o early in the morning to Honeymoon Island State Park and to her sister park on Caladesi Island. Thats when youll see fishermen launching colorful kayaks and great blue herons working the beaches off the Dunedin Causeway.
Youll see bikers and walkers heading out for morning adventures on an extension of the Pinellas Trail that runs along the causeway, and paddleboarders gracefully gliding across St. Joseph Sound, the sparkling blue waters connecting the parks.
One morning, we saw a couple in church clothes baptizing a woman out in the water. They dunked her backward, then hugged her when she rose soaking wet and smiling. It was like a scene from the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? but with rapt spectators in swimsuits.
In the morning, if youre lucky, you might see a pair of American bald eagles and a great horned owl while walking along the Osprey Trail in Honeymoon Island State Park, at the west end of the Dunedin Causeway. Youre sure to see dozens of osprey soaring overhead, nesting in tall pines and swooping into the Gulf waters for breakfast.
The slash pine stand that surrounds the trail is one of the few left in this part of Florida.
On the ferry ride to Caladesi Island via Hurricane Pass, youll likely see dolphins and pelicans, herons and egrets, as the captain tells about the hurricane of 1921 that split Hog Island in two, forming Caladesi and Honeymoon islands. When he sees dolphins, which he often does, the captain slowly glides the ferry their way, so passengers can snap photos with their smartphones.
The ride takes about 20 minutes and is well worth the $14 fee, especially if you spot dolphins. You also can walk to Caladesi from North Clearwater Beach. The stretch along the Gulf on baby powder-like sand takes about an hour. We like to park between Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar and Frenchys Rockaway Grill, walk to Caladesi, then head back for lunch in one of those restaurants. Along the way, look for a dead tree whimsically hung with dozens of seashells.
Beaches in both parks rank among the best in the country, and thats no surprise to those who visit year-round. Look around the parking lots at Honeymoon, and youll see cars from Kentucky, Ontario, Michigan and Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina, where they have remarkable beaches of their own.
You can rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach at both parks, if you dont have your own. And you can stroll for hours, searching for seashells and sand dollars make sure they arent still alive or just enjoying the sea breezes. If you head to Caladesi on an early ferry on a weekday in the off-season, you may at times feel as though you practically have the beach to yourself.
When youre hungry, both beaches boast snack bars that sell everything from hot dogs, hamburgers and fish sandwiches to ice cream and beer. When Stephen Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, ranked Caladesi as the nations best beach in 2008, he joked that he picked it in part because the snack bar sold Haagen-Dazs ice cream, his favorite.
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Quiet beaches, trails make Honeymoon, Caladesi island perfect getaway