CALADESI ISLAND—Kaylee Sturm sat in the low surf, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapping around her.
The University of Tampa senior had never been to this barrier island north of Clearwater, but she and her mom were immediately impressed.
- Photos: Caladesi Beach
This beach ranks in the top 5 for... pristine conditions.
Caladesi Island State Park is off the coast of Dunedin, north of Clearwater. It is accessible only by private boat or the Caladesi Island Connection pedestrian ferry. Visitors who take the ferry, which sails from Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area on State Road 586 in Dunedin, must pay a $4 per carload park admission. The ferry to Caladesi leaves hourly beginning at 10 a.m., weather permitting. For more information on the Caladesi Island Connection ferry, call 727-734-1501.
Driving distance from Orlando: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Map: How to get to Caladesi Island
Eating: Food and drink can be purchased at the cafe in the park
Lodging: No accommodations in the park. The best bet is to stay in Clearwater.
Book a hotel
Gas: Find cheap gas near Caladesi Beach
Web Site: http://www.floridastateparks.org/CaladesiIsland/
It's an assessment that Stephen P. Leatherman would agree with. Leatherman, a Florida International University professor dubbed "Dr. Beach," picked Caladesi Island as the best beach in the 2008 ranking for his annual list, which was released in May. Caladesi beat out beaches in Hawaii, along the Eastern Seaboard and in California for this year's honor.
Caladesi's somewhat-remote location factored into Leatherman's rankings -- and why Sturm and her mother, Cynde Jayden, were awed by it.
"It's an island getaway," said Leatherman, who has released his annual list since 1991. He noted that despite being in the densely populated Tampa Bay area, many nearby residents have never visited Caladesi.
Most beachgoers reach the island by a 15-minute, $14 ferry ride. Visitors -- unless they bring their own boat -- are limited to four-hour stays at the beach, which is a state park.
Though more remote than the tourist mainstays of Clearwater or Miami, Caladesi still boasts showers, restrooms, kayak and beach-chair rentals, and a snack bar where burgers and beer are available.
Caladesi's fine, white quartz sand beach owes its creation to a 1921 hurricane, which separated it from nearby Honeymoon Island. Caladesi became a state park in 1968.
The waves are generally low on Caladesi, which Leatherman said adds to its family-friendly atmosphere. He uses 50 criteria -- including quality tests on water, sand and amenities -- to make his assessments.
"It's not just about going out and kicking sand," Leatherman said.
But for tourists it is.
Jayden, 52, spent a recent weekday trying to get a tan before returning to her home near Pittsburgh. "I like that you can just see forever," she said. "There's no world out there."
Caladesi, which ranked second in Leatherman's rankings in 2007, will now be retired from the list. Caladesi touts itself as "the real Florida," which is on display on a nature trail that cuts through the center of the island. Palmetto scrub, palm and pine trees sprout from the sandy ground; osprey nests can be seen in the highest branches; and lizards and other small animals dart through the leaves.
"It's really the idyllic environment," Leatherman said.
For more information on Caladesi Island, visit www.visitstpeteclearwater.com