How To Spend A Day On Florida’s Beautiful Honeymoon Island

Florida has 175 state parks. One of the most frequented Florida State Parks is Honeymoon Island, in northern Pinellas County. While traveling through Florida in the Tampa Bay area above Clearwater Beach’s Gulf Coast, I seized the opportunity to spend a day there amidst her beautiful beaches. A natural barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico’s coast, much like Assateague Island on the Atlantic, Honeymoon Island features 4 miles of sandy beaches, nature trails, and wildlife ranging from gopher tortoises to bald eagles.

Honeymoon Island welcome sign.

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

Why Visit Honeymoon Island

I like it because there’s a great sense of calm and peace on the island. The sound of the wind, smell, and feel of the spray of the Gulf’s waters against my skin, a vision of nature at its most rudimentary, the feel of the sand beneath my feet, touch of the kayak paddle in my hand or my bicycle seat, make for a great day and a great getaway.

Anyone who enjoys nature hikes by the water with picnic stations amidst slash pines and full comfort restrooms by the main beach should consider a visit. You can experience the beauty of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline, see many types of wildlife that depend on these fragile ecosystems, and enjoy many recreational opportunities. Armadillos, raccoons, and gopher tortoises are among some of the island’s land animals. Osprey, great horned owls, and egrets join bald eagles in the sky. Since I had an entire day on Honeymoon Island (there are no camping or overnight lodgings), I was able to stop and explore each of its areas.

Pro Tip: Peak season is October through March.

You Don’t Have To Be On Your Honeymoon To Enjoy Honeymoon Island

The name came about when the island’s owner-developer, Clinton Washburn, had lunch with the Life Magazine editor, who thought it’d be a great place for a honeymoon. A contest was launched, and the name Honeymoon Island stuck. A newlywed couple won a 2-week honeymoon and are immortalized in the Rotary Club Centennial Nature Center.

My parents told us that they had honeymooned in Clearwater, but I’d never thought to ask why. Now I wonder if two college students planning a wedding in the 1960s thought coming to Honeymoon Island would be a grand adventure.

How To Get To Honeymoon Island

To get there, you’ll drive to Dunedin, Florida, north of Clearwater on U.S. 19 to SR 586. Cross at 1 Causeway Blvd. It’s less than an hour from St. Petersburg. Watch for the welcome sign in front of the Mobil gas station (before the McDonald’s) and fill up, to be safe, if you’re less than a half tank of gas. That’s the last gas station I saw before the island when I was there.

You’ll cross the Dunedin Causeway and spot several areas to pull off to fish with St. Joseph Sound to the north. There’s even a bustling restaurant. Just past a couple of apartment complexes, you’ll cross onto Honeymoon Island and stop at the ranger gate to pay the fee per vehicle and gather your map.

dolphin statue named Captain Smiley welcomes visitors to Honeymoon Island State Park in Florida

Captain Smiley welcomes you to the Caladesi Island Ferry.

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

Caladesi Island State Park

Since the ferry landing is near the entrance, check out the times for the ferry, get photographed with Captain Smiley, and determine when you’d cross Hurricane Pass to get to this even more secluded island.

There are no roads to this island, you can only get there by boat or walking at low tide from Clearwater Beach. Once there, you’ll find mangroves and an abundance of sugar-white sand. Beyond the boat docks and ranger station, picnic shelters, and concession stand, you won’t find many buildings, but what you do find is an extensive boardwalk and 3 miles of trails. Exploring from land, you have many opportunities to spot eagles, osprey, and even dolphins. Kayaks are available to explore the mangrove trails.

Deemed one of America’s Best Beaches by Dr. Beach, you can spend hours here enjoying the glorious weather. Bike, chair, and umbrella rentals are available.

Beach Warning Flags, sign.
Gail Clifford

Pro Tip: Be mindful of the water conditions based on the beach warning flags posted around the island. We had red and purple flag conditions when I was there, so no one got in the water past their ankles. It was still a glorious visit.

South Beach Pavilion Flagstaff, Adirondack Chair and Dolphin.
Gail Clifford

South Beach Pavilion

An easy place to park, rent a bike or surrey, stop at the restaurant, or use the facilities (showers are outdoors, and changing areas are inside the restrooms), the South Beach Pavilion hosts views of the water with fun things right here.

Kayaks can be rented from the nearby Café Honeymoon. I enjoy following the painted dolphins around this part of Florida. And I rarely pass on the opportunity to relax in a nice Adirondack chair, though there are many more things to do and see here.

Dog Beach

This pet beach is the only beach on the island where pets are allowed. While dogs must be on 6-foot maximum handheld leashes, there are plenty of 1,000 to 1,500 feet trails, most consisting of soft sand. The reminders of “no live shelling” and “rattlesnakes on the island” are well heeded.

