Boca Grande is unique attraction in Lee County
January 13, 2009
A sleepy little island, largely unnoticed by many, lies off the coast of Charlotte County. Known for gorgeous beaches, old-style Florida architecture and as a hide-a-way for the rich and famous, Boca Grande is unique among Lee County attractions.
You can travel there via boat, drive up U.S. 41 or take Interstate 75. Your trip to paradise starts immediately after paying the $4 toll on the Causeway. The aquamarine waters will astound you as you drive across the narrow island passage road between the Gulf of Mexico and the harbor. Travel approximately two miles down the road through Charlotte
County and the first commercial buildings will be located on the left where the Courtyard Complex (housing the Boca Grande Resort, the Chamber of Commerce, the Gasparilla Gazette and several other small businesses) and Gill’s Grocery are your first opportunity to stop to eat, drink and get information. Crossing the Lee County line into the Boca Grande Historic District, a whole new world opens up.
Quaint shops, restaurants and historic markers line the streets, and time backs up to another age. Welcome to old-time Florida. One of the first markers that shows you are entering the Historic District is the Gasparilla Inn and its famous golf course. The Bush family visits Boca Grande almost every year during the Christmas and New Year holidays, virtually taking over the inn. Hardly anyone notices, though, as they come and go doing what everyone else does — golfing, dining out and being pampered at the inn and its world-class beach club and salon. Travel farther down the road into the heart of town and you will find Banyan Street, another famous landmark that visitors never forget. Banyans planted in 1916 tower over each side of the street, shading not only the road but the old Florida homes that line it. Travel even further south, passing beach accesses and the range light known as the Gasparilla Island light, and you will come to the end of the road on the island, marked by the Boca Grande Lighthouse, now known as Port Boca Grande Light. A quaint museum and gift shop can be found within, as well as breathtaking views of the Boca Grande Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, where anglers come from all over the world to fish for tarpon and other large game fish. Both historic structures and the island’s natural history are now the order of the day. The town of Boca Grande is protected by an historic district ordinance, which controls not only new construction but alterations to existing buildings. That is the reason the island has no fast-food restaurants or chain stores. The lone gas station sold out rather than go through the expense of replacing its underground tanks.
Meanwhile, local groups have been collaborating to buy up remaining parcels of undeveloped land and preserve them for public use, and the planting of native species has become an ongoing project.