By Nancy Foster
Two naturally beautiful state parks, undiscovered by many but a cherished find for some visitors, are a mere 12 mile drive north of Clearwater Beach and within 90 minutes from anywhere in West Central Florida. Access to both of these award-winning beach destinations is through Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.
Four miles of sugar-white beach, winding nature trails and lush picnic spots highlight this 385-acre expanse of unspoiled Florida beauty. Under the jurisdiction of the Florida State Parks system, Honeymoon Island has recently undergone extensive beach renourishment, making it perfect for year-round shelling, swimming, fishing and snorkeling. Services include showers and rentals for beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks. Honeymoon Island is also one of Florida’s premier beach wedding destinations. Get married with your toes in the sand and enjoy a reception under the stars or in an indoor/outdoor pavilion with stunning beach views!
Two beach-casual eateries offer al fresco dining surrounded by unspoiled beauty. Cafe Honeymoon and nearby South Beach Pavilion Cafe feature casual menu items such as a succulent Lobster Roll and tangy Fish Tacos. Eat under umbrellaed deck tables or roam the island for a quiet picnic spot. Beer and wine are available but must be consumed on premises. Stay for a blazing sunset but remember to leave at dusk, as Honeymoon Island is open daily from 8 a.m. to sundown. romantichoneymoonisland.com
A destructive hurricane in 1921 split the landmass of present-day Honeymoon Island in two, creating what is known today as Caladesi Island State Park. Visitors gain access via a 20-minute ferry ride over the waters of St. Joseph Sound with the Caladesi Island Ferry (current price is $14 per adult), which runs daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 600-acre island, flanked by a dense mangrove swamp, is thick with Florida slash pines and native trees and plants, and is a natural habitat for tern, plover, osprey and other seabirds.
Cafe Caladesi sells lunch items, cold beverages, ice cream and souvenirs. Railed boardwalks and hiking trails lead to beaches so pure and pristine that many consider this paradise found and do not want to leave on the last ferry! floridastateparks.org
Current admission to both parks is $8 per vehicle (limit 2 to 8 people per vehicle). While overnight accommodations are not available, area lodging packages can be found at Allegiant.com.