~ Most folks will agree that Caladesi Island State Park is a beach paradise. After all, the isolated Caladesi Island beach, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, was named the No. 1 beach in America by Dr. Beach in 2008.
Where people will disagree, however, is whether it’s worth the $14 round-trip ferry ticket when, to reach the ferry, you first have to pay an $8 entry fee to Honeymoon Island State Park, itself home to a great beach. (There’s lots of griping on TripAdvisor and Yelp about pricey Caladesi Island.)
My answer: Don’t take the ferry. Paddle to Caladesi Island on your kayak or a rented one, and you can experience not only the spectacular beach, but also the plentiful wildlife along the way.
That’s what we did on a sunny May morning, and I can’t decide what we liked better: Kayaking with dolphins nearby, magnificent frigate birds overhead and roseate spoonbills in the mangroves, or walking and swimming on the three miles of Caladesi Island beach with soft, white sand, many shells and clear turquoise water.
We arrived at Caladesi Island without our own kayak, so we rented one from Sail Honeymoon. (See rates below.) Located on the south side of the causeway to Honeymoon Island, they rent sailboards and stand up paddleboards as well as a single and double kayaks.
You can paddle to the northern tip of Caladesi Island in 20 minutes from here, so you can have a great experience with a two-hour rental. But to reach the central area of Caladesi Island, spend time on the beach and/or paddle on the three-mile mangrove trail within the island, you’ll need at least four hours.
The northern tip of Caladesi Island, where Honeymoon Island is just across Hurricane Pass, is a magical spot, with white sand, shallow tide pools full of tiny fish and natural vegetation that is off-limits in spring when shorebirds nest here.
We saw mating horseshoe crabs in the shallow water, a ray, hermit crabs and live shells all within a few feet of each other. In the water, so many mullets jumped together that we suspected they were training for a circus act.
As we paddled along the mangroves in St. Joseph Sound, we saw many birds, including my favorites, four roseate spoonbills. Coming from Fort Lauderdale, we think ospreys are special. We saw so many of them on Caladesi and Honeymoon islands that after an hour or two, we barely mentioned them.See also: