Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Boca Grande, FL

  • Published 2022/03/19

For a village whose name translates to “Big Mouth,” Boca Grande, Florida, is an excellent seaside destination for relaxing by the water and the sea breeze.

You can find this village in Gasparilla Island, in southwest Florida.

Its downtown district also boasts of a proud and rich history.

However, the village’s main pull is its world-class fishing spots, clear blue waters, and sugar sand beaches.

Boca Grande experienced quick progress after people discovered phosphate rock along the Peace River in 1885.

After this discovery, businessmen transformed Gasparilla Island into a prominent port, which attracted more development.

Likewise, rich Americans and Englishmen turned the Charlotte Harbor area into a world-class fishing hub.

Many citizens credit fishing and phosphate rock as the main reasons for the village’s progress.

Today, Boca Grande is a highly sought-after location for major public weddings.

Several wealthy people and celebrities have stayed in the village whenever they needed privacy.

For example, Audrey Hepburn and the Bush family have called Boca Grande home from to time.

Do you want to know more about Boca Grande, FL?

Here’s a list of the best things to do in town:

Learn History at the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum

Exterior of Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum

Henryk Sadura /

In 1890, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse guided distressed ships to safety into Charlotte Harbor.

The lighthouse also emits light bright enough that boats as far away as 12 miles can still see it.

What makes this lighthouse unique?

It’s one of only six Florida lighthouses that’s open to the public.

Far view of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum

Henryk Sadura /

It’s also the only (open) lighthouse on the west coast.

Today, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse has become a museum, containing artifacts featuring the unique history of Gasparilla Island.

Top part of Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum

Henryk Sadura /

Their exhibits should share information about the Calusa Native Americans, who first settled the island, and the 1900s phosphate industry.

Likewise, the museum details the thriving tarpon fishing experience at the Boca Grande Pass.

You can even touch the museum’s collection of shells, fossils, and local bones.

Binoculars on the porch of Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum

Dawn Damico /

Learn and Fish at Whidden’s Marina

Sign post of Whidden’s Marina

Mr. Johnson, often nefarious, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sam Whidden founded the Boca Grande institution Whidden’s marina on First East Street in 1926.

Little did he know that his humble marina would stand the test of time and help transform Boca Grande into the “Tarpon Capital of the World.”

Today, his marina has become one of the oldest marinas in Boca Grande, which has stayed under the Whidden family since its founding.

Part of Whidden’s Marina

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the early days, Whidden’s Marina was also famous as a nightspot, serving as a dance hall and restaurant.

The place may have changed over the years, but it continues to offer Florida’s unique hospitality and flavor.

Today, the marina offers fishing charters to help you get the most out of your stay.

Spend the Day at Boca Grande Pass

Men trying to catch a fish at Boca Grande Pass

Norman Bateman /

Earn your master fisherman credentials by spending the afternoon at Boca Grande Pass, the world-famous sportfishing destination.

Since it’s also in the world’s tarpon capital, the pass also hosts the popular fish.

The Boca Grande Pass is one of Florida’s deepest natural passes, reaching a maximum depth of 80 feet.

It connects Charlotte Harbor to the Gulf of Mexico, receiving freshwater from the Peace and Myakka Rivers.

Men fishing at Boca Grande Pass

Norman Bateman /

This freshwater creates the mangrove habitat for marine life and juvenile fish.

Besides tarpon, you can find various types of fish in Boca Grande Pass, including sharks and dolphins.

Sport fishermen come to this pass from all over the world to fish for snook, goliath grouper, and tarpon.

If you want to stay along the shore, you can also catch sheepshead, whiting, and redfish.

Grab Fresh Produce at the Boca Grande Farmers Market

Start living a healthy life by grabbing fresh fruits and vegetables at the Boca Grande Farmers Market.

Located at the ball field on Boca Grande’s Wheeler Road, this open-air market opens only during certain seasons, so be sure to mark it on your calendar.

Besides produce, the market offers seafood, pickles, cheese, and prepared fruits.

Likewise, you can buy flowers, native plants, smoothies, meat products, organic products, and many others.

Complete your Boca Grande trip by committing to a healthy diet.

