Archive for January, 2014

10 Places to See Live Music in Punta Gorda (Plus the #1 Trop Rock Live Music in the USA)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Have you ever been to a small town with only one place to see live music?

Local favorites, Chakulla and Me, play Wednesday nights at the Nav-a-gator

Local favorites, Chakulla and Me, play Wednesday nights at the Nav-a-gator

You ask around and everyone directs you to the same place, where the same band plays every weekend. You listen, because you have no choice.

Punta Gorda is not that town.

Ask a local where to go and we will stream off a list of ideas. Throughout the week, you have your pick of jazz, tropical, rock, or pop. While we have some excellent local bands, many of our venues also attract musicians from all over Florida. You may start the night off with some live jazz and a nice meal. And then, dance off dessert at the bar overlooking the harbor.

To help you find your perfect live night out, I have compiled a list for you. The days and times sometimes vary. Click on the links for more information.

1. Dean’s South of the Border—Rock, soft rock, popular music; 7 nights per week, 8:30 p.m.

2. Opus—Jazz; Friday nights, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

3. Icehouse Pub—Rock, rhythm and blues, popular; Thursday nights 7:00-10:00 p.m., Saturday night 8:00-11:00 p.m.

4. The Rooftop on the Wyvern—Top 40, popular, classic rock; Friday and Saturday 7:00 p.m.

5. Fishermen’s Village—Soft rock, tropical, doo-wop; Some afternoon shows, Friday and Saturday nights 5:00-9:00 p.m.

6. Jack’s on Marion—Rock, popular, classic rock; Most Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 7:00 p.m.

7. The Celtic Ray—Rock, eclectic, Celtic; Nights vary, usually Wednesday-Saturday, afternoon and evening shows

8. TT’s (The Tiki) Bar on Charlotte Harbor—Tropical, popular; Wednesday & Thursdays 5:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Most Fridays or Saturdays 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.

9. Trabue—Soft rock; Friday and Saturday 6:00 p.m.

10. Harpoon Harry’s—Rock, classic rock, popular; Either a DJ or live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday beginning at 6:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.

Even though the Nav-a-gator Grill sits about 20 minutes outside of Punta Gorda, I couldn’t make this list without recommending it to you. The Nav-a-gator has been voted the #1 Trop Rock music venue in the USA. Bands take the stage every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.






The Florida Newbie’s Guide to Bragging about the Weather

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

januaryedit2Last January, I was kayaking through the Burnt Store Isles’ canals when a man came out of his home and asked if he could take my picture.

“I want to email it up north. People kayak behind my house in January and I am going to rub it in my friends’ noses.”

Of course I said yes. Every Floridian has the inalienable right to gloat to their northern friends.

You may have moved here for the  beautiful waterways, golf, tennis, friendly people, low crime rate, and the sunny weather. But don’t let those things distract you from one of your priorities as a Floridian: bragging to your friends every winter. It’s fun and easy.

If it’s your first Florida winter, you will be eager to get started. Be prepared. Your northern friends have known other Floridians. They have their defenses ready. They know you are gunning for them. As an experienced braggart, let me help you.

Here are some tips for overcoming the most common northern comebacks:

never forget

  • But I love seasons.” Most people love summer, fall, spring, and four days of winter. Punta Gorda maintains spring to fall-like temperatures most of the year. We enjoy the best seasons all year.
  • I would miss snow.” Book an annual ski trip.
  • It gets cold there too.” We did have a couple 40 degree days this year. But nobody is talking about the Polar Vortex in Florida.
  • I can’t take the heat.” Yes, heat is hard to bare when you live in a northern home designed to keep every wisp of warmth inside. Our homes feature open floor plans. The lanai is just as much apart of a home as the kitchen. Air flows freely and many of us don’t put the air conditioner on all year.

Still need help? Turn to the internet. Even out-of-state websites can’t help posting how good we have it down here.

In December, the New York based website, Buzzfeed, posted this picture with the caption “Well played, Florida“:



And that was the beginning of winter. Your friends are still up there in the snow. Do your duty and let them know how good you have it.


Have you heard an excuse I haven’t?  Leave a comment on our Facebook page. I’d love to help you out with your mission.

3 Must-See Places for Wildlife Lovers in Punta Gorda

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Sandhill Cranes at Cecil M. Webb

Sandhill Cranes at Cecil M. Webb

A few months ago, I was running through Burnt Store Isles when I noticed a car stopped in the middle of the road.

