The island has hiking trails, but no cars, roads, houses or hotels. It also has rattlesnakes, rats, bees, poison ivy, cacti, armadillos, raccoons, turtles, tortoises, stingrays, mosquitoes and sand fleas.

The ranger station displays the skin of a giant rattler about 5 feet long and 4 inches wide.

Although remote, Caladesi does have a 110-boat marina. Visitors can rent kayaks to use on the island's interior mangrove waterways and rent beach chairs and umbrellas. Unlike Clearwater Beach 8 miles south, there are no volleyball nets, trampolines, bands or doughnuts.

"Most of our visitors go straight out the boardwalk to the beach right out front," Calhoun says. So if you walk a mile, you really can see the empty beach you came to see -- and have better shelling, too.

Since Caladesi got popular, changes have been occurring.

The only ferry service to the island always has been from Honeymoon Island. About 400-500 people a day go over on 60-passenger ferries that run every 30 minutes. This spring, an extra boat will reduce waiting time to 20 minutes, says Phil Henderson, owner of the Caladesi Island Connection ferry service for 22 years.

In addition, the new ferry service from the busy Clearwater Beach marina to Caladesi Island starts in mid-February, he says. For $50 round trip, it will include a dolphin encounter and a stop at the island.

"The hotels have been clamoring for this," Henderson says.

Can Caladesi handle it? Yes, say Calhoun and Henderson. The beach, remember, is 3 miles long. A lot of people can fit onto that beach.

Plus, the uniqueness of Caladesi requires visitors to do some planning .

"People call and say, 'Where can I put my RV, my 50-footer?' and I say, 'Well, we're an island,"' Calhoun says. "There is no overnight camping. No tent camping. No RV camping. No overnighting, except if you are on a boat, and you have to stay on the boat."

The power of the No. 1 ranking has impressed not just tourists to Florida, but locals too, Henderson says.

"This past year, quite a few came to take the ferry over, walk to the beach, take a picture and then turn around and go back.

"They didn't want to stay. They just wanted to see the No. 1 beach."



Caladesi is not the only notable beach in the Tampa/St. Pete area. Also named No. 1 by many polls is Ft. DeSoto Park's North Beach and Clearwater Beach, known for its phenomenal sand quality and lively atmosphere.

In fact, a whole string of can't-go-wrong beaches starts at Honeymoon Island in Dunedin and runs south all the way to Naples.

Here's a short profile of three Tampa-area beaches:

-- Caladesi Island State Park Beach