Plan A Relaxing Beach Trip To This Island State Park Off The Coast Of Florida

Depending on your interests, Florida might conjure up images of crowded beaches, theme parks, or even racetracks like the Daytona International Speedway. However, there are still places where you can wander off the beaten path (and maybe have the beach to yourself) in Florida. Caladesi Island State Park is a place like that. It's a barrier island of unspoiled natural beauty, situated just off the coast of Dunedin, one of the oldest towns on Florida's Gulf Coast. If you're looking for white sands and crystal-clear blue waters, you'll find them here.

In 2023, Caladesi Island State Park was named one of America's best beaches by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, the coastal expert and Florida International University professor known for his annual "Dr. Beach" rankings. In Florida, Dr. Beach put it second only to St. George Island State Park as the country's top-ranked beach vacation spot. Despite its name, however, Caladesi Island is no longer a real island, since Hurricane Elena left sand deposits connecting it to Clearwater Beach in 1985. At low tide, you can reach Caladesi Island on foot from the northern end of Clearwater Beach. However, it's not a short walk, so most people will elect to access it by boat.

Caladesi Island was also once connected to nearby Honeymoon Island until another storm carved the watery Hurricane Pass between them over a century ago. Taking the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island, you can catch the 20-minute ferry to Caladesi Island — or rent a kayak from Sail Honeymoon.

Escape the hustle and bustle at Caladesi Island State Park

The slight challenge of accessing Caladesi Island State Park is part of what keeps it isolated and makes it such a relaxing getaway. If you take the ferry, you'll have four hours on the island, which is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset. Private boaters can also reserve a dock on the marina for an overnight stay. Kayaking there will allow you to continue on under the mangrove trees on the island's peaceful, three-mile paddling trail. You can also rent kayaks or beach equipment from Cafe Caladesi near the marina.

A boardwalk leads down to the beach, where you can go shelling, swim or fish in designated areas, or watch for dolphins (which you might spot on the ferry ride, too). On nature trails like the Beach Loop, you can further enjoy hiking among cabbage palms and slash pine trees at Caladesi Island State Park.

Dunedin, your land bridge to the island ferry, is only about a 30-minute drive from Tampa International Airport. J.D. Power recently listed this as America's best large airport for customer satisfaction for the second straight year. However, unlike the animals you'd see between roller coasters at Busch Gardens in Tampa, the ospreys, blue herons, and gopher tortoises of Caladesi Island State Park are at home in their natural habitat. If you're ready to trade the packed theme parks for a secluded spot for a day, this could be Central Florida's true island of adventure.