Local’s Guide to Cedar Key

Things to Do on Cedar Key

Cedar Key is located in the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast and offers a wide variety of natural beauty and quality dining.

In this picturesque fishing village located on the Gulf of Mexico’s Nature Coast, you’ll experience the hospitality and traditional charm of Old Florida. With plentiful bird-watching opportunities, kayaking, fishing, and stunning sunsets, it’s no wonder that it’s such a popular vacation destination. And since we’re proudly branded as “Florida without the Mouse”, you can be sure to enjoy an authentic Floridian experience free from any over-commercialization.

Horseshoe Crab Citizen Science Project Cedar Key
Horseshoe Crab Citizen Science Project Cedar Key by Florida Sea Grant

Cedar Key is easily accessible by car, boat, or private plane, making your trip up North all the more manageable. Here in Cedar Key, you’ll experience all the hospitality and traditions of Old Florida with a fresh seafood twist. So come on down and enjoy the sunshine – you won’t regret it!

Cedar Key Birdwatching

Good birding is available along the causeway to the island and along the many marsh-bounded roadways. Bring your binocs and watch the mudflats at low tide for herons, egrets, storks, osprey, and more!

Sanderling at the Cedar Key Beach
Sanderling at the Cedar Key Beach by MickiP65

Whether it’s Tranquility or Serenity Balcony from which you’re observing, the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is teeming with birds. Those seeking to add a species or two to their life lists won’t be disappointed! The Nature Coast is a paradise for wildlife aficionados, and Chiefland, next door to Manatee Springs State Park, is another excellent destination for birdwatching – not to mention, manatees! With the Suwannee River providing an ideal excursion via canoe or kayak, this area of North Central Florida offers a wealth of opportunities. In fact, the Cedar Keys NWR has been nominated as a special place by Audubon of Florida.

Cedar Key Birding – by boat

Seahorse Key – a part of the Cedar Keys Wildlife Refuge. Rent a boat or take a ride via one of the town boat tour operators (boarding at the Cedar Key Town Marina). Seahorse Key has a 300-foot buffer zone closed to visitors from March 1 to June 30 to protect the birds during nesting season. (Good binoculars will help you see some from outside the buffer zone.)

Seahorse Key
Seahorse Key, Cedar Keys Wildlife Refuge by hspauldi

Birdwatching Around the City Park & Fishing Pier

The town beach, fishing pier, and nearby Dock Street are great places to start for those looking to spot feathered friends. The Great White Egret is common year-round, and there are plenty of other varieties to look out for in these parts too.

Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve

For a more serious outing, the Scrub Park on Florida Route 24 presents visitors with freshwater swamps, marshes, wetlands, and scrub habitats. Be sure to take ample supplies when entering this section of Cedar Key, as the twelve miles of marked trails can get quite hot during the summer months. Despite its lack of obvious attractions, this trail nevertheless allows visitors to enjoy a closer look at the local flora and fauna.

Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve
Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve” by Ebyabe

Manatee Springs State Park

Just over half an hour away, Manatee Springs State Park offers an array of activities, including a boardwalk through a cypress swamp terminating at a dock that overlooks the Suwannee River. Vultures roosting in trees along the river’s banks provide fascinating viewing opportunities, whilst swimming in the crystal-clear springs or hiring a canoe will enchant visitors of all ages. There are also several walking trails and children’s play areas in the park.

Kayak Cedar Key Florida

Cedar Key offers some of the best kayaking on Florida’s Nature Coast. Here’s what you need to know to kayak in Cedar Key!

The serene waters and beautiful scenery of the Cedar Keys and Suwannee Sound are some of the best in Florida! Paddlers of all levels can enjoy the shallow and protected waters for an unforgettable adventure. Whether it’s to explore the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, admire the abundant bird life, or spot dolphins, these picturesque islands offer enough fish to satisfy even the most experienced kayaker.

Kayak Rentals and Tours

To ensure an optimal experience, we recommend bringing your own canoe or kayak. However, there are plenty of rentals and guided tours available for those who don’t have their own equipment. Nature Coast Tours by Wild Florida offers professionally guided kayak tours including trips to Shell Mound, Cedar Key-Atsena Otie Key, and Sunset Tours. Adventure Outpost also provides kayak rentals and tours around Cedar Key.

Cedar Key Adventure Day
Cedar Key Kayak Adventure Day by Florida Sea Grant

Trip Reports and Photos

For a first-hand look at Cedar Key’s extensive paddle routes, there are numerous trip reports covering everything from Shell Mound to Snake Key. seakayakflorida.com has great photos and information on paddling the area, while naturecoastpix.net offers stunning photos from Atsena Otie Key, Snake Key, and more. Other helpful sites include clubkayak.com and yackman.com.

