Cedar Key, Florida: A Slice of Key West Without the Crazies and the Crowds

Not that there is anything wrong with crazy, especially when you are expecting and looking forward to crazy, and crazy delivers. But a slowed-down town with old Florida charm and whimsy, picket fences, historic cottages, art galleries, and plenty of restaurants to keep you happily full, that is quirky and jovial but also quiet and a great place to just wander and contemplate…  sometimes we want just that, with no crazy. And definitely no crowds.

We watched with heavy hearts in September 2016 as Hurricane Hermine bore relentlessly toward Cedar Key, feeling as helpless as onlookers of a multi-car pileup on the other side of the highway. “NOT CEDAR KEY!” we cried out, as if it would be okay if the hurricane devastated a nearby town not as beloved to us. After much hard work and help from friends and strangers (angels, really) from all over, Cedar Key is back up and running, even better than before. Some are still rebuilding, but the welcome mat is firmly in place and Cedar Key lovers are visiting, staying, dining, boating, kayaking, drinking, exploring, shopping, and even moving here permanently.

 

cedar-key-downtown

When we first drove onto Main Street I was practically out of my seat, my face mashed against the window. My heart was leaping out of my chest, I do not exaggerate. The two nights we stayed there were not enough, and guess what we did that we have never done since finding our tiny paradise-ical beach bungalowWe looked at REAL ESTATE here!

cedar-key-realtyEven the real estate offices are colorful and creative!

Cedar Key (you know it’s nowhere near The Keys, right? Think northwest Gulf coast, about halfway between Tampa and Tallahassee) has an intriguing/embarrassing history.

Yes, as in most Florida towns the Indians, the Spanish, and a surfeit of pirates checker the past. As do some fierce Civil War battles. But the intriguing part is that both the Faber and the Eagle pencil companies established cedar saw mills on the island that is now Cedar Key (Way Key, then) and on Atsena Otie Key (called Cedar Key then; I know, confusing) and the world’s supply of pencils came from the trees here. A hurricane in 1896 wiped out the mills, and the town of Atsena Otie, and all that remains today is a graveyard with headstones dating from the early 1800’s.  Some say it’s haunted. We wanted to kayak out there, but it was too damned hot.

The embarrassing part is how congress, in 1842, enacted the Armed Occupation Act, to increase white settlement and to force the Seminole Indians away. Seems unjust. I can picture all those self-important bullies roaring around taking things over. Not that I was there or anything, and my son would tell me not to spout off about who was right or who was wrong without knowing the facts (and then he would go on Reddit and give me so many sources and articles my eyes would roll back in my head.)

Nevertheless, it all turned out fine because Cedar Key is a sunny, friendly place on Florida’s Nature Coast voted in the Top 10 America’s Coolest Small Towns.  Famous for their clams, as well as a great place to kayak, fish, bird watch, find unique art, and sit on a bar stool feeling blessed by the sun, sky, and the shimmering waters.

For you beach lovers, there is a small, white sand municipal park beach with a nearby bandshell and facilities. But save your beaching for another day, because there is so much more to do here than splay yourself out in the sand.

 

BOATING

cedar-key-crab-traps

We saw boats continuously motoring in and out of the harbor, and everyone looked happy and some proudly held up their catch of the day. We’ll boat and fish next time (yes, we wimped out because of the heat and because there were so many other things to do.) Here is a partial list of boat tour and rental companies, click each for more info:

Cedar Key Boat Rentals and Island Tours

Tidewater Tours

Cedar Key Marina

 

THE BAR

Steamers Clam Bar and Grill

420 Dock St.

cedar-key-steamers

  • VIBE:  More intimate than you’d think, looking at the front of the building.  Attentive, friendly staff.
  • ARRIVE:  There is some parking along the street but not much. Before you cross over the bridge to Dock St. there are public parking lots.
  • SIT:   Most of the seating is inside, but there are a few tables outside on a narrow balcony.
  • SIP: Happy Hour is 3 – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • NOSH:  We split the Portobello and Blue Crab pastry entree and it was amazing! (A bit messy to share…)
  • LISTEN:  Live music on the weekends.
  • WE LOVE: The decor, and while some of it was the typical beach bar stuff, there was much that was unique and I was snapping away for ideas for our beach bungalow!

tall-margarita

cedar-key-bars-view-from-pierSteamers, and other restaurants, viewed from the public pier

 

 

THE BUNGALOW

Faraway Inn

3rd and G Streets

352-543-5330

faraway-garden-path

Faraway Inn rocked our world. In the quietest, most soothing, all-is-well-with-the-world-here vibe. And while we have never met a crabby innkeeper or mom-and-pop, not often do we feel that if we lived here, these people would be our friends. We’d hang out.  We’d ride bikes, cast for speckled trout, toast the sunset. Not that these owners and staff really have time for all that – while being available if we needed anything, and always smiling, they quietly worked their butts off to keep this place super clean, with a homey – and at the same time, upscale – feel.

