Boca Grande and Outer Islands
The hidden jewels of Southwest FloridaBoca Grande, located on Gasparilla Island, and the Outer Islands off Fort Myers are considered to be Southwest Florida’s hidden jewels. Our team members are local experts of the Boca Grande area and can offer you the best tips to make your visit a memorable one, offering suggestions on what to do, where to stay, where to eat, and how to explore local beaches.
What sets Boca Grande apart from other Florida vacation spots?
Located on the southern end of Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande’s old-Florida charm has made it a playground for the rich, famous and everyday folks with its boutique shops and galleries, delicious restaurants, miles of white-sand beaches with blue-green waters, and access to world-renowned tarpon fishing. Boca Grande’s lifestyle can be described as barefoot elegance moving at a pace of a bicycle or golf cart. Gasparilla Island is located in Charlotte Harbor and is part of a chain of Gulf Coast islands. It is accessible by car over the Boca Grande Swing Bridge or boat.
What is the history of Boca Grande, FL?
Archeologists believe Boca Grande’s history dates back about 2,000 years ago with the Paleo-Indians. The Calusa, the “shell people” then inhabited the area and their Southwest Florida population of more than 50,000 was wiped out when the Spanish landed in the 1500s, bringing diseases with them. In the late 1800s, phosphate mining spurred growth and development in Boca Grande. Phosphate was mined in the Peace River, sent down a barge into Charlotte Harbor and loaded onto ships anchored in the deep water of Boca Grande Pass. In 1890, Gasparilla Island Lighthouse was constructed, which assisted ships entering Charlotte Harbor.
Between 1905 and 1911, Boca Grande began to take shape when Peter Bradley of American Agricultural Chemical Company (AACCo) constructed a railroad from the Cape Haze peninsula onto Gasparilla Island , built the Gasparilla Inn, a town, power plant and one of the country’s most modern loading elevators. A golf course opened, schools and churches were built, car ferry service to the island was established and the train delivered passengers daily.
The “beachfronters,” what the locals referred as wealthy winter residents, began building luxurious houses on the beach near Gasparilla Inn between 1912 and 1930. The north end of Gasparilla Island had established a quiet fishing village while the southern end and Boca Grande was a deep-water port for cargo ships carrying away phosphate and home to a working community. In 1958, a bridge was built to connect Gasparilla Island with the mainland of the Cape Haze Peninsula which brought more visitors and helped establish Boca Grande as a quaint coastal community.
What are the best Boca Grande Beaches?
When you travel to Florida, we understand finding the best beach is an important part of your vacation. Fortunately, Boca Grande’s beaches are located on the Gulf of Mexico and are ideal for sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling and collecting shells in the winter. It’s easy to access a Boca Grande beach because Gasparilla Island has more than a dozen public beach access points. A popular Boca Grande beach located on the southern end of Gasparilla Island is called the Sandbar by locals because it is next to the Sandbar Restaurant.
Gasparilla Island State Park offers five parking areas with access to the beach. The signature architectural structure on Gasparilla Island is the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse located in the state park at the end of the Boca Grande beach. Built in 1890, it is the oldest building in Boca Grande. Range Light and Boca Grande Lighthouse beach parking lots offer pavilions. The Florida State Park system charges a nominal admission fee.
Am I able to go tarpon fishing in Boca Grande?
Boca Grande is recognized as the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World and each spring, anglers from around the globe fish in Boca Grande Pass for the silver king. In addition to tarpon fishing, Boca Grande offers sport fishing opportunities year round for species as goliath grouper, redfish and snook, to name a few. There are dozens of experienced fishing guides ready to help you land the big one.
What is the toll for the Boca Grande Swing Bridge?
Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande are accessible by car over the Boca Grande Swing Bridge. There is a toll of $6 per car, pickup truck and motorcycle; $3 per bicycle and commercial trucks, buses and trailers are $5.50 per axle.
What are things to do in Boca Grande, FL?
Boating and Sailing – Boca Grande’s location is ideal for getting out on the water and enjoying Charlotte Harbor, the Gulf of Mexico, Boca Grande Pass, Gasparilla Sound and other passages. Charlotte Harbor has been recognized as a top U.S. sailing destination by SAIL magazine making Boca Grande a perfect boating destination and launching point for a boating trip. Popular day trips are to some of the outer islands, such as Cabbage Key for a cheeseburger or tropical cocktail at the historic Cabbage Key Inn, or shelling at Cayo Costa State Park. Several marinas offer dockage for those arriving by boat. Boat rentals are available in Boca Grande along with chartered boats with knowledgeable captains who enjoy sharing their knowledge of Gasparilla Island and Southwest Florida.
Banyan Street – Take a walk on the mild side on Banyan Street in which banyan trees that are more than 80 years old have created a beautiful, shaded canopy.
Boca Grande Bike and Golf Cart Path –The railroad bed that once carried phosphate, passengers, produce and livestock through Gasparilla Island has been converted into the Boca Grande Bike and Golf Cart Path as part of Florida’s Rails-to-Trails project. The bike and golf path has an accompanying jogging and walking path making this a leisurely trail to cruise and enjoy the lush Boca Grande scenery a beach vistas, historic downtown and glimpse of residential living. Golf carts are available for rent.
