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Take the Tour de Charlotte

Take the Tour de Charlotte

By Brian Gleason, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

We all know about the golf, boating and fishing that make our area so popular, but there’s so much more to explore, I wanted to take this chance to put as many as possible in one place. Call it Tour de Charlotte. And if you’re a yearrounder, now’s as good a time as any to get out and remind yourself why this is such a great place to live.

Ecotourism is huge, and Charlotte is unparalleled in its offerings. Babcock Wilderness Adventures (941-637-4611) is a fantastic chance to travel in a swamp buggy through the Telegraph Cypress Swamp. Tippecanoe Scrub off State Road 776, behind the Charlotte Sports Park, has hiking paths through pine flatwoods and is excellent for bird watching. Hathaway Park off Washington Loop, east of Punta Gorda, has a boat launch and fishing dock, offering superb views of Shell Creek along with hiking paths.

There are plenty of ways to get on and in the water. Capt. Marian Schneider’s Grande Tours (941-697-8825) in Placida offers kayak and canoe rentals right on Coral Creek, a quick paddle from Lemon Bay and points beyond. Grande Tours also offers a ferry ride to Don Pedro Island, a state park great for sunning, picnicking and hiking. King Fisher Fleet (941-639-0969) at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda offers sightseeing and fishing charters, ranging from back-bay to deep-sea excursions.

If you yearn for sand between your toes, Stump Pass Beach on Manasota Key is the place. If shells are your quarry, you’ll want to walk to the pass, where the shelling is world-class. Cayo Costa, a stateowned barrier island accessible by private boat or ferry, offers prime sand-dollar picking. You can rent a boat at historic Whidden’s Marina (941-964-2878) in Boca Grande or take the Tropic Star ferry (941-964-2878) from Pine Island.

All that hiking, paddling and sun will make you hungry and the choices are endless. Punta Gorda’s Restaurant Row along Marion Avenue is gaining a well-deserved reputation as a go-to destination. River City Grill (941-639-9080) and The Turtle Club (941-637-9477) are top-notch. Down the street, The Celtic Ray Public House (941-505-9219) offers authentic Irish fare in a warm and welcoming Irish setting.

Put your keys away for the night and take the Olde Town Trolley (941-505-9386) for a Friday night Mystery Pub Crawl, complete with DJ and three stops at area watering holes. If you want a dining room with a view, try the Gulf View Grill (941-475-3500) across from Englewood Beach, the South Beach Bar & Grille (941-964-0765) on Gasparilla or Smuggler’s (941-637-1177) at Fishermen’s Village where you can choose from a casual menu in an open-air setting at Harpoon Harry’s or fine dining upstairs at the Captain’s Table. Looking for laughs? Visani’s (941-625-2844) on Kings Highway in Port Charlotte is a new and wildly popular night spot, featuring the Comedy Zone.

Remember, the sunsets are free. For folks staying in Port Charlotte and the city, few spots rival Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda for accessibility. A new boardwalk takes you through the mangrove swamp where you can watch fiddler crabs scurry for cover and welcome the boaters back from a day’s cruise. All this and your gas gauge will barely move.

BRIAN GLEASON gleason@sun-herald.com

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