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  • Writer's pictureCathy Lou Theresa

Sunrise to Sunset in South West Florida in 2023

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Day One

Our trip to Florida started at 4 in the morning. This is a difficult time for me, but our flight

was at 8am, so if we were to be there 2 hours prior and it was over an hour to get to the airport, we needed to get up at 4am. I think it was even earlier. I had decided that my strategy was to get up and have some non caffeinated tea and attempt to struggle through the next several hours without any caffeine. This put Chris on double duty. He had to do all of the thinking and put up with my crankiness. But it worked, I went right to sleep as soon as I was on the plane and Chris happily sat back and watched the morning light from the plane.

As soon as we landed, I needed to head straight to a Starbucks. Our Turo car guy was texting me, but I needed a coffee more than I needed anything in the world right at that moment. Caffeine satisfied, we headed to the ground level to find our rental. Note to self, look for “rental transportation” and not “ground transportation”, there is a difference.

Chris’s family had grown up vacationing around Highland Beach, Florida, so we drove up there after landing in Fort Lauderdale. Our destination was across the state near Fort Myers, but it was cheaper flying into Fort Lauderdale and we don’t mind road trips. Then we drove through Delray Beach and had lunch at one of the restaurants there on the main strip. We ate at Hawker’s Asian Street Food. We are both trying to lose weight. We don’t want to roll around the world, we want to travel the world. So, Asian food can be perfect for that, depending on the venue. I had the Shrimp Papaya Lettuce Wrap and Chris had the Curry Laksa. We were able to sit at the outside bar, with some shade, so we were deliriously happy.

After lunch, we drove by Mar-a Lago to see what all the fuss was about (not much). We also drove by the Henry Flagler home. Henry Flagler was an oil tycoon who became enamored with Florida when his first wife became ill and was sent to Florida for the healing weather. He is credited with the founding of Miami and Palm Beach in Florida. His life was full of controversy and drama and even mystery. The home is beautiful and is now the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. We did not have time to actually visit the museum, but it looked interesting. We had to start driving across the state. The drive was a lot of land and a lot of cows, which is really cool, because that stuff has to be somewhere.

We arrived in the evening at Lake Suzy, at our airbnb. It was absolutely fantastic. A large room, with a king bed and a microwave and mini refrigerator and an in-ground pool on the screened in porch, overlooking gorgeous Lake Suzy, for a price under 100 a night.

Day Two

The next day we had breakfast at our lakeside, poolside, private room, luxuriating in our surroundings, not believing our luck. Finally, venturing out, we took a walk around Bayshore Oak Park in Port Charlotte for stunning views of the harbor along with historical markers that someone thought were lies. I wonder what's up with that? There is a lovely walkway around the harbor and a long pier that you can walk on.

We drove through Punta Gorda and stopped at Ponce De Leon Park. There was a wild life display and trails in and around the beach and lots of historical markers regarding Ponce de Leon who was credited with the founding of Florida, but in actuality, he spent little time in Florida and was immediately killed by the Calusa people when he did try and return with serious effort to establish a Spanish Colony. There is a Drunk History episode abut this that we must watch.

That wasn't the only curiosity regarding the historical markers. Does the "first white man killed" really need to be marked as if it's more special than other lives?

Drunk History

We finally arrived at our friend Dave’s boat. Dave has his boat on the Caloosahatchee River. It issues from Lake Hicpochee near Lake Okeechobee. The Caloosahatchee River connects to the Caloosahatchee Canal. (If you are wondering why the place names in Florida are so wonky, it’s mostly from the Native Americans.) This waterway system can take you all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Dave has a little boat that he lives on half the year on the river. It’s in a little town called Labelle, about 30 miles west of Fort Myers. They have a clubhouse restaurant on site, so that is where we went for dinner and even some dancing to live music.

Day Three

The next day, we perfected our morning routine. Chris would go out to search for the perfect sunrise picture and I would wake just before sunrise, catch a glimpse of it from our lakeside view and have a bite to eat. Then I would take a walk around the entire lakeside neighborhood, which is about 2 miles. Then I would have my breakfast. After breakfast, I would take a dip in the pool. When Chris would come back, we would do some more lakeside relaxing and swimming before heading out for the day. Is this what most people do on vacation? This felt like a luxurious vacation.

Today we were headed to explore Punta Gorda. Chris had already explored the area for sunrise, and found that Punta Gorda is home to some great pickle ball courts.

Chris thought that his dad would love this place, since he loves pickleball.

"Hey, can I hit one?"

