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Punta Gorda: Seven things to do for a perfect getaway itinerary

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Last updated on July 5th, 2024 at 08:47 am

Punta Gorda is an interesting small town on the Gulf Coast between Naples and Tampa. It has a charming downtown and lots of big waterfront views from parks along Charlotte Harbor. There are several great places to kayak or bike, but the closest beach is 45 minutes away. That may explain why tourism development hasn’t ruined Punta Gorda yet.

For the Florida traveler, one of Punta Gorda’s main assets is how it embraces nature and the outdoors. It’s a place to go if you like hiking and strolling botanical gardens during the day and then, in the evening, enjoying an excellent restaurant with live music.

Here is an itinerary for a three day/two night visit that makes a perfect getaway, and there’s plenty to do if you have more time.

The Punta Gorda Harborwalk extends for 2.5 miles along the Peace River, including alongside TT's Tiki Bar, where every seat has a view. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The Punta Gorda Harborwalk extends for 2.5 miles along the Peace River, including alongside TT’s Tiki Bar, where every seat has a view. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Day 1: The Harbor Walk at sunset and dinner overlooking Charlotte Harbor

After you’ve check into your hotel or Airbnb, head to the Harborwalk along the Peace River.

Running for 2.5 miles along the Charlotte Harbor shoreline, the Harborwalk extends from east of the downtown area west to Fishermen’s Village, which has the vibe of an old-time beachfront boardwalk. Along the way, you’ll pass mangrove forests, sweeping vistas, shops, waterfront dining, historical sites, and several parks.

The Punta Gorda Harborwalk is a popular place to walk for both residents and visitors. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The Punta Gorda Harborwalk is a popular place to walk or bike for both residents and visitors. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

One of the most impressive things in our Punta Gorda visit was the experience of the Harborwalk at sunset. There are a series of covered pavilions overlooking the water, and each was filled with groups of people happily watching the golden orb in the sky.

Musicians of different varieties were performing for free in several covered pavilions.  In one, it was American standards, and people sang and swayed along.

At the Sunset Beach Club at Fishermen's Village, everyone tries to capture the beauty. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
At the Sunset Beach Club at Fishermen’s Village, everyone tries to capture the beauty. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

It was a weeknight, and yet there were many people with lawn chairs or sitting on benches watching the sunset.

We walked from downtown to Fishermen’s Village, where a celebration of the sunset takes place very night at Sunset Beach Club, a tiki bar located on a dry sand beach on the west side of the pier. It was full of families and visitors of all ages, all taking pictures and enjoying this simple pleasure.

Punta Gorda Fishermans Village
Punta Gorda Fishermans Village (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Fisherman’s Village is a complex of shops and restaurants built on a historic 1928 pier. Opened four decades ago, Fisherman’s Village is a busy complex with an old-fashioned feel — 30 shops, five restaurants and live music in various locations. You can even stay in apartments located on the second floor here.

Marina in Punta Gorda (Photo: Bob Kyle)
Marina in Punta Gorda (Photo: Bob Kyle)

For dinner on this night, choose one of the restaurants overlooking Charlotte Harbor. There are several at Fisherman’s Village as well as downtown.

We enjoyed the view and the food at TT’s Tiki Bar, an expansive operation on the Harborwalk downtown with multiple spaces under pavilions or outdoors with great views. It’s a casual spot full of families with live music, a beachy ambiance with sand on the ground and ping pong tables. The views and sunsets are wonderful; our smoked fish dip, mahi sandwiches and coconut shrimp were all tasty.

There are several other waterfront restaurants, either at Fisherman’s village or elsewhere along the Harborwalk.

I suggest you spend your first night enjoying sunset along the Harborwalk because you may like it so much that you want to return on your second night too!

Prairie Creek just outside Punta Gorda is a wild river with beautiful scenery and lots of birds and alligators to see. You have to bring your own kayak. There are other good paddling places nearby where you can rent kayaks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Prairie Creek just outside Punta Gorda is a wild river with beautiful scenery, lots of birds and a few alligators. You have to bring your own kayak. There are other good paddling places nearby where you can rent kayaks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Day 2: A day on the water and dinner downtown

Punta Gorda is a great base for kayakers. We’ve kayaked on two outstanding rivers just 20 minutes east of downtown Punta Gorda – Shell Creek and its tributary, Prairie Creek, both part of the reservoir system that brings water to Charlotte County. Both are full of wildlife and stunning scenery, each as beautiful a paddling trail as you’ll find in the southern half of Florida.

If you bring your own kayak, these are great to experience on a Punta Gorda visit. If not, it’s a shame that area outfitters offer only limited arrangements to these rivers. Here are the outfitters and their current offerings: Gaea GuidesPunta Gorda Adventures

A great blue heron along Prairie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A great blue heron along Prairie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A good alternative is to rent a kayak or take an eco-tour from the popular Nav-A-Gator Grill, which is a fun spot located about 20 minutes outside Punta Gorda upstream on the Peace River. Yet another kayaking alternative would be to drive 40 minutes to the Arcadia area where Peace River Canoe Outpost has been offering canoe and kayak trips on another beautiful river for decades.

