life as a resort town, with several similar facilities following.

Hilton is a half-barrier island with grassy dunes lining sifting beaches. The terrain hosts a vast array of wildlife, including sea turtles, manatees, alligators, dolphins, and deer. Bird watchers are in for a treat.

Key attractions include:

  • The lighthouse.
  • Coastal Discovery Museum.
  • Sea Pines Forest walking trails.
  • Beach biking trails.
  • Harbour Town shopping.

Town10: Nantucket

Brant Point Lighthouse in Nantucket Island.
StateMassachusetts
CountyNantucket
Population14.255
Surface Area105.300 sq m
Median Household Income$110.473
Median House Price$1m

This preppy island appears to be named for the Nehantucket, who were the first occupiers of record. It lives thirty miles across the water from Cape Cod.

Wealthy holidaymakers built the trademark weathered grey houses that line the streets. The style evolved in New England in the late 1800s in reference to Victorian architecture. The houses are laced with characteristic white trim.

The island’s hundred-year history as an art colony has seen a number of prominent artists immortalize the island’s beauty in their works. This includes such luminaries as Theodore Robinson, Frank Swift Chase, and Rodney Charman, whose work adorns the Portrait of Nantucket collection.

10 Similar International Towns

Going further abroad, the metrics are similar, high-end leisure in a busy resort city. But we’ve added something else. In a nod to Mizner, we also select those towns that speak to the visitor with a defining architectural aesthetic. Below we list eleven global holiday towns that make the cut.

Town1: Sochi

Modern houses against the mountains and sunny forest in Sochi, Russia.
CountyRussia
Population343.334
Surface Area2.175 sq m
Key AttractionKrasnaya Polyana Ski Resort
Economic SectorsTrade; Construction

The “Black Sea Pearl” is the largest resort city in the country, often known as “The Summer Capital” of Russia. Watered by the Sochi River, this town sprawls along sixty-six miles of Black Sea coast. It has unusual (for Russia) subtropic weather, with sunshine, beach, and palms.

Russia acquired the town from the Ottoman in 1829, and today it hosts the country’s most multi-ethnic community. Central Sochi and Lazarevskoye are the two main districts. Key buildings are the Villa Khludov presidential palace, the Cathedral of St Michael the Angel, and the train stations at Roza Khutor and Sochi Central.

Town2: Abu Dhabi

City night view of Abu Dhabi business financial district in United Arab Emirates.
CountyUnited Arab Emirates
Population1.450.000
Surface Area375 sq m
Key AttractionFormula 1 Grand Prix
Economic SectorsEnergy; Real Estate

Floating on an island eight hundred feet from the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Dhabi is a bustling seaside city with year-round summer. The hot desert climate yields to fog and intermittent rain during the months from November to March. Sandstorms visit in the dry months.

The cityscape is only decades old, featuring modern designs influenced by Iranian, Islamic, and Indian themes. Showcases include Etihad Towers, Sheikh Zayed Bridge, and the Louvre.

Town3: Malaga

Aerial view of bullring and harbor in Malaga, Spain.
CountySpain
Population571.026
Surface Area154 sq m
Key AttractionHoly Week
Economic SectorsConstruction; Technology

The “Capital of Costa del Sol” attracts six million visitors each year, drawn to the birthplace (and museum) of Pablo Picasso. It sits on the Iberian Peninsula, north of the Alberon Sea.

With mild winters and hot summers, the city has on average three hundred days of sunshine per year. The Baetic Cordillera mount range backs on the historic city center, whose architecture retains Phoenician, Roman, and Moore influences.

Town4: Santorini

Aerial view of Oia town in Santorini island in Greece.
CountyGreece
Population15.500
Surface Area440 sq m
Key AttractionKasteli (castles)
Economic SectorsAgriculture; Brewing

The remnant of a caldera from one of the largest recorded volcanic eruptions, this island is the largest of an eponymous archipelago in the Aegean Sea. It is serially ranked the world’s top island and features a semi-arid climate with strong winds in the summer.

Traditional Cyclades architecture is on show, with traditional low-cut cubicle houses daubed in white and forged from local stone. The island hosts a fledgling wine industry and cherry tomato farming.

