Swank confines of Florida's ever-popular retreat, the Gold Coast

Frost belt visitors have been pouncing on the Florida peninsula for decades. Last year alone some 38 million tourists wandered south of the Georgia border and spent $20 billion on everything from rented surfboards to pastel Lily Pulitzer dresses. And according to statistics, of all those sun-soaked Florida spots reached by air, only Disney World was as popular as the Gold Coast strip running from Miami to Palm Beach.

Rare is the tourist who needs reminding of what is available within those toney confines: shopping on Worth Avenue, cheering on the polo ponies in Palm Beach, dining in expensive little night spots. All of it suited to the business as well as pleasure traveler, and all within a car drive of the Boca Raton Hotel and Club. Should you feel like chucking in all the chicness and just playing Joe Tourist, there is plenty of that too.

Miami boasts Sea World. Lion Country Safari is just west of West Palm Beach. Even the Everglades, Florida Keys, and Disney World can be done in a day - albeit a long day - by the inveterate tourist.

But for many visitors, Boca Raton is quite simply a home away from home. According to one observer, ''lots of well-to-do people from up north have their second homes in Boca.'' Unlike other Gold Coast towns such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, which are rife with motels and hotels, Boca Raton is chock full of privately owned condominiums and country clubs. As a result, strict zoning requirements in Boca Raton have held sway, keeping commercial development - including used car lots and billboards - under control.

One of the chief landowners in the area is the Arvida Corporation, a subsidiary of the Penn Central Corporation and one of the largest real estate developers in Florida. It's also the current manager of the Boca Raton Hotel and Club.

According to company officials, Arvida owns nearly half the land in Boca Raton. But they insist that no Arvida building is taller than eight stories and that much of the land has been actually undeveloped.

Such an attitude also rules the roost at the Boca Raton Hotel, where they have taken environmentally conscious steps such as the planting of sea grass on the beach dunes and the protection of sea turtle nests.

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