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I recently experienced Punta Gorda, Florida, with a new special combo offer and you can do it, too! Called “Experience Punta Gorda,” the $25 ticket grants one-time access to three beloved attractions between now and Sept. 30, 2022. These attractions represent valor and patriotism, beauty and culture, and education and rehabilitation.
When it comes to Florida tourism, September is traditionally the slowest month. Summer vacations are over, kids are back in school, and well, it’s the peak of hurricane season. It’s also a little hot and humid. For us Floridians, it’s an opportunity to visit attractions we may not be able to access during the rest of the year because of visitation levels, packed schedules, or we just don’t want to deal with traffic and parking.
How to Experience Punta Gorda, Fla.
If you haven’t visited any of these Punta Gorda attractions, now’s your chance to do so while saving a little bit of money. Considering adult admission into the gardens is $18, the museum is $14, and consider a $5 – $10 donation to the wildlife center, the savings is pretty good. Even if you qualify for senior or veteran/military rates at the gardens ($15 for seniors) or museum ($12 for veterans or active-duty military), the savings is decent. It’s also a way to get out and support local businesses, ones that out-of-town visitors adore and love.
If you’ll be visiting all three attractions in one day, I recommend visiting in the following order. Why? It’s the best way to beat the Southwest Florida September heat and afternoon rains.
Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
View nearly 20 whimsical and sometimes a bit quirky, sculptures nestled in some of the 27 acres of the beautifully lush Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens. Artists from around the globe crafted these gorgeous pieces. The first and signature piece installed in the gardens is “Steel Palm,” by Boston artist Mr. Jacob Kulin. A 50-million-year-old palm frond fossil in the founder’s private collection inspired the sculpture and gardens’ logo. The stunning artwork stands 18-feet tall and contains more than a dozen individual pieces. The second installed piece is “Keel” by Turkish artist Mr. Kemal Tufan. It replicates a boat keel and has more than 20 individual pieces. The heaviest piece weighs 5,800 lbs.
Three sculptures were added following the ZimSculpt exhibit. These pieces are carved from stone by Zimbabwean artists. My favorite is a fanciful octopus sitting on the bank of the koi pond.
Colorful, playful, and can’t miss sculptures (because you need to drive by them) are “Milk Factory” by Vincent Leow (Singapore), “Laundry Daze” by Paul Guilmette (U.S.A.), and “Yellow Andy” by Jack Dowd (U.S.A.). Don’t miss the amusing butterfly house with native Florida butterflies fluttering about.
Regarding flora, admire the bougainvillea climbing up the “Tree Trellises” by the butterfly garden, inhale the scents in the Sensory Garden, and walk through mangroves along the boardwalk. Also view cactus, bromeliads, ferns, staghorn, hibiscus, and other beautiful botanicals (Fun fact: Punta Gorda’s nickname is the Hibiscus City!).
Plan Your Visit to the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
Summer (June – September) hours for the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens are Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. (October-May: open daily 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and closed for major holidays). The gardens are located at 5827 Riverside Dr. For additional information, visit their website or call 941-621-8299. (Adult admission is $18 without the Experience Punta Gorda special combo offer.)
Peace River Wildlife Center
Get nose-to-beak with some of Florida’s native residents at the Peace River Wildlife Center. The facility provides care and rehabilitation to native wildlife that’s either been injured, abandoned, or orphaned. Rehabilitated wildlife is returned to the wild but those who can’t return (because they cannot survive on their own), live out their lives at the wildlife center. And, their presence teaches visitors about the importance of native wildlife and how we humans can respect and live with them.
The center’s primary ambassador is Luna, a leucistic Eastern screech owl. Eastern screech owls are either gray or reddish brown but Luna is snow white. He’s not albino but has leucism which is a genetic mutation preventing melanin pigment in the bird’s feathers.
He landed at the wildlife center in 2013 when a hiker found the fledgling owl near the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center in Punta Gorda. PWRC attempted to return Luna to his nest but were unable to find it. Because of his leucism, he has no camouflaging capabilities and probably wouldn’t have survived in the wild. He’d stick out like a sore thumb! Ever since, the Peace River Wildlife Center is his home and he’s well cared for.
Other animals serve as ambassadors such as a barred owl and an opossum. These ambassadors are occasionally brought out from their habitats for visitors to take a closer look. There’s absolutely no touching.
Other wildlife calling the center home include bald eagles, vultures, white and brown pelicans (white pelicans have the largest wingspan of any other bird in the U.S.!), gopher tortoises, rabbits, and a variety of other birds and mammals.
Plan Your Visit to the Peace River Wildlife Center
The Peace River Wildlife Center is located at Ponce de Leon Park, 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway (old W. Marion Ave.) and open daily 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information, visit their website or call (941) 637-3830. (Adult admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated.)
Military Heritage Museum
Without question, the Military Heritage Museum is one of the most patriotic attractions in Southwest Florida. Within two floors and 17,000 square feet, view artifacts and exhibits dating to pre-American Revolution to the 21st century Space Force. The museum respectfully tells the history of the U.S. military with thoughtful exhibits. All branches of the military are represented. There’s even a corner dedicated to the service of military dogs.
Find the “Hall of Heroes” honoring Floridians who were awarded the Medal of Honor, “Letters from Home” displaying letters to and from those serving overseas and view several purple hearts and military uniforms over the years. “Witness to War” preserves the oral history of combat veterans and hear firsthand accounts on what it was like on the frontline during various wars. These interviews will be part of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
Jonesing to fly an F-35? Or drive a tank? Fire a weapon? Head to the second floor to find the Flight Ops Simulator Room, Virtual Reality Experience, and Smokeless Laser Gun Range with very cool and innovative hands-on experiences.
Plan Your Visit to the Military Heritage Museum
The Military Heritage Museum is located at 900 West Marion Ave. and open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. For additional information, visit their website or call 941-575-9002. (Adult admission is $14 without the Experience Punta Gorda special combo offer.)
More About the Experience Punta Gorda Special Combo Offer
The “Experience Punta Gorda” special combo offer allows buyers to purchase annual memberships at each of these attractions at a 10% discount. Pass holders receive a complimentary bottle of water (usually ice-cold) at the Peace River Wildlife Center and Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens. Purchase the pass at any of the three participating three attractions or online.
Now go on! Experience Punta Gorda!
- Want to See a Mess? Visit Iguanaland Reptile Zoo in Punta Gorda, Fla.
- Where to Eat in Punta Gorda: Peace River Beer Company
- Are Punta Gorda, Florida and Hamilton, Ohio Twin Cities?
- Coincidence or Something Bigger? Paying Respects at the Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida in Punta Gorda
Disclosure: I am a member of the Peace River Wildlife Center’s Board of Directors however all opinions are my own. And yes, I did purchase an Experience Punta Gorda combo special!