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To Take You Off Florida's Beaten Path

Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is an off-the-beaten track Florida getaway located on the Southwest Gulf coast halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers. This pristine area combines miles of protected wildlife preserves with a collection of scenic fishing villages and artsy Florida communities, from Englewood to Port Charlotte to Placida to Punta Gorda, clustered around Charlotte Harbor. Devastated by Hurricane Charley in 2004, the area has come back better than before, with new hotels, dining and attractions.  A member of the Society for Ethical Eco-Tourism, the area’s sustainable low-rise development includes new, luxury and family-affordable accommodations and a commitment to preserve its natural beauty. This Family- and Baby Boomer-friendly area offers dozens of outdoor and indoor activities to wean the kids off television or Wii – activities that generations can enjoy together. When you’re ready to return to civilization, a host of dining, shopping, nightlife and cultural experiences await.  www.CharlotteHarborTravel.com

Pedal Through Punta Gorda – Florida’s First Free Bike Loaner Program

Enjoy a free leisurely pedal along the Peace River in historic downtown Punta Gorda courtesy of the first Florida free bike loan program.  The city was recognized in 2010 as a “Florida Bike-Friendly Community” by the Florida Bicycle Association. A volunteer organization called TEAM Punta Gorda offers 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 and signature of waiver. Bicycles are offered on a space-available basis at various downtown locations.

From Blue Crab Picking to Dining Like James Beard, The Flavors of Charlotte Harbor

The dining scene in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is an eclectic mix of seafood shacks, sidewalk cafes, waterfront eateries, fine dining, and sweet spots. Primary dining districts include downtown Punta Gorda (which has more than 50 independently owned restaurants), Fishermen’s Village and Englewood’s Dearborn Street. Familiar corporate-owned restaurants are bountiful, too. Notable culinary experiences include dinner at Golden Spoon recipient The Perfect Caper headed by three-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the South, Jeanie Roland, and lunch at the table actor Denzel Washington sat while filming —Out of Time” (2003) at The Fishery Restaurant in the fishing community of Placida. Anglers can enjoy their fresh catch and let someone else do the cooking. The Village Fish Market Restaurant & Lounge at Fishermen’s Village will prepare a fishermen’s cleaned fish any delicious way they’d like.

Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training Headquarters

(February & March) http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com Redesigned especially for Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training, the Charlotte Sports Park is one of the most fan-friendly – and family-friendly – stadiums in the Grapefruit League, with its proximity to the players, 360-degree views, two kids play areas by age group, Tiki Bar with imported beverages, picnic areas and grassy berms.  Enjoy a surprisingly affordable party in one of the private boxes or create a special event in the stands.  For more information, visit www.stonecrabsbaseball.com. The High-A affiliate to the Rays, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, calls the stadium home during the summer minor league baseball season.

Paddle Through Paradise - Blueway Trails

Part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System, nearly 200 miles of Blueway Trails are mapped for kayakers, with 53 trails rated for access, difficulty and scenic value. Veteran aficionados say these trails are some of the most beautiful in the U.S. Nearly 84 percent of the 830 miles of shoreline is protected from development, providing shelter and habitat for an amazing variety of species. With a guide, one might see hundreds of birds flying home to roost, wild boar, otters, Manta rays and horseshoe crabs. Experienced sea kayakers can enjoy challenges out on the Gulf. Learn kayak fishing, where one can sneak up on the prey. At least five outfitter/guides offer wilderness trips, photographic forays and tailored tours for beginner to expert, perhaps accompanied by manatees or dolphins. One even offers an affordable Kayak Wedding or Vow Renewal package for couples who want to add some splash to their romance.

Florida’s First Equal Opportunity Employer and African-American Heritage

George Brown, an African-American shipbuilder and landowner, was one of Punta Gorda’s founding fathers and holds the distinction of being Florida’s “first equal opportunity employer.” He hired both blacks and whites, which, among other precedents, imbued Punta Gorda with an unusual multiracial tenor. The Blanchard House Museum of African-American History & Culture documents that and much more. Founded by Bernice Andrews Russell, a prominent humanitarian who believed in preserving African-American culture and history, the house was built in 1925 as the home of Joseph Blanchard, a sea captain and fisherman, and his mail-order-bride, Minnie.

