This secluded slice of paradise along Florida’s Gulf Coast feels worlds away from the glitz of Miami Beach and the bustle of nearby Clearwater Beach. In fact, Caladesi feels worlds away from just about everything.
Facts and figures
- Located in the Gulf of Mexico across from St. Joseph’s Sound, the state park is one of the few undeveloped barrier islands in Florida.
- Caladesi welcomes more than 200,00 visitors a year. Land camping is not available, but boaters can stay overnight at the park’s 108-slip marina. (Reservations must be made from one day to 11 months in advance.)
- In 2008, Caladesi ranked No. 1 on Dr. Beach’s list of “Top 10 Beaches in America.” The renowned coastal ecologist, who compiles his annual rankings as part of the National Healthy Beaches Campaign, lauded the area for its unspoiled natural beauty.
Once sea level stabilized about 3,000 years ago, the island underwent a growth spurt in which sand accumulated and the mangrove swamp began to thrive. The land remained untouched by civilization for thousands of years.
In 1895, Myrtle Scharrer Betz became the first child born on Caladesi Island. At the age of 87, Betz wrote “Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise,” a well-received book detailing the time she spent on the island with her father, Caladesi’s original homesteader, Henry Scharrer.
In 1921, a devastating hurricane ripped through the area, splitting Caladesi in two. The newly formed sister island, located to the north, was named Honeymoon Island.
Things to see and do
Getting to the island is part of the fun, as it’s accessible only by boat. Most catch the ferry from Honeymoon Island for a leisurely 20-minute cruise. If you aren’t toting lots of gear and you’re up for a paddle, consider renting a kayak and exploring the mangrove-lined waterways on your way to the island.
Once there, visitors have an array of options, from claiming a spot on the sand to swimming out for a snorkel. Because it’s less crowded than most Florida beaches, the island is a popular spot for seashell hunting. When the kids are ready for a beach break, head to the picnic area, where you’ll find a nice playground.
Hoping to catch a flounder, redfish or snapper? Fishing is allowed in certain areas, but you’ll need a state fishing license.
While Caladesi Island is beloved for its pristine beach, no trip is complete without venturing to the other—less sandy—parts of the park. Trek portions of the three-mile nature trail to see slash pine forests, a freshwater spring and mangrove swamps.
As part of the Florida Birding Trail, the park offers birders the chance to spot American oystercatchers, black skimmers, Louisiana heron, terns and more.
Gopher tortoises, sea turtles, armadillos and dolphins also call the island and its waters home.
End your day with a refreshing lemonade at the island’s concession stand before heading back to the ferry and waving farewell to this off-the-beaten-path gem.
Best time to go
The park is open year-round, and the ferry operates every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Crowding is rarely a problem here, so plan to visit whenever you need to hit pause on life for a little taste of paradise.