Happy New Year! As we begin another journey around the sun, I’d like to share with you some suggestions on what you can do in Charlotte County, Fla., in 2019 with this month-by-month listing. From new boat tours to good reads, I hope these suggestions help you enjoy my Southwest Florida backyard. Of course, most of these activities can be enjoyed anytime of the year.
January: Get Revved Up
Charlotte County’s pace may seem a little too chill for some residents and visitors but there are plenty of places to fulfill the need for speed at a family-friendly pace. 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda offers weekly asphalt stock car racing, dirt go-kart racing, and other events during season. With a 3/8-mile track, 4-17 Southern Speedway calls themselves “Southwest Florida’s Fastest short track in the South.” The track is perfect for the die-hard stock car fan and people new to the sport. How did it get its name? It’s the date the owners met! Isn’t that romantic? (8655 Piper Rd., Punta Gorda, Fla. 33982; Tel: (941) 205-8925; www.417southernspeedway.com)
February: Dance to the Funky Music
Charlotte County is home to many quality events including the Punta Gorda Wine & Jazz Festival, Florida International Air Show (featuring the USAF Thunderbirds in 2019), Englewood Beach WaterFest, and the Big Orange Music Festival.
Be sure to put all those events on your calendar but don’t miss Funk Fest because it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary and it’s a whole lotta fun! The two-day funky event takes place in downtown Punta Gorda and the lineup includes Lettuce, Papadosio, Here Come the Mummies, and many more excellent performers who will bring the funk. Save the date and I’ll see you there! (www.funkfestpuntagorda.com)
While you’re in downtown Punta Gorda, whether attending Funk Fest or for another occasion, before you dialup Uber or hail a cab (yes, there are taxis around), look for The Nickel Ride.It’s a free taxi-type service in an electric vehicle. It’s called “Nickel” because it accommodates five passengers. The drivers are terrific and they work for tips. (www.thenickelride.com)
March: Cruise with New Excursions
Charlotte Harbor is Florida’s second-largest estuary and home to a fleet of options for enjoying the water. King Fisher Fleet continues to offer a variety of cruises including its popular sunset cruises and Christmas canal cruises in December. (1190 West Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, Fla. 33950; Tel: 941-639-0969; www.kingfisherfleet.com)
One of the newest charters is Downeast Charters docked at Aquamarina Palm Harbour, next to Leverock’s in Cape Haze. This unique six-passenger, Maine-built lobster boat is available for sunrise, day, and sunset charters, but there’s more! Capt. Jeff Chandonait will ensure there’s an authentic Maine lobster roll served with day and sunset cruises. And, wash it down with Moxie soda. Morning cruises include blueberry pancakes. Yum! A trip with Downeast Charters is a relaxing and memorable experience, especially those homesick for Maine. (7080 Placida Rd, Cape Haze, FL 33946; Tel: (207) 299-8502; www.downeastcharters.com)
Gasparilla Boat Tours first launched in February from Gasparilla Marina and although it is under new ownership, it still offers educational and fun cruises. These include eco and history tours, critter cruises, and sunset trips. The more you and others know about their environment, the more they will take care of it. (15001 Gasparilla Road, Placida, Fla. 33946; Tel: (833) 786-8687; www.gasparillaboattours.com).
Let’s Do Sunset specializes in, well, sunsets! This pontoon boat charter accommodates up to six people and offers leisurely cruises over the waters in and around Cape Haze, Placida, and Englewood. Day cruises are available, too. (7080 Placida Rd., Cape Haze, Fla. 34296; Tel: (941) 786-7381; www.letsdosunset.net)
April: Get to Know Frank for Your Fishing Needs
Boca Grande is the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World and Charlotte County is home to a legendary tackle shop and as it proudly states on its website, “This ain’t no boutique.” Fishin’ Frank’s in Port Charlotte has all your fishing needs for salt and freshwater fishing including live and artificial bait, gear, and a crew who is frequently on the water and knows what’s biting and when. (4425-D Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, Fla. 33980; Tel: (941) 625-3888; www.fishinfranks.com)
Speaking of fishing, check out the TV series Guidelines T.V. hosted by Captains Jeremy Lee and Jay Withers. It debuted the summer of 2018 and takes viewers along on a journey to Florida’s fisheries with an emphasis on Southwest Florida. Even if you’re not into fishing, the cinematography is worth the view. Guidelines T.V. streams on Waypoint Outdoors TV and is can be viewed on YouTube along with other channels. Connect with the Guidelines T.V. guys on Facebook.