Undiscovered Beaches for Sunsets, Sports, Solitude and Shelling

Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands has 28 miles of uncrowded beaches for every interest. Romantics can watch the sun slip into the Gulfon Englewood Beach on Manasota Key or walk hand-in-hand along the shore. Many nearby restaurants offer nightlife.  Adjoining Chadwick Park offers volleyball and basketball courts, and plenty of fishing. At Port Charlotte Beach Park, families and athletes love the heated swimming pool, basketball, tennis, beach volleyball, bocce, horseshoe courts and playground.  Picnic shelters, a fishing pier and boating access ramps add to the appeal.  Explorer’s beach: Stump Pass Beach State Park, with wide open coastlines and nature trails for viewing wildlife and native plants, is ideal for shelling and gathering fossilized shark’s teeth. Most secluded: Don Pedro Island State Park, which can only be reached by ferry service or private boat. There are plenty of shells and few people to compete for them!  Look for manatees, bald eagles, and gopher tortoises. Far removed from civilization, yet amenities include restrooms, outdoor showers, picnic pavilions, and barbecue grills.

Fin-Tastic Fishing

Jimmy Jacobs, editor of Florida Game and Fish magazine, says: "With inshore mangroves and grass flats, open waters in the harbor, and offshore action in the Gulf, the area has all the fishing bases covered.  Add in the paddling, hiking, birding and wildlife and this region is a sportsman's dream.” Charlotte Harbor attracts plenty of catch-and-release tournaments, from the Inshore Fishing Association’s Redfish Tour to the Miller High Life Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. Often called the “Tarpon Capital of the World,” the wealthy discovered Charlotte Harbor in the late 1800s; notable anglers include financier J.P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, the Presidential Bush family and most recently, Tampa Bay Rays players. Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands teems with 256 species including, Snook, Redfish, Yellowtail, Cobia, Snapper, Shark, Grouper, Barracuda, Mackerel and Tarpon. More than 20 capable guides know the fishing sweet spots.

Adventure Beyond the Beach

Here visitors can check off many activities on their “must-do” list. Skydiving at 120 mph is speedy and surreal. The SW Florida Skydive Club offers complete instruction up to and beyond certification. Named toSAIL magazine’s “10 Greatest Places to Sail in the U.S.,” the area offers several regattas, sailing charters and schools, even sailing for those with disabilities. Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is the hottest new human-powered water activity, a cross between surfboarding and kayaking, offering a great workout and a lot of fun. Rentals are available at Grande Tours, an outfitter that also provides kayak tours. And of course, enjoy the adrenaline rush of deep sea charter fishing in one of the world’s top sport-fishing destinations. Named among the “best places in America to live and play golf” by Golf Digest, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands offers year-round play on more than 20 courses. Spectacular landscapes provide the backdrop on courses that include two ranked 4½ stars by the magazine. Rick Treworgy's Muscle Car City displays more than 200 autos from the 1920s, focusing on the “muscle cars” of the 60s and 70s Pontiac GTOs, Corvettes, Oldsmobile Cutlass 442s, Chevelles, Camaros and more. 

Bucket-List Birding 

Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands has seven sites listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail, part of the Florida Gulf Coast portion of the North American Migratory Flyway. Fall through spring, the population jumps to more than 190 species as swallows, wading birds, warblers and other neo-tropical migrants arrive.  Among the treasured species: White and Glossy Ibis; Snowy, Great and Reddish Egrets; Roseate Spoonbills, Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfishers, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Scrub Jays and more. Thousands of distinctive White Pelicans, the area’s original “snowbirds,” return October/November to add to the photo opportunities.

That’s just the beginning of all that Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands has to offer.  Visit our online library for images or call us for additional photos and ideas tailored to your interests.

Media Contacts:
Jennifer Huber
Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau
(941) 743-1900
Jennifer.Huber@CharlotteFL.com

Mary Jane Kolassa / Cindy Dobyns
Above Water Public Relations & Marketing
(407) 463-0040 / (239) 596-9149
MJKolassa@AboveWater.com / CDobyns@AboveWater.com

About the Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast

Florida's premier year-round eco-tourism destination, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach, The Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast, is known for its pristine, unspoiled beauty. The area has hosted seven major feature films, been featured on SAIL magazine's list of the "10 Greatest Places to Sail in the United States," ranked by Golf Digest as the "Third Best Place to Live and Play Golf in America," and rated by MONEY magazine as one of the "Best Places to Live in the South." For information about area events, activities and attractions, contact the Charlotte Harbor Gulf Island Coast Visitor and Convention Bureau, 18500 Murdock Circle, Suite B-104, Port Charlotte, FL; 941-743-1900, or call toll free at 1-800-652-6090 for a free Visitor's Guide; or visit the Web site at CharlotteHarborTravel.com.