There’s no need to pay for an expensive mud treatment at the spa when there’s the great outdoors! One of the best therapy treatments is riding through the mud at Florida Tracks & Trails, the 1,000-acre outdoor adventure park in east Charlotte County. Rented a four-wheeler and hit the trails. FTT offers motocross tracks and tracks for ATVs, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes. There’s also a Jeep and truck off-road area including obstacles and paintball on more than 80-acres. And, there’s a fresh-water beach. (39450 Bermont Rd, Punta Gorda; Tel: 844-743-338; floridatracksandtrails.com).
Find more weekend mudding fun at 74 Family Fun Park with tracks, trails and mud ideal for motocross and ATVs/UTVs. There’s a sand track, clay flat track and national-style track. Bring your rod for freshwater fishing at their catch-and-release pond. (44800 Bermont Rd Punta Gorda FL 33982; Tel: 941-875-8944; 74familyfunpark.com). Open 11 a.m. to Dark on Wednesdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sunday.
Experience Where Old Florida Meets Tomorrow
Experience real Florida with the Babcock Ranch Eco Tours 90-minute buggy tour through a working cattle ranch and Telegraph Swamp. Wildlife sightings vary and can include white-tailed deer, Osceola turkeys, wild boar, and of course, alligators. There’s a good chance you’ll meet some of the resident cracker cattle. (39450 Bermont Rd, Punta Gorda; Tel: 844-743-3388; babcockranchecotours.com).
Down the road is America’s first solar-powered town, Babcock Ranch. If you take the buggy tour at Babcock Ranch Eco Tours, you will pass the town’s field with 343,000 solar panels. While not necessarily a tourist destination, Babcock Ranch currently has 5 miles of hiking and biking, kayak rentals, and fresh water fishing in Lake Babcock. Dine at Table & Tap for fresh farm-to-table fare and enjoy a scoop (or two) of ice cream from Square Scoops. Begin your visit at the Discovery Center at Woodlea Hall in Founder’s Square. (42850 Crescent Loop, Babcock Ranch; Tel: 941-257-4936; babcockranch.com).
Learn About the Past
Charlotte County is home to several museums that tell a story in their unique way. Take a journey through history of Southwest Florida, Charlotte County and Punta Gorda at the Punta Gorda History Center. (512 E. Grace Street, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-916-8800; www.puntagordahistorycenter.com)
See the car of your dreams at Muscle Car City Museum. More than 200 General Motors muscle cars from the 50s to the 70s along with some special gems of today are housed here. (10175 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-575-5959; www.musclecarcity.net)
The Military Heritage Museum in Fishermen’s Village has a mission to “promote an understanding and respect for the rich military heritage of the United States and the sacrifices made by our country’s veterans, living and dead, emphasizing that freedom is not free.” Thousands of military artifacts dating back to the Spanish-American War to current conflicts are on display and the museum is made possible by the more than 75 volunteers who give their time. Many are veterans. (Fishermen’s Village, 1200 West Retta Esplanade, Unit 48, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-575-9002; www.freedomisntfree.org)
Walk Through the Closest Place to Oz
Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary does not having flying monkeys but they do have lions, tigers, and bears, along with a host of other exotic wildlife including leopards, hyena, and baboon. This non-profit sanctuary has been called a retirement home for exotic wildlife and each resident has their own touching story on how they ended up there. For instance, a lion was someone’s pet who thought if he kept him in a dog kennel and fed him dog food he would not grow. No matter their life prior to landing at Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, they have a loving, caring home for the rest of their lives. (41660 Horseshoe Rd, Punta Gorda; Tel: 239-543-1130; octagonwildlife.org)
See the Tender Care of Native Florida Wildlife
The Peace River Wildlife Center in Ponce de Leon Park provides tender care to native Florida wildlife that have either been orphaned or injured. Residents on display cannot be returned to the wild and have a comfortable home at the center educating the public about native wildlife. Residents include gopher tortoise, marsh rabbit, and a variety of birds as bald eagles, black vultures, and ibis, plus ambassadors Luna, a rare leucisitc eastern screech owl, and Bella, a great horned owl. Visit at 2:30 p.m. to see the white and brown pelicans being fed, it’s quite the sight! (3400 Ponce de Leon Prkwy, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-637-3830; www.prwildlife.org)
Cruise the Harbor
Enjoy a scenic cruise over the brackish waters of Charlotte Harbor either in the afternoon or for a sunset cruise. It's possible to spot a variety of birds and sometimes dolphins swim along the boats. King Fisher Fleet out of Fishermen's Village is one of the tour boat operators offering cruises. (1200 W Retta Esplanade 16 A, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-639-0969; www.kingfisherfleet.com)
Experience Where Art Meets Mother Nature
A 50 million-year-old stone fossil of a palm frond taken from a mountain top in Wyoming serves as the inspiration for the logo and signature sculpture of the new Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens, which opened Oct. 20, 2017. More than a dozen large-scale sculptures adorn the landscape of the 27-acre property. Flowering trees bloom throughout the year and more than 15,000 sq. ft of boardwalks and docks are planned. Sculptures have been installed and the master plans for the Gardens were developed in 2010. The property is developed and primarily financed by the Roger E. and Linda A. Tetrault Foundation, a 501 c. (3) private foundation. This will be one of the largest endowments for a botanical garden in the state of Florida. (5827 Riverside Dr, Punta Gorda; Tel: peacerivergardens.org)
Live the Dream
Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson® is one of the top HD dealerships in the country. Not only do they sell new Harley-Davidson motorcycles, they sell pre-owned motorcycles, apparel, parts and accessories. If you have your motorcycle endorsement, take one of their rentals out for a ride. Free beer is served daily and almost every weekend there’s something happening whether it’s a concert or festival. (2224 El Jobean Rd., Port Charlotte; Tel: 941-883-8000; www.bertsblackwidow.com)
Ride Green, Ride Free, Ride Like the Wind!
