Discovering hidden gems together is such a treat, and a great way to bring you closer together. I've spent 30 years going to Cedar Key, Florida with my family, and now that I have a family of my own, I love bringing them there. For a slower pace of life, there's no place better in Florida. Because life is so much simpler here, it can be easy to overlook all the things to do in Cedar Key. Besides tasty local restaurants, you'll find cultural experiences that are enriching, plus lots of outdoor activities like fishing, kayaking, and biking. Read on for everything you need to plan a weekend getaway to Cedar Key.
All images by Dani Meyering
Is Cedar Key worth visiting?
Let me save you some time. If you prefer modern beach destinations with luxury resorts, fine dining, and nonstop action, Cedar Key is not for you. Instead, consider one of these Summer Day Trips from Orlando.
However, if you're looking to slow down with your honey and enjoy a bit of Old Florida, then Cedar Key is for you. This charming island is relatively small and has a small-town feel. Most of the homes on Cedar Key are vacation homes. You'll see plenty of homes on stilts which helps with hurricane measures. The few residents that do actually live on the island full time are mostly local business owners. You'll often encounter friendly service from smiling locals who are happy to have visitors on the island.
What's more, this island is teeming with incredible Florida wildlife. In the morning your ears will fill with birdsong – including that of ospreys – though the occasional airboat heading out to collect the day's seafood bounty can be heard too. At night a spectacular view of the stars will take your breath away.
Important tip: Since all the businesses are locally run, many of them have limited hours. Some businesses are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, which make for good days of the week to enjoy some quiet time. Monday and Tuesday also happen to be the days of the week that the UF Nature Coast Discovery Center is open for visitors.
Cedar Key Restaurants
Get those taste buds ready for some down-home cooking. You won't find a single fast-food joint or national brand chain restaurant anywhere on the island. Every Cedar Key restaurant is a small business, run by the locals.
For a few years, the restaurant scene struggled. Fishing regulations made it very expensive to have fresh, local seafood. Then the staffing and supply chain issues everyone around the country is experiencing certainly impacted small town Cedar Key.
I am happy to report that there are plenty of fantastic restaurants in Cedar Key. The great thing about this Old Florida island is how casual it is. No need to pack anything fancy to wear for your getaway. Casual island wear is where it's at.
When dining at Cedar Key, keep in mind that things move slower here. And hours are subject to change. Double-check each restaurant's website for hours, and call ahead too if necessary.
Which are the best restaurants in Cedar Key?
With each Cedar Key restaurant being a local small business, there's really no bad choice for dining. However, after years of visits, these are my favorites and the best restaurants in Cedar Key. It is important to note that plant-based dining and those with special dietary needs may have difficulty finding suitable selections at this small town.
Location: 310 Dock St, Cedar Key, FL 32625 (first floor)
Best for: Incredible views on the water, casual seafood, nightlife
The most iconic building on the island, at the very edge of Dock Street, is home to two restaurants. 83 West is the casual spot, great for lunch or a super relaxed dinner. 83 West takes up the first floor of the building and has open-air windows for you to sit, sip your cold drink, and look out over the water with an unobstructed view.
Sunset is hard to beat as you watch fishing boats come back in from the day's adventures. And if you're lucky enough you may spot some dolphins making their way through the water. Get the Fried Shrimp, Fish Dip, or Redfish – all of which are some of my favorite seafood in the entire state of Florida.
29 North at 83 West
Location: 310 Dock St, Cedar Key, FL 32625 (second floor)
Best for: Panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, elevated dining, craft cocktails
For a little added romance, head upstairs to 29 North. Here the menu is elevated and some of the best food in Cedar Key. The dining room has a wooden vaulted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows that afford panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico and neighboring islands. If you love seafood then take a look at the selections from the Raw Bar. My go-to order is the Bacon-Wrapped Scallop Kabobs and a Garden Salad (which is massive and fresh). If you visit when there's a chill in the air then the Seafood Bisque is a must. You must save room for Key Lime Cake.
Location: 420 Dock Street, Cedar Key, FL 32625
Best for: Casual food, tropical drinks
The epitome of a beach town restaurant, Steamers is where to go for casual food and tropical drinks. This is a popular spot, day and night, thanks to its approachable food, and prime location in the middle of Dock Street. This is not the place for fine dining, but you'll easily get your fill from a menu that is equal parts full of seafood, but also plenty of choices for landlubbers.
2nd Street Cafe
Location: 434 2nd Street, Cedar Key, FL 32625
Best for: best breakfast on the island, lunch sandwiches
If you somehow need a break from seafood or you're ready for a delicious and hearty breakfast, head on over to 2nd Street. While Dock Street is the main hub of activity on the island, 2nd Street is right next door with a few great spots for shopping and dining. 2nd Street Cafe is run by the same folks as Steamers. This cafe focuses on simple home-cooked food for breakfast and lunch. Their Three Egg Omelets will fill you up and your sweet tooth will be satisfied with their Stuffed Waffle. For lunch, my go-to is their Shrimp Basket – grilled, with a side salad, and their French Dip is divine.
