Untouched Beauty: Caladesi Island
By Lauren Tjaden
If you want to truly escape, you need the right kind of Florida beach.
The kind of beach where it’s just you, Mother Nature, and perhaps some family or special friends. A beach where you can dangle your toes in the surf and let the rhythm of the waves work its magic while you kick back and turn the pages of a mesmerizing book.
If you’re in the mood, you can search for seashells, or watch the pelicans dive-bomb the water in search of a meal. Or you can do nothing at all—which sometimes, equals more than doing everything.
If this sounds like your kind of paradise, here are some hidden Florida gems where you'll find it...
Located in Northwest Florida on the Forgotten Coast, one word perfectly sums up St. George Island State Park: Pristine. Nine miles of white sand beaches, towering sand dunes and untouched, natural beauty make it one the best secluded beaches in the Sunshine State. Mere minutes away from great seafood, park activities include camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking and biking.
This barrier island promises a sanctuary for both people and wildlife. Hugged next to the Atlantic Ocean between Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, Canaveral National Seashore encompasses a 140,000-acre wildlife refuge and long expanses of natural beaches, stretching as far as you can see along sandy dunes. The park offers opportunities for back-country camping, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing, surfing, swimming, boating and bird watching.
The real Florida awaits you at Caladesi, situated north of Clearwater and south of Tarpon Springs. Accessible via the Caladesi Island Ferry, a boat shuttle service that runs daily from Honeymoon Island State Park, Caladesi delivers miles of glistening white sandy beaches surrounded by bluish-green water. You can often spot dolphins off shore, and wooden benches provide a place to relax and enjoy the Gulf beach view. For the perfect end to the day, visit a local seafood favorite, Olde Bay Café. It overlooks St. Joseph Sound with a view of Caladesi Island on Main Street in Dunedin.
Navarre Beach is a little off of the beaten path- and that’s one of the best things about it. Sited east of Pensacola, this quiet destination boasts a generous white-sand beach snuggled against the emerald-hued Gulf of Mexico. It’s a serene retreat, renowned for fishing and its pier, 1,545 feet long and 30 feet tall. Stroll out onto it for sweeping views of the beach and the dunes, rolling both directions as far as the eye can see.
From atop the pier you’ll almost always spot schools of fish. But you might see a stingray too, looking for all the world as if it’s flying underwater, or even dolphins, out on a fishing expedition of their own.
Accessible only by ferry or seaplane, and sited 70 miles west of Key West across open water, this most-remote national park is a true escape. But you won’t miss civilization.
Dominated by Fort Jefferson, the largest brick building in the western hemisphere, the Dry Tortugas are something you’d conjure up in a dream. Surrounded by impossibly crystalline, emerald-tinted waters, its beaches are lush with powdery-white sand.
You can kick back on the beach, curl up with a book, snorkel the living reef or explore. You can even camp there, with the music of the surf to lull you to sleep.
Famed for its pristine beauty, turquoise waters and glorious, white-sand shores, Santa Rosa Beach invites you to discover local boutiques, browse art galleries and indulge in award-winning cuisine. Located on Northwest Florida’s famed Emerald Coast, this laid-back getaway is short on crowds and long on relaxation. You can’t beat it for an idyllic combination of upscale amenities and stretches of sand where you’ll never struggle to find a place to spread out your beach towel.
A three minute ferry ride will whisk you away to Don Pedro Island—and transport you to another world, one that’s ideal for nature enthusiasts seeking solitude and a peaceful retreat. Just a splash away from Englewood on Florida's southern Gulf Coast, this seven mile long escape promises world-class shelling and birding, epic sunsets, and pristine beaches. The fishing is spectacular, with the area’s waters yielding trout, redfish, snook, tarpon and grouper.
Accessible only by boat, ferry, or private watercraft, this barrier island encompasses Palm Island Resort, Don Pedro Island State Park, and single family homes. Cars are a rarity, and almost everyone gets around via golf carts, which are available for rental.
Unspoiled beaches laden with white sand, pet-friendly vacation rentals, and epic outdoor adventures like horseback riding on the beach await visitors to Cape San Blas. Linked to the Florida peninsula by a thread of land, Cape San Blas is sited close to Port St. Joe on Florida’s Forgotten Coast. This tranquil getaway is home to the 1,900-acre T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, named the best beach in America (2002) by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (a.k.a. Dr. Beach). It’s a place to relax and reconnect with nature, nosh on fresh Florida seafood at family-owned eateries, and enjoy fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, biking, and hiking.
This charming, small coastal town, situated along Florida's panhandle in Bay County, is known for its serene, natural beaches and relaxed vibe. The area’s beaches boast sugar-white, pure quartz sand, a rarity that’s cool on your bare toes and a treat for the eyes. The water is gin-clear and emerald-colored. Due to its calm waters and abundant marine life, it’s an ideal spot for fishing, boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Mexico Beach offers a variety of colorful vacation rentals, several beachfront hotels, and two RV parks. The town has local eateries serving fresh seafood and southern cuisine, including the iconic Killer Seafood, as well as shops offering beachwear and souvenirs.
Nestled along Florida's southwest coast in Boca Grande—an upscale, hidden gem--Gasparilla Island State Park boasts serene beaches and unspoiled Florida coastal beauty. The park invites you to swim and sunbathe; explore the historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and its museum; snorkel or scuba dive in its clear waters; or embark on a treasure hunt for seashells on its uncrowded shores. It’s nirvana for anglers, with tarpon and other prized fish favoring the blue waters.
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