Town5: Perth

Downtown Perth skyline in Australia during twilight.
CountyAustralia
Population2.125.144
Surface Area2.4780 sq m
Key AttractionKings Park and Botanic Garden
Economic SectorsService industry

Perth faces the Indian Ocean to the west, with the Swan River (named after the storied black swans) coursing through.

Perth is home to a thriving arts scene, with the Heath Ledger Theatre named after its famous native. The city’s isolation has fostered a thriving local music scene. Tourism is a key economic driver, and many museums and galleries hold showcases for visitors.

Town6: Casablanca

Main square in Casablanca, Morocco.
CountyMorocco
Population3.359.818
Surface Area80 sq m
Key AttractionMedina Old City District
Economic SectorsPhosphate Mining

Morocco’s chief port is the eighth-largest city in the Arab world. Facing northwest over the Atlantic, it offers the Oulidia village beach, Agadir, and the popular Corniche district, with its shorefront shopping.

The town’s architecture reflects experiments from the French colonial era. A mix of Art Nouveau, Andalusian Arabo, Neo-Mauresque and other stylers prevail. The world’s tallest minaret at Hassan II Mosque looms over the city.

Town7: Auckland

Aerial view of the Piha beach in Auckland,New Zealand.
CountyNew Zealand
Population1.463.000
Surface Area234.4 sq m
Key AttractionWaiheke Island
Economic SectorsServices; Manufacturing

The “City of Sails” stretches between the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. The isles of Hauraki Gulf have spectacular national parks, and the Pacific shoreline provides fine beaches.

Sailing is popular leisure, and the Viaduct Basin has thrice hosted the Americas Cup.

Town8: Sharm El Sheik

Red Sea coastline in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
CountyEgypt
Population74.000
Surface Area12.796 sq m
Key AttractionRas Muhammad National Park
Economic SectorsTourism

A former fishing village, “The Bay of the Sheik,” sits on the promontory at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, overlooking the Straits of Tiran. It experiences a subtropical climate, with temperatures typically in the range of 64-73 degrees F.

 The calm, warm gulf waters, with their fetching underwater scenery, have turned the bay into a scuba magnet. Other water sports like para-sailing and canoeing are popular too.

Town9: Bangkok

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keaw during sunset in Bangkok, Thailand.
CountyThailand
Population8.305.218
Surface Area605.693 sq m
Key AttractionWat Phra Kaew Buddhist Temple
Economic SectorsWholesale and Retail Trade

One of the world’s top tourist destinations, Bangkok melds its old-world charm with modern comforts. There’s plenty of golf, with the Lam Lak Ka, Subhapruek, and Thana city country clubs being among the favored spots.

Traditional Thai art is on show at various galleries, like the Patravadi Theatre.

Town10: Valparaiso

Colorful buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Valparaiso, Chile
CountyChile
Population284.630
Surface Area155,1 sq m
Key AttractionValparaiso University Chapel
Economic SectorsEducation

You may miss the golf. But “the Jewel of the Pacific” basks in maritime history and delightful architecture. The Bay was first peopled by the Picunche and became a favored stopover for Spanish ships rounding South America via the Straits of Magellan.

The city is declared a world heritage site, and its funicular lifts are officially one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures.

Town11: Ballito

Umdloti Beach in Ballito, South Africa.
CountySouth Africa
Population19.234
Surface Area8.560 sq m
Key AttractionMonkeyland Wildlife Area
Economic SectorsService industry

Ballito is the southernmost resort town in Africa. On the edge of the Indian Ocean, its subtropical summers are humid and hot, with mild warm winters. The town is free of frost and snow.

Set on a retired sugar plantation, the town has abundant natural attractions in the form of flora and fauna. It is ethnically diverse and twenty-five miles away from Durban, the country’s third-largest city.

References:

BestPlaces: Economy in Boca Raton, Florida

Britannica: Boca Raton

Tripadvisor: Boca Raton: Architecture

Data USA: NAPA, CA

The Atlantic: The Desert Rock That Feeds the World

Britannica: Sharm el-Sheikh

Conde Nast Traveler: Conde Nast Traveler

Thrillophilia: Places to Visit in Perth

PlanetWare: 22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Auckland

Culture Trip: 10 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns to Visit in Brazil

Chile Travel: Valparaíso