The Prickly Palm
Location: 8030 D St, Cedar Key, FL 32625
Best for: adorable coffee house vibes, healthful options including plant-based
As someone who's been visiting Cedar Key for 30 years, this newish coffee shop stopped me in my tracks. The bright pink exterior, with an old canoe for a sign and precious plants everywhere, are just made for Instagram. The Prickly Palm is usually only open until 2pm since it focuses on breakfast and lunch favorites ranging from specialty coffee beverages to smoothies and bowls which include plenty of plant-based options. Their breakfast sandwiches are satisfying from morning until the afternoon. Dogs are welcome in the outside area.
Island Hotel Restaurant
Location: 373 2nd Street · Cedar Key, Florida 32625
Best for: Historic ambiance, elegant menu and wine list, neat bar
This historic hotel is a landmark of Cedar Key. For a romantic date night it is a must-do. The menu is small, but mighty, the most elegant on the island. For a true local flavor, order the Clam Island Pasta made with clams caught in the local waters. The Fish En Papillote is delicious and fresh, with your choice of local fish topped with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese then baked in parchment paper.
Date Night Ideas: As you might have guessed, the nightlife at Cedar Key is not as amped up as places like Key West and other big-time destinations. Still, there are quite a number of watering holes to satisfy your thirst. One of my favorite bars is actually a photography studio. Bonish Studio served up drinks and cold beer inside their quirky photography studio on 2nd Street. Also on 2nd Street is the Island Hotel which is not only historic but said to be haunted. The small bar just off the lobby is full of character.
Catch the sunset: My two favorite spots to watch the sunset are along the small beach on G Street, and the Low Key Hideaway on Highway 24. The Low Key Hideaway serves as a motel, an RV camping spot, and home to a tiki bar that draws people from all around. The Low Key Tiki Bar is a must-visit for couples on a romantic getaway. There is live music on the weekends, craft cocktails made to order, and killer sunset views – including from a dock that juts out into the gulf. This venue is 21 and up, making it a great spot for couples. Just be careful about parking, especially getting back to your car after dark since parking is along busy highway 24.
Things to do in Cedar Key
The best thing to do at Cedar Key? Relax. Our modern lives move much faster than they should and a visit to Cedar Key is the perfect opportunity to slow down.
But, if you are looking for things to do in Cedar Key, there is no shortage of Old Florida fun.
- go kayaking
- pier fishing
- book a boat tour
- view local art
- rent a golf cart or bicycle
- dine around or pub crawl along Dock Street
- Cedar Key State Park Museum
- Cedar Key Historical Society and Museum
- Cemetery Point Boardwalk and Park
- UF Nature Coast Discovery Center
What is Cedar Key known for?
Cedar Key is first and foremost a fishing island. Whether you grab a pole and head for one of the piers, or if you book a charter, you're sure to have a lucky catch. Plus, you'll be in good company as clammers catch their bounty every day. Cedar Key is the largest producer of farm-raised clams in the state of Florida!
Tony's Seafood Restaurant is famous for its award-winning clam chowder. Even though the recipe is New England inspired, many locals and visitors consider it to be a taste of Cedar Key.
There is the main city pier for fishing, located on Dock Street, you can't miss it. This is the most popular spot to go fishing. The second most popular fishing spot is The #4 Bridge Boat Ramp & Fishing Pier which is actually at the entrance to the island. The fish and the views here are much different than from the main pier on Dock Street.
Besides fishing and clams, this region is known for its laidback lifestyle. It is untouched by the typical chain businesses that have homogenized so much of our great state. It has a unique small-town charm that I hope always remains.
Does Cedar Key have a beach? Where can you swim?
There is actually only one main beach on Cedar Key. The City Park at the end of 2nd Street serves many purposes. Here you'll find a playground, basketball court, picnic pavilions, restrooms, and the beach. Remember, this is a small island, so the main beach may not be as big as what you have in mind.
Still, there is plenty of sand and plenty of room to set up some chairs and towels for some time at the beach. This is where you can splash around and swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
Is the water clear at Cedar Key FL?
Although many beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are known for the beautiful clear water, such is not the case here. Cedar Key is just a few miles away from the Suwannee River which deposits lots of minerals into the Gulf. This leads to the water being a little murky. It's still perfectly good for a swim, kayaking, and other outdoor fun.
Rent a Golf Cart or Bicycles
Cedar Key is a walkable island, with everything close by. Still if you want to see the island in its entirety you can do so by renting a bicycle or golf cart. In fact, golf carts are the chosen method for getting around the island – both by visitors and locals. With a golf cart you can enjoy the breeze in your hair as you drive around the island. I recommend heading out to the airstrip. It may take some time before you see any small planes coming or going, but the drive to this side of the island is worth it. You'll encounter beautiful views and intriguingly colorful homes.
