You’ll more than happy to understand you don’t need to entirely ditch the Florida beaches on your check out to Natural North Florida.
One thing we enjoy about this region in Florida is the variety and outside activities!
You can move from the lavish forest filled with revitalizing crystal-clear natural springs to warm ocean temperature levels in simply a brief drive.
Under 2 hours from Live Oak and 50-miles west of Gainesville, you’ll discover yourself at Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast.
It’s a throwback to Old Florida – the Key West you wanted you experienced back in Hemingway’s Days.
We got here believing we might fill one and be all set to go the next.
After a brief walk around this wacky salt-crusted town and talking with a couple of residents, we felt we’d most likely delight in remaining another day.
We looked into our Sea Pearl Suite at Harbour Masters with its wrap around deck offering 270-degree extensive views over neighboring islands and chose a couple of days would be the sluggish and relaxing household trip all of us require.
A number of hours later on after swimming and paddleboarding we extended that to a week.
Then by the night, after a charming regional couple we satisfied at sundown provided us a couple of seats in their golf cart to take us to the only location we might get a bottle of red wine for night beverages on the deck, and we faced Dave the kayak person, who they attempted to present us, and we stated ” yeah, we currently understand each other”, I believed to myself,
“You understand, this is the sort of location I might reside in for a long time.”
Cedar Key gradually anchors you in.
There’s no glamour or cookie-cutter beautiful, produced traveler destinations here. It’s raw, warm and ambling.
You’ll welcome it if you enable locations to expose who they lack expectations or constraints.
Cedar Key went from being included in a wrap-up blog post on our visit to Natural North Florida to having its own dedicated post on things to do in Cedar Key, and on our list of coolest places to visit in Florida!
We loved our little one-night Florida island getaway.
Upon departure, Savannah exclaimed that we were coming back at least for a week as this was now her favorite place. Our new friends are ready for our return with the door to their Airbnb beach cottage open.
About Cedar Key
This region was mapped in 1542 and named “Las Islas Sabines” which means The Cedar Islands, named for the bounty of cedar trees that covered the islands.
Native Indians occupied these islands for at least 1,000 years, thriving on the endless bounty surrounding them. It’s one of the largest nesting areas in Florida for varieties of pelicans, egrets, bald eagles, ospreys and more.
While lumbar was once a thriving industry, tourism and fishing is now its claim to fame. Cedar Key is a major producer of clams nationwide, raking in more than $34 million annually.
The Cedar Islands are now known as the Cedar Key National Refuge and are composed of 13 offshore islands jutting into the Gulf Coast.
The quiet fishing village of Cedar Key Florida is nestled among many of these small islands 4-miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.
A series of bridges and picturesque salt marshes lead into this eclectic community of artisans, nature lovers and those seeking a slower pace.
If you want to be like the locals, you’ll don your flip flops, let go of your wound-up tensions, and hire a golf kart to get around. (although the town is easy to walk around.)
Below are a few of the wonderful things to do in Cedar Key Fl.
Cedar Key Beach – swim, kayak, paddle board
Cedar Key Beach is a small area by the marina with a strip of white sand, palm trees, and a sectioned off swimming area.
After delighting in how good my body felt covered in salty water, I realized I hadn’t felt that ocean water feeling in some time. After a talk and a bit of math, we discovered it had been three years since we last swam in the ocean in Hawaii.
How does an Aussie do that?
Never again! We were happy Cedar Key could reintroduce us to the joy of ocean living.
We hired some stand up paddle boards and kayaks from Dave at Cedar Key Adventures to paddle around the swimming beach area. The current was moving, and the wind was high, so we didn’t stray too far from shore.
We almost had the entire beach to ourselves and the girls had a blast swimming at this beach.
Kayak to Atsena Otie
Every view from Cedar Key leads you to Atsena Otie, the closest and most accessible of the refuge islands.
It was the location of the first Cedar Key until a hurricane’s 10-foot storm surged flattened it in 1896.
One of the best things to do in Cedar Key is to explore this island by kayak. We rented our kayaks from Dave and headed out for a strong paddle against the current and wind for just half a mile (30-mins) to the island.
There is an old cemetery in the middle of the island you can reach through the woods under a canopy of oaks. You may not get too far before the mosquitoes, and as advised by Dave, “will carry you out of there.” (Take mosquito repellent).
A further short walk along the beach, near the pier, will take you to the crumbling remains of what used to be the pencil factory.
There is not too much to do on Atsena Otie but it’s worth a couple of hours adventure just for the paddle and scenery.
Those with more time may wish to paddle the 1.5 miles around the island. Unlike most of the other islands, you can explore the unique interior of Atsena Otie via the marshes on the south side.
Ambitious paddlers can go on to other nearby islands of the Cedar Key National Refuge. They are said to have nice beaches. You can also explore these islands by boat.
The paddle back only took us about 15-minutes with the wind at our back and gave us nice views of Dock Street and the marina.
Sunset at Cedar Key
You’re on the Florida Gulf Coast, sunset is the main event!
