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Gasparilla Island has many attractions, but most tourists come for the beautiful, pristine, shell-strewn beaches. Approximately an hour’s drive south of Sarasota, Gasparilla Island is one of a string of barrier islands along the southwest Gulf Coast between Fort Myers and Tampa. The island is bordered on the west by the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico, on the east by Charlotte Harbor, on the north by Little Gasparilla Pass and on the south by Boca Grande Pass. It is accessible by toll bridge or boat. Gasparilla Island has one of the richest fishing grounds in Florida and is known as having the best tarpon fishing in the world. In addition to tarpon season in the spring, the waters teem with plentiful other species, such as grouper, snapper, mackerel and kingfish. Recreational boating and sailing are also popular activities on Gasparilla Island, whether on your own or by charter. Seven miles of wide, soft, sugar white sand beaches offer swimming, shelling, relaxing in the sun, surfing and scuba diving. Also, the Gasparilla Island- Boca Grande Trail is the first rail trail built in Florida and runs the entire length of the island and through the town of Boca Grande.

Gasparilla Island is also home to Gasparilla Island State Park. It is situated at the southern end of the island, just south of the town of Boca Grande and is accessible via the Boca Grande Causeway. The centerpiece of the State Park is the restored Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890. Perched atop iron pilings are the lighthouse and the assistant keeper’s building, which make a great subject for photographers. The lighthouse is open 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily from November through April. From May through October, it is open Monday through Friday only. Other recreational activities in the park include swimming, snorkeling, fishing, shelling (especially good during the winter months!) picnicking, hiking and nature watching. Gasparilla Island State Park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.

Boca Grande is a small, charming village located on Gasparilla Island that is a step back to “Old World Florida.” Here, there are no traffic lights or high rises and many residents use golf carts as their main mode of transportation. The name “Boca Grande” is Spanish for “big mouth,” which comes from the mouth of the waterway Boca Grande Pass, which is located at the southern end of the island. For many years, this pass was a busy shipping point. Today, Boca Grande is filled with upscale boutiques, art galleries and fine restaurants. It is a quiet community where, even in the muggy heat of the summer, the cooling westerly breezes provide welcome relief. The town provided the backdrop for the Denzel Washington movie, “Out of Time,” but the village was renamed “Banyan Key,” in reference to the many banyan trees on the island. Many people own second homes on Gasparilla Island, and Boca Grande regularly hosts members of Governor Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush’s family.


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