If you’d like to see what Florida’s beaches looked like before hotels, restaurants and shops were built along the shores, plan a visit to Caladesi Island State Park. Caladesi Island, located a few miles north of Clearwater Beach, Florida, is a good place to escape the crowded and commercialized beaches, and collect shells, enjoy a picnic or find your own private beach. In 2008, Caladesi Island was named America’s Best Beach by Dr. Beach.
The uncrowded white sand beaches and warm waters of Caladesi Island are certainly one of its biggest draws. We were there on a June weekend, and we didn’t need to walk far to get a big stretch of sand to ourselves. Other family friendly activities include a nature trail, kayak trail, picnic area, playground, concessions and modern restrooms.
Here is what you need to know to decide if a trip to Caladesi Island will be worthwhile for your family.
Check the tides
One of the main reasons that we planned a trip to Caladesi Island State Park was to find seashells. It’s a lot easier for families to find good shells at Caladesi Island because it is less crowded and access to the beach is limited. If beachcombing is on your list, plan your visit during low tide.
Find the tide schedule for Caledesi Island and Honeymoon Island at www.islandparks.org/weather.
How to get there
The only way to reach Caladesi Island is by boat. You can take your own boat or kayak to the island. There are lots of places where you can rent kayaks near Clearwater Beach. However, the easiest way to get there for most families will be to use the walk-on Caladesi Island Ferry.
The Caladesi Island Ferry dock is located inside Honeymoon Island State Park. You will need to pay the fee for Honeymoon Island to reach the Caladesi Island Ferry and then pay for your ferry tickets. You will not need to pay another entrance fee at Caladesi Island.
The Caladesi Island Ferry leaves every 30-60 minutes beginning at 10:00 a.m., weather permitting. The ferry is a calm and scenic 20-minute ride through the mangroves. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
The ferry does not take reservations, except for large groups. We arrived before the departure of the first ferry on a June weekend and had no trouble getting on right away.
One downside of using the ferry is that your ticket only allows you four hours on Caladesi Island. We didn’t come prepared for a long beach day anyway, so we were ready to take the ferry back in time for a late lunch.
If you’re not ready to head back to civilization after a few hours at Caladesi Island, consider spending the remainder of your day at Honeymoon Island State Park. Remember, you’ve already paid for it. Like Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island has a beach, picnic areas, nature walks, wildlife watching, a playground and more.
Bring insect repellent
Though the walk from the ferry to the beach was short, we all had several mosquito bites before we reached the beach. The mosquitoes weren’t a problem at the beach, but since we didn’t bring repellent, we were deterred from exploring the nature trail, using the picnic tables or playing on the playground.
Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent at Caladesi Island, or you can bring your own. You can also rent kayaks. You will want to bring your own towels, sunscreen, beach toys, bags or buckets to collect shells, and anything else you may need. Keep in mind that you will need to carry all your gear onto the ferry with you, so pack light where you can.
Find information about kayak and beach equipment rental at both Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island at www.romantichoneymoonisland.com.
Since your stay at Caladesi Island will likely be four hours or less, you may want to just pack snacks or a light picnic. Be sure to bring drinking water with you or plan to purchase it. There is a small cafe on Caladesi Island, which serves fish and chips, hamburgers and sandwiches, along with cold drinks and snacks.
Good to know
Where: Near Dunedin, Florida. Just north of Clearwater Beach. Here are directions to the ferry, from www.caladesiislandferry.com:
“To ride the ferry, take Curlew Road (Hwy 586) out of Dunedin and drive west. It will take you across the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island where you pay an entrance fee. Then follow the signs (a few hundred yards) to the Caladesi Ferry. Purchase tickets at the ferry booth.”
How Much: There are separate fees for the state park and Caladesi Island Ferry.
Fees for Caladesi Island/Honeymoon Island:
- $8 per car (2-8 passengers), via Honeymoon Island.
- $2 per kayak, bicycle or pedestrian.
Round-trip fees for Caladesi Island Ferry. Does not include tip.
- $14 per adult
- $7 per child (ages 6-12)
- Free for children ages 5 and under
- Get a $1 per ticket discount here.
How Long: Up to four hours for ferry visitors. A day trip for kayakers.
Amenities: Cafe Caladesi, picnic area, playground, beach equipment and kayak rentals, modern bathrooms, showers.