Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island are two gems in the Florida State Park system. Tampa Bay’s two northernmost barrier islands are completely pristine and undeveloped and a world away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach. Of Florida State Park’s 175 parks, these two are pretty special. Not only are they unspoiled and wildly natural, they’re incredibly well maintained and accessible to the public.
Located just off the coast of Dunedin (north of Tampa) on the gulf coast, they’re a great option if you’re in the Tampa Bay area but trying to avoid the aforementioned crowded Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach. With no resorts in sight, visiting these beaches can feel a little more like camping (it takes a lot of gear to have a good day at the beach!) but that’s part of the charm.
I spent a full day exploring Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island checking out the sites and figuring out how it all works, and here’s what you need to know…
Honeymoon Island State Park
Getting to Honeymoon Island State Park
From the town of Dunedin, you’ll drive across the Dunedin Causeway (a land bridge) over to Honeymoon Island State Park. The causeway is lined with a few beaches where people prefer to set up camp for the day right out of the back of their truck or launch a kayak. You can also rent kayaks and paddleboards from Sail Honeymoon right on the causeway.
Honeymoon Island State Park Hours & Fees
The park gates open at 8AM and the park closes at sundown (which could vary between 5:30PM-9PM throughout the year).
It’s $8/vehicle (with 2-8 people) or $4/car with only one person.
$2/pedestrian or bicyclist.
Show up one hour before sunset and it’s only $4/vehicle!
Honeymoon Island Beaches
There are three different beach areas on Honeymoon Island and they’re all a little different.
Main Beach: This is the beach I visited on my trip. It has a large parking lot and two big bathhouses and concession stands. The middle part of Main Beach was a lot rockier than I was expecting and there was a decent amount of seaweed (not sure if this was related to red tide in the area), but the shelling was really good! We spent a while just puttering around the shore line sifting through the rocks and found some real treasures. The south end of Main Beach looks a lot more like you’re probably expecting. The beach is a lot wider and it’s that pretty white sand that the area is known for.
North Beach: The North Beach was closed the day I visited because of the red tide, but it sounds like the place to go if you want a little more solitude. And if you’re willing to walk all the way to the end you’ll be treated to a pretty epic sandbar.
Dog Beach: Didn’t make it over to dog beach, but it’s pretty close to the entrance and obviously the place to go if you have a dog. They have to be on leash though.
Honeymoon Island Facilities & Rentals: Honeymoon Island has great beach facilities. Bathrooms, changing rooms, and showers are readily available. Cafe Honeymoon is a great little food counter and gift (and sundries) shop. The South Beach Pavilion also has a little cafe and store. There are also bicycle and kayak rentals as well as chair and umbrella setup and rentals. All of the concessions are provided by Romantic Honeymoon Island and you can find out all the info (including pricing) here.
Shelling on Honeymoon Island: I mentioned before that the shelling was really good around the rocky part of Main Beach, but this picture will give you an idea of exactly what you can expect to find on Honeymoon Island.
Caladesi Island Ferry
Caladesi Island State Park is a separate state park from Honeymoon Island State Park, but it’s only accessible by private boat or via ferry from Honeymoon Island. Once you arrive on Honeymoon Island (past the entrance gates), there’s a parking area where you’ll go to catch the ferry. The ferry starts at 10AM and runs every 30 minutes (every hour during winter). It’s $16/adult, $8/child (6-12) and free for children under 5. You don’t need reservations, but show up 10-15 minutes early to make sure you’ll get a seat on the next ferry. Your ticket is marked with a return time of about 4 hours. You’re guaranteed a spot back on that ferry, but you can hop on an earlier one if there’s room.
It was about a 15 minute ride from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island and the captain gave us a nice little tour.
Where the ferry docks, it’s a quick walk to the beach and there’s a cafe and store as well as restrooms and showers. At the bottom of the beach entrance, they have chairs and umbrellas already set up that you can just plop down in. We got two chairs and an umbrella for $29 and IT WAS WORTH IT. You can also bring your own chairs and umbrellas on the ferry with you. Whichever you do, if you’re going to be out for long you need some shade because the sun’s pretty intense! They only take cards, but the cafe and shop take cash. Find out all about rentals here.
Shelling on Caladesi: You can expect to find the same kind of shells on Caladesi as on Honeymoon. Multiple people (the ferry captain, the beach concession attendant, etc.) mentioned that the shelling was best at the north end of the beach. The very north end of the island is about 1.5 miles from where the chairs are set up, but you don’t need to go all the way down to the end to find shells. They’re just at that general end of the island. I’m not sure if better shells wash up there, or there’s just less picked over because everyone gets dropped off in the middle of the island, but it was definitely worth walking down towards the end.
