Florida's Secluded Charlotte Harbor
Attractions & Activities to Enjoy
By Larry Larsen
There are few places left in Florida with an authentic personality, but fortunately, Charlotte Harbor and its Gulf Islands
remains one of those places that captures your heart...and your stomach!
This destination is a collection of nine coastal communities and four barrier islands around the state's second largest harbor. Islands and passes such as
Gasparilla, Knight, Caya Costa, Bocilla, Boca Grande and Manasota Key are located adjacent small beach communities like Englewood and Placida. The northern
end of Charlotte Harbor collects freshwater from the Myakka and Peace Rivers. More than 830 miles of shoreline gives you an idea of the innumerable beaches
and waterfront that can be found nearly anywhere you drive, and more than 84% of that shoreline is designated as a nature preserve.
A s s o o n a s y o u l e a v e I- 7
5 or US Hwy 41 and drive east through Placida, you start to get the sense and personality of the area. Every place is casual,
so shorts and flip-flops are fine most places. If you happen to drive a convertible or motorcycle, even better. And if you have
your bathing suit underneath your clothes then you're really fitting in!
The Harbor has plenty of seagrass patches, sandy bottoms, oyster bars, mud flats and young mangrove islands in its
shallower estuaries along with lots of wildlife. The abundance of outdoor activities there includes snorkeling, remote islands,
harbor shoreline walks, sunsets, dinner and nature cruises along with inshore, party boat and beach fishing. You'll find boat,
kayak and sailboat rentals, paddle board and surrey bike rentals to keep you busy, as well as beach combing for shells and
shark's teeth, sunning and swimming. The great Boating and Angling Guide to Charlotte Harbor map/info resource is available
from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission on the website: MyFWC.com/BoatingGuides .
Our recent visit to Charlotte Harbor was one of the most enjoyable, and we've traveled around Florida
plenty. We arrived at the Weston's wannaB Inn, which has 80 efficiencies, 1- 2- and 3-bedroom units and two pools. We soon were enjoying the old Florida charm,
the setting sun on the 900-foot long beach and the on-shore sea breeze. The wannaB Inn is composed of a cluster of various size buildings, some overlooking the
intracoastal waterway and Lemon Bay and the others located right on the beach. This is an ideal place to stay, away from the busy crowds but very close to
many fun restaurants and watering holes.
For those with a boat, the Don Pedro Island State Park is a short ride away. Within walking distance of the
Weston's wannaB, however is the very interesting Stump Pass Beach State Park, at the end of Manasota Key. We spent a couple of hours walking the 2-mile
length of the peninsula along a hiking trail with Ranger Betty Baust, who has been the park's caretaker for the
past 10 years. Along the trail and beach area are 6 covered picnic tables, a restroom facility and a pavilion available on a first
-come basis. Outdoor showers are available for rinsing off after a day in the park. One caveat about visiting the park is to
avoid huge crowds, go during the months of late April, May, September, October and November.
You may have much of the park to yourself and not have to deal with a full parking lot and limited beach and
intracoastal fishing spots. Even as seasoned Floridians, we learned quite a bit about the importance of the mangrove system on barrier islands, and the variety of
bird life that inhabit the park. We particularly enjoyed watching a mother osprey tending to her baby in her nest. Pristine beaches were on either side of our trail
walk, so it's no wonder this park is extremely popular year round.
On the intracoastal side of the park, between Manasota Key and Peterson Island, you can enjoy water skiing, jet
skiing and other more active water sports. Between Peterson Island and Whidden Key is more suitable for kayakers, sailboats and small boats to enjoy a more
peaceful waterway. If you don't bring your own, there are numerous boat and kayak rentals available all around the Harbor.
Several nearby airports also make the Charlotte Harbor area very accessible from anywhere in the U.S., including the Punta Gorda Airport (PGD),
Sarasota/Bradenton Int'l. Airport (SRQ), the Southwest Florida Int'l. Airport in Fort Myers (RSW), St. Petersburg Int'l. Airport (PIE) or Tampa Int'l. Airport (TPA).
There's really no excuse to not experience this beautiful, secluded and very accessible outdoors. This is a
destination that is bound to please everyone in your family! For more details, visit www.charlotteharbortravel.com or phone 1-941-743-1900.