Punta Gorda features the first Florida free bike loan program. The city has been recognized as a “Florida Bike-Friendly Community” by the Florida Bicycle Association as a result of their volunteer organization called TEAM Punta Gorda offering a complimentary Yellow Bike Loaner Program. All that is required to enjoy a bicycle for an hour or a day is a credit card, driver’s license (copies made for collateral) and signature of waiver. Bicycles are offered on a space-available basis at various downtown locations such as Laishley Park Municipal Marina, Bayfront Health’s Wellness Center, Fishermen’s Village Marina and Punta Gorda Isles Yacht Club.
Since Punta Gorda is a bicycle-friendly community, the Punta Gorda Pathways, which is an 18-mile loop trail connecting pedestrian and bike paths around the city, was established to allow the city’s bicyclists a more convenient way to get around. Four bicycle routs were also established and marked and range in length from 17 miles to a 31-mile ride. www.teampuntagorda.org/free-bike-program
Take it Inside, Then Break Out
Are you good at solving puzzles? Then an escape room experience should be in your future. This family-friendly activity is a creative indoor adventure where a group of people work together to solve a mystery in less than an hour. Charlotte County has two escape rooms, Escape Rooms Unlocked in Punta Gorda (401 E Olympia Ave, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-295-6880; escaperoomsunlocked.com and 14969 Tamiami Trail, North Port) and Escape Port Charlotte. (3191 Harbor Blvd C, Port Charlotte; Tel: 941-883-6296; escapeportcharlotte.com).
Don’t worry if you don’t know how or have not done it in years but bowling is, well, a ball! There are a couple of options in Port Charlotte, Bowland Port Charlotte (3192 NE Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte; Tel: 941-625-4794; www.bowlandpc.com) and Treasure Lanes (1059 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; Tel: 941-625-3930; www.treasurelanes.com)
Shop. Dine. Catch a Movie.
Take your mind off the rain and take cover indoors at some of our shopping venues. The Port Charlotte Town Center is home to the anchor stores of Dillard’s, Macy’s, JC Penney’s and Beall’s, the Florida Store. It’s the perfect place for shopping, dining, and catching a movie. (1441 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; Tel: 941-624-4447; portcharlottetowncenter.com)
Get a head start on your Christmas shopping or buy something for yourself while browsing the unique gift shops, boutiques, and sweet shops at Fishermen's Village then, enjoy lunch at one of the four restaurants. Save room for something sweet at one of the ice cream or sweet shops. (Fishermen's Village, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-639-8721; www.fishville.com)
Browse Galleries and Chat with Artists
Charlotte County is home to hundreds of talented artists and a rainy day is a great excuse to get into some of the galleries to browse creative artwork and speak with the artists. Some galleries include Old Florida Outdoor Center in Englewood (463 W. Dearborn St. Englewood; Tel: 941-460-1561), the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda (210 Maud St, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-639-8810) and Artisan Atelier in downtown Punta Gorda (117 Herald Court Centre, Punta Gorda, Tel: 941-637-8484.)
Charlotte Arts has the newest gallery in town, the Charlotte Arts Gallery, in the Port Charlotte Town Center Mall. Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The closest mall entrance to the Charlotte Arts Gallery is on the U.S. 41 side of the mall between J.C. Penney and Dillards.
Express Your Shelly Self
Sheryl’s Shell Shop in Englewood is a place to go and find things all-shell and, if you picked up a special seashell or shark tooth from the beach, you can create a piece of resin art with it. Find seashells and other sea-themed décor. (1185 S McCall Rd, Englewood; Tel: 941-830-0901; search for “Sheryl’s Shell Shop” on Facebook.)
This is a short list of things to do away from the beach in Charlotte County. Before heading out to any of these businesses, check with them regarding hours of operation. Visit our complete list of things to do and events in the area by visiting PureFlorida.com. For resources to determine beach conditions, visit www.oursafetravel.com.