Paddling Cedar Key
Paddling Town of Suwannee to Cat Island; image via yackman.com

Experience Cedar Key Today

As you can tell, Cedar Key has something for everyone looking to explore its crystal clear waters by kayak. If you’re ready to discover this unique corner of Florida for yourself, book your stay with us today! Our vacation rental condo Tranquility is complete with a nice sandy beach – perfect for launching your boat – and canoe/kayak racks for safe storage while you’re here. Enjoy an incredible kayaking experience in Cedar Key and make memories that will last a lifetime!

Cedar Key Kayaks and Fishing

Are you ready for some sea trout? How about some grouper? Or is a sunrise paddle to Atsena Otie more what you had in mind?

Cedar Keys, part of Florida’s Big Bend region, is renowned for its fishing. Here, you can find a wide range of sought-after fish, from the elusive redfish to grouper, cobia, and more! For an unforgettable experience, take your rod out to one of Cedar Keys’ many grass flats or deeper holes, or go kayaking along the shoreline. If you’re looking for expertise, local guides like Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters and Captain Dan’s Inshore Florida Fishing are great options. Alternatively, Captain A. J. Brown Charters specializes in flats and backcountry fishing.

Cedar Key Public Fishing Pier
Cedar Key Public Fishing Pier by santafeegret

Consider a fishing trip with Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters – Captains Jim and Jimbo operate Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters, our favorite go-to inshore fishing guide in Cedar Key, FL. Or try fishing the big dock in town, where the catch is usually more varied – go at tide change, particularly when it’s going out. Local guide services are available for working the “flats”.

Remember to always abide by the Florida Saltwater Fishing and Wildlife Marine Regulations. Furthermore, you’ll want to get your fishing license online, plus get familiar with charting sites to target hot spots such as Corrigan Reef and Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park – both ideal sites for trout, redfish, and sheepshead. Perhaps best of all is that Florida’s Stone Crab Season starts October 15 – so don’t forget your crab trap! With so much opportunity here, Cedar Key will surely satisfy all anglers!

Cedar Key Festivals

Cedar Key has two festivals each year – the Cedar Key FL Annual Seafood Festival and the Annual Festival of the Arts sponsored by local artists. Both Cedar Key festivals are famous around Florida and beyond. Our festivals feature excellent local seafood and clams for sale and many vendors of arts and crafts. 

Dock Street, Cedar Key
Dock Street, Cedar Key by StevenM_61

The Seafood Festival is held in October and is very well-attended. If you don’t book your lodging on the island well in advance, you’ll be waiting in line on the bridge to get into town. The Arts Festival is held in April and usually signals the close of the snowbird season. Again, Cedar Key lodging is tough to find if you wait until the last minute.

Eco-Tourism in Cedar Key and Florida’s Nature Coast

Cedar Key Florida is the undiscovered playground for nature enthusiasts. Whether your passion is bird-watching, paddling, or hiking, there is something for everyone here.

Cedar Key and Florida’s Nature Coast provide endless opportunities for those looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors. Couched between the pristine Gulf of Mexico and the historic Suwannee River, this area is home to a host of remarkable parks and wildlife refuges that beckon nature enthusiasts from all over the globe. Read on for our guide to some of the best places to explore!

The Birds of Cedar Key

Cedar Key is an excellent place for birding, with a variety of avian species that make their home here year-round. Over 150 species have been recorded in the area, making it a true birdwatcher’s paradise. The “Birds of Cedar Key” brochure offers a complete list of species as well as tips on when and where to spot them.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Located just outside of Gainesville, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens provides visitors with a tranquil stroll through lovely landscaped pathways. With garden displays such as the rose garden and butterfly garden, there’s something for everyone. Make sure to leave time for a visit!

Marbled snake arum at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Marbled snake arum at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens by Gardening Solutions

Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1929, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal destination for eco-tourists. Best known for its heron, egret, brown pelican, and ibis populations, each island within the refuge has something unique to offer. What’s more, visitors are advised to stay off Sea Horse Key during breeding season—from March through June—in order to protect the birds’ nests.

For more information about visiting the refuge, check out its official website. Here you’ll find statistics, history, a brochure of the refuge, a wildlife list, and details on other nearby wildlife refuges.

