Holy smokes, does time fly?! Happy 2018! ‘Tis the time of year for my annual month-by-month listing of what to do in the Southwest Florida community of Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach (basically Charlotte County) in the New Year. As usual, most activities can be enjoyed anytime of the year. And, I hope you try something new that pushes your personal boundaries in the New Year because that’s how you learn, grow and maybe find your new passion.
January: Take a Walk on the Wild Side and Support a Local Community
Okay, this activity is outside of Charlotte County but it’s necessary. When a friend’s in need ya just gotta help them and it’s what I plan to do.
Hurricane Irma battered the Sunshine State but we are #FloridaStrong. Florida communities impacted have pulled up their bootstraps and are moving forward however, there’s a misconception that Florida is not ready to welcome visitors. Specifically, there is a misperception that the Florida Everglades are closed. As of publication time, yes, some main attractions in the national park are closed but much of it is open and accessible for your enjoyment.
Following Thanksgiving, I visited the Everglades from Chokoloskee and Everglades City on the West Coast, drove across U.S. 41 and then down to Flamingo at the southern point. I also met with Charles Wright, owner of Everglades Area Tours in Chokoloskee, who emphasized much of the Everglades is open for business and the world is welcome to visit. Operating since the 90s, Everglades Area Tours offers 27 different types of tours and adventures including guided hikes, kayaking trips to view the mysterious ghost orchid, photography and birding excursion, and guided fishing trips.
Now is the time to visit the Everglades. Join a tour, dine in locally-owned restaurant and consider spending the night. The money you spend will economically support a community get back on its feet. Find an Everglades adventure right for you.
February: Wish Upon a Star
Am I the only one who sings, “When You Wish Upon a Star” when looking up at a star-studded night sky? Anyway, if you have looked up into the night sky and wondered what you are looking at, then head to the James & Barbara Moore Observatory at Florida SouthWestern State College’s campus in Punta Gorda. But, plan your trip wisely. The observatory is open once a month September through May, weather permitting. Observations begin about 30 – 45 minutes after it’s dark and is free. The following dates are scheduled for public viewings and additional dates may be added. Keep up to date on the observatory’s website.
James & Barbara Moore Observatory Schedule
January 19, 2018
February 16, 2018
March 16, 2018
April 20, 2018
May 18, 2018
March: Learn How to Sail Off Into the Sunset
SAIL magazine has named Charlotte Harbor one of the top 10 places to sail in the U.S. so it’s only appropriate to take advantage of this boater’s paradise by sailing the beautiful waters. Even better is to learn to sail by attending a sailing school.
I’ve never been sailing and not familiar with most nautical terms but these sailing schools are made for people like me. Novices eager to learn.
Luckily, Punta Gorda has at least two sailing schools where hopefully you won’t find yourself “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Children (8 – 18 years old) and adults are invited to learn with Learn to Sail, Inc., a volunteer-run, not for profit. Capt. Phil of Charlotte Harbor Sailing, LLC is an American Sailing Association Certified Sailing Instructor. Teaching hands-on course in small groups or private lessons.
April: Raise a Pint in a New Brewery
Punta Gorda and Charlotte County is growing as a foodie destination and now, another brewery has moved into town, Peace River Beer Company. Located off U.S. 41 at 1732 Steadley Ave., PRBC will be brewing their beer on-site (at publication time, beer is being brewed at its sister brewery in Fort Myers, Bury Me Dead) and serve it in the spacious tap room which features a pretty nifty bar.
It looks as though you’re looking INTO the Peace River. Encased in resin is a muddy river floor with seashells and man’s (and woman’s) lost treasures ranging from fishing lures to flip-flops and a license plate to plastic forks.
May: Perfect the Loop or Tie a Fly
Perfecting my fly casting loop is coming along like a stream of molasses flowing through snow. Slow. But, I’m enjoying it and think you will too. Fly casting combines sport, performance and patience. West Wall Outfitters, which recently located to its current location at 3846 Tamiami Trail (down the street from the Microtel), is where I got my start.
Capt. Josh Greer, a local fishing guide and owner of the fly fishing portion of the shop, is one of the area’s conservation leaders and is terrific in bringing groups of people together. West Wall Outfitters’ new location is the perfect gathering place for those curious about fly fishing and the seasoned angler. The shop frequently offers events including introduction to fly casting and fly tying workshops. Connect with the shop on Facebook or drop in to see what they’re about. Kayaks are also sold on site.
And, if you’re a paddler, West Wall Outfitters has a free app which uses geolocation to show you the closest kayak launches and boat ramps (and more). Available for iOS and Android.
June: Become a Straight Shooter
I realize men read my blog too, but this one is for my women readers. Ladies, if you are wanting to learn to fire a pistol and earn your concealed weapons permit, schedule to attend a class with Female Firearms Training led by firearms instructor Shirley King.
For the first time in my life, I held and fired a pistol in 2017 and it felt pretty dang empowering, thrilling and exhilarating. The class includes reviewing Florida’s concealed carry weapons laws, safety and examples of some of the garments and accessories available for women to carry and conceal. Following a test it’s off to the range to fire 20 rounds in various pistols.
July: Paddle Like Wonder Woman in a Clear Kayak
Every self-respecting Wonder Woman fan knows she flew in an invisible jet well, have you ever wondered what kind of kayak she would paddle? An invisible one, of course! There is no such thing as an invisible kayak but there is something close to it, clear ones and they are available for rent and guided tours with Glass Bottom Rentals on Gasparilla Island.