Punta Gorda is just north of Fort Myers on the Peace river off of the Gasparilla Sound. Before European settlement, Punta Gorda was home to the afore-mentioned Calusa people. It was referred to as Punta Gorda (Fat Point) on maps, referring to a point of land that juts into Charlotte Harbor. Punta Gorda was first named Trabue, after a Union soldier who bought land and settled by the Peace river. However, he was anything but peaceful and quarreled with everyone, notably the original land surveyor, and Trabue refused to pay his fee. So, years later, when the town began to experience infrastructure problems and had no taxing authority, the citizens elected to incorporate it and in doing so, renamed the town Punta Gorda after the original name on geographic maps. This devastated Trabue who had no children to pass on his name. Pay your fees people! In more recent history, it was hit hard by hurricane Charley in 2004 which made way for the Harborwalk where we started our journey.

We got the bikes at the Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside for free! Just go into the hotel and ask!

First, we biked upstream of the Peace River up to the Vietnam Memorial at Laishley Park. The memorial is a replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC and took a ride on the pier.

We stopped at the car back by the Sheraton and had lunch in the car. We bought bags of salad and instant rice, and avocado and turkey wraps. We have perfected packing a disposable cooler and saving on our food budget. We then biked downstream all the way to the Ponce de Leon Park, which was about 4 miles. We saw lots of reminders of Ponce De Leon which was curious after learning that he really didn't spend that much time here. It makes you wonder who wrote the history books. We also saw a homage to the railroad which made Florida what it is today, as it has with most towns and cities in the US. We had passed by Fisherman’s Village, which is a shopping and restaurant complex with over 30 shops and restaurants, so on the way back, we stopped for much needed ice cream at the Good Ole Days Coffee and Ice Cream Shop. In the heat, all I could think about the last 2 miles was to get to the ice cream shop! Once there, we had a conversation with a Vietnam Veteran, where we talked about, you guessed it, the Good Ole Days. But were they so good? Not so sure. He seemed certain that the good ole days have passed and we were headed for communism and disaster.

We finished the day with sunset in Venice at Humphris Park, which is a park that is uniquely suited for sunset viewing, with a fantastic view of the sunset and the harbor. They had a super cute snack shack where Chris had a sausage dog and I ate more from the car stash. The park was filled with people watching the harbor and the sunset like it was a theater.

Day Four

Saturday was the day that we were going to go see my niece by-former- marriage, Nicole, and her husband Chris and their adorable family. As usual, we had a hard time getting out of the airbnb because with the lake, and the pool and the gorgeous room, why leave? But we did and made our way north towards St Petersburg. We drove via Manasota Key for the scenery. Manasota Key is known for it’s beautiful little-known beaches. We stopped at Turtle Beach on the northern end of the key, just before Sarasota, for a walk. Turtle Beach is really cool, but we didn’t really have time to explore it.

In St Petersburg, after a visit at my niece’s home, we all went to the Fairgrounds. Fairgrounds is an interactive art museum. It is housed in a warehouse. You meander through various themed rooms of whimsical art that reflect Florida’s wacky wonder. Most of the exhibit is hands on and it really turns full grown adults into children again, which we all need to do regularly.

We then went to the famous St Pete’s Pier for a walk and drinks and dinner. The St. Pete Pier has a long history. The railroad craze, of course, first initiated interest in piers along the Tampa Bay. There have been four piers built at the site of the current St Pete Pier. I visited the Million Dollar Pier with my sons in early 2000’s. In 2020, the current St Pete Pier opened. It’s a great view of both the water and the city skyline as you walk along the 1,265 foot pier. There are six restaurants to choose from on this pier, but we headed towards the one with the rooftop view, Teak. It was crowded, but we ordered an appetizer and some drinks. Chris and I had been to this amazing spot before, during the day and it was really great. We then headed to Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill. Where we had seafood and rum! We got back to our airbnb at 2 in the morning.

Day five

After we did the luxurious vacation thing in the morning. We swam and relaxed by the pool with breakfast and snacks and then, lunch. We were going back to spend more time with Chris and Nicole in St Petersburg. It would definitely have made more sense to book an airbnb in St. Petersburg for part of the trip, but we weren’t arguing the decision, relaxing by the pool. So, we headed out by about noon and on the way, stopped in Sarasota, to enjoy the scenery, stretch our legs and get some exercise. We walked from Bayfront Park to Eloise Werlin Park along the Sarasota Bay. Bayfront Park has picnic tables, restrooms, a playground and a cool dolphin fountain along the Marina Jack Trail. Eloise Werlin Park is right under the Ringling Causeway Bridge, named for John Ringling, one of the famed Ringling brothers. It is next to the Saprito Fishing Pier, which makes for a nice scenic walk.

After Sarasota, we went straight to St Petersburg and caught up with Nicole and Chris and went to the Pinellas Pepper Fest, which is a hot and spicy food festival in Pinellas Park with live music and food trucks along with over 100 vendors. After the festival, we went back to Nicole’s house, where she made her own spicy food tacos, which were so good. We also got to hang out with her adorable kids and we even got to see Selena, her oldest daughter, for a bit.