Rental companies include:
Exploring the island itself is sure to create lots of romantic memories together. But there are even more memories to be made by getting on a boat and seeing the island from the water, as well as seeing some of the neighboring islands. Getting out on the water is a must. You'll see lots of nature's wonders all around you. You might even see some dolphins!
- Tidewater Tours
- Voyles Guide Service
- Cedar Key Boat Rentals & Island Tours
- In The Slot Fishing Charters Cedar Key
Can you scallop in Cedar Key?
While there is plenty of boating fun to be had, scalloping at Cedar Key is not as abundant as nearby areas. Scallops grow in grassy areas in shallow water. This island is better for fishing, clams, and oysters. The Homosassa and Crystal River areas are where you should head for a scalloping trip.
Explore all there is to know about Scalloping Season from one of our sister publications, TampaBayParenting.com.
Kayaking in Cedar Key
Whether you rent a kayak or bring along your own, kayaking at Cedar Key is a very popular activity. Since the island is in the Gulf of Mexico, away from any busy places, it is easy to enjoy a calming kayak journey. There are plenty of barrier islands and shallow waters home to a wide variety of Florida wildlife. First thing in the morning or about an hour before sunset are great times to potentially catch some glimpses of dolphins in the water.
Popular kayak launch spots:
Cedar Key State Park Museum
Head out to the quieter part of the island to explore a quaint state park museum and learn about the history of Cedar Key. The Cedar Key State Park Museum is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but it is a highlight of things to do in Cedar Key. You can explore exhibits throughout the 18 acre grounds before heading inside for a variety of exhibits. The exhibits are now vintage examples from the 1950s to 1960s by the University of Florida design team, which at the time developed numerous displays for state parks. This offers a unique opportunity not only to learn about the history of the area, but also to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship that went into these museum displays.
If you just can't get enough history then add the Cedar Key Historical Society and Museum to your itinerary. This museum is run by passionate locals wanting to preserve the history and help visitors learn about this special island. It is only open a few hours per day, and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so plan ahead.
Make a stop at the nearby Cedar Keyhole Artists Co-op and Gallery too!
Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge
The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover to protect a breeding ground for colonial nesting migratory birds. The Refuge itself encompasses multiple islands that neighbor Cedar Key. The latest addition is Atsena Otie Key which is the closest island to populated Cedar Key. You can see Atsena Otie Key from Dock Street and G Street (my favorite street to watch sunset).
Taking a boat tour or hopping into some kayaks will enable you to see these protected islands as close as possible.
Cedar Key Hotels
Being a small island there are no major hotels here. Instead, you'll find charming cottages, motels, and lots of condos and vacation homes. If you prefer a hotel or motel setting as opposed to a vacation home here are some options:
Are any hotels pet-friendly?
Cedar Key itself is a great pet-friendly destination. With the slower pace of life comes a place that welcomes your pup with open arms. There are a variety of pet-friendly accommodations including Faraway Inn, Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast, Parrot Cove Cottages, and Seahorse Landing Condos.
Bed and Breakfast and Vacation Homes
You'll find a variety of vacation homes all around the island. And the good news is, with the island being relatively small, there's really not a bad location to be found. All the restaurants and shopping boutiques are in the Dock Street and 2nd Street areas. So if you're browsing vacation homes to rent, look for addresses with lower street numbers like 2nd Street as well as lower alphabet streets, like D Street and G Street.
Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast as well as Island Hotel Cedar Key offer bed and breakfast service. Each has charming settings that are great for couples. The Island Hotel is historic and is said to be haunted so you may want to chat about whether or not such a thing is of interest to you.
Where is Cedar Key Florida located?
Cedar Key is pretty far from most major cities. Gainesville is the nearest major city, which is about 50 miles, or an hour away. This is a true getaway. It is 135 miles north of Tampa, or about 3 hours’ drive away. Orlando is also 135 miles away.
The drive from Orlando takes about 2.5-3 hours, depending on traffic and the chosen route. I prefer to take the scenic route, partly on State Road 40 through Ocala to see the horse farms and other Old Florida beauty. Cedar Key is tucked out of the way, but that’s part of its charm, and it’s an enjoyable place to visit
The nearest major airports are Tampa and Orlando, there’s a regional airport in nearby Gainesville. There is actually an airstrip on the island where many small plane enthusiasts land. This is another fun thing to do on the island, take a quick trip over to the island's “airport” and see the small planes that have made their way to this charming island. The pace of life is much slower here, so don't rush anything, and plan lots of time to just enjoy the simple life.
Want to explore some more? Check out these 7 “Secret” Florida Islands.