Somehow, our first trip to Florida came this past Fourth of July. Before we went, we did a ton of research on what we thought would be the best beaches to visit, but once we got there and started talking to people, we threw out all the research we had done.
The first beach we ended up going to was on the Gulf side at Honeymoon Island State Park. It was a bit of a drive from Orlando, but it was such a great day.
We highly recommend it to anyone staying from Orlando to Tampa. Because it is a state park, there is a small entry fee, but it was cheap enough I don’t even remember what it was. I do remember that we left and came back and I wasn’t worried about potentially paying twice (we didn’t have to pay twice).
As a family, we loved spending the day playing in the sand, hunting for shells and viewing wildlife. As a photographer, I loved shooting the wildlife and finding some great places to shoot at sunset.
Our one big complaint was parts of the beach were quite rocky in the water so you had to be careful barefoot, which was a bummer.
The White Sand is Perfect for Playing
The sand at the beach was incredibly white. Some of the whitest sand we have ever seen at a beach.
It was great sand for building sand castles. The rocky parts of the beach were generally closer to the water, as you can see in these pictures, but the sandy parts were great and our kids played in the sand for hours without complaint.
The only downside was the sand got quite hot in sun so you had to be careful when not wearing sandals to keep from burning your feet!
The Gulf Water is Warm
The water at Honeymoon Island in early July was incredibly warm. Luckily it wasn’t that hot of a day when we were there so the water was still nice.
Had it been any hotter out, swimming would not have been any fun. As it is, don’t expect the water to be refreshing if that is what you are searching for on a hot day.
There were plenty of shells to collect for our kids
Having young girls, shell hunting was a priority and they were not let down. Harper, aged 7, spent most of the day searching for bigger and better shells.
I had some of my best-ever father-daughter time swimming around the shallow waters helping uncover shells with her.
As I will discuss below, just be careful that the shells you find don’t still have living animals inside!
It was a great beach for adults to relax while the kids played
The beach here was ideal for parents that want to relax while the kids play. If you have chairs, make sure to bring them. An umbrella is also a must!
Since we were on vacation, we didn’t have either, but we were able to rent them for the day. I want to say it was $30 or so for the day, which I felt was pretty steep, but Mallory overruled me and it turned out to be a good investment as we took turns relaxing while the kids played happily all day!
The set up at this beach is especially nice for relaxing parents because the beach isn’t too wide so wherever you set up, there will be a place for the kids to play right by you.
You also won’t be far from the water so you can easily see your kids and get to them if need be. The water is also extremely shallow for a long time so you can feel confident watching even younger kids playing in the water 15-20 feet from where you are sitting.
Our Kids loved the Wildlife at Honeymoon Island State Park
Growing up on the west coast, we are not used to seeing much wildlife at the beach other than seagulls. That being the case, we were surprised with the abundance of wildlife at Honeymoon Island State Park.
Of course, there were plenty of birds around, but there were more than just seagulls.
The fun part came in the marine life. There were plenty of shells around and my kids met a pretty big surprise when they realized some of the bigger shells were inhabited by hermit crabs.
We also had an unwelcome surprise when our rental house started stinking and we learned the beautiful Lettered Olive shell my daughter brought back hadn’t been empty. Maybe locals are used to checking shells to make sure they are empty, but it never even crossed our mind….oops.
The highlight for me was this little white crab that was scurrying around where we were sitting. He blended in so well well with the white sand, but once we spotted him, he was really easy to photograph as he scuttled from side to side.
Sunset Photography at Honeymoon Island State Park
The city’s skyline makes a great backdrop because you can shoot the beach, water and skyline in all one shot. I made a couple images, but when the good light came, I had other places I wanted to shoot so I didn’t come away with any great shots of the skyline.
The Southern Beaches weren’t too impressive from a photographer’s standpoint, so I recommend heading to the North Parking lot for sunset.
From the North Parking lot, you can walk up the beach, which eventually splits between the Gulf and Pelican Cove. Pelican Cove looked really intriguing to me and I am sure there are some great compisitions to find in there if you have time to explore.
I had a wife and kids waiting on me so I just grabbed a few shots on my way to and from the North tip of Honeymoon Island State Park.
The best photographic spot I found on Honeymoon Island was at the north end of the beach. I saw it immediately when I was looking along the beach as there was a perfect tree sitting just off the beach. I made m way down there for sunset, sure it would be packed with photographers.
I was shocked to find myself all along shooting this great little spot for the whole sunset.
While there weren’t a ton of different compositions to make with this singular tree, there was a bit of driftwood along the beach that was fun to play with.
When I got bored of this little tree, I found a sail boat in the water that was fun to shoot for a little while as it drifted closer to the setting sun.
Where to eat at Honeymoon Island State Park
As a state park, you won’t find anywhere to eat at the beaches of Honeymoon Island State Park.
As such, your best bet is probably to bring in a picnic. However, if you aren’t prepared to do that, you will need to actually leave the park to find somewhere to eat.
This is a bit of a pain because traffic picks up closer to sunset and the Causeway can get backed up. Nevertheless, we had no problem leaving after a full day of swimming and playing to get dinner and make it back to shoot the sunset.
Frenchy’s Outpost is the closest restaurant to Honeymoon Island, located just inland of the Causeway. It came highly recommended by people we met at the beach.
We found the prices weren’t bad at all for what we expected given its location. The foot was pretty good to. I wouldn’t say it was amazing, but we were plenty happy with what we got.