Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach. - (Feb. 12, 2019) – Baseball fans will flock to Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Feb. 26 -  March 22* to catch some warm rays of Florida sunshine during Tampa Bay Rays spring training. The combination of great baseball, warm climate, unique attractions and affordability make a visit to this Southwest Florida destination a home run for baseball fans.  

The Charlotte Sports Park (2300 El Jobean Rd., Port Charlotte) was designed for the fan experience, with great player access and family-friendly touches. Highlights of the family-friendly stadium include capacity of 6,823 including two outfield berms for general admission seating; 19,000 square-foot fan-friendly wood boardwalk; a centerfield Tiki bar; children’s play area, group function areas; and a luxury suite level. In 2014, USA Today readers voted Charlotte Sports Park the Best Spring Training City. 

Beginning in April through September, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the High-A Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, play at the Charlotte Sports Park. Owned by the CBI group, Caribbean Baseball Initiative, the Stone Crabs are the 2015 Florida State League Champions. 

For collegiate baseball action, about 20 NCAA Division I and 25 Division III teams will compete from Feb. 15 - March 26 during the Annual Snowbird Baseball Classic.  

To line up a weekend or a Spring Training vacation, just step outside the stadium into a seventh-inning stretch that includes more than a dozen miles of uncrowded beaches, world-class fishing, kayaking, challenging golf, beautiful nature areas and fun for the entire family. Here are just a few of the ways to enjoy Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach: 

Circus Catch 
Head to El Jobean for some fun, funky history. Here, a grand hotel once housed MGM actors for Tarzan serials and feature films. In 1942, daredevil circus artist Leo “Suicide” Simon made it the winter home of circus performers, including the Flying Wallenda Brothers. What remains is a 1920s-era post office that once served as the train station, general store, jail, meeting house, and café. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, The Bean Depot is a quirky museum/café that serves great food and live music, including bluegrass. Cash only. Being old-school, there’s no website, but for more details, call (941) 627-3344. 

Across the street from The Bean Depot is Hatch Gallery where artist Jon Hatch crafts birds, alligators, and other colorful critters from driftwood. 

Tyke’s Triple Play
Take a swamp buggy eco-tour with Babcock Ranch Eco Tours. Sightings of alligators, deer, wild pigs, and Florida Cracker Cattle provide the thrills. A museum is housed in an old movie set used to film the Sean Connery movie "Just Cause." 

The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center offers different outdoor excursions including free Wading Adventure. Use dip nets to find the cool, gross and bizarre: sponges called Dead Man's Fingers, sea cucumbers that eject their stomachs, worms that decorate their own homes, shell cases shaped like ice cream cones and an abundance of fish that are just starting off in life here in nature's nursery. 

The Peace River Wildlife Center, an active wildlife rehabilitation park, offers up-close views of mammals, birds and reptiles that have been orphaned, displaced or injured. There are approximately 120 residents, including a bird that quacks like a duck. 

Take it into the Wheelhouse  
Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, is the only multi-themed outdoor adventure and live entertainment park of its kind. The family-friendly 1,000-acre park includes miles of one-directional OHV trails, professionally designed Motocross tracks, acres of world-class paintball and a fresh-water beach. 74 Family Fun Park offers three motocross tracks along with trails and a mud park. 

Saturday nights, head to 4-17 Southern Speedway for weekly asphalt stock car racing, dirt go-kart racing and other events on the 3/8-mile track. Called “Southwest Florida’s Fastest short track in the South,” the speedway offers family-friendly fun. 

Rick Treworgy's Muscle Car City Museum displays an unparalleled collection of authentic classic cars, trucks and automotive memorabilia.  More than 200 autos date back to the 1920s, with an impressive lineup of Chevys, Pontiac GTOs, Corvettes, Oldsmobile Cutlass 442s, Chevelles, Camaros and Impalas. 

You Have the Green Light to Visit
Babcock Ranch, the world’s first solar-powered town located in southeast Charlotte County, just northeast of Fort Myers on Babcock Ranch Road/State Road 31, commemorated the town’s official grand opening on March 10, 2018, with a celebration that featured tours of 20 furnished model homes and FPL’s Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, where a newly constructed observation platform provides sweeping views of the 440-acre solar field. 

Babcock Ranch was created by Kitson & Partners with respect for the natural environment and the philosophy that smart growth and sustainability work hand in hand. Half of the town’s 18,000-acre footprint is set aside as greenways, parks and expansive lakes, providing recreation and scenic backdrops for Babcock Ranch’s homes and the Founder’s Square downtown district. The community promotes healthy living through a walkable community plan, 50 miles of planned biking and hiking trails, interconnected lakes for paddling enthusiasts, a robust calendar of exercise classes, and the Healthy Life Center operated by Lee Health. 

A 50 million-year-old stone fossil of a palm frond taken from a mountain top in Wyoming serves as the inspiration for the logo and signature sculpture of the new Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens, which opened Oct. 20, 2017. More than a dozen large-scale sculptures adorn the landscape of the 27-acre property. Flowering trees bloom throughout the year and more than 15,000 sq. ft of boardwalks and docks are planned. Sculptures have been installed and the master plans for the Gardens were developed in 2010. The property is developed and primarily financed by the Roger E. and Linda A. Tetrault Foundation, a 501 c. (3) private foundation. This will be one of the largest endowments for a botanical garden in the state of Florida. 

Cruise the Outfield
The Rays’ spring training home surrounds the state’s second largest harbor. Cruise tour operators offer everything from leisurely sunset cruises or full-day trips to Cayo Costa State Park or Cabbage Key (to enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise). Fishing is bountiful in the destination, including inshore, offshore, shore, pier and freshwater. Rays players have been known to get in on the action.  Dozens of guides are available; a complete list of boating, cruising and charters can be found at www.pureflorida.com/fishing 

Beyond Peanuts and Crackerjacks 
Communities of Port Charlotte, Englewood and Punta Gorda offer a variety of dining. For a home run, there’s no better mussels and frites than those prepared by chef Jeanie Roland of The Perfect Caper. World-famous chef Bobby Flay challenged chef Roland in a blind taste test on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.” Roland accepted the challenge and won! Visit www.pureflorida.com/dining. 

Find Your Sweet Spot
Accommodations vary from quaint tropical motels to budget-conscious chains and family-friendly resorts to vacation condo and home rentals. There’s something for everyone’s budget and according to TripAdvisor, trivago, and Travel + Leisure, the destination offers the best value during the winter season. For a list of accommodations, dining, attractions and more, visit www.pureflorida.com 

*Tampa Bay Rays spring training is Feb. 22 - March 26, however, the last game at the Charlotte Sports Park is March 22, 2019. 


Credit: PureFlorida.com