10 Super Fun Things to Do in Punta Gorda FL (#7 is a Must!)

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Punta Gorda Things to Do

All the best Punta Gorda things to do and see (& why this charming town is SW Florida’s best hidden gem!).

I never intended to move back to Southwest Florida. In fact, there was a time in my life when I swore I wouldn’t.

But life has a funny way of bringing you full circle.

Not long ago, my husband and I decided we’d had enough of city life in Atlanta. While not yet ready to retire, we were craving a slower pace of life. More sunsets and salt air, less traffic and congestion.

So, we embarked on a fact-finding trip to rediscover the Southwest Florida of my youth. And no one was more surprised than I was by what we found.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle).  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

We explored Fort Myers (where I grew up), Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Naples, and more. But it was the quaint waterfront town of Punta Gorda Florida that immediately stole our hearts.

While Fort Myers and Naples get all the splashy press, charming Punta Gorda slips comfortably under the radar for many visitors to Southwest Florida.

Since becoming full-time residents, we’ve fallen even more in love with this harborside town with each passing month.

With gorgeous water views around every corner, a surprisingly dynamic restaurant scene, a small-town Americana feel, and jaw-dropping sunsets pretty much every night…what’s not to love?

So, let’s dive into all the best things to see and do in Punta Gorda!

But first, let’s cover a few basics…

Where is Punta Gorda Florida?

Punta Gorda is located in the heart of Florida’s southwestern coast. It’s about 100 miles south of Tampa and a little over 20 miles north of Ft. Myers.

Punta Gorda translates as “fat point” in Spanish.

The name refers to the town’s generously pointed shape as it juts into Charlotte Harbor where it meets the majestic Peace River. One of the US’s largest natural harbors, gorgeous Charlotte Harbor is a paradise for fishermen and recreational boaters.

Punta Gorda’s fascinating history

But Punta Gorda Florida also has an intriguing history. From 1886 to 1904, Punta Gorda flourished as the “End of the Line” for the railroad along the west coast of Florida.

In 1887, the grand Hotel Punta Gorda opened with 150 rooms and modern conveniences that were state of the art for the era. In its heyday, the Hotel Punta Gorda welcomed famous visitors like Thomas Edison and W.K. Vanderbilt.

But over time the once stately hotel changed hands several times and ultimately declined to the point that it became an eyesore. Mysteriously, in August 1959, the hotel was completely destroyed in a massive fire that threatened the entire downtown area. The origin of that fire remains unsolved to this day.

Today, it’s easy to spot where the Hotel Punta Gorda once stood, it’s a vacant lot in the center of downtown often utilized for parking or festivals. But the hotel is forever etched in Punta Gorda’s rich history even though all that remains is a historical marker to tell its story.

Hotel Punta Gorda Historical Marker
The site of the Hotel Punta Gorda

But before I get to all the fabulous things to do in Punta Gorda, let’s cover some basics.

For example…

Does Punta Gorda have an airport?

Indeed it does!

And Punta Gorda’s pint-sized airport (PGD) is nearly as quaint as the town it serves. The dominant carrier here is Allegiant Airlines but Sun Country Airlines also operates a few flights. You’ll find daily seasonal connections to all the popular snowbird towns in the northern US.

There are fewer flights in the off-season, but if you can book a flight directly into PGD, it’s by far the most convenient option to get here.

Punta Gorda Airport Florida
Punta Gorda’s airport

If you can’t, not to worry.

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Ft. Myers is the largest nearby airport and it’s just a 40-minute drive from downtown Punta Gorda. Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is another good option, it’s just over an hour away.

What’s the best time of year to visit Punta Gorda?

One of the great things about Southwest Florida is that it’s truly a terrific destination all year round. And that’s certainly true of Punta Gorda.

But like most places in south Florida, Punta Gorda has two very distinct seasons – the snowbird (high) season – or just “Season” as we call it – and the rest of the year.

Season starts in November but really hits its stride after the holidays.

From January to March, the population swells to twice its summer size. That means higher hotel and rental rates, extra traffic, longer check-out lines at Publix, and nearly impossible restaurant reservations. 

But that time of year also serves up some of the best January to March weather anywhere in the world.

Punta Gorda Things to Do
Sunset Views in Punta Gorda Florida

How do I know? My 10 trips around the world were all done in the months of January and February, so I’ve visited just about every corner of the globe that time of year.

