With its Pretty Cityscape, Canal Laced Neighborhoods and Abundant Boating Recreation, Pleasing Punta Gorda, Florida is a Waterfront Retirement Haven
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Pretty Punta Gorda (population 18,500) is on Florida's southwestern coast at the confluence of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor, the second largest harbor in Florida. Legend has it that Ponce de Leon made landfall here in 1513, but Punta Gorda was not founded until 1882. Twenty three years later it was devastated by a fire, and in 2004, it was damaged by Hurricane Charley. The city rebuilt both times, and today its architecture is an eclectic mix of historic early 20th-century structures and attractive, modern buildings. But beyond the physical, the most recent rebuilding has brought a sense of renewal, and residents love their waterfront town. Many claim that it is the prettiest small city in Florida.
This is evidenced by the fact that Punta Gorda has grown by more than 60% within the last decade or two. Retirees in particular are drawn by the peaceful lifestyle, outstanding boating recreation, low crime rate and excellent health care facilities. In fact, 80% of the population is age 45 or better, and the median age is 64, well above the nation median. The majority of residents lean to the right politically, and 36% of locals are college educated. Racial diverity is minimal. The cost of living meets is 4% above the national average.
The median home price is $198,000. Real estate prices skyrocketed during the building boom after Hurricane Charley, but then the Great Recession struck in 2008, and prices plummeted. They have been on the rebound since 2012 and are 35% higher now than they were five years ago.
Old Florida is alive and well in many neighborhoods where brick streets, swaying coconut palms and tin-roofed homes with large verandas are the norm. Miles of canals lace the city, and many properties sit along a waterway. Punta Gorda Isles is a popular waterfront neighborhood with biking paths, parks and eateries. Seminole Lakes Country Club is a gated golf community with lake views. Rio Villa Lakes is a nice gated 55+ community with waterfront homes and a waterfall entry. There are also many 55+ manufactured home communities. The median Punta Gorda rental price is $1,800 per month.
Florida is a friendly place when it comes to taxes and retirement. The state has no income tax, so no retirement income is taxed. All real estate is taxed at 100% of its assessed value, but homeowners who make their property their permanent residence are eligible for a homestead exemption of up to $50,000. The first $25,000 applies to all property taxes, including school district taxes. The second $25,000 applies to the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000 and only to non-school taxes. The annual taxes on a $198,000 Punta Gorda home are approximately $1,985.
Life on Florida's southwestern coast is generally relaxed, and Punta Gorda, with its picturesque waterfront and beautiful homes, exudes a quiet, easygoing charm. With so many canals, it is a boaters' Paradise. The city maintains the waterways, ensuring that outlets to the Harbor are kept in good condition. And Charlotte Harbor, pristine and calm, boasts 125 square miles of unsullied boating waters unthreatened by rough waters, high seas or large ships. Beyond the Harbor, the Gulf of Mexico beckons with outstanding fishing opportunities and other water adventures.
The quaint downtown has been renovated, with old buildings restored to their former glory. Brick planters brimming with flowers, shade trees and benches decorate the sidewalks, and the cobblestone streets are lined by gaslight lamp posts. Colorful murals adorn the sides of many buildings, and all new buildings must meet strict historic architectural guidelines. Residents enjoy more than 60 downtown restaurants, boutiques and bookstores. Harborwalk, a nearly three mile-long public path, winds through three pretty waterfront parks. Bicycles are for lease at points along the way.
Gilchrist Park runs along the Harbor, and Fisherman's Village features a 111-slip marina and a fun collection of restaurants, boutiques, nightclubs and a resort club. Boat rentals are also available. While shopping is adequate, many residents drive to Port Charlotte, just five miles north, for better selections (Dillard's, Macy's, J.C. Penney, etc.).
The Wine and Jazz Festival is held in Laishley Park every February and brings in well known jazz musicians. The annual lighted boat parade each December attracts large crowds as dozens of boats bedecked in a rainbow of colors cruise between nearby Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. And on the third Thursday of every month residents enjoy Alive After Five, a time when downtown merchants open their doors and ply shoppers with food and entertainment.
The Peace River Wildlife Center, the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, the Ponce de Leon Historical Park, the Babcock Ranch and Wildlife Park and the Florida Adventure Museum provide residents with even more to do.
Unfortunately, Punta Gorda does not have a beach of its own, but nearby Englewood Beach has swimming areas. And 10 golf courses in town and another 20 courses within 15 miles of city limits keep golfers swinging.
The Punta Gorda Public Library has wireless Internet access, a music series, a gardening group available for questions and more.
The private, non-profit Charlotte Regional Medical Center provides medical care. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and has won recognition for excellence in clinical care and patient safety. Medicare patients are accepted. For military retirees, the nearest VA hospital is in Bay Pines, 75 miles away, but Port Charlotte, five miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic.
The County provides a curb-to-curb van service in Punta Gorda. Twenty-four hours' notice is required. People age 60 or better ride for $1.00. A separate program offers rides to medical centers, pharmacies, grocery stores and other similar destinations. Charlotte County Airport is in Punta Gorda and is serviced by AllegiantAir.
The senior services division of Charlotte County offers a number of services, including help with household chores, congregate meals, counseling, health support, a 24-hour medical alert system, home delivered meals, emergency home repairs, legal services, nutrition counseling and more. It also provides rides to grocery stores, medical offices and pharmacies, and it has a dial-a-ride service.
Punta Gorda's climate is subtropical. Winter temperatures are in the 50s and 60s, and summer temperatures are in the 80s and 90s. On average, the area receives 52 inches of rain, most of it coming during the spring, summer and fall. The sun shines 267 days of the year. The air quality is below the national average.
Retirement in Punta Gorda does have a few drawbacks. Home insurance rates are high, and more hurricanes are always a possibility. The city's tornado risk is 50% higher than the national average. Part-time residents flood the city in the winter, creating traffic congestion and filling up cafes, stores and nearly everything else.
Even with these downsides, retirees keep coming to this quiet coastal city, and many residents consider Punta Gorda one of Florida's best kept secrets. Boaters and golfers in particular love it, but so do people who desire a warm weather waterfront destination with little crime and the feeling of Old Florida mixed with a bit of the new. It is a great retirement spot!
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