Discover the captivating old-world charm of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, nestled along Florida’s stunning Gulf Coast. This hidden gem offers a truly unique island experience and it will leave you enchanted. From its 7 miles of pristine beaches to the charming town of Boca Grande, it’s a haven of natural beauty and tranquility. Breathtaking sunsets paint the sky, gentle waves lap the shore while dolphins play out in the gulf waters. Whether you seek relaxation, adventure, or a taste of local culture, Gasparilla Island has it all. Explore the rich railroad history, indulge in delectable coastal cuisine, and embark on unforgettable outdoor activities. Come and experience the magic of this enchanting island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Gasparilla Island Statistics
An island on the Floridian Gulf Coast roughly halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers.
Beaches, Wildlife, Outdoor Activities and Dining.
Visit between October and March to avoid the humid and hot summer months.
The average yearly population of Boca Grande is only 1130, tripling during Jan - April.
No gas stations, traffic lights or chain restaurants but plenty of natural beauty and old world charm.
Home to Osprey, Pelicans, Dolphins, Tarpon, Iguana and many more...
The Calusa Indians, well known as fishermen, were the first inhabitants of Gasparilla Island back in 800 AD/CE. By the 1870s several fishing ranches started operating in the area run by Spanish and Cuban fishermen. Boca Grande also became known as a mecca for sport fishing. When phosphate became popularised as a farm fertiliser in the mid-19th century, Boca Grande’s deep water location became important for loading tug boats heading to Charlotte Harbour. By 1912 the island flourished and had a railroad, ferry, an Inn and even a golf course and then wealthy winter ‘beachfronters’ started to move in. However in 1958 when the bridge opened, the economy and community declined and the car ferry, train school and even lighthouse sadly closed down. Gasparilla Island is resilient, so from the late 1970’s, beach-loving second homeowners gave the island a new lease of life.
$6 to be a millionaire for a day
It’s only a $6 car fee to cross the Boca Grade Causeway bridge and it’s worth every cent. When you cross the causeway, look out for the old railroad on your left. To your right, you will see several picturesque islands like Little Gasparilla Island that are now only accessible by boat. Stop at North Village on your left and hire a golf cart at Kappy’s Island Shoppe to get a true Boca Grande day trip experience. Then, drive a few pretty miles along a purpose-built and mangrove-lined golf cart and bike lane into the historic district of Boca Grande.
Downtown Boca Grande
Downtown Boca Grande has a nostalgic and relaxed feel. Quiet streets are lined with pretty, picture postcard houses with immaculate and manicured gardens and white picket fences. Dotted around the town are historic buildings telling of a bye-gone era of a prosperous railroad community. There are scenic bike and golf cart lanes and tiny parks like The Sam Murphy Park, all tended with love and care
The island offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Florida. The sand is white and powdery and there are huge varieties of shells and even prehistoric shark teeth to go hunting for (TIP – they are small and jet black!) Keep an eye on the flags at the state park areas to keep you alert to any danger to swimmers. There are options for renting paddle boards, kayaks and boats or maybe head out on a fishing trip! Choose from public beaches with restrooms, showers and parking to smaller, quieter sections “off the beaten path” – there’s something for everyone.
One of my personal highlights of Gasparilla Island is Banyan Street – it’s totally captivating. The trees were planted in 1915 by the original builder of The Gasparilla Inn. Over the years, the banyan trees have intertwined and formed a beautiful canopy over the street. The huge gnarly roots and trunks are like something from a movie and this is a fantastic spot to take some memorable family photos.
Eat and Drink
It’s not a trip to Boca Grande without an ice cream at the Pink Pony. Choose from exciting and iconic flavours including Hurricane Charley or Gator Trail (chocolate, peanut butter, pretzel peices, YUM). The Temptation has been a popular restaurant for decades and Miller’s Dockside is a great choice for lunch. One of my favourite eateries is currently closed for refurbishment post hurricane Ian but hopefully, you’ll soon be able to enjoy a seafood strudel and rum runner at the South Beach Bar & Grille!
The Boca Beacon’s Visitor’s Guide
Pick up a FREE visitor guide produced by towns weekly newspaper, the Boca Beacon. It’s full of useful information for locals and visitors alike. You’ll even find spotters guides including some for fish, marine life, shells, plants, birds and reptiles.
Want more information on Boca Grande? You can download the Boca Grand mobile app now too!
Tick off these Island classics on your trip to Gasparilla Island. There are the two iconic lighthouses – Port Boca Grande and the Range Light which are a lovely 40 minute beach walk apart. There’s the Lighthouse Museum, Fugates department store and Hudson’s Grocery. Whidden’s Marina is a one of a kind – and the Pink Pony Ice cream shop is legendary. You have to walk down Banyan Street and take a golf cart along the length of the island. Stop by the beautiful Gasparilla Inn and you’ll be stepping into the same hotel frequented by US legends, J P Morgan, Henry Ford and even President Bush.
Nature at its best
Gasparilla Island is home to some very special creatures. There are massive osprey with a wingspan averaging 180cm. You’ll spot plenty of pelican and anhinga birds that you might see swimming with their elegant necks exposed. Watch out for Iguanas and on occasion an alligator or two. It’s a beautifully green island with palms, mangroves, railroad vines and sea oats lining the shore. If you look out to sea, you are likely to see dolphins at play. A beautiful island full of nature ready to be explored!
My top 10 things to do on the island:
1. Visit the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum
2. Set up your beach chairs on your own patch of beach paradise
3. Go seashell and shark teeth scavenger hunting
4. Have the ultimate ice cream at the Pink Pony
5. Stroll around the shops and eateries downtown
6. Enjoy a beach sunset
7. Explore the island by golf buggy
8. Take a selfie or family photos on Banyan street
9. Drop a penny in the Sam Murphy Park fountain
10. Up for a challenge? walk the length of the island!
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande with my family for over 15 years. It’s a wonderful place that simply feels like coming home. Elegant yet laid back, it’s full of natural beauty and old-world charm. Gasparilla Island has to be one of the hidden gems in the USA.