Caladesi Island State Park was picked by Dr. Beach (Stephen Leatherman) as one of the top ten beaches in the USA in 2007 and 2008. It had the number 2 spot on the top ten list for 2007 and was #1 for 2008.
Caladesi Island is the home of Caladesi Island State Park. The island was once part of Honeymoon Island to the north until a hurricane in 1921 split the island in two. The island is accessible only by boat, either private boat or by the Caladesi Ferry Service departing from Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island has 3 miles of absolutely beautiful Gulf beaches with shallow, clear, calm waters. Actually, if you don't mind walking a good distance you can actually walk to Caladesi Island from Clearwater Beach. From Pier 60 it's a little more than an hour's walk.
How to Get to Caladesi Island
From Clearwater, take U.S. 19 north to Curlew Road (586) in Dunedin. Follow Curlew Road west across the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island. Pay the entrance fee to Honeymoon Island. Buy a ticket on the passenger ferry to Caladesi. Ride the ferry to Caladesi.
The Clearwater / Dunedin area is highly developed and traffic is fairly congested on the main highways, especially on US 19. So it's rather amazing after spending some time on Clearwater Beach, to discover a completely undeveloped island like Caladesi, with a virgin pine forest and 3 miles of completely undeveloped beaches. (A virgin forest is one that has never been cut for timber).
What To Do on Caladesi Island
After taking the relaxing boat ride from Honeymoon Island (you'll probably see some dolphins on the way over), you will cruise through some thick mangrove forests (called a mangle) before disembarking at the marina located on the bay side of the island right in front of the concession where you can buy food or drink. You reach the beach by walking on a sidewalk and boardwalks for about 5 minutes.
There are several covered picnic pavilions as well as picnic tables under the palms between the marina and the beach. Halfway to the beach you will encounter restroom facilities with changing rooms, showers, and a drinking fountain. Once out on the beach you can walk north for a mile or so, or south for many miles, although the park itself only encompasses 3 miles of beach. Beach wheelchairs are available from the rangers. There is a vendor near where the boardwalk ends on the beach if you want to rent beach umbrellas and chairs, or if you want to rent a kayak.
What else can you do on the island? Go fishing, rent a kayak and paddle through the mangrove tunnels on the bay side of the island. Take a walk on the nature trail and see the oak and palm hammock (a type of forest). See the double-trunked pine tree. What else will you see? Owls, birds of all kinds, rabbits, armadillos, snakes perhaps, and there is even a very curious wild turkey that has been seen on the island. Don't be surprised to find the turkey following you!
Caladesi Island Beaches
Most likely when you arrive on Caladesi you'll just head straight for the beach, which is wide and flat. The water is shallow and normally calm. This is great for snorkeling. Remember that you cannot keep live shells, and that includes the sand dollars that you find out in the water. A lifeguard is on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day (end of May till beginning of September).
Caladesi has a natural beach which is not raked and manicured by the beach machines, so you may encounter more seaweed and beach wrack here than on Clearwater Beach. It also means that you will find more interesting things on the beach that have washed up.
There is a time limit of 4 hours on the island if you come over on the ferry.
Below is a fun video with me and Dr. Stephen Leatherman announcing Caladesi Island as the Nation's best beach in 2008.