Cedar Key as Seen from Atsena Otie Key
Cedar Key Florida is one of the best and most secluded Florida getaways.
This quaint and charming Gulfshore village of about 1,000 residents is located in the heart of what's called Florida's Nature Coast--that approximately 200 linear miles of lonesome Sunshine State coastline stretching from the Ochlochnee Bay down to the City of Clearwater.
The most common way to get to Cedar Key is to follow State Road 24 out of the tiny community of Otter Creek located along U.S. Highway 98 until you reach the Gulf of Mexico--a distance of about 22 miles.
Now, when your destination is 22 miles farther down a rural backroad from a place called "Otter Creek," you know the place where you're going is not just off the beaten track, it's WAY off the beaten track.
But, if you like seacoasts and the quaintness of old Florida, I promise you, the drive will be worth every single mile.
A trip to Cedar Key Florida is a trip to the "coast," not to the "beach."
The Cedar Key Public Swimming Beach
In Cedar Key itself there's a small, sandy public swimming area which swimmers and sunbathers of all ages no doubt enjoy, but the reason people come here to Cedar Key Florida is not for beautiful beaches like those found in, say, Panama City or Destin.
Instead, many visitors come here primarily for the tranquil quaintness and charm of this isolated seaside community. Others come for the natural beauty of this wild and rugged Gulf shore, including its other offshore keys, saltwater marshes, bays, and winding channels. Still others come for the excellent inshore and offshore fishing.
One big tourist activity here is simply walking around town, checking out the pier, ducking into the little shops, and eating great seafood at any of the town's fine eating establishments.
A Walk Around Town in Cedar Key Florida
For your convenience, here's a PDF street map of Cedar Key published by the local Chamber of Commerce.
My wife and I have come to Cedar Key several times over the years. We both love it.
She's enjoyed bicycling around the town and poking in and out of the numerous shops along the streets. We both enjoy the local restaurant fare. In fact, one of my favorite memories of Cedar Key is the smell of delicious seafood coming from the various restaurants as you walk around town.
You'll quickly discover that Cedar Key Florida has a double dose of old-Florida charm. Maybe it was that charm that at least in part caused the United States Department of Agriculture to name Cedar Key the "2009 Florida Rural Community of the Year."
Where to Eat
The last time I was in Cedar Key, my 23-year-old son, Warren, and I enjoyed an early dinner at an open-air, covered-deck restaurant on Dock Street with the sham obscene name of Big Deck's.
Dock Street in Cedar Key
I had a crabcake sandwich, real home-made curly fries and a Bud Light. It was very tasty and we enjoyed the laid-back parrothead atmosphere normally found only in the Florida Keys.
The Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce has a good list of where to eat on the island. Presumably, it only lists Chamber members so it's not complete, but it does provide you with some good choices.
The next time I go back, I'm going to try Tony's, known for great clam chowder.
Tony's -- Famous for Clam Chowder
Another good place we enjoyed was Kona Joe's Island Cafe--a coffee shop/ice cream parlor combined.
Kona Joe's Has That Cedar Key Charm
The owners, Joe and Edie, are a friendly, personable couple. They take great pride in their restaurant, and Edie is especially proud of her key lime pie.
Kona Joe and Edie in their Cedar Key Florida Restaurant
Kona Joe's is a welcoming place to relax and refresh while soaking up a bit of Cedar Key charm.
The historic Islander Hotel established in 1859 is an iconic fixture in Cedar Key Florida. The hotel has a bar and restaurant. Rumor has it the place is haunted. Good luck.
The Island Hotel
As with restaurants, the Chamber of Commerce has a list of Cedar Key lodging places.
I looked all over Cedar Key for a charming, old-Florida waterfront cottage suitable for a Cedar Key trip involving kayaking. The three Hodges Cottages by the water seemed to fill the bill. These are on my list of places to stay. I can't vouch for them personally, but I did talk with one guest who was staying at Eva Mae's and she really liked it. Maybe you will too.
The abundance of nearby offshore keys, plus inland saltwater marshes, bays, and winding channels make Cedar Key Florida a great place for kayaking and canoeing.
The Cedar Keys -- Just Made for Paddling
Recently, while web surfing for things to do in Cedar Key Florida, I ran across a gem of an ebook about paddling the Big Bend area, all the way from Cedar Key area up to the Aucilla River.
Entitled Sea Kayak Day Paddles on Florida's Hidden Coast, the download PDF version is totally free with no strings attached. This publication is brought to you by the courtesy and generosity of the authors, Nick and Sandra Crowhurst of England, who have spent at least 10 winters here in Florida exploring the coastal waters. Hard copies are available for $10.00.
It's true the Nature Coast isn't known for beaches, but if you're looking for a sandy spot to swim and lie around for a while, paddle over to Atsena Otie Key which lies about one half mile from the Cedar Key dock.
Atsena Otie Key Beach
My Son, Warren, Paddles to Atsena Otie
Cedar Key's big-sky Gulf vistas are to me sometimes as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon. While paddling one hot July afternoon over to Atsena Otie, this magnficent but threatening thunderhead formed in the distance. Fortunately, it never came my way but just sort of dissolved into a bank of other clouds.
A Giant Thunderhead Looms off Cedar Key
A little over a mile south of Atsena Otie is Snake Key, which gets its name from the abundance of venomous water moccasins found there. I recall seeing a sign on the island saying there were "23 water moccasins per acre."
That sign made me think it was a great day to enjoy the wide sandy beach where I could easily see anything slithering around.
Besides, the island's interior (but not the beach) is closed to visitors. Even if it hadn't been, the whole water moccasin thing combined with the fact that I was wearing only swim trunks and river sandals would have put me off the idea of venturing into the brush.
Left to Right: Atsena Otie Key, Snake Key, and Seahorse Key
as Seen from Cedar Key's Pier
One and one-half miles west of Snake Key lies Seahorse Key, where you'll find the highest ground on Florida's Gulf Coast. In 1854 the Federal government took advantage of the island's 52 feet of elevation and constructed a lighthouse on the island. Although the light has long been extinguished, the lighthouse building itself now serves as lodging facilities for the University of Florida's Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory.
Thirteen offshore keys or islands--including Atsena Otie, Snake, and Seahorse--are currently part of the 762-acre Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge established in 1929 to protect nesting birds from plume hunters.
Although the plume hunters are long gone, today's birds are threatened by lost habitat, and the preservation of these islands helps protect the variety of nesting birds found here, including brown pelicans, egrets, herons, cormorants, ospreys, bald eagles. Some of the more uncommon species inlcude frigatebirds and roseate spoonbills.
I've seen quite a few spoonbills in the Everglades, but I had never seen one this far north until recently when I was lucky enough to see this one here at Cedar Key.
For more outdoor activity, there is Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, a no-fee state park open 365 days a year, consisting of over 5,000 acres of wild Florida scrub lands.
Five Thousand Acres of Wild Florida Scrub
Located about 5 miles east of Cedar Key, the Reserve is divided by County Road 347 into an eastern and western section. Twelve miles of trails await hikers. Gotta horse? Bring it. The Reserve is also open to horseback riding.