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Dining and Shopping
Although the former fishing town is constantly growing, it still continues to maintain this particular “small town
Charm” as it moves forward with the times. Shopping plazas and grocery stores are within easy reach. Waterfront restaurants are plenty and always busy during the season. Every Thursday there is a Farmers Market at Dearborn Street, which is also the historic district of Englewood. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people come to the market to enjoy a pleasant shopping experience, tasty food samples, and live music. All this under an endless blue sky with lots of sunshine. Life is good!
What is the nightlife like? Quiet, but not too quiet. Live music on the beach, waterfront dining, boating, beach, and fun in the sun. There is also an Event Center offering concerts and other entertainment events. So, it is not too bad, but you can not compare Englewood’s cultural activities with Sarasota’s. If you want world class entertainment, get in your car. You need to drive to Sarasota; it is only a 45-minute drive. Snowbirds, keep in mind: no ice and snow during the winter months. It is always an easy drive.
Englewood has one exit when you come from I-75 called River Road. River Road goes approximately 14 Miles west, crossing 41. Winchester Road is a relatively new road that gives you quicker access to Englewood and the Cape Haze Peninsula to Placida. The main roads in Englewood are wide with four lanes and less congested than Venice and Sarasota.
Parks and Recreation
Do you want to learn more? Do yourself a favor, come to Englewood, roll down the windows and enjoy a scenic drive along Manasota Key. Check out the three different beach access areas and the State Park. You will love this island. There is only one road stretching north to south – you can’t get lost. No GPS needed. Once you reach the southern end of the island, cross the bridge into Englewood. Look around. Maybe now you agree with us that Englewood is the “biggest kept secret” left on the Golf Coast.
As previously mentioned, to the south lies what was once a string of isolated, mosquito infested, mangrove islands. Palm Island, Don Pedro, and Little Gasparilla Island are the names of those islands in the sun. They used to be separate in the past, but now they have melted into one single barrier island.
Don Pedro State Park
In the middle of the chain sits one-half of the Don Pedro Island State Park. The other half is on the mainland because the Intracoastal Waterway cuts the park in two halves. A huge covered picnic shelter with grills and wooden tables is overlooking the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a beautiful spot to have lunch.
There is no bridge connecting this string of island with the Cape Haze peninsula. A little ferry brings cars to Palm Island. From there you can drive a mile or so around. Yes, the island is small. Be prepared to pay a hefty price for that “extra mile”; for example, a round trip for an auto is $55.00. Also, be prepared that parking is very limited on the island. It doesn’t make sense to bring your car with you. But as always, it is up to you. A mile or two for 60 bucks? That is the price for one roundtrip. Hm. Not a good deal.
Take a Boat Tour
Here is a better way to get to the Island: Take your own little powerboat or use a kayak or canoe to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this little tropical paradise. Once you’ve crossed the Intracoastal Waterway, you are in shallow and calm water. No powerboats will pass your way anymore – unless the skipper hates his $600 stainless steel propeller. It is just beautiful in those shallow waters; you will enjoy it.
There is also a hidden bayou. The entrance is a little tricky to find, but it is worth to look out for it. It is quite a bit adventurous if you want to explore this little bayou with your kayak. Depending on the time of the year and day, you will see Dolphins hunting or play. Manatees are floating by, and Ospreys are searching for dinner. Huge Starfish and many other creatures are enjoying the warm water.
Englewood Fun Facts, History and Area Information
Englewood, Florida, – A Town with the “Old Florida Charm”
Englewood is probably one of Florida’s best- kept secrets – at least that is what some people say. Because of the slightly remote location, many people do not realize that this little town with 14,000 residents, ten miles south of Venice, even exists.
Located on the beautiful Lemon Bay, the former fishing town of Englewood, Florida, sits right on the Gulf of Mexico. Okay, that description is not entirely accurate if you looked it up on a map. A more precise description would be that Englewood is bordering Lemon Bay, a large estuary, and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The seven mile long Barrier Islands of Manasota Key and Don Pedro, a little further south, are between the Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. They deserve to be called the ones “bordering the Gulf directly.” But who wants to be such a fusspot? You cross a relatively small draw-bridge, and you are already on Manasota Key; two minutes later you see Englewood Beach and the emerald green Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful! If there wasn’t a 25-mile speed limit on the island you could see the beach one minute sooner.
The Cape Haze Peninsular
Englewood also sits on the northern border of the “Cape Haze Peninsular”, which is about 30 miles long and surrounded by the Myakka River to the east, Charlotte Harbor to the south, and the Intracoastal Waterway/Lemon Bay to the west. Although surrounded by all that water, only the barrier islands are providing the sand beaches everybody loves so much. There are no beaches on the peninsula itself; mangroves and homes are lined up along the coastline.
