There is a place on Florida’s Nature Coast where time seems to stand still and the winds even seem to quiet themselves, leaving a hush over land and water as the sun dips below the horizon.
Welcome to the sleepy little fishing village of Cedar Key, laid back natural beauty, tranquility at its finest. No, we haven’t had the best weather every day since we arrived, but the vibe here helps you forget all that as you line up with others, camera in hand, waiting for the big show.
This eclectic little village of ~ 700 residents sits three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, occupying 2.1 square miles, of which only 0.97 square miles is land. Aerial views of Cedar Key give you a great perspective on just how many channels and bayous occupy the watery part of this island. Whether you are a birder, love to delve into local history, are intrigued by interesting little boutique shops, your passion is to cast a line into the water, or you are a foodie, you can get your fix in Cedar Key. It is no wonder this small island, large on personality, was designated one of the Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel Magazine in 2011.
When I look back over the past week, I realize that as much as Cedar Key has to offer, we have done relatively little, preferring instead to set aside our watches, get into the rhythm of “island time” and spend our days visiting with new-found friends, a couple we have followed for some time (no, not stalking, just blog following) and a new blogger.
We have tracked down Cherie and Chris of Technomadia, who are wintering in Cedar Key. We arranged a meet-up, got a tour of their funky vintage bus (very cool), met lizard-stalking Kiki the cat, and shared a few glasses of wine. They are as awesome as they seem online and amazingly tech-savvy. Terry and I have learned much from them through their blog and are always so grateful to those who share so much with RVers like ourselves who still feel like novices.
During a casual get-together at a local bar we also met Jim and Barb of Bounding the Borders, and immediately felt a connection. We were fortunate enough to meet them again the next day for a fun-filled afternoon of kayaking.
Whether you kick back and relax like we have or like to be on the go, here are just a few ways to soak in the ambiance of Cedar Key:
1) Taste the local fare
Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, awarded the coveted title of World Champions three years in a row for their clam chowder, was a place we had to try, and we had to admit it was pretty darn special. Cedar Key is the top farm-raised clam producing community in the country so we knew we were getting some seriously fresh seafood.
We had a tip that Kona Joe’s Island Cafe was a great place for breakfast and it did not disappoint. New Jersey transplants, Joe, the front man, and his wife Edie, serve up yummy casual fare, like crab quiche and shrimp and grits, and the coffee is great! Joe is big on personality and is eager to help make your stay in Cedar Key the best possible.
2) Kayak the boundary waters
If you like to kayak, Cedar Key is the perfect place for you, being 54% water but watch out for those oyster beds. They can easily slice through an inflatable and have been known to do damage to hard-sided kayaks as well. The tide tables are most important as you do not want to get stranded in the mud and silt for hours during low tide. And getting out of your boat during low tide, we were told, can find you in mud and silt up to your waist!
While inflating our kayak for an afternoon paddle to Atsena Otie Key, we spotted Jim and Barb lining up a kayak with a local company. We launched and began our 3/4 mile paddle across the channel, to what was the original site of Cedar Key until a hurricane sent residents over to the present-day site. The weather was perfect, the water like glass. We had a great day scouting the shore for shells, exploring the old cemetery and finding a mysterious hatch in the forest. A few glasses of wine shared later that evening rounded out a very enjoyable day.
3) Swim with the manatees
Several companies offer opportunities to see and swim with the manatees. We had heard so much about Crystal River and Three Sisters Spring, where manatees love to congregate in the 72-degree waters. We chose Crystal River Watersports and Captain Sam was very informative. Beyond that he knew just where to take us for an up-close experience. We had a private tour besides, being the only two there at 7am. Unfortunately the Three Sisters Spring was closed due to the colder weather this part of Florida has experienced. Officials do not want we two-legged creatures to disturb the 100-150 manatees crowded into the spring, pushing them out into the colder waters where they are at risk of hypothermia. The waters where we swam were not as clear but the experience was just as awesome, with us getting nose-to-nose (literally) with these docile creatures. Captain Sam took us down to the boundary of the springs afterwards so we could see just how many manatees were hanging out.
4) Catch a sunset
We found the best place to watch the spectacular light show at dusk was from the docks behind the Low-Key Hideaway Motel & RV Resort, owned by Pat and Cindy Bonish. We stayed at the Cedar Key RV Resort a few miles down the road but we would definitely try to stay here when back in Cedar Key. With only three sites available, it is a funky little place and the Low-Key Tiki Bar seems to be the place in town to go for that perfect island sunset experience, and Pat makes a mean margarita.
Our exploration of Florida continues tomorrow as we head for Clearwater to meet up with friends. We are taking away some awesome memories of this little gem sitting out in the Gulf of Mexico, with its laid back island vibe. We will be back! 🙂