One of the best things about living in Florida is that there are so many places worth exploring on the weekends. And since we’re so tight with the Bush family and like to emulate them in every possible way (we plan to invade Immokalee sometime next week—apparently there’s a rogue Mobil station there), we decided to drive up the coast to check out Boca Grande, a small residential community on the south end of Gasparilla Island where the Bushes and Du Pont families regularly winter. (We plan to go back over the holidays in hopes of spotting 41 or 43—or at the very least being grazed by a Dick Cheney misfire).
The island is accessible by car only via the Boca Grande Causeway in Placida near the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park. It’s a picturesque drive but the tollbooth to the island doesn’t accept SunPass so you better have cash on hand or the tollbooth operator will direct you to the nearest ATM (ask us how we know). To get there from points south, you could take I-75 and main drag it over to the island, but it’s significantly more fun to take the road less traveled. That road is called Old Burnt Store Road. You can connect to it at Matlacha (population 735). The area is what New Yorkers call “rural,” but it’s definitely worth checking out—if only for its color and charm. Decidedly “old Florida,” Matlacha is packed with small galleries, shops, seafood restaurants and cottages.
Regardless, head north along Old Burnt Store Road to Punta Gorda, which is Spanish for “fat point.” (We chose to translate it as “big boned,” but feel free to go with your own conscience on that one.) If you’ve never been, Punta Gorda is worth a trip all by itself and, if you’re wondering, can be reached by avoiding Cape Coral completely. A quick turn on Tamiami Trail North, and crossing Charlotte Harbor, we suggest taking a quick left on Edgewater and winding your way to 776 and Gasparilla Road which leads you directly to the cash-hogging toll booth.
Nevertheless, once you creep south along the Island’s thoroughfare you’ll enter the upscale world of Boca Grande, known for beautiful beaches, tarpon fishing and a relaxed luxury best traversed by golf cart. If you left your golf cart at home, don’t worry because there is plenty of parking at the ends of quiet residential streets along the Gulf side or at one of several parks in the community.
There are several nice restaurants on the island, such as the Loose Caboose on Railroad Avenue, but the parks have plenty of tables if you want to go the picnic route. However, we recommend leaving room for dessert and sneaking up to Englewood to visit A Better Scoop Ice Cream Shoppe on Indiana Avenue for some delicious homemade ice cream. After all, you’ll have already been seen in your bathing suit.