Lemon Bay is the big body of water separating Englewood and the barrier islands from each other. This Bay is an aquatic preserve, an underwater ecosystem of seagrass and oyster communities, surrounded by a thick mangrove “jungle.” The Bay is also an estuary, that means that it is a place where salt and fresh water mingles. Prime fishing is found in the Lemon Bay and Stump Pass. The latter is the name of the channel connecting the Bay with the Gulf of Mexico.
If there wasn’t this natural channel, called Stump Pass, which is a little iffy to pass, boaters would have to go all the way to the Venice Jetty, or down to Gasparilla, if they wanted to get out in the Gulf. With a bigger powerboat or with a sailboat, skippers have no choice. They better don’t dare to go through this channel. SeaTow charges quite a bit of money to get your boat off the shoal again.
Everything on our blue planet has the tendency to change. But Englewood seems to continue maintaining its small town charm as it moves forward with the times.
1896 was Englewood’s birthday. That was when the original plat for the town got recorded. The three Nichols brothers from Illinois liked the area so much that they bought some 2,000 acres of land and named it after their hometown, which was “Englewood.” However, that didn’t change the area too soon. The new development was still only accessible by boat which was not helpful at all. Besides that, the whole area looked more like a big fishing camp.
A few wooden houses here and there, a dirt road, and boats everywhere. A few more houses were added later, but that was it for the next decade. The number of new homes did not soar; progress came at a slower than expected pace.
Life was not always easy in Englewood
Being a resident and business owner in Englewood must pretty much have felt like walking through molasses during the first years. At first, the three Nichols brothers and other residents tried to make a living by growing oranges and lemons. That did not work out too well; two severe freezes ruined all the plants. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is an excellent can-do attitude, but it didn’t help in this case. There were no lemons anymore. At least the newcomers had learned that Englewood was far south, but maybe not far south enough.
So, that experiment ended not as expected, and the residents were already thinking about a new one. They started all over in the lumber business because the wood was needed to build homes.Okay, great idea, but this failed as well because too few people were building houses at the time. What were they thinking? Marketing was obviously not their strength.
Not too Successful
Other businesses popped up and disappeared. Attracting tourists, and wealthy investors were the next brilliant ideas. At least it worked out somewhat. The Nichols’ built the first upscale Inn, but it burned down to the foundation walls a few years later. Eventually, the fish processing plant from Boca Grande moved to Englewood/Cape Haze. But that happened in the 1940’s.
The plant was highly profitable, at least that created jobs and prosperity. Although, they say “money has no smell,” it smelled pretty fishy around that plant for the next 60 years, but nobody cared.
Eventually, the 1920’s brought another long-awaited breakthrough to Englewood. The Tamiami Trail (US-41), which became the most important road connecting Miami with St Petersburg/Tampa, was built, and, although it missed Englewood by six miles, this 275-mile long stretch of tarmac road had a great impact on Englewood. For the first time, the town was able to connect with the “rest of the world.”
Fishing was always Important
Fishing always played a significant role in Englewood because the Lemon Bay was “saturated” with fish. Mullets literally flew into the rowing boats, and the people had to throw them overboard. They couldn’t use them all. That changed a little over the years, or maybe the Mullets got smarter. Anyway, there are still plenty of fish in the water, and so far we had only one incident when a Mullet jumped into our kayak.
In the early1980’s the game was over. The owners closed the Fish Packing Plant, located in Cape Haze because the profit margin tended to hover around the number “zero.” The State of Florida had prohibited net fishing which turned out to be the “death penalty” for the fishing industry. For more than 60 years the factory had been a profitable enterprise for Englewood, but all of a sudden the light at the end of the tunnel diminished and went out. The owners of the Fish Packing Plant closed the doors the doors forever and sent the workers home. The fish had probably a wild party, who knows, but the air somehow was fresher.
When one door closes another one opens
There was only one route Englewood could go: that little fishing town needed to reinvent itself. But how do you do that? The easiest way is to look around and get some ideas from “Mother Nature,” right? So, what could you see?
Well, Englewood was surrounded by protected lands and waterways. The town enjoyed a high level of natural beauty because the pristine beaches were close and they were“awesome.” The Gulf of Mexico and all the other bodies of water were a boater’s and angler’s dream. The weather was beautiful, at least on 300 days per year. For many people, it is just the opposite. Their sun is shining on 100 days only, or even less, and the rest of the year is pretty miserable.
So? What could be a new idea?