Trust me. It doesn’t get better than Southwest Florida.

So, there’s a good reason people come. And, as full-time residents, we’ve just learned to roll with the natural seasonal fluctuation of the paradise we call home.

Best Hotels in Punta Gorda

If you’re visiting Punta Gorda, you’ve got to sleep somewhere! And luckily, downtown Punta Gorda has some great options.

The Suites at Fishermen’s Village – This all-suite resort is located just upstairs from the shops and restaurants of Fishermen’s Village. With well-appointed suites featuring full kitchens and spacious balconies, this is the best choice in Punta Gorda for a long-term stay.

Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside – Located right on the water, the Four Points shares a parking lot with TT’s Tiki Bar. Top floor (5th floor) rooms have small balconies on the east side of the building that overlook Laishley Marina. This is a slightly older property but the rooms are clean and well-kept and the restaurant is also terrific.

Springhill Suites by Marriott Punta Gorda Harborside – Not waterfront, but let’s say “waterfront adjacent,” this hotel sits directly behind the Four Points. Rooms here are newer and more modern and the central location means it’s within easy walking distance of restaurants, shops, and the waterfront.

The Wyvern Hotel – Anchoring Punta Gorda’s downtown skyline, this boutique, art deco-style hotel is a popular choice with visitors. The rooftop pool and bar, Perch 360, boasts panoramic views of downtown and Charlotte Harbor.

Bonus Option Across the Bridge: Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor

Allegiant’s Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor – Just across the bridge in nearby Port Charlotte, this massive waterfront resort features 785 rooms and suites, more than 20 food and beverage outlets, a wide variety of shops, and a direct shuttle service from Punta Gorda Airport.

So, that covers where to stay when you visit, now let’s talk about things to do in Punta Gorda!

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation or an action-packed getaway, Punta Gorda has something for everyone. So, if you’re wondering what to do in Punta Gorda, here are some of the best Punta Gorda activities and things to see in this historic city.

10 Best Things to Do Punta Gorda, Florida:

1. Stroll the Punta Gorda Harborwalk

When Punta Gorda was founded in 1884, every waterfront block was designated as a park. The most popular parks along the waterfront are Gilchrist Park and Laishley Park. 

Today, Punta Gorda’s scenic Harborwalk stretches for over 2 miles connecting those lovely parks with some of the town’s best sights (like Fishermen’s Village). The Harborwalk is the perfect place to get some fresh air and exercise while enjoying sweeping views of Charlotte Harbor.

A relaxing stroll along the waterfront is the ideal introduction to Punta Gorda and a great way to get your bearings.

Punta Gorda Harborwalk
Punta Gorda’s Harborwalk

2. A Walking Tour of the Downtown Murals

Punta Gorda’s rich history comes to life around the downtown area through a series of colorful murals. You’ll spot them everywhere you go.

Guided tours are available but you can also take a self-guided walking tour using the Punta Gorda Murals Walking Map. If you come across one of these lovely murals as you wander downtown and want to know more about it, each mural also has a QR code you can scan to learn more.

Need to Know: Group walking tours are offered seasonally on Tuesday mornings and begin and end at the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce Office. For more information, visit the Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society’s website.

3. The Punta Gorda Farmer’s Market

Established in 2008, the Punta Gorda Farmer’s Market is a downtown tradition that has been voted the “Best Small Market in Florida.” Held every Saturday year-round, you’ll find dozens of local vendors featuring the area’s best veggies, fruits, meats, and local crafts and products.

Plus, live music and plenty of yummy food trucks to choose from. Looking for fun things to do in Punta Gorda this weekend? The Saturday Farmer’s Market is the perfect choice.

Tip: Don’t miss Maria’s Italian Kitchen!

Need to Know: Open October – April from 8:00am – 1:00pm. And from May to September, 8:00am – 12:00pm. For more information and to see a list of vendors, visit the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce.

Punta Gorda Farmers Market Saturday Downtown
Punta Gorda’s weekly Saturday Farmer’s Market

4. Visit the Military Heritage Museum & Punta Gorda’s Vietnam Memorial Wall

As a military veteran, one of my husband’s favorite things about Punta Gorda is the town’s obvious devotion to military history.

Punta Gorda’s Military Heritage Museum showcases artifacts from both local and national military history. It’s a must for anyone interested in military history or just US history in general and it’s one of my favorite Punta Gorda attractions.

