Chill out on Gasparilla
Gasparilla Island, one of a string of barrier islands along the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, is located between Fort Myers and Tampa.
The island is named after the legendary Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, who is said to have plundered the surrounding waters in the 18th century.
Gasparilla is an upmarket destination that has been attracting the affluent and influential for almost a century, either for short break stays or as second home owners.
It has stunning beaches, great fishing and shelling and bike or golf buggy is the preferred way to get around the island.
The temperature, at 78 degrees, is near perfect and there is many a spectacular sunset to enjoy whilst sipping a margarita.
This is not the liveliest of places
The first thing to say about Gasparilla is that this is not the liveliest place you’ll find in Florida, but it is one of the most charming. The weather is balmy, the beaches golden and the pelicans entertaining. Watching them skim across the waves or fall suddenly from the sky when they spot a sea snack is mesmerising.
As the centre of activity, Boca Grande, has a very pleasant mid-50s small town American feel.
Rush hour here is two golf buggies arriving at a stop sign together.
Things tend to get even quieter at night. But then that’s the joy of this small island, the ‘away-from-it-all-ness’.
When to go
Timing is all important when visiting Gasparilla Island,
We went during the first week of December, the islands ‘shoulder’ season (which runs from after Thanksgiving in November, to mid-December) and it was great.
The weather was wonderful and the prices very reasonable. A couple of weeks later and it is filled with visitors from all over the States flocking in for the holidays.
Then, after a brief lull, the high social, season kicks in and lasts right through to mid-May. Everything tends to shut down on the island after 4 July through to mid-October. It’s just too hot.
A place to stay: The Gasparilla Inn and Club
The Inn has been a Florida institution since it first began welcoming the wealthy back in 1913.
For a full history on the Inn’s website, which makes for fascinating reading visit:
Walking up and through the grand columned entrance to the Inn, the visitor can’t help but think of the many thousands of wealthy and influential guests who have gone before.
Those include Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Katharine Hepburn and President George H.W. Bush.
Old Florida Charm
There have been continual improvements and refurbishment over the years, but the Inn has always maintained its ambience and old Florida charm.
The Inn has a large lounge area, smaller sitting rooms and the grand Pelican Club room which are all very glamorous and tastefully furnished.
Fine dining at the Inn
Dining itself is in the elegant Main Dining Room, which is decorated in a Florida heritage style and serves a range of mouthwatering signature meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.
The Pink Elephant
The Pink Elephant, a short stroll away, offers more casual and al fresco dining.
The Gasparilla Inn’s guest accommodation includes suites and luxury rooms within the Inn itself.
There are also surrounding cottages and the family size Sharp Houses.
The Inn also offers an 18 hole, Pete Dye designed, championship golf course, three international calibre croquet lawns, seven Har-Tru tennis courts and its own marina.
And then there’s the beach club, which has a fitness room, spa, pools, bar and daytime restaurant.
But most of all it has a sand terrace overlooking the beach and those crystal blue Gulf waters and diving Pelicans.
While on Gasparilla
Cycle to the lighthouse
Take a leisurely cycle to the Boca Grande lighthouse, which is on the southern end of the island, which is a six mile round trip.
The beach around here is the best on the island with stunning views across to the Le Costa Island nature reserve.
Gasparilla Island is one of the best places to shell in Florida.
Beachcombers, that means almost everyone, will enjoy looking for and finding shells to take home.
The best time to look is during the low tide.
This area of Florida is known for its fine fishing and provides one of the world’s best tarpon fishing ‘holes’
The tarpon gather and spawn out of passes along most of the entire rim of the Gulf of Mexico, although why they are attracted to Boca Grande Pass is unclear, though subject to many theories.
Have a happy hour or two at Miller’s Dockside
From 4pm to 6pm join the locals for happy hour at the bar of the Eagle at Millers Dockside.
And watch the birds – they’re everywhere