Punta Gorda, Florida
A Sleepy Fishing Town Awoke by a Hurricane
Punta Gorda, Florida is located in southwest Florida on the south banks of the Peace River as it flows into Charlotte Harbor. Just 30 miles south is Ft. Myers and Sarasota lies about 50 miles north along the Gulf of Mexico.
We first started visiting Punta Gorda in the 1980’s. When Harpoon Harry’s, a waterfront restaurant built over the river, opened in the early 90’s, Punta Gorda became a regular stop as we headed for south Florida and the Keys. The sleepy little village was a pleasant reprise from the commercial development in other waterfront communities along Florida’s west coast.
Then, the unthinkable and unlikely! A category 4 hurricane waded through the town of Punta Gorda in a direct hit. Hurricane Charley was the first major tropical system to hit Florida since 1992 and the first direct hit to southwest Florida since 1960. This devastating storm had caused so much damage that estimates published at the time said 80% of the homes had major damage and many were totally destroyed. We thought, at first, Punta Gorda and the Charlotte County area might never recover. We were thankfully wrong.
With new building regulations created, federal government assistance and many strong wills, Punta Gorda has a vitality and ongoing economic growth that may never have surfaced without the winds and water from Charley.
New hotels, a conference center, re-built and restored downtown buildings, new emphasis on historical preservation and a fresh new look have brought new residents and new thriving businesses. On a recent fishing trip based out of Punta Gorda I was amazed to see the places like T.T.’s Tiki Bar, Hurricane Charley’s, Laishley Seafood and the whole Laishley Marina basin crowded with customers, even at the end of a pandemic.
The city of Punta Gorda built a Harborwalk bordering the Laishley Marina, running underneath the Tamiami Trail (Rt.41) and continuing along the waterfront past the Conference Center and ending at Fisherman’s Village a total of almost 2.5 miles. This impressive waterfront walkway has become the heart of the city and representative of it’s renaissance.
While fishing, sailing and boating combine to be the clear leisure activity, those sports also represent a significant economic impact for Punta Gorda. Fishing charter captains take dozens of parties backcountry fishing in the harbor and tarpon fishing a few miles away in Boca Grande Pass. Marinas, boat venders and maintenance support businesses flourish in a community with an active waterway.
For years Fishermen’s Village was the town’s main attraction for shopping, eating and entertainment. Today, the complex features over 30 shops, numerous new restaurants and an expanded marina. Punta Gorda’s main attraction has modernized, grown and continued to be a relevant center of attraction for tourists and residents. Fishermen’s Village is a must see for the first time traveler.
There is plenty to do in Punta Gorda even if boating is not part of your plans. History Park in the middle of the city is a nine acre effort to preserve some of the historic homes of the area. This walking park focuses on the beauty of nature in an historic setting.
A few blocks away from Fisherman’s Village is the Visual Arts Center. Local artists display their work and the vast gallery offers a wide array of opportunities to purchase all forms of art.
Still, even with all the new building, refurbished downtown, growth in all directions, watersports are the number one activity. Punta Gorda is located at the northern end of Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the bay about 15 miles downstream. Just a couple miles from Punta Gorda and the numerous marinas is one of the best inshore fisheries in the state.
The Charlotte Harbor State Preserve has dozens of small islands, inlets and mangrove protected shores. Snook, redfish and trout fishing is spectacular!
About 15 miles southwest of Punta Gorda is Boca Grande Pass. This deep-water pass is known worldwide for the tarpon fishing in late spring and early summer. Few passes leading to the Gulf of Mexico offer up to 80 feet of depth offering fish a perfect feeding ground.
Charter boats are available in almost every marina around Punta Gorda. You fish, sightsee, sail or take a boat over to Cabbage Key for their well known “cheeseburger in paradise” at The Cabbage Key Inn.
If you want to spend the night in Punta Gorda, the Five Points Hotel by Sheraton is clean and waterfront with TT’s Tiki Bar on the property.
Day trip, weekend or lunch stop, we like what has happened to Punta Gorda since Hurricane Charley!