Over the years, Charlotte County has become famous for its fishing, beaches, water sports and environmental preservation, and certainly Charlotte Harbor, the Peace River and the Gulf of Mexico have done much to create this international recognition. But at the same time, Englewood and Cape Haze contribute more than their share to this well-deserved reputation.
For the savvy traveler, the peaceful backwaters of Lemon Bay, the wild and undeveloped Myakka River and the dozens of smaller waterways crisscrossing the Cape Haze Peninsula offer a satisfying alternative to the typical beachfront community found elsewhere. For the traveler who enjoys life off the beaten track, the Englewood and Cape Haze area may have just what you are looking for.
Englewood offers the charm and simplicity of a fishing village that's grown into a haven for a thriving community of artists and musicians. Dearborn Street in Olde Englewood Village opens its doors on the second Saturday of every month for an evening of music, art, food and leisurely strolling among the art galleries, quirky shops and sidewalk cafes.
Scattered throughout Englewood, tropical tiki bars and local eateries offer the best in local seafood. Fishing both offshore and backwater is still a popular pastime, along with golfing at the many well-manicured courses, bicycling on the growing miles of bike trails, shelling and jetskiing on Manasota Key, or just kicking back to watch one more glorious sunset over the gulf.
Back to nature
Englewood also boasts one of the most recently developed parks in Charlotte County, Oyster Creek Regional Park, a sanctuary of old growth pines, scrub habitat and mature pine flatwoods along Oyster Creek. New facilities at the park include basketball courts, football and soccer fields, nature and walking trails, picnic shelters, a skate park, swimming pool, tennis courts and a dog park.
Port Charlotte and the adjoining area known as Murdock are the most heavily populated areas of the county. With Tamiami Trail running through its core, Port Charlotte is home to several shopping malls, featuring all of the major national retailers and dozens of restaurants.
Surrounding all of this hustle and bustle is a vast sprawling residential community that covers almost half of the county. To the east and north, neighborhoods give way to farms and vast rural stretches, while to the west, neat residential plots surrender themselves to the lowlands that grace the edge of the swampy environmentally rich coastline. To the south is Charlotte Harbor and there visitors will discover a significant boating community dotted with power craft and sailboats, all poised and ready for a day on the Gulf of Mexico. Lakes, ponds and streams provide another type of water sport and an entirely different style of fishing.
Rotunda, Englewood & Cape Haze
Rumor has it that the community known as Rotunda West is visible from space. While that is highly unlikely, it is true that this unique planned community has the appearance of a giant crop circle from the air and it is this unusual configuration that has, no doubt, created the legend. Within the "crop circle" of Rotonda West, visitors will find several challenging golf courses, as well as a segment of the 7,400-acre Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
Rotonda is surrounded to the north by Englewood, a well-developed community which includes a significant part of Charlotte County's 830 miles of shoreline, much of which is located along Lemon Bay. Beyond the bay is the Gulf Coast community of Englewood Beach, and then to the east are the banks of the Myakka River.
To the north is the Myakka State Forest, which covers more than 8,500 pristine acres, with the Myakka River running through its northern region. Recreational activities include camping, hiking, off-road bicycling, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The streams in the forest provide an excellent opportunity for fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking. In addition, the forest has two hiking trails, as well as horse trails throughout. The forest also allows camping and provides designated "wilderness" campsites in several locations. For more information on Myakka Forest activities, call (941) 460-1333.
On the edge of Lemon Bay is a beautiful 115-acre eco-recreational area known as Cedar Point Environmental Park. Visitors here have spotted nesting bald eagles, bobcats, owls, hundreds of varieties of indigenous birds and water fowl, as well as the endangered gopher tortoise. For more information on the Cedar Point Environmental Park and the guided tours, visitors may call 941-475-0769.
At the southwest edge of this area lies the Cape Haze Peninsula. Legend has it that Caribbean pirates once used the series of tiny islands and backwater creeks to stash their loot. Of course, the area was well visited and loosely settled by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, until they were chased off by the Calusa Indians who had called the region home since the dawn of time. Many of the area's homes and roads are built on shell mounds created by these native Floridians over hundreds of years. In the 1800s, legend has it that the pirates Jose Gaspar and Jean Lafitte stole the money paid for the Louisiana Purchase and buried it some place on Coral Creek, near Placida. It is said that Robert E. Lee visited the area in 1848, before the Civil War, in an effort to find where the loot was stashed.
Over the years, Charlotte County has become famous for its water sports, fishing and environmental preservation, and certainly Charlotte Harbor, the Peace River and the Gulf of Mexico have done much to create this international recognition. But at the same time, Cape Haze and Englewood contribute more than their share to this well-deserved reputation. For the savvy traveler, the peaceful backwaters of Lemon Bay, the wild and undeveloped Myakka River and the dozens of smaller waterways that crisscross the Cape Haze Peninsula offer a satisfying alternative to the typical beachfront community found elsewhere. For the traveler who enjoys life off the beaten track, Cape Haze and the surrounding area may have just what they are looking for. Enjoy!
