Last month I joined a couple of girlfriends for some much-needed beach time and to celebrate a birthday. The birthday girl made her choice for our weeklong fun in the sun – Gasparilla Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast south of Sarasota and just north of Fort Myers. When I mentioned our destination to several lifelong Floridians, many replied, “Where’s that?!”
Our days were mostly filled walking the incredibly quiet beach, basking under the warm sun and cooling off in the water, but we did venture out in our rented golf cart, too.
From our island time, here are 5 fun things to do on Gasparilla Island.
Search for sea shells…and sharks’ teeth
One of my friends was into searching for sea shells when we walked the beach, and the shoreline of Gasparilla Island is certainly a terrific place to do just that. Not only are there loads of shells deposited by the Gulf, but there aren’t many people on the beach to collect them, so she had her choice of perfectly formed shells in the colors she’d chosen to collect, from shades of pinks to yellows to blacks.
While she was searching for sea shells, I searched for sharks’ teeth. Unbeknownst to many visitors, Florida’s beaches are terrific places to find fossilized sharks’ teeth that wash up on the sand just like sea shells. It takes a trained eye, but once you’ve found your first, you’re hooked!
Browse boutiques in Boca Grande
The village of Boca Grande essentially sits in the middle of Gasparilla Island, and its Park Avenue is lined with boutiques to pop into for beach coverups, fishing apparel, or souvenirs. Hudson’s Grocery is the only market on the island for any last-minute or forgotten items, or if you have a craving that just needs to be satiated. Next door to Hudson’s is the Pink Pony which serves scoops of ice cream through its walk-up window. (The coffee crunch is perfect!)
Many of the boutiques connect to their neighbors, and it’s fun to browse through from one to the next to see what may catch your eye. My mind started to wander as I glimpsed listings for island homes for sale in the windows of realtor storefronts… it’s nice to dream!
Stroll through The Gasparilla Inn
Built in 1913, The Gasparilla Inn sits in the middle of the island, between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Charlotte Harbor to the east. The inn is a terrific step back into history, and its decor surely inspires guests to redecorate their own homes when they return from a stay. To celebrate my friend’s birthday, we enjoyed cocktails in BZ’s, a lounge with drink service; we then had dinner in the Main Dining Room. Though we didn’t stay at the inn, it was fun to pretend for a few hours.
Day trip to Cayo Costa State Park
Though we could see the north end of Cayo Costa State Park from the south end of Gasparilla Island, we jumped into the car and headed south to catch a ferry to the park, which is accessible only by boat. After an hour’s boat ride, we arrived to the park and claimed our stake on the sand. Mostly uninhabited, Cayo Costa boasts 9 miles of uncrowded beaches and even more sea shells and sharks’ teeth to find. If we were looking for a deserted island, we definitely found it on Cayo Costa. We saw campers, and I can only imagine what it would be like to stay overnight with no lights and what must be an amazing dark sky.
On our ride back to the mainland, our captain took us into a small inlet where we spotted manatees, and afterwards, when we picked up speed, dolphin played in our wake. An incredible end to an amazing day.
Celebrate every sunset
Wherever you find yourself on Florida’s Gulf Coast, you’re sure to see a stunning sunset. We made it a point to get to the beach across from our rental house for as many sunsets as we could catch, and we weren’t disappointed. One evening, we decided order take out from a beachside restaurant and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As we waited on our to-go order, we joined a growing crowd to watch the sun to dip into the ocean, bidding its farewell with ribbons of colors floating through the air.
These are just a handful of ways to spend time on Gasparilla Island. Do you have ideas to share on how to spend time on the island?