Manatee Springs State Park

Head north and east of Cedar Key for approximately 30 minutes and you’ll arrive at Manatee Springs State Park. Home to a cypress swamp boardwalk, dock overlooking the Suwannee River, vulture roosts, canoe rentals, walking trails, a children’s play area, and swimming beach—this is a must-see day trip!

Manatee Springs State Park
NO Swimming: Manatee Springs State Park by Phil’s 1stPix

Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve

Just off Rt. 24 near Cedar Key lies Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve—a peaceful 12-mile trail favored by locals interested in observing flora and fauna up close. Due to its quiet nature, this trail might not be suitable for young children or those seeking an awe-inspiring experience; however, it’s perfect if peace and serenity are what you seek.

Cedar Key Museum State Park

Located in the town of Cedar Key is the Cedar Key Museum State Park, which features a wealth of historical artifacts, shells, and a short nature trail. It makes for an interesting tour for adults and kids alike!

Cedar Key Museum State Park
Cedar Key Museum State Park by mbarrison

Suwanne River Estuary Photos & Information

The Suwanee River plays an important role in the health of the region’s ecosystem. If you’d like to learn more about the river’s significance, take a look at this informative website.

Nature Operations Division

The Nature Operations Division of the Gainesville Recreation & Parks Department manages a selection of small nature parks and wildlife protection areas located throughout the greater Gainesville area.

Cedar Key Restaurants

Clams? Fresh seafood? Cedar Key has all that and more. You need a fresh seafood fix, don’t you?

Cedar Key offers a number of quality eating establishments, from the elegant to the corner pizza place. Local restaurants offer the freshest seafood that local fishermen and clammers have to offer. Whatever your pleasure, there will be a restaurant to suit your tastes. Except that none of the local restaurants will require that you “dress for dinner”. Wear your sundress, your shorts, or your dockers. Just remember, shoes and a shirt will be required.  How much better does life get? Marvelous food without the fuss?

Waterfront Restaurants, Cedar Key
Waterfront Restaurants, Cedar Key by StevenM_61

Island Room at Cedar Cove

The Island Room at Cedar Cove offers elegant dining in a laid-back atmosphere. The menu is continental with an island flair. A few recommendations: the Crab Bisque, Oysters Rockefeller, Linguini Alle Vongole (littleneck clams in wine and other marvelous ingredients), Grouper Savannah, and the Creme Brulee for dessert… Serving dinner every night and breakfast and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Island Room usually offers special menus on Mondays, Wednesdays, and holidays.

Blue Desert Cafe

The Blue Desert Cafe offers a southwestern take on local seafood. Pizzas, burritos, and assorted interesting specials are always on the menu. The link is to a review – they don’t have a website. The restaurant is located on Highway 24 in Cedar Key. Great beer selection!

Island Pizzeria

Island Pizzeria has great pizza and delivers!

Island Hotel Restaurant

The Island Hotel offers elegant dining in a laid-back atmosphere – serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Black Dog Bar & Tables

The Black Dog Bar & Tables offers the best beers, wines, and cigars in a low-key atmosphere with your host – Otis the Labradoodle. A “dog-friendly” drinking establishment with a million-dollar view! Check it out!

What’s the weather like in Cedar Key?

Cedar Key is in Florida, but it’s northern Florida. This means that winters are much warmer than up north, but the temps are still cool in December and January. Be sure to bring a jacket for winter month visits!

The first thing everyone asks in the morning is “What’s the weather like?” and “When is high tide?”. Here are some links to all the information you need to plan your trip and your days in Cedar Key!

Cedar Keys Weather Forecasts and Historical Data

Planning a vacation this winter? Do you need to know what the average day will be like in January? View Weather.com’s average highs and lows by month, along with precipitation by month, and lots of other statistics for weather junkies.

Here’s a link to Weather.com’s “Boat and Beach Forecast for Cedar Key“. Marine data included.

Cedar Key Star Gazing

Cedar Key is a gathering place for stargazers. Each year, there’s a “Star Party” in the Cedar Key area, next year’s party is scheduled for February 15 through 21. Read more about the Star Party offered by National Public Observatory’s Stars-n-Parks programs. Check out the Start Chart

Where to Stay on Cedar Key

Cedar Key, FL offers a variety of accommodations – including pet-friendly accommodations. The most popular Cedar Key, FL luxury accommodations are vacation rental condominiums. Reserving a vacation rental apartment provides you with a self-catering holiday “home away from home” which contains all of the lodging amenities that you would expect from a hotel or motel, you’ll have your own kitchen equipment, laundry facilities, room to spread out, and of course, much more privacy.

