Beach of the Week: Caladesi Island
Most folks will agree that Caladesi Island State Park is a beach paradise. After all, the isolated Caladesi Island beach, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, was named the No. 1 beach in America by Dr. Beach in 2008.
Where people will disagree, however, is whether it’s worth the $14 round-trip ferry ticket when, to reach the ferry, you first have to pay an $8 entry fee to Honeymoon Island State Park, itself home to a great beach. (There’s lots of griping on TripAdvisor and Yelp about pricey Caladesi Island.)
My answer: Don’t take the ferry. Paddle to Caladesi Island on your kayak or a rented one, and you can experience not only the spectacular beach, but also the plentiful wildlife along the way.
That’s what we did on a sunny May morning, and I can’t decide what we liked better: Kayaking with dolphins nearby, magnificent frigate birds overhead and roseate spoonbills in the mangroves, or walking and swimming on the three miles of Caladesi Island beach with soft, white sand, many shells and clear turquoise water.
We arrived at Caladesi Island without our own kayak, so we rented one from Sail Honeymoon. (See rates below.) Located on the south side of the causeway to Honeymoon Island, they rent sailboards and stand up paddleboards as well as a single and double kayaks.
You can paddle to the northern tip of Caladesi Island in 20 minutes from here, so you can have a great experience with a two-hour rental. But to reach the central area of Caladesi Island, spend time on the beach and/or paddle on the three-mile mangrove trail within the island, you’ll need at least four hours.
The northern tip of Caladesi Island, where Honeymoon Island is just across Hurricane Pass, is a magical spot, with white sand, shallow tide pools full of tiny fish and natural vegetation that is off-limits in spring when shorebirds nest here.
We saw mating horseshoe crabs in the shallow water, a ray, hermit crabs and live shells all within a few feet of each other. In the water, so many mullets jumped together that we suspected they were training for a circus act.
As we paddled along the mangroves in St. Joseph Sound, we saw many birds, including my favorites, four roseate spoonbills. Coming from Fort Lauderdale, we think ospreys are special. We saw so many of them on Caladesi and Honeymoon islands that after an hour or two, we barely mentioned them.
About a mile south of the Caldadesi Island’s tip you reach the entrance to the marina and concession area, a shady area with a snack bar, changing rooms, showers, a playground and picnic tables. A short walk through the woods leads you to the beach, which extends in glorious wildness for miles, lined with sea oats, dune sunflower and beach morning glories.
Birders should watch for American oystercatchers, black skimmers, royal and least terns and plovers.
Caladesi Island has a natural beach: The sea grass is allowed to stay on the sand. (If that’s not your style, then maybe Caladesi Island is not your style either.)
There’s a three-mile trail south through virgin pine flatwoods. You can take it through the woods one way and then cut over to the beach for your return. (Watch for Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises.) There is also a three-mile kayak trail through the mangroves.
We spent four hours paddling and exploring and ended up wishing we’d rented our kayak for the whole day.
Places this delightful, even in Florida, are rare.
Planning your visit to Caladesi Island State Park, one mile west of Dunedin.
Sail Honeymoon, 61 Causeway Blvd. Dunedin , rents single kayaks for two hours for $30, four hours for $40 or all day for $55. Doubles are $40, $55 and $70. They don’t reserve kayaks, but they have a large supply. Stand up paddleboards are $25 for one hour; $35 for two.
Caladesi Island Ferry, (727) 734-1501, departs from Honeymoon Island beginning at 10 a.m. Trips run every half hour February to September and hourly the rest of the year. To make sure everyone doesn’t try to take the last boat back, your return ticket is for four hours after you arrive. Print out a $1 off coupon here. Despite some grousing about price, many visitors love the ferry trip, which is scenic and often includes seeing dolphin.
Walking to Caladesi: Another alternative to the ferry is exploring Caladesi Island by walking north on Clearwater Beach. While Caladesi was once a separate island, a few years ago sand deposits connected it to Clearwater Beach. There’s no public parking at the north end of Clearwater Beach, however, so you’ll need to either arrive by bicycle and lock up at a northern beach-access point or walk several miles on the beach. (If you start at Clearwater Beach Pier 60, it’s about three miles.)
There is no camping at Caladesi, but the 108-slip marina is equipped with water and electric for overnight boat stays. To access by boat from Marker 14 on the Dunedin Causeway Channel, which runs parallel to the causeway between Hurricane Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway, follow a compass heading of 212 degrees for approximately one mile. Follow the channel markers into the Caladesi Island State Park marina. Reservations can be made online at ReserveAmerica or first-come, first served in the marina. Fees are $24 per night, plus tax through ReserveAmerica or $1 per foot, plus tax, at the marina.
Caladesi Island State Park Beach
Best asset: A spectacular rare natural beach, one of the best in the state.
Fees: $6 per boat; $2 per kayaker
Alcohol: Not allowed.
Location: Caladesi is an island reachable only by boat. There is no access by car.
Florida Rambler stories about the Tampa/St. Petersburg region:
- Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin
- Fort DeSoto Beach, Tampa
- Fort DeSoto Park for camping, Tampa
- Camping near Tampa
- Gamble Mansion, a Civil War plantation house
- Florida’s all-time best beaches, a list that includes Caladesi Island.