Locals say you cannot beat the sunset and quirky vibes from the Tiki Bar located just outside the bridge into town.
Sadly, for us it’s an adult only bar, so we traded in the best place for sunset in Cedar Key to the next best, which is just in front of the pink Beach Front Motel.
The sky lights up in pretty oranges and pinks as it sets behind the lands and water of the Cedar Key National Refuge.
The kids will enjoy playing on the rocks of the small beach area here.
Or D street as the locals refer to The Big Dock, is a series of colorful mom-and-pop resorts, restaurants and multi storied buildings stores suspended over the waters on stilts.
It’s known as the heartbeat of this small fishing village and you can walk it in less than five-minutes!
But browse a while through the stores and enjoy the artistic designs of parked golf carts and egrets trying to sneak their way into bars.
About 7-miles out of Cedar Key is the Shell Mound. This high mound was built up over a 1,000 year period up to 1,800 years ago by Woodland Native cultures discarding their oyster and clam shells.
A short 0.3 mile trail will take you through the jungle and around and on top of the shell mound.
A path off the Shell Mound Trail leads to a boardwalk and fishing pier that looks out over a bayou of Suwanee Sound.
The Dennis Creek Trail is another 1-mile loop with a boardwalk that takes you over a salt barren to a coastal island. Dave said it was one of his favorite walking trails.
Kayakers will love the beauty of this shallow ocean area thick with wildlife and paddling often only inches deep over hidden oyster bars.
Sunrise at Cedar Key
What a way to start a Cedar Key day!
We had the perfect view of the sun rising over the horizon in front of us and the color changing from deep orange to pink.
In fact, the soft pre-dawn pinks woke us up from our bed.
Once the sun is up, grab yourself a coffee and sit on your deck watching all the birds flying by in formation.
Steamers Clam Bar and Grill for Seafood and Views
Looking for Cedar Key restaurants overlooking the Gulf with fresh seafood?
This Big Dock restaurant offers prime position for Gulf views over Atsena Otie and some of the other islands.
At Steamers Clam Bar and Grill there are large windows that enable for views if you wish to sit inside.
However, to make your meal here a memorable experience, we recommend grabbing one of the nooks on the deck.
The outside deck is narrow so there are about four private nook areas where you can sit with front row seat of the view, the balmy breeze on your skin, and dolphins frolicking in front of you.
I told you Cedar Key pulls you in! This is the serene Florida vacation of your dreams.
As you are in clam country, be sure to pick a clam dish on the extensive menu.
We can highly recommend the clam bowl steamed in white wine and garlic and the seafood broil, washed down with a glass of wine or craft beer.
They do claim to have the best clam chowder on the island (another popular clam chowder place is Tony’s Restaurant).
Stay at Harbour Master Suites
Harbor Master Suites has front row stilted position on D Street. We stayed in the Pearl Suite and could not believe we had the entire top deck to ourselves.
We had a spot for morning coffee and sunrise, a spot for afternoon drinks, and then another hidden screened in porch that overlooked the street for later at night when the ocean views were gone and the people watching just started.
The Sea Pearl Suite is a huge two-bedroom suite with a living area and full-kitchen. We only wished we stayed longer to fully enjoy the suite. Its location is easy walking distance to everywhere – the Cedar Key way!
Local Tips: Things to Do in Cedar Key
We received many tips from the friendly locals. While we did our best to do as many as we could on our short trip, we’re adding them to this post on things to do in Cedar Key to help you plan your getaway there.
A few of these tips we couldn’t do as they were closed when we visited. Many of the restaurants close on Tuesday or Wednesdays so be sure to check opening times before planning your trip to visit Cedar Key.
Neptune Lounge in the Island Hotel
A cozy, intimate restaurant experience perfect for couples.
There is a fine dining restaurant in this hotel, but the local’s tip is to head to the informal and cozy lounge bar for outstanding food and a taste of the local gathering culture.
The lounge was painted in 1948 with murals of Cedar Key and King Neptune, for whom the bar is named.
We met a local at Live Oak who told us he and his wife used to fly on a private plane to Cedar Key for mini-vacations and would always stay and eat at the Island Hotel. It’s a Cedar Key icon!
Every single local we spoke to said Annie’s Cafe does the best breakfast and was a must do not miss Cedar Key place to eat.
We were disappointed it was closed on the Wednesday we were there – the only day we could go. Be sure to tell us what it was like and tag us in a photo!
Cemetery Point Park Boardwalk
The 1,200 foot long boardwalk takes you through marsh land adjacent to one of the back bays and channels of the keys. It’s a 3.5-acre property with a sandy shore for you to swim or kayak.
We hope this post helps you plan your own Cedar Key vacation. If you’re looking for locations to check out in North Florida with kids, consider here!
You can be sure we’ll be back for more family fun and to tick those other activities off our list.
Oh, and if you go to without kids, wear’t forget the Tiki Bar for sunset!
Cedar Key, Florida video
Have you heard of Cedar Key prior to? Have any extra suggestions OR any concerns about travel to this Florida island?