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A couple strolling along the beach on Palm Island, Florida
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    Florida

Warm, sandy beaches; mangrove-lined waterways and pristine barrier islands draw you to the water’s edge, where the adventures begin.

Located in southwest Florida where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Gasparilla Sound, Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach is practically a theme park for outdoor enthusiasts. Of course, if you’re just looking to relax, there’s no reason not to in this balmy beach paradise. Here’s your three-day guide to the area’s top natural attractions and recreational activities.

Day 1: Barrier Island Beaches

Barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico are like little slices of beach paradise. In the morning, venture out to Don Pedro Island State Park for the chance to see gopher tortoises and West Indian manatees. On the bay side, Don Pedro’s mangrove-lined shore protects wildlife of all kinds, while its Gulf of Mexico side features enchanting beaches. Charter a boat, rent a kayak or take the local ferry to see its unblemished nature.

For lunch, hop on the water taxi to Palm Island to dine at Rum Bay at Palm Island Resort. Specializing in seafood and South Florida cuisine, Rum Bay is a laid-back eatery tucked into the island’s lush forest. It’s a fun boat ride, and dining here is the only way to visit the island apart from staying at the resort.

Round out your exploration of the barrier islands at Stump Pass Beach State Park. Comb the beach for shells and fossilized shark teeth, or take in the fresh air with a hike on the park’s trail through five distinct natural areas. Outfitters are available with kayak rentals, lessons and guided tours of the island’s waterways. In the winter, rangers lead nature hikes.

A beautiful day for seeking shells and shark teeth at Stump Pass Beach State Park

A beautiful day for seeking shells and shark teeth at Stump Pass Beach State Park
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Day 2: Englewood Beach

Englewood Beach is a local favorite for its clean, well-equipped beachfront. Start your day with a guided excursion on Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve with Riding the Waves Eco Tours. Captain your own two-person, motorized catamaran, and learn about the ecosystems of the bay including mangrove estuaries, seagrass flats and secluded sandy beaches.

For a break from the outdoors, embrace the kitschy beach vibes and shop for souvenirs on Dearborn Street and Olde Englewood Village. The casual thoroughfare is also full of restaurants serving up local seafood dishes.

Spend the rest of the day soaking in the sun on family-friendly Englewood Beach. Try parasailing for picture-perfect views and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Dolphins, manatees and shorebirds are common visitors to this beach.

Part thrill-ride and part eco-tour, exploring Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve on personal, motorized catamarans

Part thrill-ride and part eco-tour, exploring Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve on personal, motorized catamarans
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Day 3: Exploring Punta Gorda

In Punta Gorda, little details like historic, tin-roofed homes and brick lanes bring an air of tranquility to this picturesque town. Head to Fishermen’s Village for vintage, Old Florida shops and restaurants. Take a sightseeing cruise of Charlotte Harbor, and follow it with a meal overlooking the water.

For a change of scenery, visit the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens, one of the only gardens of its kind in Florida, seamlessly blending art and nature. Travel south along the river to discover the Peace River Wildlife Center, where experts provide an up close look at some of the area’s most interesting wildlife.

To see more local wildlife, take an eco-tour into the heart of Florida’s wilderness with Babcock Ranch Eco Tours where you might see alligators, birds, deer, wild hogs, turkeys and sandhill cranes up close in their natural habitat.

Exploring downtown Punta Gorda with the help of its free bike-share program

Exploring downtown Punta Gorda with the help of its free bike-share program
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Round Out Your Stay

Life here revolves around the beach, but there’s never a shortage of things to do. Play 18 holes among stunning Florida scenery at more than 20 golf courses. Sports fans can catch a baseball game at Charlotte Sports Park. Cyclists can explore extensive trail systems and paved paths; free loaner bikes are available in Punta Gorda. If fishing is your pastime of choice, head to the Charlotte Harbor estuary and Boca Grande to try your luck.

Flats fishing on the sparkling waters of Charlotte Harbor

Flats fishing on the sparkling waters of Charlotte Harbor
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Getting There

Fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA) or Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers, and rent a car for the easy drive to Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach. Another option is Punta Gorda Airport (PGD), located right in Punta Gorda, with non-stop service through Allegiant Air from more than 40 U.S. destinations.