10 Things To Do in Cedar Key: Florida's Driftwood Town Built on the Clam Business
Updated: 2 days ago
Driftwood decor, restaurants on stilts, and a good ol' dose of Americana await in Cedar Key. Worth at least a Sunday drive for lunch, this tiny town also boasts enough vibes to stay the night, or even two or three.
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Cedar Key is nestled in to the spring-dotted boonies of Florida's armpit, north of Tampa but not quite in the panhandle. Neighboring towns are few, as it is indeed a key, set out on an endless road of trees and an occasional cow pasture. For good reason, Cedar Key has long been confused with its southerly key counterparts near Miami, namely Key Largo and Key West. When you tell people of your adventure to Cedar Key, they will only picture you swimming in crystal clear waters, jet skiing and drinking your face off in a famed party town beloved by Hemingway. However, Cedar Key couldn't be any further from what the Florida Keys has to offer.
As you drive into the town of Cedar Key you'll pass inlets to the Gulf, fishing bridges and plenty of cottage rentals to whet your appetite for an overnight stay. Excitement increases as sea farms and pictures of clam shells adorn the roadside passing your window.
Stroll The Town
You can successfully experience the whole town of Cedar Key after about a mile worth of walking total.
Eat Some Clams
On to the main drag you'll find a fishing pier (they really like their fishing here) and a two-sided road of stilted shacks for dining. Pop in to any of them really, and ask for some of the local specialty - clams! Farmed right there in Cedar Key, you'll get some seriously good steamers, great as a snack with a cold beer.
Enjoy The Water
Boating, kayaking and fishing are the primary reasons people visit Cedar Key. Boats can be chartered in town at the marina, and in season visitors can go scalloping or clamming for themselves!
Browse The Shops
One souvenir shop serves up ice cream, a perfect summertime treat while strolling down the main drag.
Visit the Playground and Beach
After you've had clams, keep strolling down to the main 'beach'. There's a playground for kiddos, some exercise machines for adults and some nice sunset views later on. I don't recommend swimming here. The water is pretty mucky and full of tough to walk on shells. Just ooh and aah at it and enjoy a couple photos.
Drive to Manatee Springs
Located near Chiefland, the biggest nearby town (it has a Walmart!), a 30 minute drive will take you to picturesque Manatee Springs. Bring your swimsuit and good walking shoes.
Get Some Local Produce
If in Chiefland, stop at a roadside stand called 'Fresh Produce' to find some mega-sized local produce.
Fill Your Fridge With Fresh Seafood
Robinson's Seafood Market
On your way back to Cedar Key, stop in at Robinson's Seafood market. You can't miss it, as it is literally the only spot along the route other than the gas station and some storage units.
Inside you'll find fresh shrimp, whatever the local catch is from that morning, and mullet dip. People really love mullet in Cedar Key. It's a super fishy not particularly wonderful fish, but they are pretty proud about it. Truth be told, the mullet dip isn't that bad, so give it a go.
You can't find it anywhere in town if you want to take it home with you. We only saw it offered at Robinson's Seafood after an hour and a half attempt at hitting up all the bait shops and market in town. Ironically enough, a family does post up outside the market most days, selling some out of a blue cooler. It's probably pretty legit, but we went with Robinson's instead.
Southern Cross Sea Farms
Lastly, and really firstly because you need to get there before they sell out, is Southern Cross Sea Farms. They carry all the good shellfish - multiple options of clams, fresh catch, oysters, all of it - and all at a super reasonable price. Just remember to bring cash and scrub your clams up well, because you don't want gritty clam sauce.
Catch Sunset By the Pier
Being on the west coast, you're sure to get some romantic photos of the sun setting over the water.
Take A Tour of Cedar Key By Air
There are tours available leaving from the nearby airstrip. Cessna's and small airplanes take visitors on a fly over around the coast.
How To Get Around
There are two streets in Cedar Key. I'll call them 'The Main Drag' and 'The Back Street'. Everything is accessible on foot in these two areas. Go ahead and park anywhere up and down this area, or turn left on to the Back Street. Street parking is plentiful.
Otherwise, bicyclists share the road with golf carts and trucks with empty boat trailers - all undoubtedly out for the day to find their fresh catch for dinner.
Where To Stay
The Island Hotel
The Back street is host to a few dilapidated buildings adding to the charm, and some very quaint places like the public library and the Island Hotel.
Supposedly haunted, this historic inn was established in 1859. With all the vibes of your hip grandma's New England beach cabin, you'll feel right at home when you walk in. Greeted by a tacky giant manatee by the piano in the foyer, you've got options for dinner in their Neptune Lounge and bar or in the main dining room - both offering, in my opinion, the best food in town.
You can dress up or dress down, but they do have a basic dress code rule - leave the beachy clothes at home. Make a reservation in advance for dinner.
Sunset Isle RV park
They offer waterfront views that are hard to beat and of course you will have the luxury of your own kitchen and amenities. Their website is tough to find so just give them a call to book.
Where To Eat
2nd Street Cafe
I hope you have a sweet tooth, because this cafe loves their pancake and waffle toppings.
Only open to overnight guests.
The mercantile is best for a mid day coffee drink to get out of the heat. They spin old records from half a century ago, furthering the feeling that you're about to realllly slow down your pace here.
Duncan's offers great views, kind service, and excellent crab legs!
The Island Hotel
From surf and turf to pasta, the Island Hotel is full of nostalgic nibbles from a 1970's steakhouse. It comes with a bit of a price tag, but white tablecloths, great service and cozy atmosphere give you all the hygge (swedish for cozy) that you may want in a land-that-time-forgot getaway.
No matter what you fancy when it comes to relaxing, Cedar Key exists for one purpose and one purpose alone - clams. My advice is to just eat as many of them as you can. Eat clams, drink wine, relax, and then go to sleep. What more could you want in a weekend?