Yeah, I know I’m blessed to be living in Southwest Florida and particularly Charlotte County, collectively called Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. But ssshhh. Not many other folks are familiar with the destination which embraces Mother Nature, knows how to celebrate just about every occasion and serves up Southern hospitality with a Yankee twist.
Located between Sarasota and Fort Myers, Punta Gorda is Charlotte County’s only incorporated city and offers a host of activities ranging from boutique shopping and gallery hopping to delish dining to challenging fishing. Of course, there’s more to see and do so you’ll have to venture on over to our piece of paradise for a weekend getaway to discover its charm. Staying a little longer is encouraged.
Being a single gal, I’m mindful of my budget and to entice you to visit sooner than later, I’m sharing five fab and free things to do in Punta Gorda.
Free Bicycling with the Yellow Bicycle-Loaner Program
I’m extremely proud Punta Gorda is the first Floria city to implement a free bicycle-loaner program. Launched in 2010, all you need is a credit card and a driver’s license to borrow a bike for a day to pedal through the city. It’s great for bicycling along the Peace River in Gilchrist Park to Fishermen’s Village and for exploring historic downtown and viewing the 25+ larger-than-life murals painted on buildings. These murals document various stages of the area’s history.
Bicycles are available on a space-available basis and can be picked up at three locations: Fishermen’s Village (1200 W. Retta Esplanade), Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside (33 Tamiami Trl.) and Laishley Park Municipal Marina (120 Laishley Ct.). I can’t forget to mention Punta Gorda was named a “Florida Bicycle-Friendly Community” by the Florida Bicycle Association in 2010.
See Tender Care at the Peace River Wildlife Center
See how injured native wildlife is nursed back to health at this non-profit agency. It’s relatively small yet stories of the injured animals and good work the center does are enormous. Best time to visit is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. for the pelican feeding, it’s quite a site! Tours are offered daily between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Admission is free and donations are appreciated. The center is located next to Ponce de Leon Park where you can follow a boardwalk trail through mangroves and look out over the water. What makes this park different are the statues of Spanish conquistadors. Let’s just say they’re “different.”
Get that Patriotic Feeling at the Military Heritage Museum
Southwest Florida’s only military museum, the Military Heritage Museum contains more than 30,000 military artifacts dating back to the Spanish-American War through the current Iraq war. In addition to the visible history, what makes this museum extra special are the stories the volunteers share from their time on the front line. The museum is located at Fishermen’s Village, a dining, shopping, entertainment and lodging complex. Donations are appreciated.
Dip a Net During a Charlotte Harbor Wading Trip
This is not a daily activity but about once a month the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) offers wading trips into the nursery of several sea critters. Nets and buckets are provided as participants search seagrasses for sea life as shrimp, sponges, crabs and other animals as seahorses. Once critters are collected, a guide explains what’s been found and oftentimes has a magnifying device for a closer look. All sea life collected is returned alive back into Charlotte Harbor. During a typical Florida summer day, this trip is refreshing. Although free, you need to call and reserve a spot in advance. Trips depart from Ponce de Leon Park and Cedar Point Park in Englewood. Visit their website for trip dates.
Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center
Feel the Groove at a Weekly Jam
On Thursday nights around sunset, head to Gilchrist Park on the Peace River (next to the Best Western Waterfront) to be part of the Guitar Army. It’s a casual gathering of musicians armed with guitars, banjos, harmonicas or whatever carries a tune. They’ve been known to jam into the wee hours of the morning. Bring an instrument or just your love of music, along with a lawn chair, to enjoy this groovy time. If visiting on the third Thursday of the month, wander through downtown Punta Gorda between 5 and 8 p.m. for the Gallery Walk. Shops and galleries stay open a little later, some offer adult beverages and snacks and musicians spill onto the sidewalks.
Ready to visit? Thought so. Visit www.charotteharbortravel.com for additional planning including places to stay, more to do and where to dine.
Post by Jennifer Huber, founder of SoloTravelGirl.com. She’s also the Public Relations Manager with the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau.