Punta Gorda Florida and surrounding Charlotte County offers outdoor adventures, a walkable downtown, great local restaurants and bars, and comfortable waterfront lodging. The Florida Gulf Coast location, midway between Naples and Tampa, is perfect for a weekend getaway or longer family vacation. Visitors can get up close to Florida wildlife, explore unique eco-systems, relax by the water by day, and enjoy casual to fine dining and fun events in town by night.
Punta Gorda Englewood Beach VCB hosted our visit and the activities described here so we could share our findings with the McCool Travel audience. As always, all opinions, text, and photos are our own.
Outdoor Fun and Nature in Punta Gorda Florida
Peace River Wildlife Center
The Peace River Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates native Florida wildlife. The non-profit organization takes in injured birds reptiles, and mammals to nurse them back to health. Healthy animals are re-released, while those that cannot survive in the wild find a permanent home at the center. Visitors can get up close to eagles, owls, a roseate spoonbill, and other local birdlife while learning about the animals and their habitats. Visit during Pelican Feeding for great photos and to learn about these iconic Florida natives. The center is open to the public daily. There is no admission fee, but donations to help feed and care for the animals are greatly appreciated.
Babcock Ranch Swamp Buggy Eco Tour
The Babcock Ranch Swamp Buggy Eco Tour takes visitors into the beautiful habitat of the Babcock Ranch Preserve to see native flora, birds, reptiles, and other wildlife. The fun, family-friendly tour crosses meadows, cypress swamps, and streams with expert, entertaining commentary by the driver. You will definitely see gators on the tour, and you may even get to pet a baby gator. The swamp buggy bus can drive right through parts of the Cypress swamp, our favorite part of the tour.
After your tour, check out the displays, and stop in the gift shop. The Gator Shack restaurant serves heaping plates of fried seafood, burgers, and other tasty meals.
McCool Travel Tip: Book one of the first tours of the day for the lightest crowds and lower temperatures.
Sunset Cruise with King Fisher Fleet
Relax and enjoy a beautiful Florida sunset over Charlotte Harbor on a King Fisher Fleet Sunset Cruise. Cruises depart from the Fishermen’s Village marina, so allow time for dinner, drinks, and shopping before or after your trip. You can also buy drinks and snacks on board. Keep an eye out for dolphins who like to play in the wake of the boat.
Clear Kayak Tour with Glass Bottom Rentals
We love to kayak and always look for paddling opportunities along the US Gulf Coast. Charlotte County offers calm rivers and bays that are ideal for calm water paddling. Get a view above and below the water when you get a kayak from Glass Bottom Rentals in Boca Grande. Paddle under the Boca Grande Fishing Pier and explore small islands in the Gasparilla Sound.
Seeing dolphins, fish, and shore birds up close from our clear kayaks makes it a fun photo spot in Florida. Glass Bottom Rentals also offers stand-up paddleboards, guided tours, and night kayaking. Allow time during your drive on and off the island of Boca Grande to admire some of the most colorful water in the world.
See also our article about other Fun Places to Kayak in US.
Bike or Walk the Punta Gorda Pathways
The two-and-a-half-mile Harborway is a paved path that borders the Peace River from Fishermen’s Village to the downtown area. For a longer ride, head to the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail. This 8-mile Rails-to-Trails bike path crosses the length of the Cape Haze Peninsula, offering beautiful views and birding. Punta Gorda makes cycling easy with free loaner bikes from several locations throughout town.
Punta Gorda Florida Beaches
The mix of bays and rivers in Charlotte County offer lots of opportunities for waterfront recreation. You can put your toes in the sand and soak up the sun at several parks near Punta Gorda.
On a barrier island west of the city, Englewood Beach and Chadwick Park is a family-friendly, white sand beach. There are picnic shelters, restrooms, and other facilities, and visitors can rent beach chairs and umbrellas on site. Parking is plentiful and costs 75 cents per hour.
Stump Pass Beach State Park
Stump Pass Beach State Park is known for its sugary white sand common all along the US Gulf Coast, warm Gulf of Mexico water, and natural Florida coastline. Hunt for seashells and shark teeth; watch for manatees and water birds; hike the nature trail; fish the surf; or just kick back and soak up the sun. Keep an eye out for the famous Stump Pass Shell Trees—tree stumps and pieces of driftwood decorated with shells. Dogs are allowed in the park but not on the beach. The park is open daily and admission is $3.00 per vehicle.
Ponce de Leon Park
Ponce de Leon Park has a mangrove boardwalk, small playground, and picnic pavilion. The park is a nice place to visit in Punta Gorda with kids. Stop in the Peace River Wildlife Center to see rescues birds (more info above).
Fishermen’s Village Dry Beach
Catch a beautiful sunset in town from the small Dry Beach at Fishermen’s Village. Watch the sunset from one of the colorful Adirondack chairs, or head to nearby restaurants and bars for a drink with your view.
Shopping in Punta Gorda FL
Head to Fishermen’s Village for excellent shopping from a great collection of independent, locally-owned stores. The mixed-use development occupies a beautiful and historic indoor-outdoor space. In the 1930s, the village was a major fish and ice packing center. Today, the renovated space welcomes visitors for shopping, a meal, or a whole day of fun. Shops, restaurants, bars, a marina, military museum, and dry beach welcome visitors and residents. 47 villa rentals upstairs make Fishermen’s Village an excellent base for exploring the region.
Punta Gorda has a walkable downtown full of shops and restaurants, so allow time to explore. Stop by Cooperfish Books to peruse the collection and check out the large historic mural on the building.
Where to Stay in Punta Gorda: Punta Gorda Hotels and Resorts
Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside
The Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside has a great downtown location right on the Charlotte Harbor waterfront. The hotel has a nice pool with jacuzzi, free bikes, and a fun waterfront tiki hut. Rooms are comfortable and quiet, and the location offers easy access to downtown events. Take a closer look in this short video of our lovely Four Points Punta Gorda room.
As noted above, Fishermen’s Village rents 47 villas that make a good base for exploring the region. Read consumer reviews and check rates and availability for more Punta Gorda lodging now.
Another Punta Gorda lodging option is vacation rentals, including condos, apartments, and houses. >>> To receive $40 off your first Airbnb rental, use this Airbnb discount code.
Punta Gorda FL Restaurants and Bars
Peace River Seafood
When your goal is the freshest seafood around, head to Peace River Seafood and a tasty meal in an old-school Florida cracker shack. The vibe is very casual, especially on the porch where you will share picnic tables with other guests under a big oak tree. It is the perfect setting for cracking Florida blue crabs, all you can eat until 4:00 pm. Rather not work at your meal? Order the crab cakes, blackened grouper, steamed shrimp and oysters, and other seafood freshly caught in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding waters.
The Gator Shack at Babcock Ranch
Continue the casual vibe with a picnic table lunch at the Gator Shack at Babcock Ranch. This is the perfect meal stop before or after your Swamp Buggy Eco Tour (details above). Portions are huge, and you cannot go wrong with the juicy ribs and the Swamp Seafood Platter. Burgers, sandwiches, and daily specials please every age. On Saturdays, the ribs are practically a must!
Farlow’s on the Water
Farlow’s on the Water marries the culinary influences of Southern cooking and the Caribbean, reflecting the husband and wife duo who opened the restaurant in 2003. The waterside location on Angler Creek in Englewood FL guarantees beautiful views from inside the dining room and outdoors on the patio. One of the top fresh seafood houses on the US East Coast, Farlow’s features up to a dozen fresh fish species every day. Top quality steaks share the menu, along with elegant salads, making Farlow’s an ideal destination for couples and groups with mixed tastes. Start your visit with a tasty cocktail and the fresh tuna nachos, but leave room for dessert (the blueberry pie is remarkable).
Fat Point Brewing
When you need a break from the heat, we recommend a visit to Fat Point Brewing for local craft beer in a cool industrial space. The taproom features a nice selection of IPAs, ales, lagers, and stouts brewed by Fat Point and other regional brewers. Order a flight or two so you can sample a range of flavors.
For more Florida Gulf Coast places to drink see Fun US Gulf Coast Bars, Breweries, and Beverage Spots.
Another good option for beer lovers is The Belgian Monk in downtown Punta Gorda. The line-up is mostly Belgian with a few local beers in the mix. The pub menu features a collection of traditional Belgian specialties including a tasty Classic Belgian Kebap.
Special Events in Punta Gorda FL
Punta Gorda makes the most of its year-round good weather, hosting popular annual events for every taste. We enjoyed two nights of soul, rock, funk and fun at Funk Fest Punta Gorda, celebrating its 10th year in 2019 as one of the premier US Gulf Coast events. The musical line-up is top notch, and the downtown location is convenient to Punta Gorda hotels and restaurants. Other annual festivals highlight crafts, culture, food, and more. We have got our eye on a return visit for the Key Lime Festival at Fishermen’s Village.
After Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to visit southwest Florida, to see all the tropical holiday decorations.
More Places to Visit in Punta Gorda
A single weekend is not enough time to explore all of the fun things to do in Punta Gorda FL. On future trips, we hope to explore these additional attractions around Charlotte Harbor.
- Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
- Muscle Car City Museum
- Cape Haze Pioneer Trail biking
- Boca Grande Bike Trail
- Blueway Trails kayaking
- Alligator Creek Preserve at the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center
Find more information about the Punta Gorda area on the Punta Gorda Englewood Beach VCB website. Punta Gorda is located on Charlotte Harbor, about 100 miles south of Tampa, 24 miles north of Fort Myers, and 65 miles north of Naples. Allegiant Airlines offers non-stop flights between 40 cities and the Punta Gorda Airport. The drive between Orlando airport and Punta Gorda is about 2 1/2 hours.
Day Trips From Punta Gorda
There are countless day trips close by when you are ready to explore more quaint US Gulf Coast towns and beautiful Florida Gulf Coast beaches. Sarasota, Naples, Captiva Island, and Anna Maria Island are easy day trips from Punta Gorda. Plan your Southwest Florida US Gulf Coast getaways with our guides:
- 8 Great Places To Eat in Naples Florida
- Cool Things to Do in Anna Maria Island Florida
- Fun Things to Do in Fort Myers Beach on a Southwest Florida Vacation
- South Seas Island Resort: Relaxed Luxury Getaway on Captiva Island
- 15 Cool Things to Do in Sarasota Florida
Article by Julie McCool, whose Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic region.