Cedar Key's island Hotel & Restaurant
Cedar Key island Hotel & Restaurant by AL904

Vacation rentals are more reasonably priced for longer stays as you will likely spend less on restaurants when you cook and eat in. Dining on our waterfront private balconies is one of the best experiences you can have in Cedar Key. You can also pack a bit lighter as you’ll have a washer and dryer to use during your stay. 

If you’re looking for shorter stays, the Island Hotel offers hotel rooms and a great historic bar and dining room. The Cedar Key B&B; offers accommodations along with breakfast each morning. Cedar Key Harbour Master Suites is on Dock Street. The Cedar Cove Motel has a wonderful restaurant – the Island Room which provides breakfast on weekends only. The Island Hotel has a terrific restaurant and serves as a Bed and Breakfast. Various cottages such as Pirates Cove, and Mermaid’s Landing, and inexpensive lodging accommodations such as The Low-Key Hideaway, are available on Route 24 as you drive into Cedar Key, FL.

Day Trips from Cedar Key

Cedar Key is the perfect place when you’re looking for a chance to relax and unwind, but let’s face it – sometimes you need to go somewhere! Florida’s Nature Coast offers plenty of opportunities for exploring the great outdoors, and with so many nearby destinations, you’ll never run out of adventures. Whether you want to bird-watch, manatee view, snorkel, fish, or paddle the backwaters, there’s something for everyone in the area.

For those wanting a full-day trip experience, we recommend visiting:

  • Manatee Springs State Park
  • Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge
  • Homosassa Springs State Park

Here, you’ll be able to enjoy activities such as tours, kayaking, swimming, and more. You can also explore various state forests and preserves like Withlacoochee State Forest and Paynes Prairie Preserve for some amazing birding and wildlife viewing.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park Sunset
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park Sunset by Captain Kimo

If culture and heritage are more your speed, then don’t miss out on places like Crones’ Cradle Conserve and the Florida Crackers Chapter. For shopping and amusements, check out Gainesville’s Oaks Mall and the City of Gainesville Recreation Division. High Springs is known as the “Best Antiquing Town” while Silver Springs offers glass-bottomed boats, a nature park, jungle tours, and a white water park. And finally, make sure to visit Dakotah Winery in Chiefland, an innovative wellness site that’s also home to grape vines, sheep, geese, wood ducks, koi fish, a wine-tasting room, and other species.

Whatever your interests may be, you can find something to suit them when you go on a day trip around Cedar Key! So don’t wait – get out there and explore Florida’s Nature Coast today!

Where is Cedar Key, Florida?

It’s a little hard to find on a map – it’s that small and secluded. Cedar Key Florida is one of those places you don’t just pass through – it’s at the end of a long state highway and about 30 miles from a stoplight.

Cedar Key Florida

Cedar Key is about 50 miles southwest of Gainesville, Florida. (Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida, also known as The Florida Gators.) The drive out to Cedar Key from Gainesville is perfect for getting into the spirit of the island – there is little traffic on Route 24. Once you cross Highway 27, you’ll feel like you’re heading into the middle of nowhere. Isn’t that why you’re coming here?

Cedar Key from I-75 in Gainesville, Florida

Get off I-75 at Exit 384 and head west to Cedar Key. This is State Route #24.

If you need a big grocery trip, stocking up at a Publix Grocery Store is highly recommended. Publix offers an excellent selection of staples and gourmet items.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a beautiful and relaxing place to stop if you have time. They offer paved paths amongst lovely plants. This is definitely a “must-see” if you have a couple of hours or perhaps you’ll want to take a day trip to visit Cedar Key.

Take Florida State Route #24 southwest for approximately 50 miles. You will cross State Highway 27/41 in Archer, Alternate Hwy. 27 in Bronson (last traffic light!), and US 19/98 in Otter Creek, FL.

Keep driving past the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve. (This is a nice two or three-hour trip if you have the time!) You’ll come to a series of bridges to get out to the island – open your windows and inhale, you’re almost there!

Continue until you encounter a stop sign at the Island City of Cedar Key, FL.

Distances from Florida Cities to Cedar Key, FL

For Florida Residents, here’s a list of approximate distances to Cedar Key:

  • Gainesville to Cedar Key: 50 miles
  • Ocala to Cedar Key: 68 miles
  • Jacksonville to Cedar Key: 130 miles
  • Tampa to Cedar Key: 135 miles
  • Orlando to Cedar Key: 145 miles
  • Tallahassee to Cedar Key: 150 miles
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