Three hours and about 175 miles southwest of Orlando is a 7-mile long island called Gasparilla. At the south end of the island is the Boca Grande Pass, one of the deepest natural channels in the state that is famous for its tarpon fishing. At the center is the historic town of Boca Grande, a quaint, charming village that makes it easy to leave the real world behind for a while.
For locals and visitors alike, the preferred mode of transportation is either a bike or a golf cart. This laidback beach town has no busy intersections or stop lights. The golf carts share most of the roadways with other vehicles, and a bike path, which runs the entire length of the island, with bicyclists. From the north end of the island to 1st street, the bike path follows the route of the old train tracks that used to carry phosphate from the south end to the mainland.
One thing you should know before you go is that no where in Boca Grande will you find a fast food restaurant or chain of any kind. All restaurants and shops are locally owned. Downtown Boca Grande is also lined with specialty and gift shops, art galleries and even a small grocery store should you have forgotten something on the mainland.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club
One of the island’s famous landmarks is The Gasparilla Inn & Club, an old Florida style resort. Now in its 105th season, which will run through July, the resort is a Historic Hotel of America Landmark Inn. Built originally as a retreat for vacationing wealthy northerners, The Inn has transformed from a 40-room hotel in 1913 to the current 142-room resort with a private beach club (perfect for a sunset stroll), spa, championship Pete Dye golf course, a 220-slip marina, tennis and croquet courts and multiple restaurants.
The charm of The Inn lies in the rich history behind its doors. In its 100 years, it has hosted fishermen looking to catch a prized tarpon, business tycoons and former presidents have walked the halls, and countless weddings and anniversaries have been celebrated.
While you’re there, visit the Gasparilla Island State Park for a walk through the Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum, which chronicles the town’s history as a fishing town and participant in the phosphate trade. And then there’s Banyan Street, great for a romantic walk or even just a golf cart ride, down a street that is shaded by huge, 80-year-old Banyan trees. A trip here wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of Boca Grande’s beautiful beaches, lining the Gulf of Mexico, for some shelling, kayaking and fishing.
No matter where you go on the island, the locals will make you feel right at home.