Their Best Side is Outside

. July 31, 2019.
Travel_Splash_0819

Toledo Express Airport offers flights to Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach, Florida

If you haven’t gotten tired of hitting the beach yet this summer, we’re right there with you. So— when we discovered that you can take a direct Allegiant flight from the Toledo Express Airport to Punta Gorda, Florida— we jumped on one to see what this area has to offer all you sun worshippers.

If you are looking for some beachside fun in the sun, ecotourism, adventure and fine dining with a laid back attitude, it’s good to know that you can hop on a plane from Toledo and be in the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach area in less than two hours.

We toured, we ate, we swam and we soaked up the sun tempered by the Gulf Coast breeze, all so that we could inform you of what traveling to this charming area can offer you and your family on vacation. Such hard work, right?

Relatively untouched by the tourism booms of beachside Florida cities like Destin or Key West, this region boasts an Old Florida feel punctuated by an appreciation for wildlife and immersion in nature. As their motto suggests, when it comes to Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach, their “best side is outside.” We created a roundup of things to do on your visit with all the information you need to plan your trip.

Beaches

Obviously, the reason to travel here is to enjoy some well-earned beach time! We had a wonderful time relaxing and exploring these spots, all of them relatively free from overcrowding. Honestly. It was therapeutic.

Englewood Beach
2100 N. Beach Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-681-3742

We were able to walk out of our hotel and onto this beautiful beach. It’s an excellent location to lay out in the sun using chairs and umbrellas from “The Beach Guy,” to hunt for fossilized shark teeth, or to look for turtles during nesting season!

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/Pureflorida.com

Stump Pass Beach State Park
941-964-0375. floridastateparks.org/park/Stump-Pass

Walk the hiking trail and see wildlife ranging from crabs to turtles. We found that people were enjoying fishing in this relatively untouched state park. It’s a fun place to explore, and then take a dip when you get tired.

Don Pedro Island State Park
This pristine beach is part of a barrier island chain between Knight Island and Little Gasparilla Island, and it is only accessible by boat— or stand-up paddleboard, if you’re feeling more adventurous. We took a kayak there during a tour by Hooked on SUP, which provides kayaks and paddleboards for a guided tour ending at this gorgeous location.

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Cuban anole lizard, sunning at Peace River Seafood

The water was clear, the waves were soothing, and I found five fossilized shark teeth! It’s an ideal place for shelling and finding the teeth of lemon sharks, bull sharks, and— much rarer— those of Megalodon. We even spotted a gopher tortoise as soon as we reached the island.

Adventures

From motorized catamarans to kayaking, there’s plenty to do in this region for everyone, especially if you are interested in ecotourism. If there was one thing every excursion we took had it common, it was the focus on nature, wildlife, and educating people on how to celebrate the natural beauty of Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach sustainably.

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/pureflorida.com

Private Seagrass Adventure Wading Trip from Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center
2300 Placida Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-475-0769. Checflorida.org

Eileen Gerle let us explore the center before talking to us about the wildlife we would be observing at Lemon Bay, which we walked to via one of the fascinating hiking trails. We saw tiny crabs, learned about different types of mangroves and saw bunnies hopping by during our stroll. Each of us had a bucket and net to collect samples of wildlife from the seagrass, and we happily waded in the water after our sunny walk to the Bay.

Gerle, who normally gives these tours to elementary school students, is always happy to talk about the importance of the estuary where we would be searching for dwarf seahorse, shrimp, fish, and mollusks. These estuaries are important to protect because they are a nursery, habitat, pollution filtration system, and storm buffer. Pretty important stuff.

As we gently grazed the bottom of the seagrass with our nets, we found tiny shrimp and an ancestor of the seahorse— a pipefish. Gerle put our finds into different containers to tell us more about them, adding that “if you teach people about the environment, they’re more apt to protect it.”
Tip: For this tour, make sure to bring bug spray, shoes suitable for water (not flip flops), and plenty of sunscreen.

Don Pedro Island Guided Mangrove Tunnel Tour with Hooked on SUP
8450 Placida Rd., Placida, FL. hookedonsup.com
Looking to get some exercise and learn more about Florida’s second-largest marine estuary? A tour with Hooked on SUP is just the ticket.