  • VIBE:  Lush, private, our home away from home. (Minus the stresses of our home.)
  • WALK:  Faraway Inn is located right in the quaint town (though it feels as though it is faraway) and Main street is a three minute walk, Dock street (and The Bar!) just beyond that, with all of the art galleries, shops and restaurants close by.
  • DECOR:  Artistic (see the mural in our room), eclectic. Creative use of color and pattern.
  • SLEEP:  YAY, someone else understands how important good sheets, and all-cotton, is. And the mattress… I was envisioning how to hoist it onto the top of CH’s SUV and take it home… do you think anyone would have noticed? Just kidding, Faraway!
  • EXTRAS:  PET FRIENDLY YAY, free use of bicycles – which we took full advantage of – kayaks, canoes, WiFi, coffee with condiments, dishes, glassware (wine glasses, thank you!) utensils, the fridge is bigger than a mini-fridge (cottages and efficiencies have stoves/ovens) pet-washing area, extra towels for your pets or the beach, grills, and a covered pavillion, see photos below, to while away the evening with a book and a glass of wine, while gazing at the water. You can rent a golf cart (we saw a bunch of them, smiling faces all, whizzing around the island.)
  • RATES:  From $90/ night; our Gulf View Room (a.k.a. heaven) is $135/night.
  • WE LOVE: Where do we start? When we entered the room the sound system/radio was playing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”  I am NOT MAKING THIS UP. We just loved… everything.

gulf-view-units

let-us-be-sign

faraway-cottage5-garden

cat-owner

faraway-amenitiesHerb garden for guests, dog grooming station, and just one of the many garden adornments

swings-storm

faraway-inn-bedroom

faraway-table

faraway-garden-decor

garden-walkway-view-of-water

 I took so many photos of this idyllic Inn that my camera, which has a million units of memory, said “NO MORE.”  I’d like to continue to regale you with pics, but for now I’ll just show you some around-town charm and cheeriness:

cedar-key-island-artsIsland Arts

cedar-key-holey-moleyHoley Moley, for breakfast and lunch

steamers-side-viewThe honkytonk and lively Dock Street 

hideaway-side-viewMany photo ops here:  The Hideaway Tiki Bar

hideaway-tiki-bottle-wallThe Hideaway Tiki Bar again, with walls made of wine bottles! I want to do this at MY house!

that-one-shoeYou know how you always see only ONE SHOE left on the highway? What a great use for those – the railings at The Hideaway are decorated with all those shoes without a partner!

crazy-bar-chair

cedar-key-fisherman-scultureThe Big Fisherman, created and donated by Chick and Marsha Schwartz, and behind it a mural of The Honeymoon Cottage, an iconic once-viable cottage built over the water

cedar-key-honeymoon-cottageAll that is left of The Honeymoon Cottage today

And I can’t leave you without some glimpses of the cracker cottages, stately Victorians, and more cottage/bungalow eye candy of this perfect little town:

cedar-key-eva-maesEva Mae’s Cottage, a VRBO rental right on the water

cedar-key-1914-cottage

cear-key-fixer-upper

cedar-key-victorians

cedar-key-b-and-bOne small wing of the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast, its “up in the trees” aspect appealed to me

As I get ready to publish this post to inspire you to travel to the lesser-known, yet every bit as entertaining  – and possibly more convivial – small coastal Florida towns not crawling with bawdy tourists, the sky outside my window is gray and booming with thunder. And so, just a couple more sunny photos from this place I fell for at first glimpse, Cedar Key.

away-from-the-world-cafeAway From the World Cafe

water-view-marshes

Cedar Key is on Florida’s gulf coast, approximately 135 miles north of Tampa, and 147 miles south of Tallahassee.

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