With only one road leading into Cedar Key, you’ll find yourself in a quiet town away from the hustle and bustle of busy life. Cedar Key is a quiet island community and still a hidden gem. It kind of reminds me of the “old Florida” version of Key West and has a similar type of charm. Known for amazing seafood (especially clams), remnants of “old Florida”, and waterfront beauty, it is also a great place for fishing, bird watching, boating, and kayaking. You’ll find more golf carts than cars and some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. It’s one of those places I wish I could experience for the first time all over again. Instead, it will be such a special place we return to regularly.
Cedar Key History
I love Florida towns with history and there is a lot of history in Cedar Key. It was founded in the 1850’s but became more popular in 1861 when it became the first link of the Florida Railroad. The railroad went from Cedar Key to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. Later, during the Civil War, Cedar Key was invaded by the Union. During the invasion, most buildings were burnt down except those that could be used for barracks or to store supplies.
I encourage you to slow down while you’re visiting because that’s how it was meant to be experienced. Even if you’re only there a short time, you’ll likely have time for most of the things you want to do. If not, you can always come back. But we were there only a weekend and were able to do almost everything we wanted, even with a 4 month old in tow! Here are some ideas of things to do in Cedar Key for your trip!
Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge
The Wildlife Refuge is a around a dozen small islands only accessible by boat. Atsena Otie Key is one of the most popular islands and also the island closest to the launch. You can hike around Atsena Otie Key and there is even an old cemetery. Birds are also protected there, so you may see a lot of them!
Visit the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum
To dig into history a little more, check out the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum. It’s a small museum but there’s a lot of information. They have artifacts, pictures, and maps that tell the story of Cedar Key’s history dating back to the 1850’s.
Cemetery Point Boardwalk
This is an old Florida cemetery with graves dating back to the 1850’s. There is a boardwalk spanning around a third of a mile with beautiful views. There is also a disc golf course and an exercise trail. You’ll see plenty of wildlife, especially birds.
Fishing is a popular activity here and almost everywhere you go, you’ll see plenty of people doing it! Every bridge we went over had people fishing from the side. Other popular spots to fish include the pier on Dock Street, Cemetery Point Boardwalk, and at Atsena Otie Key. There are also plenty of local fishing charters that will take you out.
Kayak or Paddleboard Through the Mangroves
Since Cedar Key is surrounded by some smaller barrier islands, it’s a great place for kayaking. You can launch your kayak at Cedar Park Beach or Cedar Key Bridge. The most popular place to kayak to is Atsena Otie Key, but Cedar Key is surrounded by water with endless opportunities for kayaking.
Explore Dock Street
This is one of my favorite areas to explore. Dock Street is right on the water with shops, restaurants, hotels, and a fishing pier. Most of the buildings here are old and have amazing historic charm. Farther down Dock Street (or at the beginning of Dock Street, depending which way you’re coming from), you’ll find the city park with a small “beach” (don’t expect long stretches of sand with the bright blue water of Florida’s Gulf beaches), the marina, boat ramp, and a kayak launch. You can also rent kayaks in this area.
Cedar Key Arts Center
The Cedar Key Arts Center is a co-op artist center perfect for finding a one-of-a-kind piece as a gift or keepsake. They have some events, such as various art classes. I also enjoyed their sculptures outside the building.
Bird watching is a popular activity in Cedar Key because of its undisturbed islands. Some great places for birdwatching are Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge (only accessible by boat as discussed above) and Cemetery Point Boardwalk. You may see eagles, roseate spoonbills, whooping cranes, and more. Note that some of the birds you’ll see depend on the time of year.
I’m not an expert in birding, but Tidewater Tours is and you can even book a birding tour with them if you are interested. They have great information on their website about all the different kinds of birds you could expect to see.
Cedar Key Festivals
There are some amazing festivals if you happen to be visiting when they’re happening. Cedar Key festivals include the Stargazing Party in February, Old Florida Celebration of the Arts in April, 4th of July, and the Seafood Festival and Pirate Festival in October.
Cedar Key Restaurants
We tried the following restaurants in Cedar Key, but there are several more. I have heard great things about all of them and can’t wait to return to to try a few more. Until then, I would recommend each of these Cedar Key restaurants.
1842 Daily Grind is a must stop for coffee. Their shop is adorable and they also have plenty of specialty lattes (my favorite). I can’t remember the flavor I got, but I loved it!
For some healthy food, the Prickly Palm has açaí bowls and smoothies. For more food options, you can also get sandwiches and other breakfast pastries. They have specialty coffee flavors as well. I got the samoa iced latte which was really good. Their space is adorable, every inch is instagram worthy, both inside and out.
The night we got to town, we picked up pizza from Cedar Key Pizza and Subs for something quick and easy while we settled into our airbnb. We got the seafood trio pizza which was so good and unique. It had alfredo sauce with clams, crab, and scallops.
Big Deck Bar & Grill had the best clams I’ve ever had. I’m not kidding. I still think about them.
Steamers Clam Bar and Grill is probably the most popular place to eat in town. It is located on the second floor so you have amazing water views. We really enjoyed our food here, I got clams again and my husband got a seafood broil. I also got their key lime cake to go, which was beyond delicious.
Where to Stay in Cedar Key
You won’t find big chain hotels here. We stayed in an airbnb because we were traveling with our dog. There are plenty of airbnbs in the area, but if we didn’t have a dog there are two places I would have loved to stay.
The first is the Island Hotel. This hotel is truly historic. It was founded in 1859 and was originally a general store, then a brothel, and now a bed and breakfast. There are 10 rooms upstairs, a restaurant, and a bar (Neptune Bar). I recommend visiting Neptune Bar even if you’re not staying at the B&B. Jimmy Buffett used to visit and would perform in the hotel’s bar. His 1980’s song “Incommunicado” also gives nod to Cedar Key. Also, rooms 27 and 28 are rumored to be haunted.
Another Cedar Key hotel that people love is Cedar Key Harbour Master Suites. I love their location right on the water. While not as old as the Island Hotel, it is still a historic building. We visited their gift shop and they were extremely welcoming and pleasant. Every room they have is a little different.
Hopefully this was helpful in helping you plan your vacation to Cedar Key, Florida. It really is one of the best quaint towns in Florida and brings you to a simpler time. We truly had the best weekend getaway in Cedar Key and can’t wait to go back!