If you have your own kayak and are comfortable with tackling some open salt water, there are gorgeous paddles along Gasparilla Sound starting near the causeway to Boca Grande. We’ve paddled here twice and got lost in the mangroves both times! Along the way, though, we saw white pelicans, flocks of gulls and terns, huge rays, a shark and roseate spoonbills. Here’s the Florida Rambler report on kayaking Gasparilla Sound.

There is another excellent way to get out on the water that does not involve paddling and that is to take a sightseeing cruise from Fisherman’s Village’s King Fisher Fleet. They offer several options every day, including the Peace River Nature Cruise, the daily harbor cruise and on some days, a trip to the wonderful Old Florida islands of Boca Grande or Cabbage Key.

On these boats, you have a good chance of seeing dolphins, can enjoy the vistas and you’ll get an entertaining account of the area’s history.

Downtown Punta Gorda has a cluster of good restaurants, many with live music. Along the way, enjoy the many murals you see around town. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Downtown Punta Gorda has a cluster of good restaurants, many with live music. Along the way, enjoy the many murals you see around town. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Dinner on Day 2 should be at one of the restaurants clustered downtown. On our second night, we had excellent food and drinks at Winesett House where we sat outside in a courtyard with a fountain, and were entertained by a singer/saxophonist.

There is a lot of live music performed in downtown Punta Gorda. Celtic Ray Public House is a traditional Irish pub with a lively atmosphere, live music and traditional food. (The fish and chips are famous.)

Down the street, Ortigia Cucina & Bar has seafood, pasta, craft beer and cocktails, with live music from local musicians Wednesday through Sunday.

Two blocks away in the historic district is the gorgeous upscale Carmelo’s, an Italian restaurant in a historic home with indoor and outdoor seating.

"Monumental Fire and Harmony" by Carole Feueurrman at Peace River Botanical Gardens. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
“Monumental Fire and Harmony” by Carole Feueurman at the Peace River Botanical Gardens. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Day 3: Peace River Botanic and Sculpture Gardens, Peace River Wildlife Center and Alligator Creek Preserve

On your third day, you may be checking out of your accommodations, but there are three great places to choose from before you go. (Or stay an extra day and do all three.)

The Peace River Botanic Gardens opened in fall 2017 on 30 acres abutting the Peace River, with massive sculptures, landscaped grounds and a beautiful natural setting.

These gardens have a unique vision – to showcase the natural beauty of the property along with gardens of botanicals, all complementing the spectacular sculptures carefully placed around the grounds in eye-catching settings.

There are hyper-realistic statues, including one of a woman “floating” on an inner tube in a pool. There’s a dramatic kinetic sculpture that gently moves in the breeze, reflecting the surroundings in its mirror-like finish. There’s a huge metal sculpture set in the mangroves looking like the remains of a giant ancient ship.

The sculptures, monumental and often whimsical, are easy to appreciate. You do not need an art degree to enjoy them.

Admission to the gardens is $18 adults.

From Florida Rambler: Peace River Botanic and Sculpture Garden
5827 Riverside Dr, Punta Gorda, FL 33982
(941) 621-8299

To make a perfect last day in Punta Gorda, just down the sreet from the gardens there is a rustic 1927 Cracker cabin where Peace River Seafood, 5337 Duncan Road, Punta Gorda, serves fresh locally sourced crabs and shrimp in an informal atmosphere.

From Florida Rambler: Peace River Seafood.

Peace River Wildlife Center

Peace River Wildlife Center is a small wildlife rehabilitation center located in the mangroves overlooking Charlotte Harbor at Ponce de Leon Park. You can visit every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  More than 100 non-releasable pelicans, eagles, hawks, ospreys, tortoises and turtles are on educational display. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. 

While not a big facility, visitors find this place and its volunteers inspiring. You can see it all in a half hour, but the rave reviews suggest something magical happens there.

Peace River Wildlife Center
400 Ponce de Leon Parkway, Punta Gorda, FL 33950(941) 637-3830

Ponce de Leon Park, home to the wildlife center, has gorgeous views and is a  favorite spot to watch sunsets over Charlotte Harbor.

Alligator Creek Preserve has miles of trails where you will come to boardwalks, viewpoints over ponds and lots of birds and wildlife. (Photo: David Blasco)
Alligator Creek Preserve has miles of trails where you will come to boardwalks, viewpoints over ponds and see birds and wildlife. (Photo: David Blasco)

Alligator Creek Preserve

I was surprised and delighted by Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center and its Alligator Creek preserve, which is a great place to take an easy hike of any length.

We took a three mile hike on several of the connecting trails through scenery that was beautiful and varied. (There are five miles of trails here.)