Day 6

Every morning, Chris would stop for coffee during his sunrise journey at this little coffee shop called The Bean in Punta Gorda. Chris is an admitted political junkie who loves to talk politics. He also drinks coffee like it’s water. So, a coffee shop that had a political agenda was irresistible to him. Chris is generally a liberal, but he has voted republican before. He can be very bipartisan. The coffee shop was quite ….enthusiastic about Trump.

So, we stopped there for me to meet them and see the shop. It’s not my scene, but the people seemed very nice. It was also way past my time for caffeine for the day, so we stopped in to say hello and that was it. Chris would return the next day for his political fix.

Then we met our friend Dave at a coffee shop outside of Sanibel Island. But we were only there to meet Dave and explore Sanibel Island together. Sanibel was hit by a hurricane. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island sustained damage that set the vegetation back 100 years, which gives you an idea what it did to the rest of the island and the vegetation. When you look at hurricane damage, people often look at the homes, which is usually substantial, but not many people think of the changes to the vegetation that changes the landscape of the area, and that’s particularly devastating when tourism is organized around the beauty of the area. We drove all over Sanibel and Captiva Island and we even found the home of friends of Chris’s parents which had sustained significant damage. They had a nice swimming pool still in the back. Should we go swimming? Got a suit?

We then explored a few beaches on Sanibel Island, namely, Sanibel Beach and Bowman’s beach. Sanibel Island is famed for it’s seashells and Dave found a lot! The water is sure calm, so it was a very peaceful place to swim. Bowman’s Beach is named for the Bowman family, who were one of the first settlers on Sanibel Island. There is an old cemetery nearby for that family, but you can only access it via the bike trail. We did not bike on this visit to Sanibel as it is still recuperating from Hurricane Ian. To get to the beach, you have to walk through a narrow winding path to get to the beach where you are greeted with the beautiful beach.

We did find an absolutely amazing spot for dinner and sunset. The Mucky Duck is a great spot that has seating right by the beach, where kids can play while adults enjoy the drinks, food and the sunset. It’s a magical place, for sure, and not just because of the sunset, as it comes with a great story. The story begins in the 70’s when some college students visiting their parents got sloshed at “the Duck” and thought it was a great idea to steal the sign that said, “English Style Pub- Closed Sunday”. The sign apparently went through life with one of the then-sloshed thieves and then five decades later, following the devastation of Sanibel Island from Hurricane Ian, the sign was returned by someone named “Amends Maker” concerned with the damage from the hurricane and they wanted to give back the sign after all of these years. . As luck would have it, the Mucky Duck sustained no damage at all from the hurricane. Not even a drop of water. However, they were inundated with sand around the building, so they couldn’t open for a while.

Day 7

On Chris’s sunrise journey, he stopped by the “Trump coffee shop” again. Kind of out of the blue, the owner asked him his opinions on abortion, and Chris answered honestly, that it’s a women’s issue and right…and then he was asked to leave. So the place was not quite as friendly as we thought. If you look at google reviews, it’s not surprising that they behaved as they did.

So, we had another luxurious morning at the airbnb before heading down to Dave’s boat again. We met him in Labelle. Labelle has a Swamp Cabbage Festival every February, which sounds great. It also has an historical center that sounds interesting, with some civil war history. We went to Dave’s boat and boarded and headed out to the open waters of the Caloosahatchee River. The Caloosahatchee River is important to the Everglades because it is a source of fresh water for the ecosystem. There has been a move towards renovation of these waters repairing damage caused by development over the decades, but, politically, it has been difficult to put into place. We didn’t swim in it as it is one of the most polluted rivers in the nation because of agricultural and urban run off, not because of littering. There are also said to be sharks in the waters! But, it was a beautiful ride and there are lovely views from the boat. (But no sharks that we saw!) We disembarked when we got hungry to grab more snacks. We had to disembark using the kayak to get us all to shore. Then we got back in the boat the same way and continued our journey. When we disembarked for good, we drove home, as it was a good hour and half drive and we made it home in time for a nice evening on the dock, and a swim.

Last day, day 8

This was our last day, so we spent the morning swimming and enjoying the poolside at the airbnb all morning before setting out for the two hour drive to the other side of the coast. Before our flight, we checked out all of the areas around the famed Mar-a-Lago before the historic indictment of Donald Trump.

Our flight was delayed, but then that was just an excuse for some airport food, which, personally, I love.

Here’s a recap of the places we visited

  • Hawker’s Asian Street food in Delray Beach

  • Bayshore Oak Park in Port Charlotte

  • Ponce De Leon Park in Punta Gorda

  • Caloosahatchee River

  • Harborwalk in Punta Gorda

  • Laishley Park in Punta Gorda

  • Good Ole Days Coffee and Ice Cream Shop in Punta Gorda

  • Humphris Park in Venice

  • Turtle Beach in Manasota

  • Fairgrounds in St Pete’s

  • Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill

  • St Pete’s Pier

  • Teak’s in St. Pete

  • Pinellas Pepper Fest in Pinellas Park

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