This Barrier Island Is One of Florida's Best Hidden Gems — and It Has a 110-year-old Inn

Pack your swimsuit and sunscreen.

Everyone loves a trip to Florida. But sometimes, the nightlife culture in Miami — or even Key West, to a lesser extent — just doesn’t hit the mark for total and utter relaxation. When you just want — scratch that, need — to bliss out on a pristine beach where the aquamarine water laps the soft sand, Gasparilla Island delivers.

Ideal for a family vacation, romantic getaway, or girls weekend, this low-key barrier island on the southwest coast of the Sunshine State is a splendid place for catching rays, collecting shells, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and leisurely strolling along the seaside. It’s also steeped in Florida folklore. Legend has it, the island was named after the mythical Spanish swashbuckler José Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla), who terrorized the waters during Florida’s second Spanish period.

Here's how to plan the perfect visit to Gasparilla Island.

Reed grasses on Gasparilla Island FL

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How to Get to Gasparilla Island

Gasparilla Island sits roughly halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers, making it easy to arrive at either airport and then drive to Eldred's Marina to hop on a water taxi or private boat. The only road access is via the Boca Grande Causeway in Placida.

Getting Around Gasparilla Island

Everything about Gasparilla Island feels delightfully laid-back — and that extends to its lack of traffic. The island is pleasantly devoid of cars. Most travelers opt to get around on sorbet-colored golf carts or bicycles. 

Aerial shot of Gasparilla Island Most Southern Point

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Best Time to Visit Gasparilla Island

Just like plenty of other holiday havens in Florida, Gasparilla Island tends to be warm and sunny year-round. Winter is the busiest season, with many travelers fleeing the cold in search of swimsuit weather in the Sunshine State. Hurricane season on the Gulf Coast runs from early June through the tail end of November. However, according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, the odds of a storm are highest between August and October, so it’s recommended to avoid that period. Some travelers and residents actually prefer the summer, since it’s less crowded, more relaxed, and the rates tend to be quite reasonable. 

Best Things to Do on Gasparilla Island

Historic Boca Grande Lighthouse in Gasparilla Island State Park, Florida

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The beautiful beaches of Gasparilla Island State Park are the highlight of this scenic, serene destination. Many tourists don’t feel the urge to do much else beyond lazing on the sand and cooling off in the water. Of course, that’s not to say visitors who require a bit more stimulation between sunbathing and swimming will be bored. There’s great snorkeling, plus kayaking and private charter cruises. Opportunities to cast a line are excellent as well. Anglers from near and far journey to the Boca Grande Pass, as it’s renowned as one of the best spots for tarpon fishing in the world. A favorite of notable names such as former president George H.W. Bush and Katharine Hepburn back in the day, the charming village of Boca Grande boasts palm-fringed streets dotted with grand Mediterranean Revival and Key West-style homes, cute shops, alfresco restaurants, and art galleries. Don’t miss the historic lighthouse that now houses a museum with exhibits about the island’s heritage. Great for families, it has a "please touch" section with fossils and shells. While Cayo Costa State Park is currently closed due to damage sustained by Hurricane Ian, this idyllic stretch of untouched shoreline, fragrant pine forests, and hiking trails regularly ranks among the highlights for travelers. 

Best Places to Stay on Gasparilla Island

Bed in Gasparilla Inn Guest Room

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Gasparilla Inn Cottage

Brantley Photography/Gasparilla Inn & Club

The lodging scene on Gasparilla Island is quite small and centers around Boca Grande. Snowbirds have been flocking to The Gasparilla Inn & Club since it opened in 1913. This character-rich resort still charms visitors more than a century later with its breezy vibe, spate of family-friendly activities (think croquet and scavenger hunts), pampering spa treatments, beach club, tennis courts, and colorfully decorated rooms.

The property also offers private cottages and villas. Those who prefer the comforts of home should consider booking a vacation condo with multiple bedrooms, ocean views, and a communal pool through Boca Grande Club Rentals.  

Best Places to Eat and Drink on Gasparilla Island

Being an anglers’ paradise comes with its advantages — most notably, the abundance of freshly caught seafood that gets delivered to the area restaurants. Something of an institution, the Main Dining Room at The Gasparilla Inn & Club treats taste buds to a four-course menu in an airy setting that oozes old Florida vibes. The Pink Elephant, the more casual sibling eatery, continues to welcome throngs of hungry patrons with enticing options like tuna tartare and grilled grouper. Have sweet tooth? The Key lime pie is delicious. The Outlet Restaurant comes highly recommended by previous guests who love the classic food and waterfront patio seating. Bella Vida Boca Grande, meanwhile, knocks it out of the park with healthy fare such as acai bowls and vegetable-loaded sandwiches. Tortuga Mexican Street Cuisine is great for breakfast or lunch, and it also offers takeout so visitors can grab some tacos for a beach picnic. The Pink Pony scoops homemade shark bite sundaes and heaps of nostalgia for visitors of all ages who happily satisfy their sweet cravings at the family-run ice cream parlor. 

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