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. Caladesi Island is frequently listed as a “best beach” in the U.S.
The uncrowded white sand beaches and warm waters of Caladesi Island are certainly one of its biggest draws. We visited 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 plan your day at Caladesi Island State Park.
Check the tides
Finding seashells was one of the main reasons we planned a trip to Caladesi Island State Park. It's a lot easier for families to find good shells at because it is less crowded.
To find the most shells, plan your visit during low tide. Find the tide schedule for Caledesi Island and Honeymoon Island at tideking.com.
Related: Best of Clearwater Beach for Families
How to get there
You cannot drive to Caledesi Island. The Caledesi Island Ferry will be the easiest option for many visitors. This is what we did.
Caledesi Island Ferry is a walk-on ferry from Dunedin, just north of Clearwater. Ferries leave every 30 minutes, starting at 10 AM, weather permitting. The scenic ride takes about 20 minutes. Learn more and find a coupon at caladesiferry.org.
You can take your own boat or kayak. There are lots of places where you can rent kayaks near Clearwater Beach.
It is possible to walk from Clearwater Beach to Caledesi Island.
Related: Our Review of Frenchy's Oasis Motel
Caladesi Ferry Tips
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.
Your ferry ticket is only good for four hours. Consider a boat/kayak rental or hiking in from the north end of Clearwater Beach if you want to spend more time.
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.
Consider spending the remainder of your day at Honeymoon Island State Park. You've already paid the entrance fee. Honeymoon Island has a beach, picnic areas, nature walks, wildlife watching, a playground and more.
Related: Tips for Visiting Busch Gardens in Tampa
Bring insect repellent
The walk from the ferry to the beach was short, but we all got several mosquito bites on the way. The mosquitoes weren't a problem at the beach. However, we skipped the nature trail, picnic tables and playground because we didn't have insect repellent.
What to Bring
Bring your own
- insect repellent
- beach toys
- bag or bucket to collect shells
- change of clothes
- water bottle
- snacks or picnic lunch (optional)
- beach chairs (optional)
- beach umbrella (optional)
Keep in mind that you will need to carry all your gear onto the ferry with you, so pack light.
Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent when you arrive. You can also rent kayaks.
Find information about kayak and beach equipment rental at both Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island at www.romantichoneymoonisland.com.
There is a small cafe, which serves fish and chips, hamburgers and sandwiches, along with cold drinks and snacks.
You can bring your own food to Caladesi Island.
We found lots of shells at Caladesi Island, which was our #1 goal. We also enjoyed spending time on a natural, uncrowded Florida beach.
My only complaint is that only getting four hours on the island from the ferry made it harder to really relax and enjoy a family beach day. I'd consider kayak rentals next time. Or, I might make Honeymoon Island my base, and take a side trip to Caladesi.
I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip to Caladesi Island. Happy travels!
Good to Know
Where: Near Dunedin, Florida. Just north of Clearwater Beach. Get directions to the ferry at www.caladesiislandferry.com.
When: Caladesi Island is open from 8 AM to sundown every day of the year. Ferry closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
How Much: If you take the ferry, expect to pay the Honeymoon Island admission fee and then the ferry fee. Here are current rates, updated March 2020:
- $8 per vehicle to enter Honeymoon Island
- $16 per adult (age 13+) for round-trip ferry. $8 per child. Kids ages 5 and under ride free.
Admission to Caladesi Island is $6 per boat or $2 per kayak. Learn more about non-ferry fees and options at https://www.floridastateparks.org
How Long: Up to four hours for ferry visitors. You can stay all day if you come in your own boat/kayak or walk in.
Amenities: Cafe Caladesi, picnic area, playground, beach equipment and kayak rentals, modern bathrooms, showers.
- Caladesi Island State Park – https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/caladesi-island-state-park
- Honeymoon Island State Park – https://www.floridastateparks.org/honeymoonisland
- Caladesi Island Ferry – https://caladesiferry.org/
It looks so incredibly beautiful there!
The insect repellent is a necessity in the middle of the summer as mosquitoes can even get you on the beach. Last July we got bitten heavily – don’t make the same mistake.
Thanks for the tip!
Although the bugs do sound a bit off-putting, I love the idea of shells galore & warm ocean waves in a laid back locale!
for the budget conscious, you can go to clearwater beach and just walk north until you get to caladesi state park. it’s a nice hike.
Thanks for the tip, Mark!
We walk from Clearwater every morning. A little challenging at high tide but worth the shells
I am planning to go this July with my three kids. They will be 3,4, and 5. It’s so much easier to bring the stroller or wagon to carry all their floaties, towels and snacks… would that work taking they ferry and then from the ferry to the beach?
there are boardwalks to push your stuff over, but then you’ve got a LOT of sand. if your wagon/stroller are easy to push through the sugar sand, you’re good to go.
Hi Brandi! It’s been a while since our trip to Caladesi Island and we did not have a stroller. I’ve just done a quick review of the official ferry website at https://caladesiferry.org/.
I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t take a stroller or wagon to Caladesi Island. I recall that the walk from the ferry to the beach is boardwalk most of the way. Beach wheelchairs are available for rent, so the terrain should be fairly stroller-friendly. Just be prepared to fold your stroller/wagon on the ferry if required. Please let me know how it goes! 🙂