Caladesi Island State Park – A hidden gem in the Tampa Bay Area
Ever since Siesta Beach was named the #1 beach in 2011 and 2017 on Dr. Beach’s Best Beaches in the U.S I have watched every year to catch his new list. This year only two Florida beaches made the cut, Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin is #7 and St. George State Park in the Panhandle is #4. Caladesi made #1 on the list back in 2008. Since the panhandle is a bit of a 6-hour drive, I decided to check out Caladesi on Memorial Day weekend. I had never been there so I thought it was a good time to take a ride to Dunedin.
Caladesi Island State Park
It is about an hour drive via north 275 and 19. Of course being a holiday weekend, traffic was busier than usual. In order to get to Caladesi Island, you have to go by private boat or ferry, which is one of the attractions of the island. First, you cross the busy causeway of boaters, fisherman, sunbathers and people just hanging out. This takes you to Honeymoon Island State Park where you catch the ferry. Honeymoon Island has its own beach areas and if you don’t want to go any further, there is a nature center you can tour as well as many amenities available. Bird watching and shelling are popular on Honeymoon as well as weddings for the obvious name. You pay parking fees at the entrance of Honeymoon Island, signs will direct you to the ferry parking.
The Caladesi Connection Ferry runs every day except Thanksgiving & Christmas and starts at 10:00 am and runs every half hour until sunset is over. The fee is $16.00 roundtrip for adults and $8.00 for kids 6-12. Kids 5 and under are free. The maximum stay is 4 hours per ticket. People seemed to have the same idea I did about going on the holiday weekend. It was Saturday and the line for tickets was about an hour long.
Amazing Outing on the Water
We lined up for the next ferry, you are allowed to bring coolers, chairs, whatever beach equipment within reason, they have an area on the ferry for it. Each ferry accommodates approximately 50 people per trip. It is about a 15-20 minute ride to the island, our Captain and First Mate were very entertaining along the way. Docking is efficient and everyone makes their way to the island. There is a gift shop/café for lunch, drinks, t-shirts, etc. I admit I bought a cap like a tourist. Restrooms and showers are available.
There are two trails to the beach, a nature trail or a straight trail to the shore. There are signs reminding you that rattlesnakes live on the island, although I never saw any on my trip. Walking down to the beach, they are constructing a watchtower which will be great for a bird’s eye view of the entire park. Up on the sand dunes there is wild prickly cactus, you don’t see that much in Florida! The beach was beautiful and white sand glistened in the sun.
You can rent umbrellas although most people had their own gear and were walking the beach looking for those shell treasures. No live shelling is allowed, you see something living in your shell, throw it back to the sea. It is a peaceful day of enjoying the beach. Heading back on the ferry, we were lucky enough to see some dolphin pods swimming along and the ferry pulled over to give us a view. A great way to end the day at Caladesi Island! Do yourself a favor and take a day trip to Dunedin. You can find info here.
Vicky Sullivan Photos