Soak Up the Sun at the Gasparilla Island State Park

Sunset at Gasparilla Island State Park

Jim Schwabel /

Take advantage of your Florida vacation by exploring the outdoor offerings of Boca Grande, especially the Gasparilla Island State Park.

Go swimming or fishing on the clean blue waters, comb the beach for seashells, or climb the historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.

The historic white lighthouse at Gasparilla Island State Park

The Toidi /

If you want to try deeper waters, the state park also offers snorkeling.

You can also observe the wildlife through a nature study.

The park boasts excellent animal diversity.

Waves crashing on the shore of Gasparilla Island State Park

Megan E Shannon /

During your visit, you’ll find bald eagles, ospreys, various terns, black skinners, gopher tortoises, and the West Indian manatee.

You can visit the park any time you want, too, since it’s open year-round. During the summer, you may want to call to confirm park hours.

Boardwalk leading to the beach of Gasparilla Island State Park

SunflowerMomma /

Learn Marine History at the Gasparilla Island Maritime Museum

During your visit to Whidden’s Marina, you might want to stop by the Gasparilla Island Maritime Museum as well.

This museum aims to preserve the waterfront history in Boca Grande for future generations.

You’ll find various artifacts inside this museum, such as buoys and gill nets.

Likewise, you’ll enter a room filled with Sam Whidden’s tools and even a sperm whale skull.

If you like literature, you’ll enjoy the museum, too.

You’ll find a pair of gorgeous mahogany fighting chairs which Ernest Hemingway himself used.

Writer of Westerns Zane Grey also used these chairs.

The master wood boatwright George Luzier built the chairs.

Besides chairs and whale skulls, the museum also features historic albums and photographs.

Check Out the Artwork at the Smart Studio

Exterior of smart studio

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1981, the Smart Studio opened right in the heart of Boca Grande, Florida.

Since then, it has become a top destination for visitors curious about the village art scene.

You can also spot the gallery quite easily, thanks to the bright green awnings amid the yellow-painted building.

Exterior of Smart Studio from across the street

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the six showrooms feature the artwork of the award-winning artists Wini Smart and Gail Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the other four rooms display limited edition prints, laid out together with tasteful furniture and other home décor.

You can also avail of the gallery’s custom framing service while you browse its selection of antiques and jewelry.

Visit the gallery between November to May.

Explore the Waters of Boca Grande with Paddleboard Adventures

There are many ways to explore the pristine waters of Boca Grande, but there are few more exciting ways to do so than paddleboarding.

If you want to try it, you need to hit up Paddleboard Adventures for customized tours on the waters of Boca Grande.

Likewise, you can even enroll in paddleboarding lessons if you want to do it yourself.

They could also teach you Stand Up Paddle Board or SUP.

Besides paddleboarding, you can also go snorkeling when you reach deep water.

Look out for the manatees and dolphins that want to play with you underwater!

Tie the Knot at Banyan Street

Banyan trees along Banyan Street

tiredshiba /

Another historic spot in Boca Grande is Banyan Street, located south of the historic downtown Boca Grande district.

The landscape architect Carl Rust Parker designed the street according to his 1914 master plan, with its notable feature being the line of banyan trees lining one block.

These banyan trees belonged to 100-year-old allee, comprising 26 trees divided into two rows.

Banyan trees of Banyan Street

Burntorange72, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Each row has 13 trees standing 38 feet apart, facing each other across the street.

You’ll also notice that this street lies perpendicular to the Gulf of Mexico, with the shaded tunnel of trees providing several wonderful photo opportunities.

Make sure to visit during sunset to see it for yourself.

If you plan to tie the knot anytime soon, you might want to drop by this gorgeous historic street to take photos you’ll never forget.

Savor Delicious Food at Eagle Grille and Miller’s Dockside

Dining is a very important part of every memorable vacation, and Boca Grande suffers no shortage of exquisite dining options.

For instance, you can relish waterfront dining at the Eagle Grille and Miller’s Dockside, a pair of restaurants nestled at the Boca Grande Marina.

These restaurants are also a stone’s throw from downtown Boca Grande, so you don’t even need to go very far.

A veteran chef and restaurant crew will serve you delicious seafood dishes at the Eagle Grille, which also boasts waterfront views from every table.