Walking through protected areas to get to the beach reminded me of how fragile this ecosystem is yet how much it continues to offer us.

Anglers shared they’d caught trout, snook, and mackerel and think this is the best fishing spot on the island.

view through telescope at Rotary Centennial Nature Center

Telescope at Rotary Centennial Nature Center

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

Rotary Centennial Nature Center

With a native plant garden open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and interior exhibits (including the 1939 honeymooners’ photo) you can spend hours on this part of the island. There is a ramp behind the building so everything is handicapped accessible. One thing you’ll note, perhaps for the first time here, is the benches and rocking chairs. Each one has a special message from Namaste or Nest of Peace and Love to remembering a loved one.

Sit a spell and think about the people who donated so much to this area. At the edge of the upstairs patio, you’ll find free sightseeing binoculars and a telescope to look at a beautiful view worth preserving to the east toward Tampa. I learned it’s possible to take a photo through the telescope. Difficult, but possible.

Rotary Centennial Nature Center

Rotary Centennial Nature Center Building

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

The Nature Center contains the only gift shop I saw on the island, and you can shop online. It also hosts a Kid’s Crafts Scavenger Hunt, advertised as “Indoors all day! Free prizes!” The ranger at the admission gate may know if it’s open the day you visit.

The garden contains native Florida plants with a mission to “preserve, conserve, and restore Florida’s native plants.” From Indian Blanket and Scorpion Tail to Railroad Vine and Partridge Pea, their well-labeled garden makes it easy to identify the trees, flowers, and other vegetation.

Don’t miss the short 0.3-mile trail on the opposite side of the building. You’ll view the oyster shell reefs and mangroves and look toward North Beach and then traverse the circular trail that brings you back to a thatched hut that looks like one of the tiniest classrooms.

Bald Eagle and nest on branch of central tree.

Bald Eagle and nest on branch of central tree.

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

The Osprey Trail

The Osprey Trail, 1 mile to the eagle’s nest, winds through the pine flatwoods end of the island. While people I met on the trail, which connects with the 0.7-mile Pelican Trail that branches off towards North Beach, spotted gopher tortoises, I missed them but saw several osprey nests resting high in the barren pine snags. At the end of the trail, I found the bald eagle’s nest with the pair of eagles, one I deemed mama, who stayed with the nest (I suspect eggs), and the other, papa, who flew in for a spell.

For flora lovers, bushy broom grass, wax myrtle, winged sumac, and goldenrod all flourish here.

playground with rock wall

Playground on Honeymoon Island

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

Playground And Picnic Area

Just around the bend from the Osprey Trail, you’ll find the children’s playground and picnic area, and more restrooms. This is one of two areas where grills allow for a freshly cooked meal.

The swings were down the day I visited, but I can still appreciate a good slide or short rock wall!

Sunset from Honeymoon Island Beach.

Stay for a stellar sunset

Photo credit: Gail Clifford

Sunset

Park at the northernmost parking lot and hit the beach for the best sunset viewing. If you give yourself adequate time, you can walk the 2.5-mile sand spit well before sunset. It’s the perfect place to walk alone, with your partner, or with the kids and grandkids.

This pristine beach seems like Caladesi’s, perhaps because not too many people walk the entire stretch. The walk allows plenty of time to appreciate what nature has accomplished over the last 40 years. For shell seekers, I found this to be the most profitable section with larger shells and more variety over the more populated beaches around the island.

And for surfers, the conditions look best at this end of the park, especially by Bathhouse 3.

I find it interesting that you can no longer overnight on Honeymoon Island. Mr. Washburn’s cottages are long gone. But with its miles of beach, it’s a wonderful place to spend a fun and relaxing day as a couple, with the family, or even solo.

Accessibility

Honeymoon Island State Park is committed to accessibility. The trails I traversed, with the exception of a very muddy section of Pelican Trail, are flat enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Beach wheelchairs (fat tires make it easier to push in the sand) are available for free at the ranger station.

Pro Tips

When Is Honeymoon Island Open?

Located at #1 Causeway Blvd in Dunedin, Florida, the park is open year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset.

Plan Your Day Before You Go

You’ll want time to take the ferry over to Caladesi Island State Park in the morning and be on the west side of Honeymoon Island for sunset. Between October and March, you can attend guided beach walks or osprey trail walks.

Remember Outdoor Essentials

When exploring any segment of the outdoors, don’t forget the essentials: sun protection, plenty of water, and insect repellent.

Related Reading:

  1. My 6 Favorite Hikes Near Tampa, Florida
  2. How To Spend A Perfect Long Weekend In Beautiful Dunedin, Florida
  3. 9 Fantastic Experiences In St. Petersburg, Florida, Plus Where To Eat And Stay
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