Honeymoon Island

Perennial favorite Honeymoon Island State Park is a great place to see a sunset, walk your dog or see wildlife — and there is plenty of parking, too.

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Honeymoon Island State Park is a popular destination for both out-of-town visitors and the locals, many of whom head to the shore each evening to watch the stellar sunsets. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Enough beach amenities and wildlife trails to keep you busy all day.
  • A dog beach!
  • Gateway to Caladesi Island.
Cons
  • Limestone all over the rocky beachfront.
  • State park entrance fees (but worth it).

Honeymoon Island’s popular beach features a glimpse of relatively development-free Florida, while being only a short jaunt from suburban amenities.

The land actually was part of Caladesi Island immediately to the south until a 1921 hurricane sheared the northern end into its own barrier island. The inlet there is now called, appropriately enough, Hurricane Pass.

Locals referred to the area first as Sand Island and then Hog Island until a developer set up thatched huts in 1939 and billed it as a destination for newlyweds. No one lives on the Gulf beach now, but Honeymoon Island currently enjoys its designation as a state park (there are some condo buildings before the entrance to the park). The island drew about 1.5 million visitors in the last year, making it a perennial favorite to top state park attendance lists.

The park includes places to eat and resupply your beach gear, plus some eco-lessons for curious visitors, but also features great hiking and paddling opportunities. There's also a dog-friendly beach on the south end of the island, for people willing to hit the trails.

With no chain stores or surf shops, the beaches are low key but still provide amenities. There’s also a ferry to Caladesi, which has one of America’s best beaches, and the mainland city of Dunedin is just over the causeway. Even with an entry fee — it’s a state park, after all — it remains a bargain.

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GETTING THERE

Tampa Bay is served by two airports, Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Hillsborough County and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) in Pinellas County. Multiple carriers service TPA, while most flights to and from PIE are run by Allegiant. There are many ground transportation options at both airports.

You’ll need a rental car to get to Honeymoon Island, which is at the western terminus of State Road 586, known as Curlew Road in Pinellas County. You can access the islands by taking Interstate 275 or U.S. Hwy 19 into Pinellas County, then heading west on Curlew.

You could conceivably use a ride-sharing service and be dropped off at the admission gate, but distances are far and pickup would require some coordination.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority does not offer service across the Dunedin Causeway, but does maintain a route along Bayshore Boulevard in Dunedin on the mainland. The Jolley Trolley, which helps cart people between Tarpon Springs and Clearwater, also runs along Bayshore. A schedule and details are here.

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PARKING

This is one destination where this is the easy part, because the island has ample parking once you get inside the gate. There are hundreds of spaces for both the northern and southern ends of the beach. Since you already paid an entrance fee, there are no meters. There also is parking near the pavilions, plus several places to park along the road in case the park is really busy.

The one caveat is that if the park is especially busy, traffic backs up a fair distance along the causeway. This happens much more on holidays and weekend sunsets, so check that you’ve packed a little patience. Turning around once you’ve passed the Royal Stewart Arms condos only makes the problem worse.

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BEACH SCENE

Honeymoon Island’s dog beach is a popular place to splash with your pooch, away from the main beach scene. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

Most beachgoers here are laid back, with lots of locals and families, although you can still find the odd Bluetooth speaker blaring across the sand.

Keep in mind that the beach itself can be quite thin and rocky, with lots of limestone rocks covering the sand, a leftover of past dredging. The beach gets renourished with sand pumped in from the pass, but it routinely washes away and has to be redone.

The park is essentially divided in half, with the southern end open for sunbathing and picnics, and the northern end reserved primarily for hiking and other outdoorsy pursuits.

As a state park, the Florida Park Service offers a bevy of information on its website, including a section outlining state park rules.

Be aware that alcohol is only allowed in designated areas, and not on the beaches themselves.

ACCESS

There’s only one entrance to the park, which is open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day of the year.

Rangers collect an entry fee at a tollbooth on the south end of the island before you’re allowed in. The cost is $8 per car with up to eight people, or $4 for a vehicle with only one occupant. Pedestrians, bicyclists or passengers over the eight-person limit are $2 apiece.

A nature center with interpretive exhibits is to the right once you’re inside the park.

There is no camping on the island, but a popular pastime is driving out to the island to watch the sunset. Starting an hour before sunset, the park reduces the entrance fee to $4 per car, but you have to leave when it gets dark.

There are 10 beach access points spread across the available parking lots.