Choose from a single kayak, double kayak, or paddleboard, then follow your knowledgeable guide through a mangrove tunnel to a lagoon teaming with wildlife— spider crabs, manatees, dolphins— even the occasional raccoon is known to hang out in the mangroves to do some fishing and crabbing.
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We passed an osprey nest that somehow managed to survive Hurricane Irma, and then we saw a dolphin up close— he was so curious about our group that he hung around for quite a while.

Educational tidbit: Red mangroves, like those we were surrounded by on this tour, have “sacrificial leaves” for the brackish water. If the plant takes in too much salt, it’s excreted through those leaves, which then die to protect the plant.
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Riding the Waves Twilight Sunset Eco Tour
1990 Placida Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-208-6442. Ridingthewaves.net
Did you know that motorized personal catamarans existed? Neither did we until we got to take this exhilarating sunset tour through Charlotte Harbor. During the two-hour tour, we frequently stopped to watch dolphins, one of which came right up to my catamaran to say hello!

It was a leisurely trip to a beach where we could watch the sun beginning to set, a signal that it was time to head back before dark. On the way back we really had to book it and— let me tell you— these things can move.

Make sure you pay attention to your tour guide’s directions on how to operate the catamarans and safety tips about surrounding boats. Bottomline: whether you have a need for speed or want to gently cruise around observing marine life, this tour is a unique way to see the Harbour. They are two-seaters, so you don’t have to feel pressured to drive if that’s not your thing.

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Turtle Patrol volunteers, hard at work marking off a nest Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/Pureflorida.com

Take a stroll with the Turtle Patrol
info@coastalwildlifeclub.org. Coastalwildlife.org
Though you can’t necessarily arrange a tour with the Turtle Patrol, you will see these dedicated volunteers along the beach marking off turtle nests during nesting season. They identify turtle tracks from the loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s ridley turtles that lay eggs on this beach, marking them and putting a protective screen over them to protect the hatchlings from predators.

The patrol team always welcome questions to spread awareness and enthusiasm for these fascinating, gentle creatures of the sea. If you are on Englewood Beach at night, you might see a turtle coming in from the surf to lay her eggs. If you do, keep your distance and let her do her thing.

It is an amazing sight that one of the volunteers described as bringing tears to his eyes. At night, you might even see some hatchlings making their way to the shore, which is why guests staying oceanside are told to close their blinds to limit light pollution— it can disorient the hatchlings and make them go the wrong way.

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A little beach yoga to start our day off right Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/Pureflorida.com

Yoga for Every Body
2100 N. Beach Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-473-0135. Lovinglightyoga.net
Spread a sheet across the sand sprinkled with sandalwood essential oils and get ready for beachside yoga with Robert Coykendall, the owner of Loving Light Yoga. Coykendall, a Santa Barbara native who used to do hair shows for Dior, is passionate about bringing the benefits of yoga for the body and mind to people of all ages and abilities. The hour-long practice was a meditative experience with the sound of waves crashing on the beach right in front of us. What a way to start the day!

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Palm Island Beach Resort Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/Pureflorida.com

Tour Palm Island Resort with Master Naturalist Kris Vetter
If you decide to stay at Palm Island Resort, you have to reserve time to meet with Vetter, who is a certified master naturalist and has been working at the resort since its opening decades ago.

Our group toured the island, learning that mezcal can be made by the native centennial plants and looking at moon shells with “Paul Newman eyes” (known as such because they have a blue center). Vetter really knows her stuff. She also treated us to a honey tasting: palmetto honey from scrub palms, red mangrove honey, and raw black mango paste that had a molasses-like quality, and sea grape jelly, all of which were made from native plants on the island.

Good eats

As someone who could exclusively eat seafood, I was in heaven at these restaurants. Their food was consistently fresh, sustainable and delicious.

Peace River Seafood
5337 Duncan Rd., Punta Gorda, FL. 941-505-8440. Peaceriverseafood.com
Known for their Florida blue crabs, Peace River Seafood gave us a tutorial on how to tear apart a crab, smash it with a mallet and know which parts to eat. Tip: Avoid going for “the devil’s fingers” (i.e. the lungs).

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This restaurant, a small bungalow home converted to a restaurant, was our first impression of the area’s characteristically relaxed dining atmosphere. We sat on the back porch smashing crabs and watching Cuban anole lizards sunning on the surrounding railing.
Edited-Crab
Aside from their famous crabs, you’ll want to sample their lobster bites with stone claw mustard sauce, charbroiled oysters and clams, grouper and shrimp. Not a fan of seafood? Chow down on one of their huge burgers— all 11 ounces of it. Try your best to save room for the key lime pie.