They got that right, but how do you proceed? Yes, exactly, you need to attract tourists and snow birds, and you need to make them happy. When they are happy, you are happy, too. The State of Florida was already successfully driving millions of sun-hungry visitors to the Sunshine State, why should the residents of Englewood ignore that opportunity and let them spend their money somewhere else? That was totally unacceptable.
Englewood – A small Town with that particular “Old Florida” Charm
At first glance, Englewood appears to be a little like a beautiful pearl sitting in an “ugly” Oyster, waiting to be discovered. Of course, there are traffic lights and chain stores in Englewood as well, like everywhere else. There are also eyesores here and there, but somehow you can still feel what this “Old Florida Charm” is all about. The residents who live in Englewood, are friendly and laid back. They all talk to each other and strangers as well, no matter whether they meet for the first or hundredth time. When you stand in line at the grocery store, you speak with each other. How weird is that? They do not even know each other!Dearborn Street represents “Old Englewood.” This is the place where all began, and there are still old houses dating back to the time when Englewood was still in its infancy.
Small stores, family owned businesses, and friendly service providers are running the show in this little town on Florida’s Sun Coast, where often your word or a handshake will still be the “legal” signature under a contract.
Of course, a few “big guys,” like Home Depot, McDonald’s, and Walgreens, managed to get a foot in the door in, however, that didn’t do any harm to that particular “Old Florida Feeling.” It enriched only the choices the customers have.
Parts of Beach Road are “Old Englewood,” too. You need to look carefully; you investigate a little, and you will see what we mean.
Englewood Farmers Market
The Englewood Farmer’s Market, which takes place on Dearborn Street, is a big attraction during the winter months, and part of the “Old Florida Charm” as well. Here you can buy fresh fish, fresh fruits, organic vegetable, freshly baked German bread, and if you want you can purchase “snake oil” and other “useful” stuff as well. Here you can talk to other people again, listen to live music, eat food samples and enjoy the endless blue sky over Florida. Life is Good! Englewood Farmer’s Market – a Success Story!
During the summer months, the snowbird population is enjoying their steamy summers up north again, and for the locals, the four beaches on Manasota Key are a stronger magnet. Those are the reasons why there is no Farmer’s Market from June through September. The vendors have no intention to compete with the Gulf of Mexico because they would lose the battle anyway. Therefore, when summer arrives, they throw their hands up in the air and give in. They sneak back in in October when the water gets colder and when the locals and the returning snowbirds are in shopping mode again. More Farmer’s Markets in the area.
What about the Fish?
Oh, yes, they are still around. After the ban on net fishing, the fish stock recovered nicely again. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has still an eye on their “babies,” but they loosened the rules a little. Net fishing is still prohibited, and anglers can take only a certain number of fish (of a certain size) home, but that is beneficial for both, the fish and the fisherman. There are certain other rules in place as well, and if you want to bring a fish home, you have to know them all. Is the fish too small and the eye of the law checks out your loot, that penalty you will get could easily buy dinner for the whole family at the Ritz-Carlton. Therefore, our tip, make yourself smart before you go fishing. If not sure, throw ‘em back into the water. You know that “one good deed a day” thing, right? By the way, you are making a fish happy, too.
There are even more small Islands nearby
Palm Island, Pine Island, Little Gasparilla and Don Pedro are mostly uninhabited barrier islands. Of course, there are some small resorts and a few private homes, many for rent, on those little sprinkles in the Gulf of Mexico. Very few homeowners live year round on those tiny islands. Maybe that “cast away” feeling is a bit too overwhelming after a while? There are no shops, no restaurants, no hairdressers and no doctors; there is nothing except beach, sand, sun and seagulls.
Some islands can only be reached by ferry. Most of them you can access with your private boat. If you have a busy life and need some tranquility, go for it. It can be an enjoyable experience. If you quickly feel
like Robinson Crusoe, don’t try this. There is not always a “Friday” around who can cheer you up.
Gasparilla Island and Boca Grande
Gasparilla Island is the biggest one of all the barrier island. A brand new, modern drawbridge connects the former pirate hideout with the mainland. This island is even roomy enough to harbor a little town, Boca Grande, and a golf course.
About 2,000 people live in the Isle, and you can see that they love it. There is an excellent ice-cream parlor in town (yummy), and everybody seems to go there. If you are craving for some extra calories, you should definitely go to that place. Your hips will appreciate the royal treatment.
What is so extraordinary about the Cape Haze Peninsula?
Well, the area is so refreshingly uncrowded. Also, an indisputable fact is that most of the area’s housing enjoys proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. Who can beat that?
The Englewood/Cape Haze Peninsula is a conglomerate of smaller communities spread out all over the place. Included are the Gulf Cove, the South Gulf Cove, Placida, Cape Haze, Rotonda, Grove City and East Englewood. However, those names are probably just meaningless names for you.
