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The Back-in-Time Magic of Florida’s Little Gasparilla Island

No restaurants and no paved roads create a modern-day escapist paradise on the Gulf of Mexico.

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Beach on Little Gasparilla Island
If you’re truly looking to get away from it all—work, crowds, school, social media—Little Gasparilla Island will reward you with simple tranquility. Brooke Morton

Americans love the feeling of nostalgia. Regardless of how childhood went, or which part of the country was home, we all carry a special fondness for the past.

I didn’t realize just how much I missed the peace and pace of childhood until I set foot on the beachfront porch of Point Break, a magical, mint-green cabin steps from the waters’ edge on Little Gasparilla Island, a 2-hour drive and a 10-minute boat ride from Tampa. I’d been researching a story on Florida’s secret beaches when I came across Little Gasparilla: no paved roads, no restaurants, no stores.

I was instantly smitten, wondering how I had lived in the Sunshine State for 14 years and had never heard of this haven. The company Little Gasparilla Vacation Rentals manages cabins by the day and week, starting at $1,600 for seven days at a two-bedroom right on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Appeal

Point Break on the beach
Hoping to stream the surf-action classic Point Break while staying in Point Break? Sorry, no WiFi here. Brooke Morton

The island comes with a warning: Don’t bring work. WiFi doesn’t much exist on island, and you certainly can’t count on it. Intentional or not, Little Gasparilla offers the escape of a digital detox—at a fraction of the cost, mainly because the island hasn’t exploded yet on the social media scene.

But this was also why I was nervous. Could I last a long weekend without WiFi? I work every day, including at least an hour or two on weekends. Email is an addiction. Most nights, the sound of TV fills my bedroom. At present, this is my most deplorable and inescapable habit. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and although there are some nights that a book keeps me company, many nights I escape to the warm glow of unscripted television. Embarrassing, yes.

I had to make it official. I told a friend that I dared myself to go the whole time with no Internet and no TV. Just in case of emergency, I downloaded as much Netflix as my iPad could carry.

And then I packed everything else.

What It Takes

Canal on Little Gasparilla
There’s no hustle or bustle here. Just a ton of classic Florida charm. Brooke Morton

There is one more catch to Little Gasparilla: Yes, there is grocery and pizza delivery, so you have in-a-pinch options, but really, you’re better served packing in everything necessary to fill the fridge. Which means planning all meals ahead of time, down to the spices and tin foil needed to cook it all.

Pirate’s Water Taxi, operating out of Eldred’s Marina in Placida, Florida, shuttles renters from the mainland to this idyllic setting. Upon arrival, a local named Bret, running a golf cart taxi service, will carry you the last stretch up to your rental cabin. So, you’re not limited to only the supplies that you can hoof in. I brought a small cooler, a large L.L. Bean tote of unrefrigerated food and a duffel bag full of clothes. Bret was impressed, saying that I packed light. For food, I brought salmon, dill, potatoes, oatmeal, sandwich fixings and a whole lot more—and I wished I had brought in bubbly water and bottled water, as the tap water had that salty, desalinated Gulf taste to it.

The Setting

Deserted beach on Little Gasparilla
Why stare at screens all day when you can enjoy endless views of the region’s natural beauty? Brooke Morton

But the view from the wide porch, wrapping around the cabin’s entire front and side, is the most idyllic spot I’ve enjoyed this year. As I settled into the Adirondack chair facing the small breaking waves, dolphins crested the surface. Pelicans dive bombed the drink, creating small white eruptions of spray.

Here, just like in the Caribbean, sunset is an event. Anyone not staying on the beach bikes or golf carts over to catch the show. Teepees constructed of logs and twigs begin construction at dusk, ready come darkness for bonfires.

There, with the sound of the waves and the ever-changing pink cloudscape of sunset, I want for nothing. When it gets too dark, I finally head inside to read until sleep comes.

The Payoff

Historic church on Little Gasparilla
Little Gasparilla might not be loaded with action and excitement, but its charm is off the charts. Brooke Morton

The island is not a true digital detox—my phone works. A cousin and I are texting, and she asks if she and her husband should plan their Florida vacation at this spot. She asks a very telling question: “What is there to do there?”

If you have to ask, Little Gasparilla may not be for you.

It’s a place to do nothing. But that flavor of nothing is, well, everything.

In the morning, after two cups of coffee, I walk the length of the beach. It’s just longer than 2 miles of prime shelling territory. If you look toward the water, you’ll witness dolphins hunting cooperatively. They leap from the water, tail slap schools of fish and surf the incoming waves. For many, a live-action nature show like this is much more captivating than any television show.

Deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico
Grab a seat with a view, kick back and let the world slow down around you. Brooke Morton

Still, the fun to be had here is the kind you make yourself. Kayaks are available for rent, as are bikes and golf carts. There’s exploring to do, along the dirt roads and calm waters of the backside of the island.

Mostly, I read. And I am entirely caught off guard by how my body feels. I’m type A, but here, I don’t feel motivated to do anything. My muscles feel heavy, allowing me to nap in the sun and sit in the peace on the porch long after sunset. In this year of stress and chaos and uncertainly, it takes me a day to name what it is I’m feeling. Then I remember that this is how I felt throughout all of my childhood—light, carefree and hopeful. And I remember this feeling has a name. It’s called relaxation.

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