On the drive to Cedar Key, green humps of islands rise out of the surrounding waters, too many of them to count. And water surrounds everything. As the journey continues, one has to wonder if the road will end in the middle of the ocean.
In fact, this isn’t far from the truth. The cluster of islands that make up Cedar Key jut three miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, about as far from the mainland—and stress—as you can get.
To say the fishing village is tiny is an understatement: the population of Cedar Key was 702 at the 2010 census, and it encompasses a total area of 2.1 square miles. The majority of this area is water; less than a square mile is land.
As you get closer to civilization, you’ll find colorful mom-and-pop resorts and stores. The vibe is cheerful and relaxed. It quickly becomes evident this is a place for flip-flops, not high heels.
And then you arrive, into this magical, easily- walkable enclave, complete with a main street and buildings wearing murals. The best thing to do is park your car and start discovering.
Though if you feel the need to rent a ‘Gulf Cart,’ that’s an option too.
Clams are a big deal here. The local mollusks are touted as the sweetest in the world.
You can buy them and cook them yourself.
You can eat them in any variety of ways at local restaurants.
A must-do is sampling Tony's Clam Chowder, the three-time world champion of chowder.
This decadent concoction is fashioned from cream and clams, rich and sinful. Don’t even ask about the calories. You don’t want to know.
Cedar Key is a place that celebrates art, beauty and creativity. It’s okay to be different in Cedar Key. It’s embraced. A walk through the town reveals art galleries brimming with local work.
In the historic marina area, many of the shops and restaurants are suspended high above the water on stilts.
It boasts a pier that arcs into the Gulf, which offers views of the restaurants and their outdoor dining.
You’ll probably meet one of the big-mouthed locals there.
Or see one frolicking offshore.
On these multi-storied buildings, you might see folks fishing on one level, eating on another and shopping on still another.
When you explore, make sure to enjoy a craft beer on the deck on the Black Dog.
Cedar Key does have a beach—sort of. This little spit of the sand by the marina provides a place to plant your beach umbrella, though it’s not the generous sweep of sand Florida is famous for.
But if you’re longing for a real beach, don’t despair. You can experience an ‘island drop,’ where you’ll be boated out to a deserted stretch of shore for an adventure or a romantic interlude. They’ll pick you up whenever you want.
The area offers several options for accommodations, including the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast.
It's complete with lush gardens and a cookie jar that’s always full. At least, it was before we got there.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA
Dolphin photo by Kellie Parkin