PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA

By  Mike Miller  Updated January 25, 2024

Punta Gorda, Florida Things To Do, Lodging, Dining, & Real Estate At End Of Article

The first thing you need to know about Punta Gorda, Florida is how to pronounce it.  At least until more and more northerners move down and change it. 

Mural in Punta Gorda, FloridaMural in Punta Gorda, Florida

Forget your Spanish, native Floridians call it PUNTA (like punting a football). Don't say POONTA (although as Florida's influx of new people continues, this becomes less important).

Punta Gorda has a population of about 17,000, and is the seat of Charlotte County, Florida. It is the only incorporated town in the County.

The town gets its name from the Spanish term for the "fat point" of land where the Peace River meets Charlotte Harbor.

HISTORY OF PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA

In the years after the Civil War, the Howard brothers came to the area and were the first settlers. About ten years later the railroad came to town, and Punta Gorda FL began to grow.

The town was the end of the railway system, so a lot of tourists came down and stayed awhile. The town was incorporated in 1887.

Vintage Postcard Hotel Charlotte, Punta GordaVintage Postcard Hotel Charlotte, Punta Gorda

Like many towns at the end of the trail, some tough characters settled there. There were reportedly 40 murders in Punta Gorda in the years 1890-1904.

The town settled down as years wore on, and the shady characters either murdered each other or got respectable jobs.

The first bridge over Charlotte Harbor was built in 1921 to incorporate the new Tamiami Trail (US-41).

The next huge event was when the General Development Corporation began their Port Charlotte lot sales program across the harbor from Punta Gorda.

Over the years this sprawling community is not incorporated but is many times larger than Punta Gorda with a population of 61,000.

PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA TODAY

There are many historic buildings in Punta Gorda, including the old Charlotte County Courthouse and 9 other places on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trabue Cottage at Punta Gorda History ParkTrabue Cottage at Punta Gorda History Park

Punta Gorda suffered a lot of damage in 2004 when it took a direct hit from Hurricane Charley.  It took another serious hit in 2022 from Hurricane Ian.

Old Charlotte County Courthouse, Photo by EbyabeOld Charlotte County Courthouse, Photo by Ebyabe

The community has done a good job of rebuilding and replacing damaged structures.  It took years of hard work to get things back to almost normal.

River City Grill in Downtown Punta GordaRiver City Grill in Downtown Punta Gorda

The town has a new look but still captures its Old Florida origins.

Downtown Punta Gorda is a pleasant destination with several good restaurants, some with outside dining.

Fishermen's VillageFishermen's Village

Other nice shops and restaurants are in Fishermen's Village, a rustic time share and shopping complex built out over Charlotte Harbor just west of downtown.

There is a modern marina adjacent to Fishermen's Village that has direct access to Charlotte Harbor.

Old Florida Style Home, Punta GordaOld Florida Style Home, Punta Gorda

There are many nice well maintained Old Florida style homes in the neighborhoods close to downtown.

Punta Gorda Isles, a large waterfront community west of downtown, has hundreds of waterfront residences, most of them having boats.

Punta Gorda Isles View to NortheastPunta Gorda Isles View to Northeast

When it was being developed in the 1970s, I had a chance to get a waterfront lot for a very low price.  I didn't take that chance and now I can forget about it. 

Prices for waterfront property in Punta Gorda have skyrocketed just like every place else in Florida.

HURRICANE CHARLEY HITS PUNTA GORDA

The sunset picture on my sailboat, AWOL, was taken at Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda, not long before Charley blew into town.

Punta Gorda Florida SunsetSunset at Burnt Store Marina South of Punta Gorda

Charley came right over Burnt Store Marina.

Poor little AWOL lost her mast, bow pulpit and lifelines when a nearby boat pulled it's dock pilings out and crashed into her during the storm's ferocious winds.

Punta Gorda Indian Head Before Hurricane CharleyPunta Gorda Indian Head Before Hurricane Charley in 2004

A friend of mine, after drinking too much beer, rode out Charley on his Gulfstar 36 at Burnt Store Marina.

He took some amazing still photographs and videos and lived to tell about it.  This is not recommended practice.

The famous downtown Indian also survived, but the building it stood in front of did not and it has been moved to another location in town.

Punta Gorda Indian Head During Coronavirus PandemicPunta Gorda Indian Head During Coronavirus Pandemic

Sometime in April 2020, in response to the Corona virus pandemic, somebody with a sense of humor decided to protect the poor old Indian.

Locals have always called this guy the "Indian Head."

BOAT RIDE TO FUN RESTAURANT

Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant.  This requires a boat trip, but is well worth the visit.  

Cabbage Key InnCabbage Key Inn

Old Florida at its best, and some even say it was Jimmy Buffett's inspiration for "Cheeseburger In Paradise". 

Jimmy didn't agree, but the legend lives on even though Jimmy is not longer with us.


THINGS TO DO IN PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA

Punta Gorda Indian Head “Calostimucu”
319 W Retta Esplanade # 301, Punta Gorda, FL 33950

The big Indian head, mentioned and pictured earlier, was carved in 1974 from a monkey pod tree by Hungarian-born American sculptor Peter Wolf Toth.

Toth created a series of sculptures called Trail of the Whispering Giants to honor Native Americans. This is #10 of the series. Overall, he has created more than 74 sculptures in this series, including at least one in each state of the USA. Florida has three.

The 6,000-pound, 15-foot-tall Native American statue is known as the "Indian Head" locally but listed as Calostimucu on Wikipedia. After storm damage the sculpture was restored by Toth in summer 2005.