It’s like paddling in a giant pair of goggles as it lets you look what’s underneath you. During a recent trip I coasted through Gasparilla Sound over seagrass with fish swimming beneath. A friend spotted different seashells. The clear kayaks seem lighter than other kayaks but maybe it’s an illusion because they’re clear. Glass Bottom Rentals’ location at the Boca Grande Fishing Pier means you have quicker access to some pretty nifty sights including the old railroad trestle from the days of when the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway operated service and the popular Boca Grande Sandbar.
Bicycle and standup paddleboard rentals are also offered. Reservations are recommended.
August: Become a Citizen Scientist
A big reason why we live in/enjoy Southwest Florida is because of the great outdoors and the many ways to enjoy it. A pretty nifty way of enjoying it is jumping right in and helping officials understand how the environment works by being a citizen scientist. If you look around, you will see various opportunities to become a citizen scientist and two I have done and enjoyed are assisting the Lemon Bay Conservancy as part of the juvenile tarpon research and searching for scallops with Florida Sea Grant.
Wildflower Preserve in Englewood is a former golf course and happens to be a nursery for tarpon. The tarpon are born about 100 miles away and instinctively head to the protected waters of Wildflower Preserve to live out their younger years. Since 2012, Lemon Bay Conservancy, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and Mote Marine have partnered in researching the tarpon and once a month during fall through spring, volunteers meet at the preserve to participate in the monitoring program. Prepare to get wet and muddy because most volunteers help with hauling in the seine net which captures the fish. Learn more and contact the Lemon Bay Conservancy if you’re interested in participating in the juvenile tarpon research program.
Many years ago, scallops were commercially harvested from Charlotte Harbor’s waters but in recent years populations have diminished. Thankfully, Florida Sea Grant has a marine outreach program to increase the Florida Bay Scallop population and every August, volunteers are needed to help in the Great Bay Scallop Search. Boaters are needed along with those with masks, snorkels, fins and gloves (to protect your hands from sharp objects) who snorkel and search for scallops (note: if you don’t find any, don’t be disappointed!). Learn more about the Great Bay Scallop Search online.
September: Eat Award-Winning Wings
The Village Fish Market in Fishermen’s Village is known for its New England-style fare and hand-cut onion rings. But, did you know they are home to award-winning chicken wings? Coastal Locals and the local chapter of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association held the Southwest Florida Wing Fling Competition in the fall and the Village Fish Market came out as the winner in the Buffalo-style Wing category!
Cook Brandon E. Eldridge came up with the award-winning recipe called “BEE Sauce” (which are his initials) when preparing his personal lunches. When the restaurant heard about the competition, they encouraged him to enter and, as they say, the rest is history. Brandon’s wings are now part of the daily menu.
October: Get Fresh
Charlotte Harbor provides access to world-class saltwater fishing and attracts anglers from across the globe. However, the area offers decent freshwater fishing yet does not receive much attention. Thanks to Debbie Hanson, founder of SheFishes2 and a Southwest Florida freshwater fishing guide, I’m more educated in the not-so-salty angling opportunities. More specifically, Debbie took me on my first bass fishing trip by boat on Webb Lake in the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area and not only did I land a bass, I caught three!
Webb Lake and the Marl Ponds offer bank fishing and Webb Lake has three boat ramps for trolling-only boats (tip: use the third boat ramp for the most scenic and remote access to the 395-acre lake). In addition to bass, bluegills, tilapia, catfish and snook (check the FWC Saltwater Regulations regarding snook) are found in the waters. Make sure you have your Florida freshwater fishing license. Fish Webb Lake on your own or with a guide such as Debbie Hanson or Joe Mahler who is also a fly casting instructor.
November: Pack Your Bags and Fly Somewhere New
Looking to travel but not quite sure where to go? Low-cost carrier Allegiant Air now services over 40 destinations nonstop from the Punta Gorda Airport. Have you ever wanted to see Niagara Falls? There’s a nonstop flight to Niagara Falls, N.Y. Want to cross-country ski? Book a trip to St. Cloud, Minn. Have a hankering for Tennessee moonshine? Hop on a flight to Knoxville, Tenn.
Keep in mind, for Allegiant to keep its fares low, passengers pay for the basics such as seat assignment, carry-on and checked baggage, boarding pass (unless you print it at home or have the app), etc. They do offer some free services to U.S. active duty military, military veterans, members of the National Guard, military reserve and their dependents. In most cases, Allegiant is the best option especially if you are looking for nonstop service and they did help me get to my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration in August when my flight on Southwest was canceled out of Fort Myers.
December: Support Community Performance
I was going to suggest supporting community theater, such as either attending a show or participating in a production by the Charlotte Players in Port Charlotte or Lemon Bay Playhouse in Englewood, and decided anytime of performance should be supported. This includes stopping by the historic Bean Depot in El Jobean on a Wednesday night for Bluegrass Night or Thursday evening head to Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda for the Guitar Army, an open call to musicians to come out and jam next to the Peace River. Sometimes, Visani Restaurant and Comedy Theater holds open mic night for comedians and in North Port, every Wednesday is open mic night for musicians at Common Grounds Meeting Hall. Supporting community performance means supporting a community of togetherness as well as supporting the local economy.
Wishing you an amazing 2018!
Read what Solo Travel Girl suggested to do in 2016.
Connect with me throughout the year at Facebook.com/SoloTravelGirl and let me know what else I should try this year!