When you live in Florida, it’s easy to forget what a paradise it is. To indulge in Florida’s white-sand beaches, waterways and nature preserves, consider spring breaking on Little Gasparilla Island. It’s one of the few places left where there are no cars, no roads and no commercial establishments—just a little slice of sand, sea and sunshine.
Little Gasparilla Island is a narrow slip of land off Florida’s West Coast, nestled between Ft. Myers and Sarasota. It’s just north of Gasparilla Island, separated by Gasparilla Pass, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Little Gasparilla Island is connected with Don Pedro Island by a thin beach and mangrove swamplands.
From Ocala, the drive to the island takes about three hours and 15 minutes, but there’s one extra step. When you arrive in Placida, a coastal town on the mainland, you’ll need to take a private boat or ferry over to the island. Locals have protested building a bridge for years to keep the island free of roads and cars.
Pirate’s Water Taxi ((941) 697-5777) is a private ferry that runs daily between 8:30am and 5:00pm, but make a reservation at least a week in advance to ensure you have a spot onboard when you arrive. The ferry costs $20 for two people and $10 for each additional person. Parking and pickup are at Eldred’s Marina (6301 Boca Grande Causeway, Placida, FL 33946; (941) 697-1431). Bring cash to pay for the ferry and parking, which is $6 per night.
Also, be sure to bring groceries along with you to prepare meals, or plan to travel by boat back to the mainland for access to restaurants. If you hope to avoid waiting on the ferry, private boats are available for rent. Be sure to call ahead this time of year!
Enjoying The Stay
There are a number of house, cottage and condo rentals available on the island, and each comes with its own unique perks.
On an island with few stores and no vehicles, it’s important to communicate with your hosts about whether to bring groceries with you for your stay, and if they will provide shuttle services, golf carts, bicycles or another form of transport if you don’t feel like hoofing it once the ferry drops you off. Because there is no internet connection on the island, be sure to bring a wi-fi hot spot or check with your rental’s manager about how they handle connectivity. Or, better yet, use this as an opportunity to unplug completely.
Certain hotels, condos and bed and breakfasts offer private ferries to their guests, such as Hideaway Bay Beach Club (hideawaystay.wordpress.com), which runs more frequently than the Eldred Marina ferry. These two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos are highly rated by past guests.
Little Gasparilla Vacation Rentals (littlegasparilla.com) owns numerous beachfront and waterfront properties that are ranked among the Top 10 by Trip Advisor guests. They have homes for parties of two to 10, and many are pet-friendly. A portion of every rental fee is donated to the nonprofit Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, a marine research institution with a field office in Boca Grande, so your stay actually gives back to Little Gasparilla. Shuttle services to and from the ferry are provided. Guests can also purchase grocery delivery packages, private chef packages and more when staying here.
Casa Contenta is also highly rated. It’s a 1,000-square-foot cottage with stairs leading down from the screened porch, through the sea grapes and right onto the beach (lgivacation.com). Like this property, most of Little Gasparilla Island’s
rentals are privately owned homes, so be sure to check Airbnb and VRBO for a comprehensive list of houses and condos available for rent.
Seeing the Sights
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll see that most of the buildings are single-family homes—about 350 in total—with part-time residents. There are no big stores and no gas stations. As the locals say, Little Gasparilla is a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. Its largest “road” is a golf cart pathway jokingly called Grand Avenue. The island’s focus is all about rest, relaxation and celebrating nature.
Nearby, there are four state parks in the Barrier Island Geo Park System. The largest is Don Pedro Island State Park, a 225-acre preserve accessible only by boat or kayak from Little Gasparilla. The island has more than a mile-long stretch of white-sand beach perfect for shelling, swimming, fishing or picnicking. The area is known to be inhabited by dolphins and manatees. The Grande Tours ferry ((941) 697-8825) offers
roundtrip guided tours of the island.
Stump Pass Beach State Park is a short island-hop away, located on the southern end of Manasota Key. The park includes a hiking trail through five different natural environments, so you can see every version of Florida flora and fauna. Visit floridastateparks.org for more information on these parks as well as Cayo Costa State Park and Gasparilla Island State Park. The nearby Gasparilla Sound (floridadep.gov) is a harbor famous for its tarpon and goliath grouper as well as snorkeling—a number of artificial reefs here make for lively underwater communities.
Also pay a visit to the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum, a large house with a lighthouse structure on top that has guided ships ashore since 1890. Originally known as the Gasparilla Island Light Station, it’s the oldest structure on Gasparilla Island. Today it operates as a museum, providing a tour through the island’s history from 12,000 B.C. to present day.
Doing It All
Little Gasparilla Island’s best activities all happen outdoors. Once you’ve lounged on the beach and floated in the gentle waves of the Gulf, there’s still plenty left to do the rest of the week.
Little Gasparilla Island offers excellent fishing. Nearby Placida Harbor is known for its snook, trout, redfish, snapper, grouper and more. There aren’t a ton of fishermen here at any given time, so it’s perfect for a relaxing day on the dock. Boca Grande Pass, just south of the island, was once the site of the “World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament.” For the best experience here, consider connecting with a fishing guide or charter captain—they’ll know how the fish behave this time of year and where they’re likely to be.
The east side of the island has mangrove-covered shorelines, a great place for kayaking between the island and the mainland. The Gulf’s waters are perfect for trying a hand at stand-up paddleboarding, too, and many rental businesses offer jet skis as well. Because of this area’s crystal-clear waters, snorkeling is a great way to get in the water and learn about the local ecology. Check in with rental businesses on the island and in nearby Placida to arrange for lessons and equipment rentals if you want to spend one day learning and the rest exploring independently.
Although it’s not everyone’s pace, Little Gasparilla is a bird-watching paradise. Commonly sighted birds include bald eagles, great white herons, egret, white pelicans, osprey and more. And along the 12 miles of shoreline on the island, there is a plethora of shells and sharks’ teeth to examine and collect.
Lastly, be sure to plan at least one sunset viewing on the beach before heading home. They’re said to be some of the most beautiful in the country.