A bird stood in front of the car—oblivious to us. The driver rolled down his window and whispered, “It’s a hawk.” I couldn’t help but feel lucky to see such a beauty on my morning run.

Really, anywhere you go in Punta Gorda you might bump into some of nature’s finest. But if you want to make a day of it, this list is for you.

Fred C. Babcock-Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area

Located in South Punta Gorda, the Fred C. Babcock-Cecil M. Webb Wildlife management area is one of the last of its kind.  There are only a few underdeveloped areas of wet flat woods in Southwest Florida. With 65,758 acres, you will never run out of things to see in the area.

Ride your bike, hike, or horseback ride alongside bobwhite quail, sandhill cranes, large bluegill, wild turkeys, and more. The Cecil M. Webb portion holds a shooting range. The Babcock offers 90-minute eco-tours. See the gator bridge, the wetlands, and pastures. Tours are given 7 days a week in season. Make a reservation here.

Peace River Wildlife Center

The Peace River Wildlife Center takes in injured, native wildlife. The center works to treat and rehabilitate the animals before releasing them back into the wild. If an animal is permanently injured, the center becomes their forever home.

Annually, the center admits around 2,000 animals from birds to reptiles. You see someone new with every visit. You can visit from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm every day. There is no cost, but the center survives off donations. Volunteer opportunities are available. The website features live cams of several animals, and they fill their Facebook page with pictures that will make your heart melt.

Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary

Lions and tiger and bears! Oh my! You can see all three right here in Punta Gorda. The sanctuary houses primates, wild birds, big cats, canines, reptiles and others. All of the animals come to the sanctuary from homes or businesses that should never have had them. You can read each animals story on the sanctuary’s website. (Warning—many of the stories are difficult to hear.)

You can take a tour of the sanctuary any day of the week. The sanctuary offers guided tours for groups of ten or more. Call for reservations. For weekday self-guided tours, 48 hours notice is required. On weekends, no appointment is necessary. A donation of $20 per person in appreciated. Directions can be found here.
Where do you see the best wildlife in Punta Gorda? Have you been to any of the places on our list? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Old Monty’s Restaurant and Pizzeria: A Punta Gorda (and Andreae Family) Tradition

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

“It’s fancy,” my 7-year-old niece said, describing the new Monty’s building.

Punta Gorda Monty's menu

“Fancy?” I asked.

As it turns out, one 7-year-old’s “fancy” is an adult’s clean, casual family restaurant. It certainly is fancier than previous iterations of Old Monty’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, but you can leave the gown and tails at home.

Monty’s became a Punta Gorda tradition in 1983. Back then, my mom would ask if we wanted to go to Monty’s or stay home for dinner. Those were the only choices available.

Much has changed since then, the downtown restaurant scene has boomed in the last decade. While new businesses sometimes push the old out, Monty’s has stayed strong. In fact, the pizza place has weathered more change than most small businesses.

Originally, Monty’s was a small, almost trailer-like building on Tamiami Trail, not far from the current location. My memory of that location is of their spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were huge, and were therefore, ‘fancy’ in my child mind. As an adult, I am impressed my mom allowed us to order individual meals. She always was ambitious.

After Hurricane Charley destroyed the original building, they moved into a strip mall. Their second location had far less character than the original building, but maintained the same high standards for food and service.

Now, after years of paying their dues in smaller venues, Monty’s has moved into a big, beautiful location on 41 Southbound. And I couldn’t be happier for them.

I visited the new Monty’s for the first time on Sunday night with my brother, his wife, my three nieces, and my nephew.

With four kids to satisfy, we ordered two pizzas—one cheese and one white garlic–and that was more than enough food for the seven of us. The menu offers everything from salads to pastas to pizzas. I’d like to go back and test the spaghetti and meatballs against my memory, but it will have to be with other grown-ups. If you have ever tried to get four children to decide what they want, you understand the beauty of selecting two pizzas and being done.

Both pizzas were excellent. The thin, but stable crust left the focus on the full garlic and cheese flavor. Even the cheese pizza—not usually my favorite—popped with a robust, tomato taste.

Service was friendly and prompt from the host staff to the wait staff. The menu is moderately priced with pizzas ranging from about $11 to $20. Salads and heroes range from about $5-$10.