NORTHERN END

The northern part of the island has plenty of sand, but conservation is the keyword here.

There are multiple hiking trails and mangroves for paddling, but no parking or services. The Osprey trailhead north of the playground goes on for 2 ½ miles, offering views of virgin slash pine stands and wildlife.

Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails. Be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, which do live on the island.

If you make it to the northernmost end of the island along the beach, the rocks thin out considerably. Not everyone is up to hiking their beach gear for 3 miles, however, and there are no services up there.

SOUTHERN END

The waterfront-oriented southern end offers both a north beach and a south beach, each with their own parking lots.

Driving past these lots from the entrance leads you to a playground and picnic area, where pavilions are available to rent for $30 per day.

Surfers congregate at the north beach, which has its own bathhouse. The south beach, catering more to people content to stay on land, offers bathrooms and two concessions areas.

Dog owners particularly benefit from the pet beach at the far southern end of the island. There’s a turnout past the southern parking lot for pet owners to park and walk the half-mile to the sand. Dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash at all times, including on the trail and on the beach. Fishing is good at this end, as well.

DUNEDIN CAUSEWAY

You may have noticed on the way to the park that Dunedin Causeway is lined with a beach of its own, before you even get to the island. This strip of sand on each side of the road is known on some maps as Jetski Beach or Causeway Community Park, but most people refer to it simply as Causeway Beach or just the Causeway. It’s popular with locals and offers some of its own amenities.

If you’re looking to save a few bucks to experience St. Joseph Sound and don’t mind the steady hum of traffic, you can try stopping here. There’s no admission fee and parking is free, when available. Sunbathing is not the focus here, where the beach caters to the boating and fishing crowd.

The beachfront is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and has designated areas for launching motorized and non-motorized watercraft. You can get permission to fish after 11 p.m. by contacting the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and can park a boat overnight with a $10 permit. More details are here.

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THE CALADESI ISLAND FERRY

To reach Caladesi Island, you can either take your own boat, or relax and take the ferry from Honeymoon Island. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

Just south of the park, across Hurricane Pass, is Caladesi Island State Park, which quite frankly offers much better beach conditions than Honeymoon Island. Indeed, Caladesi has topped Dr. Beach’s best beaches in America list twice in recent years.

There are essentially only two ways of getting to those sugary sands, however: You can either take your own boat, or catch the ferry from Honeymoon Island. (Or you can walk from Clearwater; more on that here.)

The road to the ferry is to the left just inside the park entrance. There is a sizable parking lot at the pier for the ferries. That means that you have to pay both the park fee and the fare to take the ferry — a $14 round trip for adults and $7 for kids 6-12. Kids 5 and younger are free, and there is a military discount. The ferry service also offers discount coupons on their website.

Two ferry boats depart starting at 10 a.m. every half hour from mid-February to mid-September, and hourly the rest of the year. The ride takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

There is a marina, bathrooms and concessions on Caladesi, which we explore in more detail in our section on Caladesi Island.

Taking a boat to the island doesn’t have to mean a motorized craft. Depending on water conditions, it’s a relatively short paddle from Honeymoon Island or the causeway (where kayaks and paddleboards are available to rent) to Caladesi.

Keep in mind that Hurricane Pass can get busy, so be sure the coast is clear before paddling across the waterway. In the summertime, scads of boats drop anchor in the pass just off the beach, and the area is very popular among anglers.

Because it’s a short distance, people often swim across Hurricane Pass to reach the island. We recommend a lot of caution, because the current in the pass can be quite strong, especially at low tide. We’ll also point out the area is known for its shark and crab fishing, so you won’t be alone in the water.

Read more about Caladesi Island State Park here.

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WHERE TO STAY

WARD ISLAND

This is the first island you come to when you leave the mainland on the Dunedin Causeway. It’s covered with condos that often are for rent, and is just about as close as you can get to Honeymoon Island without staying at the Royal Stewart Arms near the park entrance.

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS

The location here on the mainland is pretty good if you plan to be in Dunedin much of the time. It’s on the Pinellas Trail, has a pool and is near Main Street, but is just far enough away to be quiet at night.

BEST WESTERN PLUS YACHT HARBOR INN

A small resort right on St. Joseph Sound, across from the Dunedin Marina. The waterfront hotel has an outdoor bar and a popular restaurant, Bon Appetit. Take a walk down Victoria Drive to see how the well-heeled live.

