Sometimes even the locals living in Florida need to get away from their day in- day out life. For many, the thought of hitting a ‘tourist destination’ is the last thing on their mind. Crowds, traffic, chain restaurants … that’s not the get away they long for. When locals want to leave it all behind, they head for the true treasures of the Sunshine State, places like Little Gasparilla Island.
What You’ll find
Little Gasparilla is a barrier island located in Southwest Florida. This thin strip of land lies just north of Gasparilla Island, home to the town of Boca Grande, famous as a favorite fishing spot of a former U.S. president. While Boca Grande is accessible by car over a narrow bridge, travel to Little Gasparilla requires use of a private boat or ferry that work out of Placida Harbor.
On this skinny spit of land, you won’t find any tourist traps. Traffic is truly non-existent as there are no roads and therefore, no cars. A narrow path barely wide enough for a golf cart and ironically named Grand Avenue, snakes from one end of the island to other. More often than not, the only one using this ‘thoroughfare’ is you. The southern end of the the trail ends a good walk away from the end of the island itself and as you hit the beach and continue south, you’ll find Gasparilla Pass. At the north end of Grand Avenue lies a cluster of private homes and beyond that, a thin strip of beach and mangrove swamp by which Little Gasparilla is connected to Don Pedro Island. It’s possible to walk from one island to the next, depending on the tides.
There’s only one restaurant in this quiet, tropical paradise, and it’s connected to a small general store. A beautiful though tiny nondenominational white chapel sits in the center of the community and locals often refer to it when giving directions to their homes.
The Front Side
To the west lies the beach, seven miles of pristine white sand that stretch in a north/south orientation creating an ideal hunting ground for shells and fossils including shark teeth. Given that the island is only accessible by boat, it’s not unusual to find the beach void of people and thus it becomes a ‘private’ haven for you. Relax, sunbathe, read a book, fish for snook or Spanish mackerel when they’re running the beach. Stroll the water line and take in the wildlife. Join the locals as they gather in small groups in the evenings to witness the most magnificent sunsets in the world.
The Back Side
On the east side is a mangrove shoreline with many piers jutting into the quite waters of Placida Harbor. They’re a great place to fish from. These waters hold a lot of inshore fish and receive relatively little fishing pressure. They’re a great place to kayak, but avoid the southern tip as tidal currents can get strong there.
Real Island Time
If privacy and seclusion is what your ideal vacation centers around, Little Gasparilla is the destination for you. Surrounded by the sounds of nature, you’ll experience Old Florida, the way it used to be before high rise condos, expressways and big boxed stores. On Little Gasparilla, you’ll unwind and find yourself relaxing like the the locals in true island time style.
Things to Do
In addition to the 7 miles of pristine white sandy beaches to stroll or jog, you’ll find:
- bird watching including bald eagles, great white herons, egret, rare white pelicans, osprey and numerous
- small shorebirds
- nature walks
- balmy tropical breezes
- an abundance of shells and sand dollars as well as fossilized shark teeth and mammal bones
- dramatic sunsets
- snook and tarpon fishing and schools of dolphin
- long lazy days of brilliant blue skies and warm waves
Little Gasparilla Island is located midway between Sarasota and Ft. Myers. It’s about an 1 hour drive from the Sarasota Airport, roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes from Ft. Myers and 2 hours south of Tampa International. Travel to the island is by private boat or ferry.
Take I-75 to Exit 191 (River Road). Take River Road South, cross 41 and continue to Winchester. Turn left on Winchester and continue to 776 (McCall Road). Turn left onto McCall Road and continue until you reach Gasparilla Road. Take Gasparilla Road (771) south for 7 miles to the Boca Grande Causeway. Eldred’s Marina is right before the toll bridge on the Causeway. Continue on 771 for Gasparilla Marina.
From Ft. Myers:
Take I-75 north until you reach Exit 170. Exit to the left at the first light, then turn right onto Veteran’s Boulevard. Continue on Veteran’s for several miles until you reach Route 41. CROSS 41 is no longer in use, and the road is now known as 776. Continue on 776, passing through El Jobean, crossing the Myakka River Bridge, and turning left on 771. (Gasparilla Road). Gasparilla Marina will be about 7 miles on your left. Continue on 771 to the Boca Grande Causeway and turn left for Eldred’s Marina.