Recently I attended a convention in Punta Gorda, the town where my family first moved to Florida in the 1960’s.
The waterfront devastated by category 4 Hurricane Charley in August of 2004 has not only been rebuilt, it has been magnified. The plain-jane Holiday Inn and motels have been replaced with high end Wyvern and Sheraton Four Points resorts. Downtown has a dozen neat restaurants and shops, making it a nice weekend vacation spot.
The Convention Center where my parents produced dancing recitals and beauty pageants has tripled in capacity and produces a diversity of shows. I don’t recall the Russian Royal Ballet coming to Charlotte County when I lived there.
One thing that didn’t change was the impact of Charlotte Harbor on the area’s tourism and overall economy. Whereas most visitors know of massive Tampa Bay and perhaps historic Pensacola Bay, most people have never seen the second largest bay (270 square miles) in Florida.
Punta Gorda’s Fishermen’s Wharf Has Stores and Ships
Besides the fishing and boating magnificence of the Harbor, there are two important freshwater rivers ideal for long distance kayak trips and sheltered fishing. On the northwest corner is the 72 mile Myakka is one of Florida’s most scenic and undeveloped rivers with 34 miles by Myakka River State Park and other campgrounds.
On the northeast corner is the 106-mile Peace River ay whose mouth is Punta Gorda, offering river tours and serious game fishing trips. The Isles Yacht Marina and Fishermen’s Wharf is home to several boat tour groups as well as a popular sailing school.
Besides the water, there are places to explore and see: Pelican Island in Gasparilla Sound where hundreds of white pelicans gather in the Fall; exclusive Useppa Island where a few boat cruises are allowed to land, and Cabbage Key.
Cabbage Key is a special stop for its houses the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, built by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart in the 1940’s. The restaurant is covered from ceiling to floor with taped one dollar bills, but the restaurant is more famous as the place where singer Jimmy Buffet liked a certain burger.
The Cabbage Key Ceiling Is All Green Paper
The western edge of Charlotte Harbor has some incredible barrier islands. There is Gasparilla Island and the fishing resort of Boca Grande, home to the famous Gasparilla Inn where the rich and famous hung out for one hundred years. Sailing along the canal side of the island shows the upscale side.
The Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande
At the southern tip of Boca Grande near the historic lighthouse that survived Charley is the greatest tarpon fishing area in the United States. Just watching from a distance the catching of huge fighting fish is a spectacular attraction.
Cayo Costa Island State Park allows campers to play Robinson Crusoe on a beautiful beach, on an island designed for primitive camping. But beware: boaters love to park on the bayside so you won’t be alone.
Cayo Costa Is Primitive Florida