Lock ‘N Key Restaurant and Pub
2045 N. Beach Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-474-1517. Lockandkeyrestaurant.com
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This place had the best coconut tempura shrimp I’ve ever had, handsdown. Our group kept ordering the same dish at other restaurants we visited, but nothing could beat the ones at Lock ‘N Key. If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, you should go for their avocado salad with grilled shrimp, fresh mangos, diced tomatoes, and avocado ranch dressing. It comes with the unlikely, but delightful, side of pumpkin bread. Before we rolled out, we had a slice of coconut cream pie— my favorite.

Good Times Diner
1500 Placida Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-473-1411. facebook.com/goodtimesdinerenglewood
We started our busy morning with a stop at this must-try Latin American diner for a reviving cup of coffee, orange juice, and a healthy helping of huevos ranchero— a perfect way to start the day. They’re also open for lunch and dinner.

Rum Bay Restaurant
7400 Rum Bay Court, Placida, FL. 941-697-0566. Rumbaypalmisland.com
This secluded restaurant at the Palm Island Resort is only accessible by water taxi! On the way, we saw a couple of dolphins, manatees, and an osprey keeping guard over its impressive nest. That experience— plus the shrimp tacos filled with thick slices of avocado and a Malibu Typhoon cocktail served in a bucket that I got to sip as I wandered the beaches of the resort— made it a memorable pitstop.

Laurie

Laurie Farlow – co-owner of Farlow’s on the Water

Farlow’s on the Water
2080 South MacCall Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-474-5343. Farlowsonthewater.com
Keith and Laurie Farlow own this place where we dined on the back patio among the lush gardens as a band played. The cuisine here is a mix of Caribbean fare— Keith grew up in St. Croix— and Southern, an homage to Laurie’s Kentucky roots. As such, you can order a decadent plate of fried green tomatoes and hush puppies, but also enjoy a seafood salad with grilled scallops, pineapples, strawberries and kiwi. We had all that and more! Farlow’s has a beautiful view and ambiance that will check off all your boxes for Florida seafood fare.
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Sandbar Tiki & Grille
1975 Beach Rd., Englewood, FL. 941-460-8280. sandbartikigrille.com
If you’re looking to enjoy the nightlife, look no further than Sandbar Tiki & Grille, where you can hear live music and walk through a sandy outdoor space to play a giant game of Jenga or Connect Four. We dined outside, threw back a couple of local beers (try the Florida Cracker white ale), and shared appetizers. Make sure to try their wings, avocado dippers and pulled pork nachos.

Lodging

There are many rentals and hotels in the area, but the two that stood out most to us where the Palm Island Resort and the WannaB Inn, a retro space located on Englewood Beach.

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A fisherman taking advantage of the beautiful day at Palm Island Beach Resort Photo Credit: Jennifer Huber/pureflorida.com

Palm Island Resort
7092 Placida Rd., Cape Haze, FL. 800-824-5412. Palmisland.com
This resort has weddings almost every weekend, and for good reason. It offers a gorgeous, secluded beach that has a relaxing, untouched atmosphere. Whether you want to take exercise classes or ecotours with master naturalist Kris Vetter, or if you simply want to lay out by the beach all day long, it’s a wonderful place where no cars are allowed. Yes, please.

The WannaB Inn
985 Gulf Blvd., Englewood, FL. 941-474-3431. Wannabinn.com
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A colorful beachside hotel on Manasota Key, WannaB Inn offers instant access to Englewood Beach and Stump Pass Beach State Park. It has a mid century atomic style known as “googie,” a style that has an authentic Old Florida vibe, a reference I’ve heard throughout our trip to describe an area unsullied by over-hyped tourism. My room had a small kitchenette and a beautiful view of Englewood Beach. What more could you need?

As you may have gathered from the sheer length of this list, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach. With a round-trip flight direct from the Toledo Express Airport, its a vacation that all Toledoans should have on their radar for early fall, or when you’re getting a little case of the winter blues during Florida’s off-season. However you plan your trip, you won’t be disappointed by this hidden gem along Florida’s southern Gulf Coast. Enjoy.

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Their Best Side is Outside

Toledo Express Airport offers flights to Punta Gorda, Florida.