It's a bit of a hike from Tampa Bay to the Rays' new spring training home in Port Charlotte. Fifty miles south of Sarasota, actually. So if you drive down for one of the games, which started Wednesday and wrap up April 1, you'll want to get your gas money's worth out of the trip. But, as the coaches and players pointed out this week, the unincorporated area of Charlotte County isn't exactly an excitement mecca. A bingo hall, a Wal-Mart, a mall — we admit, Port Charlotte is no South Beach or even South Tampa. You don't just bump into something to do. But when you know it's there, you can seek it out. Here are some amusements in and around Port Charlotte. — Dalia Colón [email protected]
Sun Flea Market and Kidstar Park
Browse 82 vendors' booths for all the things you never knew you needed. This indoor market is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Admission is free. If you have kids in tow, they'll be begging to stop at Kidstar amusement park as soon as they spot the Ferris wheel. It has rides, laser tag, go-carts, a water show, miniature golf and more. Admission starts at $17.99. Call for hours. 18505 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte, (941) 255-3532.
Cultural Center of Charlotte County
Scour the Trash and Treasure boutique for vintage finds, or take a one-day workshop on computers, real estate or speed reading in the Learning Place. And the 500-seat, Ruth Eckerd Hall-esque theater is nothing to sneeze at. Check the performance schedule online. 2280 Aaron St., Port Charlotte, (941) 625-4175; theculturalcenter.com.
Fish Cove Adventure Mini Golf
For 18 holes it's $9.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors and $8.00 for ages 14 and younger. Add $3 to play all 36 holes. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, weather permitting. Check the Web site for a dollar-off coupon. 4949 Tamiami Trail, Charlotte Harbor, (941) 627-5393; fishcovegolf.com.
Food and drink
Tropicana Field has Ferg's. In Port Charlotte, the locals recommend these watering holes
John Hall's Goal Post Grill and Sports Bar is co-owned by the Port Charlotte native and former kicker for the Washington Redskins and New York Jets. 3575 Tamiami Trail, (941) 979-9933; goalpostgrill.com; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
EJ's Frosted Mug is a '50s-style diner. 4104 El Jobean Road, (941) 629-3766; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Coral Rock Cafe offers filling salads, rack of lamb, filet mignon and other upscale cuisine. 4560 Tamiami Trail, (941) 629-3330; 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Still others prefer Gatorz Bar and Grill for wings, burgers, steaks and seafood. 3816 Tamiami Trail, (941) 625-5000; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to midnight Sunday.
Charlotte County Historical Center
The baseball exhibit covers the history of the game and pays homage to players with a Charlotte County connection. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children 12 and younger. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. 22959 Bayshore Road, Charlotte Harbor. (941) 629-7278; charlottecountyfl.com/historical.
This open-air shopping, dining and entertainment complex will remind you of the St. Pete Pier, only with suites upstairs for overnight guests. Browse the shops, then head to Harpoon Harry's to dine. There's live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights and sporadically throughout the week. You also can catch a sightseeing cruise from the dock. The Village is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. 1200 W Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda, (941) 639-8721; fishville.com.
Ponce De Leon Park and Peace River Wildlife Center
This secluded, 10-acre park overlooks Charlotte Harbor and feels like Fort DeSoto-meets-Lettuce Lake. Lie on the man-made beach, fix lunch on the grill, go fishing and let the kids loose on the playground. The boardwalk's mangroves offer an escape from the vicious traffic. Park hours are 7 a.m. to dusk daily. Stop in the wildlife center, located on park property, which houses about 200 birds, including two bald eagles. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours last about 20 minutes. Suggested donation is $5 for adults and $3 for children. 4000 W Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, (941) 575-5050, peaceriverwildlifecenter.com.