Port Charlotte and the Gulf Islands
Shelling is a favorite past time in this part of the world. Did you know that shells, like people, are either right or left inclined?
A walk on the quiet side of Florida
Clustered around Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf of Mexico are small communities and wildlife preserves that harken back to the days. No high rises or theme parks — and no crowds. Sort of a Jimmy Buffet secret with a touch of tasteful living. The region is serious about its green space too, as evidenced by its membership in the Society for Ethical Eco-Tourism.
In 2004 Hurricane Charley devastated the communities, but they've sprung back with determination. I've since been able to make a couple of visits to the region. It's off the beaten path (I like that), situated half way between Sarasota and Fort Myers, but quickly reached from either. Wanna see some pictures?
RANGER BAUST, STUMP PASS STATE PARK, PORT CHARLOTTE
I met State Park Ranger Betty Baust on my first visit. She's "a true blue Cracker" (genuine Floridian). Her great great great great grandparent had to remarry under the Spanish crown when emigrating here from Georgia. We hopped a ride with her to view an endangered plover's nest as she spoke passionately about the spit of land that forms the park. With over 38% of the county set aside for non-development, Port Charlotte aims to be different from much of the state.
TURTLE PATROL, STUMP PASS, PORT CHARLOTTE
The same morning I found sea turtle patrol volunteers Jeff and Carol Rice finishing their daily log of sightings and nests in the park.
Elevated captain's decks are the fashion in this part of the world. Maybe not so good in choppy seas, but a nice view!
CRAB FEAST, PEACE RIVER SEAFOOD
A short drive and what seems a world away from downtown Punta Gorda is the authentic Florida Cracker house of Peace River Seafood. Meals are served outside and on newspaper 'tablecloths'. Katlin was serving up steamed blue crabs while just behind the building Charlie was snatching crabs from T-Rex jaws while processing orders for local restaurants.
PELICAN, CAYO COSTA
It's a legal requirement to photograph at least one pelican when visiting Florida (just kidding). These birds are everywhere on Florida's marinas while on the lookout for fishing opps.
SPLIT VIEW, CAPTIVA CRUISES
On Friday the 13th, August, 2004, Hurricane Charlie split Captiva Island in two. Careful framing of a passenger's head graphically made that point as we charted a parallel course to the island. The Gulf islands were Jimmy Buffet's stomping grounds where it's said he was inspired to write Margaritaville.
GASPARILLA INN & CLUB, GASPARILLA ISLAND
Gasparilla is one of those 'back in time' resorts epitomizing the way Florida used to be. Understated elegance presides. The genteel refinement has drawn notable guests in the past such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Katherine Hepburn. (My name's on the 'C' list.)
RICK TREWORGY, MUSCLE CAR CITY, PUNTA GORDA
Note: This attraction is now closed, with all cars auctioned off in 2021
It's not all about boats. Local boy Rick Treworgy loves cars. His refurbished 99,000 square foot former Wal-Mart store full of pristine General Motors vehicles — Chevys in particular — was a bit of a tipoff.
PALM ISLAND RESORT, CAPE HAZE
OK, I lied. You do need a boat (water taxi) to reach secluded Palm Island.
Once there, you can stay in a cottage, villa, private home, your own boat or you can buy property. Beach, birds and binoculars are the main elements for R&R in the neatly preserved environment. Leverock's Restaurant serves standard beach fare like my dreamy BBQ sparerib and battered shrimp lunch.
MYAKKA STATE PARK You might say that Myakka is the shared back yard between Port Charlotte and Sarasota. Turtles and occasional alligators are pretty nonchalant about passing kayakers. You might want to keep your hands out of the water during gator breeding season each May, though.
SUNSET, PUNTA GORDA King Fisher Fleet offers cruises in the harbor and out islands. A group of us booked onto Captain Ralph Allen's sunset cruise from Fishermen's Village — the easy way to get a clear view of sky, water and a bright crescent moon.
TRABUE RESTAURANT (Note: the name has changed to F.M. Don's) was our dinner venue one evening. Chef Keith B Meyer is a former stock broker who prefers the heat in the kitchen. He prepares Mediterranean cuisine with a Floridian touch. My dinner 'app' (pictured) was a California chardonnay with locally sourced and very tasty mussels.
WYVERN HOTEL VIEW The difference between night and day from the rooftop pool and bar of the Wyvern Hotel is exactly that. This cozy art deco boutique hotel also has a small bar at ground level where you can hang out to write that next great novel over a margarita or two.
Historic Punta Gorda has been rated by MONEY magazine as one of the “Best Places to Live in the South” and named as one of “Top Ten Places to Retire Healthy” by U.S. News & World Report.
For a change of pace we had BREAKFAST a few blocks from our hotel at Dean's South of the Border, a Mexican-style restaurant offering TexMex dishes. What! You don't photograph your breakfast? I used a chair for mine.
© Gary Crallé
Contact info updated 2022
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