By Lauren Tjaden

When you cross the tiny, narrow bridge onto the island of Boca Grande, you enter a world unlike any other. 45 minutes from the nearest Interstate exit, this lush, palm-fringed escape has largely remained under the radar. These Boca Grande, Florida pictures will show you exactly what we mean.

Most folks like it that way.

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The small residential community, located on Gasparilla Island on Florida’s southwest coast, is undeniably upscale and undeniably wealthy. But it’s hardly pretentious, and little about it's glitzy or glamorous.

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It’s a place where the famous go to not be famous. If you do recognize a face, everyone would prefer you keep it to yourself.

One local told me you can’t tell which person is the millionaire and which one is the house painter. Most folks like it that way too.

The town’s about beaches with impossibly blue waters, and fishing. It’s about being outside, and enjoying things like shelling and bicycling. These Boca Grande images give you a glimpse of the beauty of it all.

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It's a place where nature celebrates. Sea turtles nest on its shores, and the beaches are wild and pristine, not groomed affairs.

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Chain restaurants, traffic lights and T-shirt stores are not things you’ll see. Be forewarned: there are no gas stations either, and many folks get around via golf cart. Just make sure to fill up before you go; the nearest gas station is two miles off island.

Where to Eat in Boca Grande

When you’re on the island, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time, to a place where the muffins and the sandwiches are homemade. The ice cream is homemade too. At least at the Loose Caboose.

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One of the best places to eat is the Pink Elephant. If you want to sound like a local, call it “the Pink.”

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It offers an upstairs dining room, downstairs pub and outdoor patio. We ate at the Pub, a shady, cool escape rich with polished wood.

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The seafood I ordered was gone shortly after I took this picture.

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Where to Stay in Boca Grande

If you want to stay in Boca Grande, you won’t find any high-rise resorts on the beach. The Gasparilla Inn & Club, which aims to have you experience the ‘tranquil civility of Florida as it was meant to be,’ is lovely and historic.

We stayed at The Innlet on the Waterfront, a surprisingly humble – and much more affordable—hotel nestled along the Boca Grande bayou.

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Several B & B’s are also available.

State Parks and Outdoor Adventures in Boca Grande

Visiting Gasparilla Island State Park and its centerpiece, the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890, is a must-do.

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I got to climb up in it and take a few pictures.

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But kicking back on the porch was a lot cooler than inside that hot glass.

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There’s another Lighthouse too, the Gasparilla Island Light, a 105 foot steel skeleton tower that still serves as an active aid to navigation.

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Boca Grande’s biggest claim to fame is its tarpon fishing. A normal 80-day season in Boca Grande Pass produces an average 5,000 tarpon landed.  That astronomical number means it yields more tarpon than any other location on the planet.

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At Gasparilla Outfitters, we even found jewelry in the shape of a tarpon.

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My favorite thing we experienced there was watching a sunset.

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We’d gone for dinner but the restaurant was closed. I saw a sandy trail to the beach just behind the parking lot, and I felt compelled to follow it.

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Nobody else was on the beach except for my husband and me. Soon, I was sitting in the sand taking pictures, shoes abandoned, with a damp backside.

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It was perfectly simple, and it was perfect. Just like Boca Grande.