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History and Wildlife: Venice to Boca Grande, Florida

Take a step back in time on Florida's historic Southwestern coast, an area filled with gorgeous beaches, incredible wildlife, and some of the finest fishing you'll find anywhere. Set in the quiet, undiscovered region around Charlotte Harbor, the coastal towns of Venice and Boca Grande offer old-world charm and modern hospitality. After you tour the beaches and explore the boutiques, take a day trip to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, one of the best bird-watching spots in the country.

Begin your tour in lovely Venice, a sweet, sleepy resort town that's south of Sarasota and Interstate 75. Venice is made up of five small towns, each with its own unique flavor. In Osprey, Laurel, Nokomis, Venice, and South Venice you'll find distinctive boutiques and unique gift shops, plus plenty of cafes and galleries for window shopping. This is also a hotspot for golfing or for boating and fishing off the golden-sand beaches.

While you're in Venice, be sure to spend an afternoon at the Venetian Waterway Park, a ten-mile waterfront park that covers both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway. Head there for a scenic stroll, a bike ride, roller blading, or to walk your favorite furry friend.

Venice has a lively, active community with a thriving arts center. You'll find symphony performances, theater, and plenty of history at Historic Spanish Point and the Venice Historic Preservation League. On Friday night, you can enjoy the town's free concerts and then get up on Saturday, ready to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmer's Market.

Once Venice has soothed you into relaxation, head south down Highway 776 to the island attraction of Gasparilla, home of Boca Grande. This charming town celebrates Old World Florida in all its glory with the 104-year old lighthouse and 80-year old Banyan trees. The Gulf side of Gasparilla Island is covered with white-sand beaches that are perfect for swimmers, sunbathers, volley-ball players, and shell collectors. On the bay side, mangroves and wetlands create an ideal ecosystem for fishing. These 750,000 acres of estuary are a haven for ocean fish that love this particular blend of fresh and salt water. Watch for dolphins, osprey, white pelicans, and manatees.

If fishing is what you're after, visit between August and November or during Tarpon season in the spring. You'll find waters filled with grouper, snapper, mackerel, redfish, and kingfish. There are plenty of boat rentals available, as well as boat ramps for getting your own craft into the water.

Beautiful Boca Grande will whet your appetite for more natural wonders and incredible wildlife. So head east through Port Charlotte to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. This 102-square mile region is famous for its bird watching, bluegill fishing, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Visit in the spring to see the flatwoods burst into color with wildflowers or keep your binoculars trained on the trees as you watch for woodpeckers, nuthatches, hawks, hummingbirds, eastern bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. Herons, ibises, and belted kingfishers love exploring these lush wetlands.

Western Florida is an ideal place to head for a romantic weekend or family getaway. With its fabulous weather, sandy beaches, and wildlife, you'll truly find the perfect attraction or activity. Whether it's fishing, beachcombing, or gift shopping you're after, this part of Florida is the place to be.
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