I started traveling to Florida as a youngster when I was living in Louisiana. We would pack up the family car and drive to Destin. I loved the white sandy beaches and the beautiful blue water.
Throughout the years I would continue to travel to Florida for various reasons, visiting family in Orlando, taking a vacation to St. Augustine and traveling for work to Daytona Beach or Miami. I had been up and down the east coast of Florida as well as the panhandle, but I never had the chance to explore the west coast of Florida.
When I married my husband, we started taking yearly trips to visit his parents in Sarasota, which is an hour south of Tampa, Florida. I fell in love with the city. It has beautiful beaches, like Siesta Key, great cultural arts and terrific restaurants and shopping. I always looked forward to exploring more of the Sarasota area every trip we took.
One year we decided to take a drive 40 minutes south of Sarasota to Boca Grande, which truly is a hidden gem, and we’ve been going back ever since! I had never heard of Boca Grande, but this well-kept secret was a pleasant surprise!
Boca Grande is an historic village on the island of Gasparilla midway between Sarasota and Ft. Myers. Gasparilla is a barrier island with seven miles of powdery white beaches surrounded by the bluest of waters.
At the center of the island lies the nucleus of this little community, the historic village of Boca Grande. There are no stoplights, no high-rises, no fast-food chains and the main mode of transportation is golf carts or bicycles. I felt like I was almost stepping back in time.
At the heart of the community is the Gasparilla Inn & Club, a hotel and resort built in 1913.
It has a very old-world feel to it and has long been a favorite of presidents, tycoons and movie stars over the years. The Inn’s traditional high/social/Easter season is from December 20 – March 31. Rates decrease after this time. The Inn offers standard rooms and suites as well as villas and cottages that surround the Inn.
One of the highlights of the Inn & Club is the Pete Dye 18-hole golf course located on Charlotte Harbor. It is a must for avid golfers!
Surrounding the Inn are numerous unique shops and art galleries as well as casual and fine dining establishments. Every year we always enjoy lunch at The Pink Elephant (491 Bayou Dr.).
We usually try to sit outside and enjoy the weather with iced tea and a hamburger or BLT sandwich.
One of my favorite clothing shops is the Patio Shop at Fugates (4th St. & Park Ave.) and it is chocked full of cheery resort wear. Some of the brands they carry are Jack Rogers, Southern Tide, Tommy Bahama and Vera Bradley.
The Palm on Park (444 4th St.) is another great store that is all about Lilly Pulitzer.
One of the must-dos on the island is to take a stroll or ride down Banyan Street. The street is lined with 100-year old Banyan trees and the site is truly amazing!
At the very southern tip of the island is the adorable, restored Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, which was built in 1890, and is part of the Gasparilla Island State Park. Inside the lighthouse is a small five room museum.
Three of the rooms are set in chronological order and cover social and cultural history dating from 12,000 B.C. to present. The fourth room is a “nature” room featuring fossils, local bones and shells. The fifth room is the museum gift shop offering souvenirs, local artwork and jewelry.
If you are looking for a quiet, serene place to unwind, Boca Grande is for you.
It is a fun, happy place with beautiful Old Florida cottage style houses and beautiful beaches.
Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!