If you enjoy unique shopping and dining experiences, then Cedar Key is for you. This small fishing village, turned tourist area, is located on the West Coast of Florida overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Although it is not close to some of the more popular tourist attractions, it makes a wonderful get-away-for-a-day destination.
The waterfront area is host to a variety of seafood restaurants, quaint shops, and a pier. You can stroll this small village and meander in and out of shops full of treasures just awaiting your discovery. You can sit high above the Gulf enjoying the view and some of the best seafood Florida has to offer, or you can try to catch a fish off the pier.
You will also find boat docks and boat rentals for excursions into the Gulf of Mexico and a very small public beach on the waterfront. Just a block or two inland are more shops. For those wishing to stay more than a day, lodging is available at many island-style locations that are reminiscent of the old Florida.
Other points of interest are the Seahorse Key Lighthouse and the Cedar Key State Museum.
The day of our visit, it was a picture perfect Florida day. It was sunny and warm and a Gulf breeze blew ever so gently to help keep us cool. The pier bustled with activity. Fishermen cast their lines into the Gulf. People sat enjoying the view and watching a commercial sponge boat dock and unload their day’s catch. And, pelicans sat, as if posing for a postcard, on the pilings waiting for a handout. We enjoyed a stroll, took in all the sights and snapped some pictures.
The shops along the waterfront boardwalk are unique and varied. We found shells and things made from shells, jewelry, clothing, antiques and children’s toys. What caught my eye were the arts and crafts of the islands’ artisans and tropical island-style decorations that made me want to go home and redecorate.
Stopping for ice cream, large scoops of the homemade variety, our party of four came away with change from a ten dollar bill. For the most part, Cedar Key is affordable. Lunches are reasonable and dinners are moderately priced. If you don’t like seafood there are other menu choices.
The water was a little too choppy the day we visited, so we passed on any of the excursions or boat rentals, but prices are very reasonable for those as well. Excursions to the Seahorse Key Lighthouse were a mere $20 for adults and $15 for children under age 12. The almost two-hour scenic cruises focus on Atsena Otie and Seahorse Keys. It is reported that dolphins are often sighted during these cruises.
Boats can be rented for as little as $90 for four hours and depends on the size of the boat and horsepower. A boat ramp and parking is available if you bring your own water craft.
There is a beach, but I would not recommend going just for the beach. It is small and there are no life guards on duty. The shore is littered with clam shells which can be hard on the feet and the actual sand area is very narrow. There are, however, a couple covered pavilions which would make a perfect picnic destination if claimed early enough in the day.
Parking is haphazard and could prove to be a challenge. If you have to park too far away, golf cart rentals are available to whisk you around where you want to go including the boardwalk area.
If laid-back is your style and you want to spend a few days taking in the sights, there are a variety of places to stay. Don’t expect the Hilton here, or even the Holiday Inn for that matter. Most lodging is found in the older roadside motel style rooms and quaint beach resorts or hotels. Most that we saw were well-kept and help to add that old Florida style and island flavor to the area.
On our way home we made a stop by the Cedar Key State Museum which holds many artifacts and items of historical significance to the area. Although housed in only one room, the exhibits were interesting, and the $1 entry fee was more than reasonable.
The history of Cedar Key is a long and varied one. Its development can be traced back to the Seminole Indian War and the first railroad to cross the State of Florida. Gulf coast shipping and trading, fishing, and the abundance of cedar for America’s major pencil companies also had a hand in its development.
Sandwiched between the southern most tips of the Suwannee and Waccasassa Rivers, its location served as a depot in early Florida history and around the 1850s steamboats filled the rivers. By the 1870s Florida was gaining the interest of travelers who were seeking new opportunities, adventure and better health. Most of these settlers were the travel writers, promoters, and naturalists. Cedar Key was a required stop for many of those travelers and over the years began to receive positive reviews.
The fishing industry for the area reached commercial proportions for the area by 1878, and although seasonal became the main source of income for many residents, particularly of the poorer class. At the turn of the century all the major industries relocated from the island posing a new challenge to the community.
Gradually tourists began to discover the special qualities of the town and the establishment of a rather important artist colony and resort atmosphere brought the community back to life and where it is today.
Directions to Cedar Key
Cedar Key is located in Levy County on the West Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
From I-75: Take Exit 75 (State Rd 24) off of Interstate 75 and travel west on State Rd 24 to Cedar Key.
From Hwy 19: Turn off of Hwy. 19 and travel west on State Rd 24 to Cedar Key.