Charlotte Harbor and its islands provide the quintessential Florida vacation: palm trees, the warm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, sunshine and white-sand beaches.

Here, in and around the second largest open-water estuary in Florida, visitors discover a true sub-tropical experience without the crowds or costs of other Florida destinations.

They also find a surprising side to Florida, one with remote islands accessible only by bridge or boat, charming waterfront shopping and dining venues, and inland eco-adventures along peaceful rivers or through ancient swampland.

Water Everywhere

With more than 830 miles of waterways – including the Gulf, Charlotte Harbor, and the scenic Peace and Myakka rivers – the area is tied closely to the water. Every mile is special, a showcase of natural beauty and environmental wonders, from beaches and mangrove-lined estuaries to that perfect spot for fishing or snorkeling.

Visitors can splash in the Gulf surf, sunbathe or sift through the sand for seashells and the fossilized teeth of ancient sharks along Englewood Beach, Stump Pass Beach State Park, Don Pedro Island State Park and Blind Pass Beach. Many beach parks offer playgrounds, restrooms, and sports facilities. Some have nature trails and boardwalks, covered picnic areas and secluded stretches of quiet beach. Gasparilla Island is home to an 1890 lighthouse.

Charlotte Harbor is internationally renowned for its year-round sports fishing. Local charter captains lead fishing expeditions in search of tarpon, snook, redfish, barracuda, cobia and grouper. Guests can also enjoy the water aboard sightseeing tours and sunset cruises. Rent a canoe or kayak to explore hundreds of miles of blueways near Placida and Cape Haze, along the Peace and Myakka rivers, and other waterways not accessible by motorboat.

Inland Adventures and Wildlife Encounters

Beyond the beaches, visitors discover a different side of Florida, one where a historic downtown melds old and new or a swamp buggy hums through a century-old cypress swamp. Charlotte Harbor provides the backdrop for Punta Gorda, a pedestrian-friendly small town with waterfront parks and restaurants plus art galleries and boutiques. Restored homes provide a glimpse into old Florida with their breezy verandas, pastel-painted siding and tin roofs.

Fisherman’s Village is a popular waterfront destination, with its offering of locally owned restaurants and shops, a marina, villa rentals and even a military museum. Visitors to Babcock Ranch experience a working cattle ranch and ride a swamp buggy through the picturesque Telegraph Swamp.

Whether traveling by boat, bike or car, photographers and nature lovers are bound to see unique creatures – long-legged birds, manatees, dolphins and bald eagles – that live along the shoreline or in the dense mangrove forests where saltwater meets freshwater.

Stay and Play

The Charlotte Harbor area offers a variety of places to stay, whether you want to be within walking distance the nightlife of Punta Gorda and Fisherman’s Village or prefer a quiet beachfront house or condominium on an island accessible only by car ferry. The harbor and its Gulf islands provide plenty of options, including small inns, beachfront vacation rentals and small resorts with pools and tennis courts. Summertime also brings special rates and packages that help visitors get the most out of their Florida vacation.

This article is brought to you by the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau. To plan your trip to Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, visit