If you want to unwind from a day’s trip on the water, drop by the Miller’s Dockside island sports bar and have a cold drink.

You can also reserve the Eagle Grille and Miller’s Dockside for private gatherings, such as cocktail parties, family events, rehearsal dinners, and many others.

Bring Home Unique Souvenirs at Fugate’s

Front exterior of Fugate’s

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since 1916, Fugate’s has become one of Boca Grande’s iconic beach souvenir shops.

The store features a department store that sells apparel, accessories, and other souvenir items.

During your visit, you can enter the department store’s Men’s and Children’s apparel or the Patio Shop Ladies apparel section.

Side exterior of Fugate’s

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Besides clothes and accessories, Fugate’s also offers gifts, sundries, and even shoes for the whole family.

They also sell Fish Hippie, Southern Tide, and Tommy Bahama items.

Fugate’s promises to deliver a truly unique shopping opportunity that people of all ages can enjoy.

Get Creative at the Boca Grande Art Center

In 1986, a group of local talented artists founded the Boca Grande Art Center, or “BGAC,” as a venue to showcase their art to the public.

Over the years, the center attracted scores of residents and visitors and became one of the village’s major art institutions.

The gallery used to hold exhibits at the small Johann Fust Library, but their expansion pushed them to establish a new space.

Besides art displays, the art center also hosts art workshops and classes, so you can learn to exercise your creativity through art.

They also hold tours and special events to promote local culture and cultivate a public appreciation of the visual arts, enriching the village’s cultural life.

Likewise, the center also awards scholarships through its visiting artist program and its partnership with the Island School.

Enjoy the Village at the Downtown Boca Grande Historic District

Clothing store at Downtown Boca Grande Historic District

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you prefer to stay in downtown Boca Grande, you should bookmark the whole afternoon to explore the historic district of downtown Boca Grande.

Since the village’s founding in 1908, the downtown district has become its main commercial hub and the center of Gasparilla Island life.

The development of the village has attracted wealthy families and individuals, leading to the village’s transformation into a top-notch winter resort.

A shop at Downtown Boca Grande Historic District

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From its origins as a grimy industrial port town, the village has truly come a long way.

Today, the 3-mile-long stretch boasts a collection of well-preserved historic buildings such as hotels, residences, and churches.

Likewise, the district also hosts world-class restaurants, boutiques, and gift shops.

Downtown Boca Grande retains its elegant charm and character as the subtropical center of life on the island.

Explore the Living Waters of Florida at the Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve

East of Boca Grande lies the Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve, between the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park and the Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve.

During your visit, you’ll find a set of islands with several shallow passages hosting catfish and other species.

The waters in this preserve come from the Whidden creeks mixed with the waters from the Gulf of Mexico.

Likewise, this mangrove forest and seagrass meadows provide a thriving habitat for several species of marine life.

You’ll find over 100 invertebrate species and 200 fish species, including crustaceans and shellfish.

Likewise, you can find important bird species from time to time.

Recreational activities include fishing, birding, and kayaking, designed for the preserve’s shallow waters.

Go Fishing with Reel Intense Inshore Fishing Charters

Your Boca Grande vacation is incomplete without going fishing.

Go hit up with the Reel Intense Inshore Fishing Charters for a safe but fulfilling fishing trip.

The company deploys a world-class, fully equipped charter boat with an experienced captain—Captain Chris—who has fished the area for more than 20 years.

First-timers and veteran anglers alike will enjoy the experience with Captain Chris and Reel Intense Fishing Charters.

The fishing tour will take you around Boca Grande, Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island, Lemon Bay, Gasparilla Sound, and Placida, giving you plenty of fishing opportunities.

Likewise, the boat comes fully stocked with excellent bait, making sure you won’t return to shore empty-handed.

You can catch various popular fish species such as redfish, snook, shark, trout, tarpon, cobia, and goliath grouper.

Final Thoughts

Boca Grande has earned an excellent reputation as a refuge for vacationers and beachgoers.

The leisure and fun on this island village are not just reserved for the wealthy and celebrities.

Everyone of all ages can visit this charming seaside village and enjoy a memorable stay.

If you feel like experiencing the island life for a bit, book your trip to Boca Grande today!

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