Have you ever dreamed of escaping to an island paradise with white sand beaches and palm trees that gently curve toward the sun, a place where marine life and sea birds thrive, a place where you can spend hours combing the beach for seashells while playfully dodging the oncoming waves? Have you ever imagined walking for miles while feeling the sand between your toes and a gentle breeze against your face? There is a place like this and it’s not far from our home in West Central Florida. It’s the perfect place for us to start our own personal One Tank Trip adventures that I talked about in our last post.
Honeymoon Island State Park is located on a natural barrier island a short distance from the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Sound, you will begin to sense you are entering a tropical paradise as you drive across the 2½-mile Dunedin Causeway. To enter this gorgeous 385-acre island state park an $8.00 per vehicle fee is required.
Hog Island, as it was once known, was a privately owned island. In 1940 the island was marketed as a honeymoon destination for newlyweds and the name was changed to Honeymoon Island. Fifty primitive thatched cottages were built on the island for frolicking lovebirds to enjoy a romantic honeymoon in paradise. The endeavor was short-lived as it came to an abrupt end with an attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII. Ironically, the State of Florida purchased the land from a would-be developer and subsequently opened the state park on December 7, 1981.
The island has transformed into one of Florida’s most beloved state parks. It offers a multitude of amenities and a great variety of activities. There are award winning beaches including Dog Beach where you can bring your furry companion to run in the waves. There is also a 2½-mile hiking trail protected behind the sand dunes. Walking along this trail, you might see a bald eagle nesting in the tall slash pines or an endangered gopher tortoise crossing the path. There are picnic tables located through-out the park and playgrounds for the children. You can launch your own kayak for some time paddling on the water or you could rent a kayak from a concessionaire just outside the park’s gate. Other activities include fishing, bicycling, birdwatching, and so much more. There is plenty of parking available all around the park.
Caladesi Island State Park is another island park to the south of Honeymoon Island. It is only accessible by boat. This untouched barrier island provides a unique glimpse of an unspoiled natural habitat. The proximity of the two island parks to each other expands the recreational opportunities of the area. A ferry runs between the two parks every 30 minutes or every hour depending on the season. Round trip tickets cost $16.00 for adults, $8.00 for children 6-12 years of age and it’s free for 5 years and under.
Even though Honeymoon Island State Park attracts large crowds, especially on weekends, the great thing about it is you can still find isolation. Grammi and I arrived at the park on a weekday around mid-morning when crowds were light. The purpose for our visit was to get out in nature, to find peace and solitude, and to participate in a physical activity for our own well-being. We were not going to sit on the beach with crowds of people, or ride the ferry, or rent a kayak from a concessionaire. We were going to walk the sand spit along the Gulf of Mexico to the northern tip of the island. We wanted to dip our toes in the water.
After entering the park we drove directly to the North Beach parking lot were there was plenty of wide-open parking. We found a path through the mangroves leading away from where some people were sitting on the beach. It didn’t take long before we were out of sight and all alone. The over six miles roundtrip walk meant we would see few people along the beach.
We took our time getting to the north end where we were all alone…except for hundreds of seagulls sitting on the sand. We ran the last 50 yards to the furthest point and stepped into the water. The seagulls scattered and took flight around us before coming to rest again a short distance away. Across the water was Three Rooker Island, another isolated barrier island. It was a lovely day.
We walked along the eastern side to Pelican Cove where we saw a great blue heron patrolling the beach and cormorants hiding in the trees. I imagined this to be a secret fishing spot for a lucky angler. The sand beach disappeared as the mangroves lined the shoreline providing protection and habitat for the marine life. This is where we turned around as it was impossible for us to continue.
We’re not newlyweds on a honeymoon, but there we were, two romantics hand-in-hand, enjoying our time together in paradise. There’s something medicinal about walking the beach. The sound of the waves, the caw of the birds, a warming sun, and the fresh ocean air brings an unexplainable inner peace. It helps to drown out a wacky world. It soothes the soul.
After our walk we found a table for a picnic under the shade of a palm tree. I am so grateful for Grammi. She does the hard work preparing and packing a lunch. What would I do without her? We were back home by 3:30 p.m. avoiding the rush hour traffic. I have to say this was a successful and much needed outing. We both enjoyed it very much. I can’t wait to see where we might go next. Stay tuned.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.