Dr. Beach Visited Don Pedro-Knight-Palm Island and Little Gasparilla Island in Florida. What Did He Think?

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Dr. Beach Assesses a Knight Island Beach by Palm Island Resort, Fla.

Dr. Beach Assesses a Knight Island Beach by Palm Island Resort, Fla.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman who is recognized as “Dr. Beach,” the man responsible for the annual Top 10 Best Beaches in America list and recognized as America’s foremost beach expert. He mixed business with pleasure on Don Pedro Island and assessed the beaches of Knight, Don Pedro, Don Pedro Island State Park and Little Gasparilla Island located in Charlotte County in Southwest Florida.

Despite an incredible rain on Friday afternoon, Mother Nature orchestrated a perfect weekend with warm temperatures, low humidity and just enough sunshine to highlight bright beaches and shimmering water. Not living by the water, I had forgotten how gorgeous vacationing on a Florida island is.

Results Are In, Dr. Beach Thinks…

One of Several Gopher Tortoise Crossing Signs on Don Pedro Island, Fla.

One of Several Gopher Tortoise Crossing Signs on Don Pedro Island, Fla.

Dr. Beach considers 650 major recreational beaches for his annual Top 10 Best Beaches in America list and visits about 100 annually. Friends throughout the country keep him posted on the other 550 or so beaches he’s unable to visit in a year.

Since Knight, Don Pedro, Don Pedro Island State Park and Little Gasparilla Island are only accessible by boat, it’s not considered a major recreational beach, which is why he hasn’t previously visited. Due to limited accessibility and lack of amenities (i.e. lifeguards and restrooms), Dr. Beach was honest and said,

The story is, you won’t be in the top 10 because you don’t have the big public access but I don’t think that’s bad.  I don’t think you probably want it to be honest with you wouldn’t want the crowds coming over. You really wouldn’t.

He also said areas listed in the top 10 usually see an increase in tourism of between 15 and 20 percent. Having a top 10 beach would definitely boost the economy but the infrastructure probably can’t sustain it right now so not being listed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially since he continued to say he,

What you have here is very special. There’s not a lot of places I find like this…this is a special thing you’ve got…you’re trying to preserve nature you’re doing a superb job.

and

I hope you don’t pave any more roads because I like the golf carts…don’t put up any more telephone poles, keep your utilities underground. Those are things I commend you.

As for ratings, he didn’t add up the rating sheets but did say,

You have really nice sand, I would give it a 3.5 to 4, probably 3.5 and that’s good.

Pretty Red Tent on Little Gasparilla Island, Fla.

Pretty Red Tent on Little Gasparilla Island, Fla.

So Where Exactly Was Dr. Beach?
I’ve learned over the past couple of days when telling people where I was, they have no idea where the destination is. Don Pedro-Knight-Palm Island is a string of barrier islands Gulf of Mexico in Charlotte County in Southwest Florida. They’re near Placida, Cape Haze and Englewood, Fla., directly north of Gasparilla Island (Boca Grande). Maybe this map will help with geography:


View Don Pedro Island in a larger map

Over time, Mother Nature has fused Don Pedro and Knight Islands which are only accessible either by private boat or car ferry. (Which is currently $55 roundtrip per car and $6 round-trip for those walking on.) Palm Island Resort is located on the north end of Knight Island so people commonly refer to the area as Palm Island.  Little Gasparilla Island is only accessible by private boat and water taxi.

Rental homes are available on Don Pedro and Little Gasparilla Island and Palm Island Resort has villas for rent on Knight Island.

Homes on Don Pedro Island, Fla.

Homes on Don Pedro Island, Fla.

The beaches are fabulous, not crowded and provide excellent shelling and fossilized shark’s tooth collecting but other than Don Pedro Island State Park, it’s limited in public facilities. Once you get out there and if not staying in the resort, rental home (I stayed in one compliments of Islander Properties) or visiting the park, you need to be self-sufficient. Meaning, if you have to “go” the Gulf will have to serve as your throne.

Palm Island Resort has a delicious eatery serving lunch and dinner called Rum Bay Restaurant which is open to anyone visiting the island and is also accessible by water taxi. They served us several delicious meals including a lobster feast for lunch one day. Ironically, they are recognized for their ribs and two people in my group tried them and gave them two saucy thumbs up.

Delish Ribs Served Up at Rum Bay Restaurant, Palm Island Resort, Fla.

Delish Ribs Served Up at Rum Bay Restaurant, Palm Island Resort, Fla.

If seeking an island getaway to decompress, one of these islands will definitely fit the bill.

Be sure to read David McRee’s (aka: The Beach Hunter) blog post, “Don Pedro Island: Back to the Good Old Days” for another view about the destination and his post, “Dr. Beach Rates Charlotte County Beaches.”

The Rental Home Agency I Stayed With:
Islander Properties
Tel: (941) 697-2000
www.IslanderProperties.com

The Resort Where Rum Bay Restaurant is Located:
Palm Island Resort
Tel: 1-800-824-5412
www.PalmIsland.com

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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