Fishing – Boca Grande is a sportsman’s paradise and is recognized as the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World, specifically Boca Grande Pass. Spring is the peak time for tarpon fishing and tarpon tournaments attracting anglers from all over the world. Boca Grande offers world-class sport fishing year-round making it a popular destination for trout, redfish, and snook fishing. If you are unfamiliar with Boca Grande Pass and surrounding waters, hire one of the dozens of experienced fishing guides who will put you on the fish.
Gasparilla Island State Park – Viewing the historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is one of the most popular things to do at Gasparilla Island State Park, located at the southern end of Boca Grande. The park is popular for sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, shelling, fishing and picnicking. Wildlife that lives in the park includes bald eagles, osprey, black skimmers, gopher tortoises and West Indian manatees. Park admission is $3 per vehicle. The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is open fall through spring.
Golf – The Gasparilla Inn & Club offers the only golfing in Boca Grande with a par 72, Pete Dye Signature 18-hole championship course overlooking Charlotte Harbor. Additional golf courses are located nearby on the mainland including in Rotonda West, Cape Haze, Englewood and Port Charlotte.
Kayaking and Standup Paddle Boarding – The area’s shallow, blue-green waters make kayaking and standup paddle boarding inviting. Bring your own, rent one or take a guided tour through remote mangrove tunnels while having the opportunity to observe native wildlife such as birds, dolphins and possibility manatees.
Shopping – Independently owned shops and art galleries help give Boca Grande its quaint charm. Spend a day in downtown shopping for apparel, unique souvenirs and beautiful artwork crafted by local artists. Be sure to admire the historic Boca Grande Railroad Depot in the center of downtown.
What tips for vacation rentals should we consider in Boca Grande, FL?
Boca Grande has numerous options when it comes to vacation rentals and it is a popular way to enjoy this Southwest Florida vacation spot. Some are privately owned while others are rented by property management companies. Many Boca Grande vacation rentals offer beach access or water views. It is important to research in order to find the best vacation rental to fit your needs. This includes learning more about the property, reading reviews and contacting the owners. To protect your vacation investment, book your Boca Grande vacation rental through a reputable company, either directly or online. There are various vacation rental scams so never wire transfer money for your rental or to someone overseas.
Is Boca Grande a good spring break destination?
Everyone is welcome to enjoy spring break in Boca Grande, however, Gasparilla Island’s barefoot elegance is appealing to families and couples looking to relax.
Is it safe to vacation in Boca Grande, FL?
Personal safety is an important factor when choosing a vacation destination and according to reported crime figures, it is safe to vacation in Boca Grande. Resources to check prior to finalizing your vacation plans are the law enforcement offices. Since Gasparilla Island is located in two counties, refer to the Charlotte County Sherriff’s Office and Lee County Sheriff’s Office . You can also use the Crime Filter of Trulia which pulls from two reliable databases.
What are the Outer Islands near Boca Grande?
Offshore from Fort Myers , Englewood and Boca Grande are a collection of Gulf Coast islands each with their own personality. All of these islands are only accessible by boat making it a perfect island-hopping adventure. If you do not have your own boat, water taxis, boat charters and boat tours are typically available.
South of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Inn
Cabbage Key –Home to Cabbage Key Inn with a collection of cottages and a casual seafood joint which happens serve delicious cheeseburgers and refreshing cocktails. Local lore states Cabbage Key inspired Jimmy Buffett to write “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” For a stunning view, climb the water tower.
Cayo Costa – Most of this Gulf Coast island is a state park making it a pristine, unspoiled paradise. For a true Florida experience, pack your tent and stay at a campsite or rent one of the rustic cabins. There is a $2 per person admission fee.
North Captiva – Also known as Upper Captiva, North Captiva is popular for shelling. Comfortable vacation rentals are available and Barnacle Phil’s is a must for lunch.
Useppa Island – The exclusive Collier Inn offers island elegance. If only visiting for the day, have lunch in the inn, enjoy the lush botanical walk and visit the Barbara Sumwalt Museum.
North of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Inn
Little Gasparilla, Don Pedro and Knight Islands – at one point, these three islands were individual islands but over time, Mother Nature has fused them together.
Little Gasparilla is primarily a residential community with several vacation rentals and broad, sweeping beach. Don Pedro offers several vacation home and townhouse rentals on the beach and Intercoastal Waterway. Don Pedro Island State Park is also located here and is perfect for picnicking under the pavilion, and for gathering seashells and fossilized shark teeth. Knight Island offers visitors home rentals as well as the elegant Palm Island Resort.
Where is the best place to stay in Boca Grande, FL?
Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island offers a limited number of accommodations perfect for solo travelers, couples and families. These are:
Gasparilla Inn & Club – This historic inn opened in 1913 and is open fall through spring. Some of the amenities they offer include a golf course, spa, beach club and marina.
Condos – Rent from an owner or management company and experience Boca Grande island living during an extended stay.
Inns and Motels – A handful of charming inns and motels are perfect for weekend getaways.
How is the weather in Boca Grande?
For current Boca Grande weather, there are many weather websites and weather apps to reference. Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande have a sub-tropical climate resulting in mild winters January – March with January typically being the coolest month and June the warmest. The rainy season is June – September. For average temperatures visit weather.com.