Kayaking to Caladesi Island: If you have your own kayak (or you rent one at Honeymoon Island or at the Dunedin Causeway), it’s not very far to paddle to the north end of Caladesi Island. Just make sure you’re watching out for motorboat traffic.
Walking to Caladesi Island from Clearwater Beach: It’s actually possible to walk from the north end of Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island. It used to be a completely separate island, but a hurricane in the 80s filled in the Dunedin Pass and they’re now connected. It’s a trek though. From the north end of Clearwater Beach (near the Surfside Condominiums) it’s about a 3 mile walk to the area of Caladesi Island where the cafe and restrooms are. Be sure to pack your own water and a snack because that’s a long way in the sun! I’ve also read to time your walk so you’re leaving Clearwater AFTER high tide so you don’t end up having to wade through deeper water in one particular spot coming back if you hit it at high tide.
What I Thought of Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island
It had been on my bucket list to visit these islands for a long time, and I’ve finally checked it off! I’m not sure that Honeymoon Island lived up to the hype that I’d heard. I’d heard it talked about as one of the best beaches in Florida, but I don’t think I would say that. The sand is white and pretty, but it’s the same as everywhere else on the gulf coast. And the beach isn’t really all that wide. We went in the middle of the week when there was a bit of a red tide situation and it wasn’t uncrowded so I can’t imagine what it’s like on the weekend or when the weather is good. But we really had a good time shelling so we were happy with the stop (we didn’t take full beach gear-we just got out of the car with a bag and spent an hour or so walking around).
But we LOVED Caladesi Island. I would imagine that most people don’t make it to Caladesi because you either have to have a boat or pay for the ferry. And that’s part of what makes it so great. There’s not very many people. I really liked that you could just sit down in a chair once you get there so you don’t have to carry chairs and an umbrella with you (especially nice if you flew down and you’re staying in a hotel). And the facilities were really nice for a state park (on both islands). We packed a cooler and a few things and it actually seemed like we could’ve gotten away with showing up with swim suits, a towel, and sunscreen. They had everything you need for a day at the beach there.
Would I go back? I’m not sure. I really like Caladesi Island, but it’s not the most convenient place. Especially if you’re traveling to Florida from out of state. I’m usually flying in and looking for a place to stay for 5-6 nights where there’s a nice beach and things to do nearby. While Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island aren’t far from Tampa, there aren’t places to stay right on the beach nearby. Wherever you’re staying, you’re going to have to pack up the car, drive over for the day (and then do the ferry if you want to go to Caladesi) and set up camp.
If you love visiting different beaches (they’re all so different!), then it’s definitely worth a day trip over to the area, but besides a couple of small condo complexes just outside the entrance to the state park on Honeymoon Island (they’re not on the beach…you’d still have to drive or do a decent walk) there’s nowhere to stay in the area on the beach.
The closest place would be Clearwater Beach and if you’re staying at a place in Clearwater Beach, you’re probably not going to want to pack everything up and drive over to Honeymoon Island to set up when you could just walk outside your rental.
That’s really the only bad thing about this spot…it’s more set up for locals coming for the day (even from a couple of hours away) than vacationers coming from out of state.
Rattlesnake Warning: Okay, make that two bad things about this place ; ) Yep, you read that right. That’s a rattlesnake warning. Umm, what? I didn’t see any signs of them (you can betcha I stuck to the middle of any pathway I was on), but I had a couple of people reach out via DM on Instagram and I was reading some blogs that mentioned how many they’ve seen there. Some locals even call it “Rattlesnake Island.” Yikes. I wasn’t worried about running into them going from the parking lot to the beach (but watch out because you just never know!), but there is a nature trail on Honeymoon Island (biking, hiking) that I 100% would not do because of this.
Where to Eat Near Honeymoon Island
Frenchy’s Outpost: On Dunedin Causeway, this popular Clearwater Beach spot now has a location further north. It’s the kind of place that’s popular with beach goers (you can show up looking pretty gross). The food is pretty good, there are happy hour specials, and it’s not terribly expensive. It’s probably not the greatest meal of your life, but it gets the job done after a long day at the beach.
Lucky Lobster: Not to be dramatic, but this might be the greatest meal of my life ; ) In downtown Dunedin, this hopping spot pretty much does everything right but their Connecticut style lobster roll (just lobster and butter) is OUT OF THIS WORLD.
Where to Stay Near Honeymoon Island
Fenway Hotel: I stayed at this historic hotel near downtown Dunedin (Marriott Bonvoy) on this trip and it was a good spot to stay in the area. It was walkable to downtown which is such a booming area right now and only about 4 miles from the Dunedin Causeway. It’s not a beach hotel by any means, but it’s right on the bay and pretty casual. Pricing starts at $169. Book directly with Marriott here.