While the state of Florida welcomes nearly 140 million visitors each year, only a small portion of them make their way to serene Gasparilla Island and its main town, Boca Grande, an upscale yet down-to-earth community on the Gulf of Mexico that’s just the right amount of sleepy (except when it comes to its role as “Tarpon Capital of the World”).
Beyond its looks, Boca Grande is resilient — along with much of Southwest Florida, especially Sanibel and Captiva Island to the south, it was devastated by Hurricane Ian in September 2022.
Back in action, Boca Grande remains a captivating place to visit — a tranquil respite from the frenetic pace of our modern world (and many parts of Florida) with a beachy, small-town allure all its own. Plan to get around by golf cart, bike, or your own two feet.
Like many beach towns in Florida, Boca Grande is a seasonal destination.
“Most people enjoy coming to the island during our busy ‘social season’ when the town is bustling with activity and the Florida sunshine is a delightful reprieve from the winter snow up north,” Heimann says. This period lasts from approximately Thanksgiving to spring break.
While mid- to late summer is a crowd-free, quieter time in Boca Grande, you may have trouble securing a stay, as the Gasparilla Inn closes annually from mid-July to early October. However, other hotels stay open, and there are assorted vacation rentals available.
When planning a visit to Florida, keep in mind that hurricane season lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30 each year, so there’s always a chance of storms during the summer and fall.
As one might expect of America’s best small beach town, the best things to do in Boca Grande are in, around, or on the water or beach; namely, fishing, shelling, boating, beaches, and biking.
While there’s plenty to entertain the activity-fueled traveler, we recommends to visitors or first-timers to Boca Grande is not so much an activity but an experience: enjoying a sunset on the beach.
Still, to get the most from your trip to Boca Grande, you’ll want to fit in a few adventures, like climbing the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse (known locally as the “range light”) or heading to Gasparilla Island State Park for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, shelling, and picnicking. Keep an eye out for the tarpon that often jump and roll in the deep waters of Boca Grande Pass.
Go during the annual World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, a tradition dating back to the early 1980s with thousands of dollars of prize money on the (literal) line.
For the perfect way to spend a day seeing it all — Gasparilla Island is only seven miles long and a half-mile across its widest point — pedal the 6.5-mile Boca Grande Bike Path and stop at points of interest like the stunning Banyan Street, Boca Grande Historical Society, historic Whidden’s Marina, and pretty-in-pink Johann Fust Community Library.
If you’re lucky, try to score an invite to nearby members-only Useppa Island; otherwise, a day trip to Cayo Costa should scratch the island-adventure itch. It’s accessible only via boat or kayak, with a ferry service available from several mainland locations.
While there are only a few accommodation options in Boca Grande, they run the gamut from primitive (camping in nearby Cayo Costa State Park) to luxurious.
Gasparilla Inn & Club
For old Florida at its finest, look no further than The Gasparilla Inn & Club, which strikes the perfect balance between ritzy and relaxed. The Inn has a variety of accommodation options, from rooms and suites in The Main Inn to private cottages and two- to four-bedroom villas. Guests can take part in a range of activities, from golf to croquet, tennis, fitness classes, adventure rentals, shopping, the spa, lounging the day away at the The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club, or dining at one of the Inn’s four eateries. Be sure to pack with the Inn’s dress code in mind.
Boca Grande Hotel
Formerly known as The Boca Grande Resort, the Boca Grande Hotel is a quaint hotel option on the north end of Gasparilla Island next to Uncle Henry’s Marina and Kappy’s Market. Amenities include an outdoor pool, free parking, beach towels and loungers (note that the closest public beach access is three miles away), and a guest laundromat.
The Palmetto Inn
A sister to the Boca Grande Hotel, The Palmetto Inn is located in the Downtown Boca Grande Historic District and just a short walk from the beach. Built in 1900 as a private residence, it’s now a charming seven-suite inn offering the lowest in-season rates on the island.
The Innlet on the Waterfront
Located on the waters of the Boca Grande Bayou, The Innlet on the Waterfront is an unfussy charmer with 20 waterfront efficiencies and 13 courtyard-facing rooms. Other amenities include a pool, on-site restaurant serving breakfast and lunch, and charcoal grill, plus a boat ramp, 28 boat slips, and boat trailer parking if you BYOB (Florida-speak for bring your own boat).
How to Get There
Aside from the private Coral Creek Airport, which is less than 10 minutes away from Boca Grande, there are several public airports nearby. The closest is Punta Gorda Airport (PGD), about an hour away, which is serviced by Sun Country and Allegiant Air with nonstop flights from about 50 cities.
There’s also Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) and Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), both of which are about an hour and a half away, and Tampa International Airport (TPA), which is about two hours away by car. Boca Grande is about 3.5 hours from both Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Miami International Airport (MIA).
No matter where you fly into, there’s just one road onto Gasparilla Island: the Boca Grande Causeway.