May: Learn About Charlotte County’s First Ecotourism Business
May 5 – 11, 2019 is National Travel and Tourism Week, a time to recognize and celebrate the benefits of travel and tourism. During 2017, VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, reports that 118.8 million people visited Florida generating about $112 billion in direct spending within the state. That’s a big chunk of change!
In recognition of National Travel and Tourism Week, pick up the hot-off-the-presses autobiography called There’s a Captain in You by Capt. Marian Schneider and learn about the pioneer in Charlotte County ecotourism. Capt. Marian opened Grande Tours in Placida during the 1980s. She rented kayaks, led kayak trips, and offered boat tours where visitors and locals could learn more marine life and local ecosystem. This book is about local history but also about empowerment and pursuing your dreams. Find the book on Amazon and check with local booksellers and retail shops.
June: Grab Fun by the Handles
74 Family Fun Park in east Punta Gorda is a place where you grab speed by the handles and control the amount of fun you have. The park has three motocross tracks along with trails and a mud park. Motocross bikes are available for rent if you don’t have your own. Camping is offered along with catch and release fishing which makes for a chillaxing weekend. 74 Family fun Park holds special events throughout the year including truck pulls and concerts. (44800 Bermont Rd., Punta Gorda, Fla. 33982; Tel: (941) 875-8944; www.74familyfunpark.com)
July: Work the Core on a Stand Up Paddle Board
Yoga is good for stretching and toning the body and freeing and clearing the mind. There are plenty of yoga studios in the area and daily yoga on the beach with Englewood Beach Yoga & Meditation.
Here’s a challenge for you, try giving the downward dog or warrior pose on a stand up paddle board during an Aqua Yolo Yoga class through Hooked on SUP.
Yoga on a paddle board is a test in balance as you flow from post to pose either over calm, open water, or in an enclave surrounded by mangroves. A minimum of two people are needed and it is definitely something to try. If you fall off, don’t worry. Usually, the water is shallow enough for you to stand up and get back on your board. Advance reservations are required and departs from Hooked on SUP’s Don Pedro Island Land Base location. (Don Pedro Island State Park, 8450 Placida Rd., Placida, Fla. 33946; Tel: (941) 504-1699; www.hookedonsup.com)
August: Get to Know the Babcocks
When I hear, “I’m heading to Babcock,” I wonder where people are referring. There is the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area; Babcock Ranch Eco Tours; and Babcock Ranch, America’s first solar-powered town, all worthy of a visit. Today, they are three separate entities and are named after the Babcock Family.
Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area.
In 1914, Pittsburgh politician and lumber magnate Edward Babcock purchased 91,000 acres which was called Crescent B Ranch. Babcock’s son, Fred, was managing the property by the 1930s, including the family’s farming, rock mining, timber, and swamp buggy tours businesses. Interestingly, South Africa diamond mines used the pine-based pitch from the Babcock timber operation to ward off termites.
The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission purchased 19,200 acres from Fred Babcock in 1941, establishing the Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area, named after a commissioner who served 1948-1953. In 1995, it was renamed Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area.
At Babock/Webb WMA, enjoy freshwater fishing either at Webb Lake or the Marl Ponds, hunting, a firing range, primitive camping, hiking, or biking. If you have horses, you can bring enjoy the trails with them. (Tuckers Grade, Punta Gorda, Fla. 33982; www.myfwc.com/recreation/lead/fred-babcockwebb)
Babcock Ranch Eco Tours
At Babock Ranch Eco Tours, hop on a buggy (a previous school bus) and enjoy a 90-minute tour through some of the 73,000 acres of Babcock Ranch Preserve, which includes a working cattle ranch. The tour travels through the ranch and some of the Telegraph Swamp. It’s possible to see Florida cracker cattle, Osceola turkeys, wild hogs, a variety of bird life, deer, andalligators. Go hungry, the Gator Shack Restaurant serves some of the best, if not the best, barbecue in Southwest Florida. (8000 State Road 31, Punta Gorda, Fla. 33982; Tel: (800) 500-5583; www.babcockranchecotours.com)
Babcock Ranch – America’s First Solar-Powered Town
America’s first solar-powered town, Babcock Ranch, is a realized dream of Mr. Sydney Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. They purchased the 91,000-acre ranch from the Babcock family and sold 73,000 acres to the state in 2006 creating Babcock Ranch Preserve and making it Florida’s largest land preservation deal in history. Of the 18,000 acres acquired, half of it is set aside for preservation, leaving 90 percent of the original 91,000 acres preserved. In conjunction with Florida Power and Light, the town has become a reality.
