Punta Gorda, Florida
With its Pretty Cityscape, Canal Laced Neighborhoods and Abundant Boating Recreation, Pleasing Punta Gorda, Florida is a Waterfront Retirement Gem
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Pretty Punta Gorda (population 21,000) 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 severely damaged by Hurricane Charley. In 2022, Hurricane Ian also brought flooding and wind damage.
The city rebuilt after the fire, after Charley and is still rebuilding after Ian. The good news is that after Charley, stricter building codes were put into place and Ian's damage was not nearly as bad as many feared it would be.
The city's architecture remains an eclectic mix of historic early 20th-century structures and attractive, modern buildings. Residents love their waterfront hamlet, with many claiming that it is Florida's prettiest town.
Punta Gorda has grown 17% within the last decade, and retirees in particular are drawn to the peaceful lifestyle, outstanding boating recreation, safe neighborhoods and excellent health care facilities. In fact, 80% of the population is age 45 or better, and the median age is 64. The majority of residents lean to the right politically, and 36% are college educated. Racial diverity is minimal. The cost of living is 3% above the national average.
The median home price is $425,000, reflecting a 9% increase from just a year 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 (not all of these survived Ian).
Florida is a friendly place when it comes to taxes and retirement. The state does not tax Social Security benefits or any other retirememt income. When it comes to property taxes, the homestead exemption reduces the assessed value of a home by $50,000, so a residence that is actually worth $100,000 is only taxed on $50,000. Residents age 65 and older who meet certain income limits may receive an extra homestead exemption of up to $50,000. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Punta Gorda is 1%. The annual taxes on a $425,000 home are approximately $4,250 without a homestead exemption. The combined sales tax rate is 7%.
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 nice downtown has been renovated, with old buildings restored to their former glory. Brick planters brim 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 a good selection of restaurants, making Punta Gorda a great foodie town. Harborwalk, a nearly three mile-long public path, winds through three scenic 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 retailers, shops and nightclubs. Boat rentals are also available. Ten golf courses in town and another 20 courses within 15 miles of city limits keep golfers swinging.
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. The Third Thursday Wine Walk is 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.
Punta Gorda does not have a beach of its own, but several are in the area. Quiet Gasparilla Island has several beaches and Manasota Key has gorgeous oceanfront stretches of white sand.
The Punta Gorda Public Library has a music series, a gardening group 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.
Retirement in Punta Gorda does have a few drawbacks. The hurricane threat remains very real. Part-time residents descend on the city in winter, creating traffic congestion, crowded cafes and packed stores.
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. All of which make Punta Gorda a great retirement spot!
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