Photos by François Adrien
Every Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (affectionately known as Dr. Beach) issues his list of America's Best Beaches. He visits over 100 beaches each year in an official quest for just the right combination of soft sand, crystal-blue water and public-pleasing amenities.
After two years in second place, Fort DeSoto Park's North Beach took top honors this year! Florida also scored two other spots on the top 10 list — Caladesi Island State Park in Clearwater and Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne.
Let's take a closer look at this year's Florida winners...
Fort Desoto Park
North Beach at Fort DeSoto Park is a natural jewel on the finger of a sun-drenched city," says Dr. Stephen Leatherman, known best as "Dr. Beach." "It's a long, wide, sugar sand beach with great shelling and thriving natural dunes, on the Gulf of Mexico.
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There's a 105-year-old fort that is a landmark of Florida history. Along with being a wonderful place to swim, there's fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, bird-watching, camping, biking, walking trails, and even a dog park for enjoying the outdoors with your four-legged pals," he adds with a wide grin. The beach also offers modern facilities and plenty of parking, key ingredients for top swimming beaches.
Located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, the park is made up of five islands with a total of over seven miles of beaches.
Fort Desoto Park is located in South Pinellas County and open daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.. Pets are restricted to certain areas (there is a dog park). Saltwater fishing licenses are required in Florida. Reservations for camping must be made in person no more than 30 days in advance. Payment must be made at the time of the reservation. Call 727-582-2267 for further information.
Caladesi Island State Park
Fishing, shelling and nature studies are good ways to enjoy a visit to Caladesi. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, sand dunes line the open beach with turtles and shore birds finding it the perfect location for nesting. Periodic storm tides cover the area limiting the plant diversity, but sea oats and palmetto are two of the most hardy.
Ferry service is available from the mainland, departing hourly with weather permitting. Picnic pavilions, bath houses and a park concession provide additional amenities to make your visit to Caladesi more enjoyable. Boaters can enjoy the bayside marina where overnight docking is permitted.
Caladesi Island State Park is located west of the city of Dunedin (North of Clearwater) on the Gulf Coast. Hours of operation: 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year. Pets are not permitted in many areas. Saltwater fishing licenses are required in Florida. Admission fees are $4.00 for up to 8 people per private boat and kayakers $1.00 per person. Fees vary for parking at Honeymoon Island and ferry to Caladesi Island. Pavilion fees are $32.10 per pavilion with reservations two weeks in advance. Call 727-469-5918 for further information.
Cape Florida State Recreation Area
A little over a mile of wide, sandy beachfront offers visitors exceptional Atlantic swimming year-round. Shoreline fishing from the seawall located along Biscayne Bay along with guided tours of the Lighthouse and Cultural Complex offer visitors a variety of activities. Covered pavilions provide shaded picnicking and overnight boat mooring is available based on availability.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is located on Key Biscayne in Southeast Florida. Hours of operation are year round 8 a.m. to sundown. Pets are restricted from many areas. Saltwater fishing licenses are required in Florida. Admission is $5.00 per vehicle (up to 8 occupants), single-occupant vehicle, $3.00 and walk-ins $1.00. For further information call 305-361-5811.
Top 10 Beaches 2005
Fort DeSoto Park - North Beach, St. Petersburg, Florida
Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Caladesi Island State Park, Clearwater, Florida
Fleming Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Coast Guard Beach, Cape Code, Massachusetts
Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida
Main Beach, East Hampton, New York
Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
The way Dr. Leatherman began rating the nation's beaches and how he became affectionately named "Dr. Beach" is an interesting story that had its beginning in childhood. What is especially interesting is that in a few short years, he has turned his passion into a legend, and he has become practically an icon.
Dr. Leatherman has been a coastal scientist with 30 years of international experience studying storm impacts, erosion and way to improve beach health. He is Florida International University's director of the International Hurricane Research Center and the Laboratory for Coastal Research. The center is also home to the National Healthy Beaches Campaign founded by Leatherman.
Meet Dr. Beach and read his story, find out how other beaches scored, and discover other beachy topics.