When planning your trip to Monty’s, you should know you are not the only one excited to check out the new building. It is the only place in town where parking can be crowded. They allow parking on the grass, so take advantage. The place is often packed. They don’t take reservations, which made us nervous with a party of 7 including 4 kids. However, we sat down within about 10 minutes.

How many versions of Monty’s do you remember? Have you been to the newest one?

12 Months of Southwest Florida: A New Year’s Resolution You’ll Want to Keep

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

When I was a kid, my mom had a friend in Washington DC who had never been to the Smithsonian. She was a smart, cultured woman who meant to go many times, but had never quite made it.

Hasn’t that happened to all of us? You have a list of local places you mean to go, but you never quite get to them.

Stingrays love redheads. (Don't quote me on that.)

Made up fact: Stingrays love redheads.

This year, instead of setting miserable resolutions involving will power and vegetables, why not decide to have some fun and actually visit those places you have been meaning to go?

To help you, I put together a list of 12 local destinations—one per month–that might be on that “I-keep-meaning-to-get-there-list.” All of these places are within 3 hours travel from Punta Gorda. I excluded activities that you will probably do naturally if you live here long enough. For example, you won’t see take a boat out into the harbor or rounds of golf at St. Andrews on the list.

JanuaryMote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sarasota, FL—Pet a stingray. Take an eco-tour. Watch the manatees. Mote Marine opened in 1955 and has been a leader in marine research ever since. Take a day in January and visit the animals.FebruaryCabbage Key–You can eat a cheeseburger in paradise all over southwest Florida, but Cabbage Key is special. For years, Cabbage Key was rumored to have inspired Jimmy Buffet’s hit Cheeseburgers in Paradise. Take a water taxi to the restaurant with all the dollar bills on the walls and you will understand why.

March—Florida Railroad Museum, Parrish, FL—You can learn about Florida’s railroad history and take a train ride any day at the museum. However, if you have kids you will want to visit the museum in March when Thomas the Train comes to town. If you are visiting with adults, check out their murder mystery tours at the end of February and beginning of March.

AprilBusch Gardens, Tampa, FL—Busch Gardens is more than thrill rides. The park includes an animal education center, bird gardens, and adventure tours. You can spend a whole day observing and learning about your favorite animals.

MayThe Dali Museum, St. Petersburg—For many of us, museums frequently show up on the ‘mean-to-go-there’ list. Famed surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, was born on May 11, so why not use his birthday as some extra inspiration to make to the museum. The museum is filled with original artwork that anyone can enjoy.

JuneSolomon’s castle—I have mentioned Solomon’s Castle before on the blog. This unique home is open to visitors and even serves lunch in a boat in a moat. You can go alone or bring the whole family. I promise you have never seen anything like it.

Solomon's Castle

Solomon’s Castle

JulyPeace River Wildlife Center—This one is right here in Charlotte County. The center rehabilitates wild animals. Pick a day in July and visit the center. You will see bald eagles, hawks, opossums, and more. Free tours are available 7 days a week between 11:00-4:00.

AugustThe Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL—If you haven’t been to the Ringling Museum because you are more of an art lover than a circus fan, think again. The Ringling has an extensive art museum. Likewise, if you were skipping the museum because you art bores you, you will love the circus museum. The Ringling has something for everyone.

SeptemberAirboat Tour, Everglades—Taking an airboat tour of the everglades is the best way to see the inner workings of the everglades. The ride can be a little hot and sticky, but the ride is fun and the scenery is beautiful. You should try it at least once.


October–Halloween Downtown Punta Gorda—I debated putting this one on the list. People come to downtown Punta Gorda from all over southwest Florida to see our Halloween celebrations. If you don’t live downtown and don’t have small children around, you might be tempted to stay home. Not this year. Pack up your lawn chair and head downtown. You will see plenty of folks with bags of candy lining the sidewalks, socializing, and enjoying the festivities.

NovemberSand castle competition at Siesta Key/Chalk Festival, Sarasota—Last year, both events happened on the same weekend. (The 2014 dates haven’t been announced yet.) You will be amazed at the detail and beauty of these temporary art installations.

DecemberLighted canal cruise—If it is hard to venture out of Punta Gorda the first 11 months of the year, it is nearly impossible in December. There is just too much going on in town. Surely, you have driven around town to see the canals all lit up, but have you been by boat? If not, this is the year you take a lighted canal cruise.

Go ahead and print this list. See how many you can get through in 2014. You will never have had so much fun achieving a resolution.