BESO DEL SOL

The best features of this hotel are outside of your room. There are pools and a dock, where visitors are allowed to tie up for free if they are stopping at the Marker 8 tiki bar. Offering food and drinks, Marker 8 hands out free liquor shots at sunset each night.

THINGS TO DO

DUNEDIN BLUE JAYS

Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays have spent spring training in Dunedin since their first year in 1976. The end of February and the month of March feature the big bats getting ready for the season during spring training, drawing Toronto-area fans. The A-ball junior Jays play in the Florida State League all summer, through Labor Day. Fireworks and theme nights abound in a true neighborhood ballpark.

PENNY LANE

Billing itself as “the ultimate Beatles museum,” Penny Lane is a free look at Fab Four memorabilia and signed souvenirs. There’s even John Lennon’s glasses and strands of band members’ hair.

BLUR NIGHTCLUB

A gay-friendly hotspot on Main Street in Dunedin, Blur is attached to a bar and a restaurant with the same owners. Late-night dancing is the norm, but events range from NFL game-watching to drag queen bingo.

The annual Dunedin Highland Games features bagpipe bands, beer tents and burly men in kilts engaged in feats of skill and strength. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
DUNEDIN HIGHLAND GAMES

Dunedin’s Scottish heritage literally comes into play for this annual competition in April. Men and women from across the country — nay, the world! — come to test their strength and skill, with vendors, Scottish clan associations, a bagpiping contest and other events.

DUNEDIN ORANGE FESTIVAL

The city celebrates its past as an agricultural community, recalling the region’s orange groves each July. The festival features merchants, music, beer vendors, kiddie events and the crowning of the Orange Queen.

DUNEDIN CELTIC MUSIC AND CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL

The name features what you’ll get each November, when traditional bands and local beers come together.

DOWNTOWN DUNEDIN CRAFT FESTIVAL

Also in November, Main Street shuts down as artists and craft vendors from across the state and beyond set up shop for the weekend.

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

SAIL HONEYMOON

Kayaks, sailboats and standup paddleboards are available for rent right off the Causeway before you get to the park. They’re open seven days a week.

ROMANTIC HONEYMOON ISLAND RENTALS

Once you’re on the island, you can rent kayaks, bikes, umbrellas and chairs to use on the beach. It’s in the same building as Cafe Honeymoon on North Beach.

FRED MARQUIS PINELLAS TRAIL

This jogging and biking path runs from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg through the entire county. A segment runs parallel to Bayshore back on the mainland.

DUNEDIN STIRLING LINKS

An 18-hole public course that includes a driving range and a putting green, right off the Causeway.

PIRATES COVE MARINA & BOAT CLUB

There’s no shortage of marinas and boat dealers, but Pirates Cove is one that offers rentals.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

Casa Tina in Dunedin is a Mexican restaurant featuring aerialists performing alongside the diners — without a net! [Florida Beach Insider photo]
CAFE HONEYMOON AND SOUTH BEACH PAVILION CAFE

These two restaurants, the only ones on Honeymoon Island, are on opposite ends of the big parking lot off the southern beach. The food is pretty simple but reasonably priced, and drinks and ice cream are available. Cafe Honeymoon offers kayak rentals. The South Beach Pavilion Cafe sells alcohol, to be consumed on site.

FRENCHY’S OUTPOST

The Clearwater Beach favorite has a popular satellite location on the road to Honeymoon Island. Get a pretzel shaped like a fish and grab a daiquiri, because the wait for a seat in this open-air joint can take awhile.

CASA TINA

Javier and Tina Avila have run this Tex-Mex institution for more than 25 years. The restaurant shuts down part of Dunedin’s Main Street for Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo, and showcases aerialists right in the dining room on select nights.

OLDE BAY CAFE

Right in the heart of Dunedin’s city marina, Olde Bay Cafe is a great place to grab seafood and suds right on the water. There’s a fish market right next door, and the kitchen will cook whatever you catch.

STRACHAN’S

A family-run ice cream shop featuring cones, milkshakes and more, with locations in Palm Harbor and Dunedin. On hot summer days the line will stretch out the door, but it’s worth it.

MOLLY GOODHEADS

Tiny little Ozona, on the edge of Palm Harbor, features this bar and grill built out in a 170-year-old house — they keep the beer in a literal bathtub full of ice. Seafood is the draw, but there are plenty of options that don’t come from the water.

PEGGY O’S

A Palm Harbor institution, Peggy O’s is an Irish-style pub that puts street tacos and a mac and cheese bar on the menu. There’s a kid’s menu, so the tykes are welcome.