The first residents moved into Babcock Ranch in January 2018 and more continue to make the new town home. Visitors can enjoy lunch or dinner at Table & Tap, the onside restaurant that sources many ingredients from its onsite garden; rent kayaks or bicycles at Curry Outfitters or book a freshwater fishing guide (such as Solo Travel Girl’s friend Capt. Debbie Hanson of SheFishes2); take a cruise over Babcock Lake by electric boat; hike or bike the local trails; or participate in one of the many events. Be sure to hope in the driverless shuttle for a 21st century tour of the town. (42850 Crescent Loop, Babcock Ranch, Fla. 33982; Tel: (941) 200-1482; www.babcockranch.com)
September: Go Ahead and Eat the Sweets
Charlotte County is home to some delicious sweet shops and life is too short not to indulge in what you enjoy, especially in moderation. Some of the can’t-miss ice cream (and more) shops include Zoet and Harborwalk Scoops & Bites in Punta Gorda, and a A Better Scoop in Englewood (okay, A Better Scoop is in Sarasota County but it’s a hop, skip and a jump over the county line)
For the perfect chocolates and candies, try Simply Sweet and Punta Gorda Chocolate & Wine, both in Punta Gorda. Grab a slice or entire homemade cheesecake from Krista’s Cheese Kakery in Port Charlotte. There are usually keto cheesecakes, too, and word has it, there’s now a cheesecake topping bar.
October: Enjoy the Eclectic and Colorful Art at The Hatch Gallery
The Hatch Gallery was located in Placida but when the sale followed by the demolition of the Fishery property happened in mid-2018, the gallery relocated to El Jobean. The new spot makes it more accessible since it’s off El Jobean Road (SR 776) and next to T-N-T Bait and Tackle, another popular shop for anglers.
Artist Jon Hatch creates colorful and whimsical art representing the native wildlife. Canvas for much of his art is a natural piece of wood or driftwood and painted to look like alligators, birds, or fish. Among the artwork you’ll find antiques ranging from vintage fishing lures to furniture. There isn’t any other gallery in the area quite like The Hatch Gallery and it’s definitely worth a visit. (14375 Pambar Ave., Port Charlotte, Fla. 33953; Tel: (941) 764-8838; www.jon-hatch-originals.com)
November: Follow a Recipe to Cook Up Deliciousness
Cook delicious dishes from award-winning Chef Jeanie Roland of The Perfect Caper. She is a multi-year James Beard Foundation nominee, leads Charlotte County’s only Golden Spoon Award restaurant, and beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the television show of the same name. She recently released her inaugural cookbook called Butter Love & Cream which contains tasty recipes. The cookbook is available from The Perfect Caper either in person or via mail. (121 East Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, Fla. 33950; Tel: (941) 505-9009; www.theperfectcaper.com)
December: Fulfill a Dream with an Iconic Legend
I am not a motorcycle dealership aficionado and I’m not even a rider but there’s something alluringly sexy about Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson. Although I have yet to master riding a Harley, I still pop in every once in awhile to browse and shop when I need to energize my inner badass. Plus, they have free beer and when they offer ladies’ nights, there’s usually free wine.
Bert’s hosts many events throughout the year, especially on the weekends (be sure to follow them on Facebook for the latest). As I write this, big things are happening at Bert’s including the building of a covered entertainment area and track for the riding academy. I’m not sure of a completion date but this Harley-Davidson dealership is worth a visit anytime of the year. (2224 El Jobean Rd., Port Charlotte, Fla.33948; Tel: (941) 883-8000; www.bertsblackwidow.com)
Florida Travel in 2019
Cheers to an adventurous, fun, and healthy 2019!
Read what Solo Travel Girl Suggested to do in Charlotte County in 2018.
Read what Solo Travel Girl suggested to do in Charlotte County in 2017.
Read what Solo Travel Girl suggested to do in Charlotte County in 2016.
Connect with me throughout the year at Facebook.com/SoloTravelGirl and let me know what else I should try this year!