Don’t miss the Flight Ops simulator room and the VR experience upstairs. The “Letters from Home” wall is also a fascinating glimpse into the lives of US soldiers throughout history. You’ll want to plan about 90 minutes for your visit (longer if you’re a true military buff like my hubby!).

Need to Know: Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00am – 4:00pm. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for veterans and military active duty, $9 for kids 5-14, and free for kids under 5. For more information, visit the Military Heritage Museum website.

Punta Gorda Military Heritage Museum
Punta Gorda’s Military Heritage Museum

After your visit to the museum, don’t miss the incredible Vietnam Memorial Wall in nearby Veterans Park (at the entrance to Laishley Park). The wall is a 50% scale replica of the original Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. and even the granite is from the same source.

Veteran’s Park also holds a pretty amazing Memorial Day service each year with a massive field of American flags lining the harbor.

Need to Know: For more information, visit the Vietnam Wall of Southwest Florida website.

Vietnam Wall Punta Gorda Florida
The Vietnam Wall replica in Veteran’s Park

5. Explore the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens

Nature lovers will love this 30-acre waterfront oasis located about a 10-minute drive from downtown Punta Gorda. Explore 2 miles of thoughtfully designed trails of boardwalks and docks encompassing five unique ecosystems – marshlands, wetlands, uplands, mangroves, and a tidal basin. The impressive sculpture garden is a highlight, you won’t find anything else quite like it in Southwest Florida. 

Need to Know: Open Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00am – 2:00pm in the summer (June – September) and 9:00am – 4:00pm in the winter (October to May). Admission for Adults is $20, kids 6-17 are $10, and kids under 5 are free. For more information, visit the Peace River Botanical Gardens website.

6. Shop & Dine at Fishermen’s Village

Fishermen’s Village is an expansive waterfront complex that features shops, restaurants, a marina, and even a small beach. It’s the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, enjoy waterfront dining, or hit the water on a charter fishing trip.

There’s also live entertainment just about every day, so be sure to check the event schedule before you go!

Need to Know: Restaurant hours vary, shops are open Monday – Saturday, 10:00am – 8:00pm, Sunday, 10:00am – 6:00pm. For more information, visit the Fishermen’s Village website.

Fishermens Village Punta Gorda Florida
The shops and restaurants of Fishermen’s Village

7. Visit the Animals at the Peace River Wildlife Center

This is hands-down my favorite place to visit in Punta Gorda. It’s also one of the most fun things to do in Punta Gorda with kids.

Tucked into the mangroves in Ponce de Leon Park, the Peace River Wildlife Center is a refuge for injured, orphaned, and ill wildlife.

The star of the show here (and unofficial mascot) is Luna, a tiny leucistic (not albino) eastern screech owl. Luna was born without any pigmentation so he has no ability to camouflage himself from predators. As a result, he lives a pretty charmed life here with volunteers and visitors fussing over him daily.

You’ll also find bald eagles, white pelicans (my favorite), and many other fixtures of Southwest Florida wildlife. There’s no official tour but volunteers hang out by the entrance to walk visitors around and introduce the center’s residents and tell their unique stories.

The center itself is compact and you can easily see everything in about 30 minutes. But it’s fun to linger for a while and watch the animals. Don’t miss a visit to the gift shop before you go. It’s another terrific way to support the amazing work done here.

Need to Know: Open daily 11:00am – 4:00pm. Admission is free but a $5 per person donation is suggested (donate more, it’s a great cause!). For more information, visit the Peace River Wildlife Center website.

8. Hit the Water with a Punta Gorda Boat Tour

If you’re looking for a more active vacation, there are plenty of options. Punta Gorda is a haven for fishing enthusiasts, both freshwater and saltwater. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular activities, thanks to the city’s many beautiful waterways.

If you’re a boater, rent a boat for the day and drop your anchor at the Boca Grande Sand Bar, a local favorite. Lunch at Cabbage Key (accessible only by boat) is another top choice when spending a day exploring Charlotte Harbor.

Boca Grande Sand Bar Charlotte Harbor
Boca Grande sand bar

But if you’d rather let someone else take the helm, there are plenty of local charter options to get out on the water for the day. Here are a few of the best Punta Gorda boat trips:

King Fisher Fleet – Located in Fishermen’s Village, King Fisher offers a variety of boat tours around the Punta Gorda area. Everything from sunset cruises to a day trip to Cabbage Key for a “cheeseburger in paradise.”

