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Caladesi Island State Park

America's top beach!


Caladesi Island Beach
pinellascounty/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Welcome to Caladesi Island State Park... welcome to paradise. It doesn't take long to figure out why Caladesi Island is reportedly one of the favorite getaways for Dr. Beach. Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (affectionately known as Dr. Beach) issues his list of America's Best Beaches on Memorial Day weekend. He named Caladesi Island State Park as America's Best Beach in 2008 and it ranks consistently among America's top beaches year after year.

In 1628, a Spanish captain named the island Caladesi, meaning "beautiful bayou." Indeed, the island is still beautiful today and one of the most unspoiled areas in Florida. Perhaps that could be because of its limited access. Caladesi Island State Park is one of the few parks in Florida's state park system that is only accessible by boat. While this makes the island a bit exclusive, a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park makes access available to anyone, allowing over 200,000 people to visit Caladesi Island State Park each year.

People come to Caladesi Island for many reasons. While its pristine beaches are ranked among the best in America, people also come for the outdoor recreational opportunities — swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, birding, picnicking and shelling. One of the more popular activities is renting a kayak to enjoy the three-mile, mangrove-shaded kayak trail.

Caladesi Marina

There is no camping on the island. The only way you'll stay on Caladesi Island overnight is to bring your boat. Dock at the well-appointed marina and enjoy island life with covered picnic pavilion, grills and the Caladesi Cafe just steps away.

The Beach

It is no wonder that Caladesi Island is a consistent contender for America's best beach — there's four miles of beautiful white sand that glisten in Florida's sunshine and the waters of the Gulf meet the sky in shades of clear blue. It's a picture perfect beach.

Two paved trails lead to the beach and are a good walking distance from the entrance to the park. Two separate boardwalks that span the protected sand dunes each have shower and restroom facilities. While you may bring along many items on the Caladesi ferry, it might be more convenient to rent a beach umbrella and chairs. A beach umbrella and two chairs are available for a $20.00 rental fee per day. Additional beach chairs are $5.00 per day. Gulf kayaks are available from $10.00 per hour for a single and $20.00 per hour for a double.

A nice picnic area is located on Caladesi Island near the beach, between the two boardwalks. Also located in the same area is a large playground for the children.

Caladesi Trails

Four miles of beach dune community teems with sea oats, dune sunflower and beach morning glory making it home to shorebirds such as American oystercatchers, black skimmers, royal and least terns and snowy Wilson's and piping plovers. Loggerhead and green sea turtles also use the beach for nesting.

On the bay side of the island, wading birds such as great blue herons, snowy egrets and roseate spoonbills feed around the shallow water in the tidal flats. It is no wonder this great island is on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

The Island Trail offers hikers about an hour and a half of natural unspoiled terrain where they are likely to see gopher tortoises on the ground and ospreys flying overhead.

Also, visitors can rent a kayak and take to thethree-mile, mangrove-shaded kayak trail.

Information and Directions

Caladesi Island State Park is accessible by boat or ferry only.

By boat, from Channel Marker #14, just west of the Dunedin Causeway, take an approximate 212 degree heading for approximately one mile. Follow the channel markers into the Caladesi Island State Park Marina.

The 108-slip marina at Caladesi Island State Park is equipped with water and electric hookups. Docking fees are $5.00 per day or $20.00 for overnight camping. Reservations for overnight boat camping may be made through ReserveAmerica.com up to eleven months in advance.

The Caladesi Island Connection ferry departs daily from Honeymoon Island State Park on an hourly schedule (every half hour during peak season) beginning at 10:00 a.m. (weather permitting) and the trip takes about 15 to 20 minutes. The round trip is $10.00 per adult, $5.00 for children ages 4-12 and free for children three and younger.

Passengers are allowed a four hour stay on Caladesi Island before returning to Honeymoon Island. Can you stay longer? That's the question I asked. It seems the capacity each ferry is 62 passengers, with two ferries making the trips. So, to ensure room on a return ferry, each passenger is assigned a return time. Passengers are guaranteed a seat at that time, but are only allowed the trip on a space available basis any other time.

The Caladesi Island Connection at times has reached capacity in the middle of the day. It is advisable to call ahead to check seat availability — 727-734-1501.

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