In a year, nearly 140 million people visit Florida, but only a small number of them make it to Gasparilla Island and its main town, Boca Grande. Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande are located on the Gulf of Mexico and are a quiet island community that is known as the “Tarpon Capital of the World.”
Nikki Heimann, manager of The Pink Pony, an island favorite ice cream shop that her grandfather started in 1988, says that the community without stoplights or franchises is “like stepping back in time.”
“Our beaches are impossibly clean, and the water is usually sparkling clear, with lots of different kinds of sea life,” she says. “Fishing for tarpon in our deep-water pass is a big draw.” On the south end of the island, there are two well-kept historical lighthouses, a museum, and a state park. There is also a smooth bike path that goes the whole length of the island, so many people like to rent a golf cart or bicycle and spend the day riding around. You should go there if you want to find peace, quiet, and relaxation.
In spite of how it looks, Boca Grande is strong. In September 2022, Hurricane Ian destroyed much of Southwest Florida, especially Sanibel and Captiva Island to the south.
“Even though we got back on our feet faster than many other places hit by the hurricane, there is still a long way to go,” Heimann says. The Pink Pony quickly reopened after the storm, but other places did not have as much luck. “Many famous parts of our landscape are gone for good.” Everyone here has a story and a problem they’re trying to solve. We’re just glad we didn’t get washed away.
The Best Times to Visit this Town
Like many Florida beach towns, Boca Grande is only open during certain times of the year. Heimann says, “Most people like coming to the island during our busy ‘ social season,'” when the town is full of people doing fun things, and the Florida sunshine is a nice break from the snow up north in the winter. This time frame goes from about Thanksgiving to spring break.
“After that comes tarpon season, when fishing families come to town to enjoy the island all summer long,” she says. “A lot of shops close downtown in August and September, so that’s the best time to go if you want to sweat alone.”
Boca Grande is less crowded and quiet in the middle to late summer, but you might have trouble getting a room because the Gasparilla Inn is closed every year from mid-July to early October. Some hotels, though, stay open, and there are a variety of holiday rentals to choose from. If you want to go to Florida, remember that hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30 every year. That means there’s always a chance of storms in the summer and fall.