Cruisin Tiki’s Charlotte Harbor – For a really fun afternoon, book a 90-minute trip with Cruisin’ Tiki’s Charlotte Harbor. Located at the Sheraton Four Points on the dock right in front of TT’s, this floating tiki hut is the perfect outing for up to 6 people. Even better, guests are encouraged to bring their own adult beverages (a cooler with ice is provided).

Punta Gorda Boat Trips
Boat trips departing from Fishermen’s Village

9. Explore the Best Beaches Near Punta Gorda

Southwest Florida is home to a ridiculous number of beautiful beaches so you’re probably wondering…

Does Punta Gorda have beaches?

Well, not exactly. Technically, there isn’t a Punta Gorda beach.

And this is the reason I think this delightful little town remains blissfully OFF the tourist radar.

Luckily, there are a number of lovely white-sand beaches less than an hour away by car. (Even closer if you have a boat!) And that’s why hitting the beach is still one of the best things to do near Punta Gorda.

I have always preferred the beaches north of Punta Gorda for whiter sand, bluer water, and fewer tourists overall than the popular beaches to the south.

The beaches to the south – Ft. Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva – have all re-opened since Hurricane Ian but are still rebuilding to some degree.

So, for now, let’s focus on the best beaches north of Punta Gorda.

Here are my favorite beaches near Punta Gorda:

Any one of the following beaches is a great choice for a beach day near Punta Gorda:

Englewood Beach – Englewood is the closest beach to Punta Gorda and the most popular with residents and visitors. With white sand and turquoise waters, it’s just a 40-minute drive from downtown Punta Gorda.

Englewood Beach near Punta Gorda Florida
Englewood Beach – just 40 minutes from downtown Punta Gorda

Boca Grande – Located on Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande is known for pristine beaches and the multi-million-dollar Old Florida homes of a few famous regulars (including at least one former president).

Take a scenic drive down to the south end of the island to the sugar sands of Gasparilla Island State Park and the restored Port Boca Grande Lighthouse (built in 1890).

Nokomis Beach/Casey Key – Located near Venice, it takes a little longer (about 45 minutes) to reach these sandy shores, but it’s worth it. With wide, sandy beaches and plenty of parking, this less visited key is a great place to unwind away from the crowds.

Don’t miss lunch or dinner at Pelican Alley or Pop’s Sunset Grill before you head back.

Nokomis Beach Casey Key Florida
Nokomis Beach on Casey Key

10. Grab a Bite at Punta Gorda’s Best Local Restaurants

After all that exploring and beachcombing, you must be starving.

Fear not, weary traveler. One of the more delightful discoveries in our move to Punta Gorda is the number of fantastic restaurants in the area. In fact, there are way too many to discuss here.

So I was left with no choice but to cover this delicious topic in much greater detail right here:

Read More: 10 Best Punta Gorda Restaurants that Prove it’s a Fabulous Foodie Town

But here’s a quick list of my 3 favorite restaurants in Punta Gorda:

1. Carmelo’s – This authentic Italian restaurant is widely considered the best restaurant in Punta Gorda. Reservations are a must in the winter months.

2. TT’s Tiki Bar – There’s no better place in Punta Gorda to chill out with your toes in the sand and a cocktail in hand. While most come to TT’s for cocktails with a view of the dazzling sunsets over beautiful Charlotte Harbor, the food is surprisingly tasty as well.

TTs Tiki Bar Punta Gorda
The nightly sunset scene at TT’s

3. Peace River Seafood – Southwest Florida is famous for blue crabs and Peace River Seafood is ground zero for this local favorite. This authentic old-Florida-style seafood shack serves up fresh seafood daily caught by local commercial fishers and seasoned to perfection.

And there you have it!

We’ve covered all the best things to do in Punta Gorda Florida (plus some pretty sensational places to eat once you’re done!).

From strolling along the Harborwalk at sunset to chatting up the local wildlife, there are plenty of things to see and do in lovely Punta Gorda.

So, if you’re looking for the perfect Southwest Florida getaway to a terrific small town, Punta Gorda truly is a hidden gem.

And I couldn’t be happier to call it home.

Punta Gorda Things To Do
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Looking for more great destinations in the Sunshine State? Start here:

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