Placida and El Jobean
Placida is a tiny fishing village, little more than a series of boat yards, marinas, seafood restaurants and meandering backwaters. Without questions, Placida is old Florida. Surrounded by water, man-made structures cling to the shore in a slightly skewed, weather-beaten manner that almost seems staged, but in fact is simply the reality of the place. From the picture window of a local seafood restaurant known simply as "Fishery Restaurant," diners often can see manatees, dolphins, brown pelicans, egrets, great blue heron and dozens of other examples of indigenous Florida species.
The area known as El Jobean is located on the northern bank of the Myakka River. Like the Peace River, which it all but touches as it runs into the open waters of the harbor, the Myakka also offers incredible fishing and boating opportunities. Boaters who head north from El Jobean on the river will eventually find that they have left civilization behind in a world of tiny islands and primitive beauty. Those going south can venture into the Gulf of Mexico with ease.
Boca Grande is located at the southern end of Gasparilla Island and is famous for its pristine public beaches, historic sites, celebrity visitors and world-class fishing. Buildings dating from the 1800s and several other historic sites are scattered throughout the island and can all be visited in a single outing by the ambitious day-tripper. Of course, no trip to the island would be complete without a visit to the Gasparilla Lighthouse, built in 1890, as well as the light keepers house and museum.
Visitors may choose to travel about the island as the locals do and rent a golf cart, which are welcome almost everywhere on the island. Another popular mode of transportation is bicycles and many visitors come to the island to spend the day pedaling along the breathtaking vistas that seem to be at every turn.
The town of Boca Grande itself is a delightful mix of casual restaurants, fine dining establishments, high-end boutiques and curious little shops. Everything is relaxed here and moves at an island pace. This is a place where fishermen mingle with business magnates and retirees and nobody notices or cares.
The barrier islands cover the entire western edge of Charlotte County from Englewood to Boca Grande. Manasota Key is located at the extreme northern end of Charlotte County. Visitors love this island for its upscale relaxed lifestyle and its unspoiled beaches and wildlife preserve. As you first enter Manasota Key, you find the state park and wildlife sanctuary. This beautiful preserve is covered with lush, tropical foliage and is home to hundreds of indigenous species. The park service provides full facilities for the visitor and a wide range of activities are available.
With more than 14 acres of white sand beach and sand dunes, Manasota Beach is well worth a visit. The area features special areas with picnic tables, fire pits, boardwalks and bathhouse facilities. Blind Pass Beach is ideal for swimming and fishing and also has a nature trail for hiking. There is also a public docking area for boats on the Intracoastal Waterway.
In contrast, Englewood Beach located just to the south has the look and feel of a classic beach town. Beach shops, restaurants, gift shops, low-rise condos, plenty of accommodations and every bit of the typically funky lifestyle associated with beach destinations can be found here. If you are looking for something a little bit brash and with more to do at night, this is the place.
Stump Pass Beach State Park is an incredibly beautiful and essentially unspoiled piece of old Florida that might help you understand what the first explorers found when they made landfall in this region. With hiking trails throughout the park, this is a place where you can walk from the Gulf of Mexico to Lemon Bay on the opposite side of the island in primitive luxury. Crystal clear water, natural flora and indigenous wildlife abound in this location and the beaches of Stump Pass are perhaps one of the best places in the entire island chain to collect both sharks teeth and seashells.
Accessible only by boat, Don Pedro Island and Little Gasparilla Island are easily seen from the mainland but purposely remote. Home to the Calusa Indians for thousands of years, the islands were discovered by Ponce de Leon in the 1500s and became home to pirates and smugglers for hundreds of years. Today, the islands can only be reached by private boat. Shorebirds and other indigenous wildlife are present in abundance and this is another incredible spot for shell collectors.
For those interested in pirate lore, the Palm Island Resort on Palm Island has a pirate in residence. The resort, which can only be reached by ferry, is located on a small island just off the coast and features a quaint restaurant complete with a recurring live show from Captain Redbeard.
Another island preserve accessible only by private boat or ferry is Cayo Costa with nine miles of beautiful beaches, rich pine forests and mangrove swamps. Pristine and remote, this barrier island is a slice of primitive paradise. Visitors here are much more likely to see manatees and dolphins in their natural habitat than almost anywhere else in the region. For the bird watcher, this island may represent a lifetime of sightings in a single day. Extensive nature trails provide opportunities for hiking and off-road bicycling. Of course the fishing is great here and anglers can fish from their boats or just throw a line out into the surf. There is also an amphitheater for educational programs about the island's ecology and history. If you would like to stay overnight, the park offers primitive cabins and tent camping.