Thanks to our friends at the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau in Florida for submitting this.
Off the beaten track on the Southwest coast of Florida, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands offers secluded beaches, fine art galleries, picture perfect scenery and wildlife encounters. The area includes the communities of Boca Grande, Don Pedro Island, El Jobean, Englewood-Cape Haze, Little Gasparilla Island, Manasota Key, Palm Island, Placida, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. From exploring the outdoors and the water, taking in the arts and music to shopping and dining in eclectic spots, here are ten ways the locals suggest for visitors to enjoy this unique vacation getaway:
Discover a Secluded Beach:
Water-lovers seeking a respite from the crowds will delight in more than 30 miles of pristine beaches for fishing, walking and wildlife-viewing. Five barrier islands, two state parks and miles of beaches offer access to delightfully open stretches of sand, sun and surf. Stump Pass State Park is ideal for shelling and gathering fossilized shark’s teeth. True adventurers will enjoy the wildlife on Don Pedro Island State Park, accessible only by private boat or a ferry service provided by Grande Tours of Placida.
Charlotte County’s nearly 200 miles of kayak- and canoe-friendly Blueway Trails are heralded for their excellent backwater fishing, colorful birds, dolphin and manatee sightings, mangrove tunnels and 53 easily accessible canoe and kayak trails that appeal to novice and expert paddlers alike.
Fish the Alphabet:
Sport fishermen know the area as “the Tarpon Capital of the World,” but “T” is just one letter in the alphabet of fish that flock here – Amberjack, Bluegill, Cobia, Redfish, Snook, Tarpon – and the list goes on. Some are deliciously edible and easily found in this fishing mecca. Those who want to eat their hard-earned catch can take it to the Village Fish Market at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda where they’ll prepare it any way you like.
Make Tee Time: Named among the “best places in America to live and play golf” by Golf Digest, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands offers year-round play on more than 20 courses ranging from executive to championship level. Scenic vistas and spectacular landscapes provide the backdrop on courses that include two ranked 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest and three certified by Audubon. The Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau regularly posts special golf vacation packages at www.charlotteharbortravel.com.
Watch a Kaleidoscope of Color in the Sky: Englewood Beach on Manasota Key is the locals’ favorite spot to watch the sun slip into the Gulf of Mexico. A popular sunset scene is atop Punta Gorda’s newest boutique hotel, The Wyvern, where guests and locals enjoy panoramic views of Charlotte Harbor from the rooftop. Be seen sipping a signature martini and nibbling on tapas by the pool as the sun sets.
Dine Like James Beard:
Yes, fine dining exists in this off-the-beaten track Florida getaway. Jeanie Roland, Chef of Punta Gorda’s The Perfect Caper, has been nominated three times for a prestigious James Beard Foundation “Best Chef in the South” award. Palate-pleasing dishes fuse European flavor with Asian accents. The newest dining experience, Laishley Crab House, is not only the largest restaurant in Southwest Florida, it offers stunning architecture and beautiful views overlooking the Laishley Park Marina in Punta Gorda.
Mingle with the Locals:
Historic Punta Gorda, with its original Florida architecture, street lamps and cobblestone walkways, turns on the charm every third Thursday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Gallery Walk is a feast for the eyes, ears and palate as residents and visitors stroll or ride an old-fashioned trolley to explore the town’s galleries, boutiques and restaurants while listening to live music and enjoying libations and appetizers.
Rated by TripAdvisor.com as the Number 2 emerging travel destination for 2009, Englewood boasts a lively downtown historic district with charming gift shops, galleries, jewelry and clothing boutiques. On the first Saturday evening of the month, most are open late to accommodate the crowds Cruizin’ on Dearborn, admiring the show of antique autos, muscle cars, hot rods and live music. Second Saturday of the month is Saturday Night Live (6 to 9 p.m.) where music spills onto Dearborn Street and shops and galleries stay open later.
Rev Your Engine:
For full immersion in auto memorabilia, Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car City Museum features nearly 200 automobiles of every era dating back to the 1920s. One man’s collection over 40 years, the museum’s major focus is on the “muscle cars” of the mid 60s to early 70s – the Pontiac GTOs, Chevy Corvettes, Oldsmobile Cutlass 442s, Chevelles, Camaros and high-horsepower Impalas that revved up the imaginations of teens and young adults all over America.
Take in the Arts Scene:
Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands are home to a thriving arts scene that infuses these laid-back communities with bold splashes of color. Here, art literally spills outdoors – more than 24 professionally-executed historic and decorative murals adorn buildings throughout Punta Gorda’s historic commercial district. Festivals and galleries draw residents and visitors, while renowned arts centers offer hands-on workshops. More than 600 unique artists display their talents throughout Charlotte Harbor. Visit Margaret Albritton Gallery, Englewood Art Center, Sea Grape Gallery and the Visual Arts Center for events, classes and shopping ideas.
Join a Jam Band:
Guitar Army Jam Sessions in Gilchrist Park, Punta Gorda are another treat not found just anywhere. Each Thursday evening a crowd of musicians (known locally as the Guitar Army) show up to entertain, often playing way past midnight. The impromptu “bands” play in genres – acoustic old rock, new rock, country, blues, bluegrass; the spectators (and sometimes the players) travel from group to group through the evening. On Wednesday nights, head to The Bean Depot The Bean Depot in El Jobean, 941-627-3344, for hamburgers and bluegrass jams in an historic restored post office and general store.
From Blueways to blues, to green getaways and green fairways, to fine dining and fine arts, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is an undiscovered paradise where there’s always something fun for families, couples and active outdoor types. For more vacation ideas, go to www.charlotteharbortravel.com.
For those interested in RV camping to the area, see Campgrounds.