CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA

By  Mike Miller  Updated June 11, 2022

Cedar Key, Florida Things To Do, Lodging, Dining, & Real Estate At End Of Article

Cedar Key is in North Central Florida on the Gulf of Mexico in Levy County. 

It is an Old Florida fishing village of about 700 full time residents that has become one the more surprising tourist attractions in this part of the state.

Cedar Key Aerial re TripadvisorCedar Key Aerial re Tripadvisor

To reach Cedar Key, travel to the end of State Road 24, crossing the salt marshes and channels over four small low bridges.

This delightful destination is a straight shot from Gainesville and the University of Florida. 

HISTORY OF CEDAR KEY FLORIDA

The Cedar Keys are a group of small islands, and the island city of Cedar Key is located on Way Key.

Of the surrounding area, 13 of the Keys make up federally protected land called the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, totaling 762 acres of natural beauty.

Some of the more well-known of these islands are North Key, Snake Key, and Bird (Deadman's) Key, and Seahorse Key. Later, nearby Atsena Otie Key was added to the Refuge.

One of the interesting things about the nearby Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge is that rather than protecting animal species it was established to protect the water quality of the Suwannee River.

The area offers excellent fishing and an abundance of wildlife including bison and bears.

The many nature trails attract bird watchers from around the world who come to view countless shore birds, migratory and nesting birds including bald eagles.

For such a small town, Cedar Key has a prominent place in Florida History.  Early history of the area shows it was settled long ago.

Arrowheads and spear points dating back 12,000 years have been found in the area, along with various shell mounds created by the ancient Native Americans.

Vintage Aerial Photo of Cedar Key, FloridaVintage Aerial Photo of Cedar Key, Florida

The name is derived from the Spanish name, Las Islas Sabines, or The Cedar Islands. The islands had an abundance of cedar trees among the wild natural lands.

Modern settlement of Cedar Key began about 1839 when General Zachary Taylor built Fort No. 4 on Depot Key;  it became Army headquarters during the early part of the Seminole Wars.

Rental Cottages and Historical MarkerRental Cottages and Historical Marker

In the years before the Civil War, Cedar Key developed into a major Florida port.  Lumber and naval stores from the mainland were shipped out of the small village to major cities around the world. 

By 1860, there were two saw mills producing cedar slats for shipment to pencil factories up north.  

Historical Marker About Florida's First RailroadCedar Key Historical Marker About Florida's First Railroad

Also in 1860, David Levy Yulee completed his Florida railroad that crossed the state from Fernandina to Cedar Key.  Yulee was a U.S. Senator and an interesting character in Florida history. 

Right about the time the railroad was completed, Parson and Hale's General Store was completed.  Today it is known as the Island Hotel.

Small Home in Cedar KeySmall Home in Cedar Key

During the Civil War, a lot of salt was produced around Cedar Key for use by the Confederate Army.  Much cotton was also shipped out of Cedar Key. 

The Union army and navy destroyed a lot of Cedar Key during the war, and finally occupied the village until the end of the war.

Cedar Key AirportCedar Key Airport

When Henry Plant's railroad reached Tampa in 1886, Cedar Key's importance as a port declined and it began to lose population and industry. 

About ten years later, a major hurricane hit Cedar Key, killing 100 people and wiping out the saw mills and most other buildings.

A couple of months later, a fire just about finished the job of destruction.

Cedar Key HomeCedar Key Home

By the early 1900s, the major industries in Cedar Key had become sponging and oyster harvesting. 

Over harvesting exhausted these resources, and Cedar Key became a quiet place where people liked to spend weekends. 

The State of Florida helped local fishermen learn how to farm clams, so clam farming has become a major village industry.  So also is tourism.

CEDAR KEY FLORIDA TODAY

Cedar Key is one of the few remaining places in Florida that retain most of the charm of its earlier years, with its historic buildings and friendly people.

It is still an example of what we love to call "Old Florida."

There are several very good seafood restaurants in Cedar Key, and numerous lodging facilities.

Cedar Key Florida DowntownThe Dock

The area does get a bit more lively a few times a year. Each year a couple of festivals are held here:

The Old Florida Celebration of the Arts Festival (held every spring) brings in thousands of visiting and local artists, vendors and tourists, as downtown fills with street-style art galleries.

The Cedar Key Seafood Festival (third weekend in October) is the big "fall" celebration, bringing in thousands of hungry people celebrating their rich fishing history, and is a boon to local businesses.

The area is especially known for its oysters, stone crabs and clams, and actually is now the largest producer of farm-raised clams in the eastern US.

The DockThe Dock

Dock Street, or "The Dock" as locals call it, is the old waterfront area with many shops and restaurants.  

Downtown Cedar KeyDowntown Cedar Key

The rest of the town, including the old downtown section, is natural and weathered and somewhat run down, giving you a special feeling of being in Old Florida.

Downtown Shops in Cedar KeyDowntown Shops in Cedar Key

Many of the homes are more than 100 years old and in all kinds of condition. 

Driving through the quiet streets you will see completely rehabilitated cottages next to weather beaten old houses that have never seen a paint brush.

Weathered House in Cedar KeyWeathered House in Cedar Key

There are several newer low rise condominiums and motels near the downtown area that are typically designed to fit in with the Old Florida feel. 

Newer homes are in the wooded areas that surround Cedar Key.

These newer homes are usually built up on stilts or columns to give them protection from storm surges that often accompany hurricanes.

Beach in Downtown Cedar KeyBeach in Downtown Cedar Key

An unusual feature that makes Cedar Key different than most communities on this sparsely settled Gulf coast is the small beach in a downtown city park near The Dock.

Cedar Key Island HotelIsland Hotel in Downtown Cedar Key

Cedar Key has a museum, and the entire village has national historic status through the Cedar Keys Historic and Archaeological District and the U.S. National Register of Historic places.



Cedar Key Guest CottageCedar Key Guest Cottage
From FloridaBackroadsTravel Digital Art Collection

CEDAR KEY FLORIDA INTERACTIVE MAP



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