We recently stayed at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, Florida for their Food and Wine Weekend. While I wrote about that experience extensively, there is much to share about this island, beyond the food and wine festival. It is an island paradise that welcomes sun-seekers, nature lovers, fishermen, golfers, bikers, sea shell enthusiast and just about anyone looking for a place to disappear into the fabric of this 1950’s throwback village.
Gasparilla Island, home to the village of Boca Grande, which is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, was first inhabited by Calusa Indians in 800 or 900 AD. To date, there have been at least nine artifact sites discovered on the island and more than 200 on nearby islands. Settlers (likely Spanish and Cuban) eventually claimed and developed the small island into a port for big game fishing (tarpon) and later for phosphate shipping.
Phosphate was shipped all over the country from this port for more than fifty years, eventually being surpassed by ports in Tampa and other parts of Florida. Left behind in the aftermath of the phosphate industry was a railroad, built in 1907 and the Gasparilla Inn, which was constructed in 1911 along with many other historic structures. Although Boca Grande remained inhabited throughout the 50’s and 60’s its revitalization (into what we have today) began in the 1970’s.
You can learn all of this and more by visiting the Boca Grand Lighthouse and Museum at the south end of the island. It is an easy bike ride from the Gasparilla Inn, or other downtown location.
Today, Boca Grande is accessed by a causeway which was built in the 1950’s. The old railroad track has been converted to a pedestrian walkway and bike path. Many of the original structures have been renovated and preserved and can be visited during a short walk down main street.
While the island serves as a winter retreat for most residents, there are about 1400 full time residents. That in itself is intriguing since there are no gas stations, chain stores or fast food restaurants of any kind on the island. Cars are permitted, but the most practical means of transportation are, walking, bicycle or golf cart.
A visit to the Gasparilla Inn, which is still the crown jewel of Boca Grande is a must. Drop in for lunch and enjoy the ambiance of ‘old Florida’ before taking a leisurely discovery walk through town.
Don’t miss the oldest structure on the island, a 120 year old lighthouse located at the southern tip inside Gasparilla Island State Park.
Wandering down the center of town, following the path of the railroad, while looking for the iconic banyan street and my favorite thrift store, is exactly what we were doing when we found this sweet little church.
The church is not especially unique, but it’s simplicity strikes me as beautiful.
There is a certain piousness in the austerity of this setting. It feels simple and humble. As I studied the building, I was reminded of a church in Darien, Georgia that I am quite fond of. That one is surrounded by Spanish oaks, instead of palm trees. Take a look at it to see the striking similarities. I wonder how many other little gems there must be out there, built in this same time period, (1950’s) just waiting to be discovered.
I cannot leave without giving Norm2.0 Thursday Door followers a close-up of the massive doors that open into this unassuming place of worship.
The interior is just as inviting and is the perfect place to be quiet and surrender the busyness of you mind.
In fact, that can be said about the entire island. There is absolutely nothing assuming or pretentious about this place. Even with an average home price of 1.5M, the term “less is more” still applies.
Location: East Coast of Florida, surrounded by Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico; nearest airport, Ft. Myers, Florida
15 thoughts on “Boca Grande, Florida”
I love the Florida Gulf coast and I love lighthouses so this was a wonderful post to read today! I also enjoyed seeing that you like to travel up to Darien, Georgia. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
Florida has so many historic lighthouses. I always try to include at least one in my “Florida posts.” Darien is a special place. We always drive over there for a seafood lunch on the water when we visit Jekyll Island. And, of course, I have to stop by my favorite church with the beautiful red door. Loved your Blog and look forward to reading more from you. Welcome to Picture Retirement!!
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So beautiful… and that door is lovely.
Janis, it is such a “kick back,” place and that church door was simply “icing” on an already perfect day.
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We almost took a trip to that island and Key West last October and then the hurricane came through. Ended up in Chicago instead… Looks incredible…
Hurricanes do tend to throw a wrench in the best laid plans. I do hope you will try again.It is definitely worth a visit.
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Charming place, ideal for a relaxing long weekend…loved that there are no fast food restaurants and chain stores. Sounds like you had a lovely time?
Gilda, the ambiance of this island is so refreshing. We love that it is “protected” by local government and will never be ruined by commercialization.
Beautiful scenery and that’s one handsome door on a historic church. Sounds like you had a great time while you were taking some nice shots. 🙂
Judy, we had a wonderful time, but unfortunately I did not get the one shot that every Florida East Coaster covets – sunset. Too cloudy. Thanks for stopping by.
You truly had me at ‘Food and Wine’ weekend…but ‘island paradise’, ‘warm weather’, ‘no fast food restaurants’, ‘minimal vehicle traffic’ all combined in a walkable, historic city has caused me to add Boca Grande to my bucket list. Thank you for sharing this.
BTW – Awesome photos!
Awww, thank you. It really is all that and more. Thanks for stopping by.
I agree, sometimes it’s the most simplistic styles that capture the imagination. Your photo with the white washed church and the palm trees against the blue sky is really pretty.
While I don’t enjoy hot temperatures, I wouldn’t mind a bit of warmth up here in cold Maryland!
I am not a fan of overly hot weather either, so summers here are pretty rough. Wearing flip flops and going to the beach in January makes it all worthwhile.
Wow! Boca Grande seems so charming and picturesque, Suzanne! If I ever go there, I’ll make sure to visit the Gasparilla Inn as it seems astonishing! Thanks for bringing this place closer to us. 😉
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