KELLY’S CHIC A BOOM ROOM

This block on Dunedin’s Main Street is usually hopping, but the best place on a nice day is in the tented back patio of the Chic A Boom Room. Generous cocktails and good people-watching make it worth the stop, and there’s food available if you’re hungry. Huey, the owner’s bulldog, may make an appearance, too.

SHOPPING

KNOT ON MAIN

There’s about 7,000 square feet of vendor space in this antique mall on Bayshore, just south of the Causeway. The front desk will call a seller to negotiate a price if you ask.

CELTIC SHOP

Enjoy your day on Honeymoon Island, then peruse some gifts from the British Isles. Find ceramics, clothing, family crests and more straight from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany.

MY FAVORITE THINGS

An eclectic gift shop featuring sea glass jewelry, accessories for wine lovers and more, right on Main Street in Dunedin.

THISTLE

This home goods and gift store at the end of Broadway in downtown Dunedin features unique clothing, bedding, bath products and the like.

WHAT'S BREWING

7venth Sun Brewing Co. is one of several craft brewers within a mile of one another in downtown Dunedin. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

There are no craft breweries on Honeymoon Island itself, but Dunedin is at the very heart of Florida’s craft beer scene. Downtown Dunedin, a couple of miles south of Curlew Road, is densely populated with local beer options, with no less than seven brewers within a mile of each other.

DUNEDIN BREWERY

The grand tour starts with the grandaddy of them all. This brewpub (and it is an actual pub, since it’s the only one with a full-service kitchen) opened in 1995, and bills itself as the oldest continually operated microbrewery in Florida. If you go nowhere else, stop here for the snakebite wings and a Flashlight lager, or any one of the brewery’s constantly rotating taps. From this hub, you can walk to any of the other breweries within a matter of minutes.

7VENTH SUN

7venth Sun heralded the local craft beer boom by opening in a strip mall on Broadway in 2012, and has since expanded into Tampa.

DUNEDIN HOUSE OF BEER

Down the street from 7venth Sun, HOB used to be just another bar but is now part of a small chain of breweries statewide.

WOODWRIGHT BREWING COMPANY

A couple doors down from Dunedin Brewery, this one takes its name from the wood shop that operates in the same building. Coattails, a kitchen serving sandwiches, desserts and more, works out of a trailer permanently installed on the property.

CUENI BREWING COMPANY

This small taproom has an entrance off the Pinellas Trail.

CALEDONIA BREWING

This newer spot, using an archaic name for Scotland, is located in the former Main Street home of what eventually became the regional newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times.

SOGGY BOTTOM BREWERY

Up the street from Caledonia, SBB offers a craft option for people who eschew the tap list at Clear Sky Draft Haus next door.

If you don’t want to head into Dunedin, turn north from the Causeway for Palm Harbor’s craft beer options.

STILT HOUSE BREWERY

This addition also is located just off the Pinellas Trail, and features a lot of guest taps in addition to its own creations.

DE BINE BREWING COMPANY

A massive warehouse space with a sizable tasting room. Drinking next to the actual brewing equipment is a highlight in the milder months.

TWO LIONS WINERY AND PALM HARBOR BREWERY

These two are run out of a former bungalow on Georgia Avenue, practically across the street from de Bine. If you’re not feeling the beer, try one of their fruit wine slushies.

TIPS FROM TOWNIES

There are a couple watering holes popular with locals, but the dog-themed Rosie’s Tavern is a big favorite. There’s an outdoor seating area and a popcorn machine to go with your beer or wine, plus a plethora of dog photos lining the walls. But a seat at the bar is a prime spot to local the infamous Cowpig, a tiny salt shaker hidden daily inside the premises. Spot Cowpig and you win a free beer or a Rosie’s coozie, and a photo on the bar’s Facebook page.

If you want to save a few bucks for food or drinks, hit the Publix grocery store at the intersection of Bayshore and Curlew on your way to the Causeway. If you want something a little more out of the ordinary, the strip mall across the street features M&W European Deli and Market, which will sell homemade bread and various meats for you to assemble sandwiches.

If you want to know what conditions out on the island are like before making the trip, the city of Dunedin maintains a webcam on its website. There are three different angles, including one of the dog beach, just in case you want to check if your dog will have anyone to play with.

Joshua Gillin is Florida Beach Insider’s Beachcomber-in-chief. When he’s not actively looking for a clear spot on the sand with his family, he enjoys hiking, martials arts, comparing drink specials and shopping for American-made products.
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