The Gulf Cove, for example, is a waterfront community where you can still find (or build) a home on a canal for a reasonable price. Some of those canals are even suitable for large sailboats.
In Rotonda you can also find “affordable” homes on canals; if they are not on the canal, the deal may be even better. But when we mean ”affordable” that does not necessarily imply that you can get a 2,000 sq ft home for peanuts. It means that compared to other areas, like Nokomis for example, you can still get a place on the water for 10 – 20% less. Don’t expect to get a waterfront property for $200k. Impossible!
The New Winchester Road makes a Difference
Now, with the new Winchester Road in place, the peninsula is not remote anymore. You can drive to Tampa or Fort Myers in a heartbeat. Well, almost. However, if you are a hardcore opera or ballet fan and want to watch those shows every week, you will probably want to be closer to the major cities like Sarasota, Tampa or Fort Myers.
So, if you want to be surrounded by beautiful nature, if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities, just be careful when you come here. You might fall in love with the area and don’t want to go home again.
Let us try to subdivide the area
The area around Englewood is more or less a vacation/retirement and small business community which is slowly but surely transforming into “something bigger.” But that may take a while. When we arrived here in 1992 it was still a sleepy fishing town, now 25 years later it has already changed. It has changed a lot.
North Port, Port Charlotte, and Punta Gorda are slowly melting together. It would be impossible to determine where one city ends and the other one begins without those “city limit” signs. Someday, not too far away, Englewood will grow together with North Port and Port Charlotte, too.
In the near Future, we will see one Big City
At this point, there is still a lot of space in between the cities, but you should have seen what it was like 25 years ago. We considered North Port a desert, although that was not true.
Young families and people, who are still members of the workforce, tend to come to the area. They have an easy commute to Englewood, Port Charlotte/North Port/Punta Gorda, Venice, Sarasota and can go as far as Fort Myers and Bradenton. While making more money in those big cities, they can take advantage of the lower home prices in North Port or Port Charlotte.
Because of the more remote location, the southern section of the peninsula is more suitable for retirees. A daily commute to Venice or Sarasota for work would consume a substantial amount of time. Unless you like driving, Englewood would be a far better place than Cape Haze.
Gasparilla Island – a former Pirate hide-out
Further south is Gasparilla Island. “Boca Grande” is the name of the village on Gasparilla Island, a small residential community of about 2,000 seasonal and year-round residents. This beautiful sub-tropical island was also able to preserve the “Old Florida” feeling. You need to go to the island and see yourself. Describing it is impossible. But don’t expect those pirates around, they are not part of the “old Florida Feeling” anymore. There is only one exception: when you want to cross the bridge to get to this beautiful island you have to fork over $6 to that “pirate” in the booth.
Did the Island get Stuck in the last Century?
No, it is not that bad, but can you imagine a place with no traffic lights, no high-rise buildings, no fast food eateries and no malls? Well, now you can, right? Nobody ever expected that a life without a greasy meat patty between two halves of a hamburger bun was sustainable, but Gasparilla Island is proof that it is still possible.
A bike path, which used to be the old railway line, runs along the entire length of the island. This road is
highly frequented by bikes and golf carts. Once in a while, somebody on roller-blades will pass you with lightning speed. Hunker down – he will go away.
No cars or other motorized vehicles can use the former railroad line. At least that assures that those speeders will hopefully come home in one piece.
There is something else unique about this island, something you can find only on Gasparilla Island. This event is the annual Tarpon Tournament. Gasparilla Island is already well-known for world-class fishing, but especially the Tarpon Tournament is what is attracting hundreds of world-class fishermen every year. The island turns into a madhouse, and Gasparilla Sound is filled with small and big fishing boats. It seems as if you could walk to Cayo Costa by jumping from boat to boat. It seems as if you could walk to Cayo Costa by jumping from boat to boat but that is just an illusion.
Don’t spit Bones
Tarpons are game fish, and they are fierce fighters who don’t give up easily. In such a tournament the fishermen try to catch the biggest fish, measure it, weigh it, and release it carefully into the water again. What? Do they release it? Well, who wants to eat such a bony fish?
Men and fish are both pretty exhausted after their intense fight, sometimes the fight lasts for hours. Was it fun? For the guy on one end of the fishing pole, it probably was. Was it fun for the fish? We don’t know, but no fish has complained so far.
The angler with the biggest fish gets a trophy, of course, that is the goal, and the fish gets the freedom back. Fair deal? Maybe kind of. The fish hopefully learned the lesson and doesn’t bite on that “stupid hook” next year again.