My very first post in this all-around-Florida series was about Fernandina Beach, the east coast end of the old Florida Railroad. Now we’ll get to the west end, Cedar Key.
One of the minor advantages of living in Gainesville was how easy it was to get from there to Cedar Key. Just take SR 24 southwest and an hour or so later, you’ve arrived. No turnoffs, no detours, simple. Living in Ocala now, it’s a bit more complicated, but not terribly. Actually, I like the drive better. More driving through farmland, hills a bit rolly, and a few miles through the Goethe State Forest. Up US 98, then down SR 24. Not even small towns along the way. By the time I get to Cedar Key, I’m so mellowed.
The last time I went, I decided to check out the Henry Beck Park in Gulf Hammock. Well, be fair, I was in need of a pit stop. There’s not a lot there, but it had the facilities I was searching for, a playground, and some open space. Your basic small park, good for a family outing, I’d think. Only open from April through September, though.
So, Cedar Key. The Florida Railroad, as I said many moons ago, was the brainchild of Senator David Levy Yulee in the early 1800s. The remaining tracks are now property of CSX, and most are still in service. Ironically, not part of that is the section from Archer to Cedar Key, which was torn up and sold for scrap decades ago. In June, the Yulee Railroad Days Festival celebrates the history in towns all along the route.
Before you get into Cedar Key, you’ll pass through the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve. For thems as likes hiking, this is your place. And a detour up CR 347 and over on CR 326 will get you to Shell Mound, in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. (see Google map)
- Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park (south of SR 24, only access by boat) (NNL)
- Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve (8312 SW 125th Ct)
- Shell Mound (at end of CR 326)
Cedar Key originally was on Atsena Otie Key (called Depot Key in the early days). However, the storm surge from the 1896 hurricane wiped out most of what was there. The survivors resettled on Way Key, which is what is called Cedar Key now. Most of that area is a NRHP historic district, not only for the buildings but also the shell middens around downtown that many of the buildings are on. I’d think that Seahorse Key (with its old lighthouse) and Atsena Otie are part of the district, but I’ve not been able to confirm that. Downtown looks very weather-worn, which isn’t surprising. Cedar Key is like a hurricane magnet. Fishing was a prominent source of community income, but that’s died off over the years. Now what big bucks come in are from tourism and clam farming. Just goes to show that people can adapt to anything.
Parking in the downtown area is limited. If you want to get something convenient, visit on a weekday if you can. Be aware that the state park isn’t open in the middle of the week, though. Or get there very early on the weekend. I’ve seen golfcarts available for renting, but not explored that option. If you have a bicycle, this would be a good place to bring it. If you’re a boater or kayaker, the area is great for aquatic activities. The surrounding keys are semi-accessible, by charter boat if you’ve not got your own. You can land on Atsena Otie year-round, but the others are part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. Thus they’re protected and can only be seen from a distance. Except for Seahorse Key, which is open to the public twice a year, in July and October.
Speaking of that, the Cedar Key Seafood Festival is in October. I’ve never been, because it’s very popular and thus crowded. I can’t imagine what the parking is like. Other busy times are the Arts Festival in April and the Clamerica celebration on July 4th. If that’s your thing, now you now. If not, you know when not to visit.
If you go to Cedar Key, make a day of it. You have to drive over 20 miles off US 98 to get there, and there’s nothing really close. This self-guided walking tour will help you see the highlights. Visit the state museum on the outskirts of town to learn some of the history of the area. And check out the locally run history museum downtown to learn more. It’s right where SR 24 dead-ends. Have a bowl of award-winning clam chowder across the street at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant. (see Google map) (see Google map)
- Cedar Keys Historic and Archaeological District (NRHP)
- United Methodist Church (D Street at 5th St) (AGFHA)
- Edwin Champlin-Reynolds House (4606 D Street) (AGFHA)
- Old School Building (658 4th Street) (AGFHA)
- Island Hotel (224 2nd Street) (NRHP)
- W.R. Hodges Residence (342 2nd Street) (AGFHA)
- Cedar Key Fisher’s monument (490 2nd St, in front of city hall)
- Masonic Lodge (D Street at 2nd Street) (AGFHA)
- Cedar Key Historical Society Museum (609 2nd Street)
- First Baptist Church (710 2nd Street) (AGFHA)
- W.H. Hale-A.W. Johnson House (F Street at 4th Street) (AGFHA)
- Cedar Key Museum State Park (12231 Southwest 166th Court)
- Seahorse Key Lighthouse (Seahorse Key) (AGFHA)
I’ve only ever been there for a few hours, but I’d think Cedar Key would be a great place to spend a relaxing weekend. One of these days I may spend a night there. See you on the road!