On the Three Lakes Trail we came to a lovely viewpoint over a lake. On the Chet Lewis Trail, in the distance we could see a huge eagle nest near the top of a pine tree. (Just a note about that: it is marked on the trail map, but there is no signage on the trail itself. Look for a bench that has a view of a clearing, and across that clearing look in the highest tree for a very large visible nest. It’s just east of Bridge 5 marked on the trail map.)

The enclosed butterfly garden is a gem. It’s full of colorful blooming plants, fluttering butterflies, and very hungry caterpillars. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The enclosed butterfly garden is a gem. It’s full of colorful blooming plants, fluttering butterflies, and very hungry caterpillars. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you are lucky enough to visit when the butterfly sanctuary is open, definitely stop in and talk to the volunteers. (Hours are dependent on volunteers, but tend to be mornings through early afternoon on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.)

The entire complex is free.

Note: The preserve is not open on weekends, but you can park in lot at the Burnt Store Road entrance and walk in to hike the trails when the gate is closed.

Alligator Creek Preserve
10941 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda, FL 33955
(941) 575-5435

More things to do in Punta Gorda

It would be easy to spend many additional days in Punta Gorda, and there are more than enough activities to make it worth your time.

Yellow bikes are free to borrow and are available at four places. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)
Yellow bikes are free to borrow and are available at four places. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

Bicycling.  Punta Gorda is a bicycle-oriented town. In fact, you can borrow free bicycles at four stations around town, include one near Fisherman’s Village. A popular activity for bicyclists is touring the downtown and historic neighborhoods along the river by bike.

If you bring your bike, there is a longer rail trail here too. Cape Haze Pioneer Trail is a nine-mile trail that starts on the western side of Charlotte Harbor, off SR 771. The flat, straight paved trail takes you through pine forests and wetlands to the community of Placida, where you’ll find the Placida fishing pier.

A side trip to Boca Grande. There’s a good reason Boca Grande is a favorite among the rich and famous: It’s beautiful, unspoiled and preserves the charm of Old Florida. It makes a satisfying daytrip. There’s a historic lighthouse at the southern tip, some of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast plus a historic downtown that can only be this cute because rich people live here.

From Florida Rambler: Boca Grande: Old Florida island on the Gulf is worth the trip & toll

Visit a wildlife refuge. The Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, 65,000 acres of flatwoods, hammocks, prairies and marshes, is the place for red-cockaded woodpeckers, sandhill cranes and, in winter, thousands of tree and barn swallows. The property is criss-crossed with old logging roads that provide miles of hiking or fat-tire bicycling. Babcock-Webb has a paved road good for bicyclists that runs for several miles along Webb Lake. It also offers a guided Babcock Wilderness Adventures tours that uses an old school bus to traverse rough roads and splash through shallow waters to view wildlife. The tours are $24 for adults.

Punta Gorda punta gorda mural bob kyle Punta Gorda: Seven things to do for a perfect getaway itinerary
Punta Gorda has 31 murals that tell stories about the town and its history. (Photo: Bob Kyle)

Tour the many murals that decorate the town. There are 31 murals that mark significant locations or events and preserve the history of the area. You’ll find a map of the murals here and information on walking tours, which are offered in the winter and spring.

Murals are being added regularly and you can keep up on the project, which is led by a nonprofit volunteer organization, on its Facebook Page.

Visit the state parks in the area. There are several state parks within an hour of Punta Gorda, and each has something special to offer. They include: Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, Gasparilla Island State Park in Boca Grande and Stump Pass Beach State Park.

From Florida Rambler: Florida barrier islands: Explore less-visited gems such as Stump Pass Beach State Park

In the historic district, an upscale Italian restaurant Carmelo's occupies a history home. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
In the historic district, an upscale Italian restaurant, Carmelo’s, occupies a historic home. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Where to stay in Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda has about 10 traditional hotels or resorts, ranging from the chains (Budget Inn, Holiday Inn, Knights Inn, Springhill Suites by Marriott) to two very nice hotels that opened downtown when Punta Gorda rebuilt after the devastating 2004 Hurricane Charley – The Wyvern Hotel and Four Points by Sheraton, both of which are located near the water downtown.

The Suites at Fishermen’s Village offer apartment-like units, many with balconies overlooking the water, with prices starting at $250. These are good for accommodating families.

Sunseeker, a big new resort, a new addition is bringing more visitors to Punta Gorda

After years of construction, the giant Sunseeker resort opened in December, 2023. It’s located on northern side of the Peace River across the bridge from Punta Gorda’s downtown. It was developed by Allegiant Travel Company, part of Allegiant Airlines, which operates out of the Punta Gorda airport, only 10 minutes away. Visitors can book the whole trip via Allegiant and skip the rental car.

How big is Sunseeker? It has 60,000-square-feet of meeting and conference space, 785 guestrooms, 20 restaurants and bars (including a food hall), two expansive pools, a spa and a golf course. People call it a cruise ship on land.

Rates start at $300 per night. More information is at Sunseeker, 5500 Sunseeker Way, Charlotte Harbor

Resources for planning a visit to Punta Gorda

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