Fishermen's Village
1200 W Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda, FL | (941) 639-8721

Fishermen's Village, discussed and pictured earlier, is a waterfront shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. We enjoy the variety of shops offering unique gifts, clothing, and souvenirs.

Visitors like the delicious seafood restaurants with beautiful views of Charlotte Harbor. The marina is a great place to watch boats come and go or take a scenic cruise. Live music and events add to the lively atmosphere.

It's a perfect spot for a day out with family and friends. The sunsets here are breathtaking, making it a favorite place to relax and unwind.

Punta Gorda History Park
501 Shreve St, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 639-1887

Punta Gorda History Park is a charming area that showcases the city's rich past. We enjoy exploring the historic buildings, including the Freeman House and the Trabue Land Sales Office pictured earlier.

Visitors like the informative plaques and displays that tell the stories of early settlers. The park's beautiful gardens and old Florida charm make it a peaceful place to visit. It's also home to a weekly farmers market, where you can find fresh produce and local crafts.

The park is a delightful spot for history buffs and anyone who enjoys a stroll through picturesque grounds.

Peace River Wildlife Center
3400 Ponce de Leon Pkwy, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 637-3830

The Peace River Wildlife Center is a haven for injured and orphaned animals. We enjoy seeing the variety of wildlife, including birds of prey, pelicans, and turtles.

Visitors like the educational programs and tours that provide insights into animal rehabilitation. The center's mission to rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals back into the wild is inspiring. The scenic location along the Peace River adds to the charm.

It's a wonderful place for families and nature lovers to learn about and appreciate Florida's wildlife. The dedicated staff and volunteers make every visit memorable.

Laishley Park
120 Laishley Court, Punta Gorda, FL 33950

Laishley Park is a popular waterfront park in Punta Gorda. We enjoy the scenic views of Charlotte Harbor and the various amenities, including a splash pad for kids.

Visitors like the fishing pier, boat ramp, and picnic areas. The park is a great spot for a leisurely walk or bike ride along the harborwalk. It's also a venue for many community events and festivals.

The adjacent Laishley Crab House offers delicious dining options with a view. The park's open spaces and beautiful setting make it a favorite place for outdoor activities and relaxation.

Military Heritage Museum
900 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 575-9002

The Military Heritage Museum is a fascinating place that honors the history and sacrifices of the armed forces. We enjoy the extensive exhibits that cover various conflicts and military branches.

Visitors like the interactive displays and the chance to see authentic military artifacts. The museum also offers flight simulators and virtual reality experiences. It's a great place to learn about military history and the stories of those who served.

The knowledgeable volunteers and engaging exhibits make it a standout attraction in Punta Gorda. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in history and patriotism.

Ponce de Leon Park
3400 Ponce de Leon Pkwy, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 575-5041

Ponce de Leon Park is a lovely waterfront park with something for everyone. We enjoy the sandy beach area and the boardwalk that winds through mangroves.

Visitors like the fishing pier and the picnic pavilions with beautiful views of the harbor. The park is also home to the Peace River Wildlife Center, adding an educational element to your visit. It's a great spot for kayaking, birdwatching, or simply relaxing by the water.

The playground and open spaces make it a family-friendly destination. The park's natural beauty and variety of activities make it a favorite in Punta Gorda.

Gilchrist Park
400 W Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 575-3324

Gilchrist Park is a beautiful waterfront park that offers a variety of recreational activities. We enjoy the scenic walking paths and the playgrounds for kids.

Visitors like the tennis and pickleball courts, as well as the picnic areas with stunning views of Charlotte Harbor. The park is a popular spot for fishing, kayaking, and watching the sunset.

It also hosts concerts and events, adding to its vibrant atmosphere. The peaceful setting and range of amenities make it a great place to relax and enjoy the outdoors. It's a favorite gathering spot for both locals and tourists.

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park
12301 Burnt Store Rd, Punta Gorda, FL 33955 | (941) 575-5816

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is a pristine natural area that offers a variety of outdoor activities. We enjoy hiking the trails that wind through mangroves and salt marshes.

Visitors like the opportunity to see diverse wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, and numerous bird species. The park is also great for kayaking and fishing. It's a peaceful escape where you can connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of Florida's coastal ecosystems.

The park's vast, untouched landscapes make it a favorite spot for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. It's a wonderful place to explore and appreciate the natural world.

Visual Arts Center
210 Maud St, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 639-8810

The Visual Arts Center is a hub for art and creativity in Punta Gorda. We enjoy the diverse range of exhibitions that showcase local and regional artists.

Visitors like the variety of art classes and workshops offered for all skill levels. The center also hosts special events and art shows, making it a vibrant part of the community. The galleries are filled with inspiring works, from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and jewelry.

The friendly atmosphere and supportive environment make it a great place to explore and develop your artistic talents. It's a must-visit for art lovers and anyone looking to get creative.

River City Grill
131 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL 33950 | (941) 639-9080

River City Grill, pictured earlier, is a popular dining spot in Downtown Punta Gorda known for its delicious American cuisine and vibrant atmosphere. We enjoy the diverse menu featuring fresh seafood, steaks, and innovative dishes.

Visitors like the cozy, inviting interior and friendly service. The restaurant also offers a great selection of wines and craft beers. It's perfect for a casual meal or a special night out.

The outdoor seating area provides a pleasant setting for enjoying the beautiful Florida weather. River City Grill’s commitment to quality and customer satisfaction makes it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.



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