Explore Cedar Key’s Spooky Ghost Town, Tasty Seafood and more at these Popular Places

Brown Pelican in Cedar Key, Florida
Brown Pelican in Cedar Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Shutterstock - Thomas O'Neil
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Known for its funky and vintage beach town vibes, Cedar Key is a spectacular place to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Unlike most other Florida destinations, Cedar Key is not too busy and still offers plenty of fun things to do along with several historical places including a ghost town! From the amazing cuisine to Southern hospitality, this quaint coastal city offers a small town “shanty” style charm that locals and visitors love.

Table of Contents

About Cedar Key

Aerial of Cedar Key, Florida
Aerial of Cedar Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Shutterstock – Sandi Burton

Cedar Key sprouted up on the marshy coastal swamps of the Gulf of Mexico in the mid-1800s. The city quickly became a booming industrial hub for numerous manufacturing facilities, likely due to its location as the Gulf port for Florida’s first coast-to-coast railroad. The city got its name for the abundance of large, towering cedar trees that lined the local keys. The cedar was used by pencil factories that opened in the town that turned the wood into writing utensils.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers took over Cedar Key and burned much of the city including any buildings they did not find useful. In 1867, a young naturalist John Muir spent a few months in here after completing his over 1,000 mile trek from Louisville, Kentucky to Cedar Key, Florida. Muir spent several weeks after his journey in Cedar Key recovering from malaria.

The September 1894 hurricane destroyed much of Cedar Key and just a few months later in December, a massive fire swept through the city. It was after this event, that the other keys surrounding present day Cedar Key were vacated, later rebuilding in the current city location. With less than 1,000 full-time residents, the city has still managed to maintain its tourism economy and welcomes visitors to explore its coastal, laid-back charm.

Things to Do

1. Cedar Key Museum State Park

The Whitman House at Cedar Key Museum State Park, Florida
The Whitman House at Cedar Key Museum State Park, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Ebyabe

Address: 12231 SW 166th Ct, Cedar Key, FL 32625

Once the first museum in Cedar Key, this 18-acre state park boasts a large collection of seashells and Native American artifacts. These items are on display courtesy of the donation from the estate of St. Clair Whitman’s personal collection. Mr. Whitman moved to the Cedar Key area in the 1880s when he was a child and grew up to work in both the pencil and fiber factories. Throughout his life, he collected artifacts that were eventually featured in National Geographic magazine in 1955. Upon his death in 1959, he granted his collection to the University of Florida, with the expectation that a museum would be opened in Cedar Key. The home that St. Clair Whitman lived in has been donated by his family to be a part of Cedar Key Museum State Park. The 1880s home has been restored to how it would have looked in the 1920s when St. Clair lived there.

2. Atsena Otie Key

Ruins at Atsena Otie Key, Florida
Ruins at Atsena Otie Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Ebyabe

Once the town center of Cedar Key, now the ghost town remains of Atsena Otie Key are left to be explored. Only accessible by boat, ferry or a 1/2 mile trek on a kayak, this key tells the tale of a once bustling city that was destroyed in the 1896 hurricane. Prior to the hurricane, the island had an operational post office, church, and a school. There was also a couple of factories that employed the families that made up the population of about 300 people. After the hurricane, the people moved from Atsena Otie Key to present day Cedar Key. A trip to this island will showcase the town ruins of several buildings and a cemetery.

3. Beach

Sunset from Cedar Key, Florida
Sunset from Cedar Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Flickr – TimothyJ

While not as expansive as many other beaches in Florida, Cedar Key does boast several beach areas for swimming and soaking up the sun. Some of the best spots to enjoy the beach include G Street Beach and Cedar Key Public Beach. A few of the waterfront lodging establishments also offer beach areas for guests.

4. Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge

Composed of 13 natural islands, Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge make for an exciting outdoor adventure. Discover this 800-acre sanctuary that is home to over 20,000 birds who come to nest amongst the islands. Activities within the park include fishing, wildlife watching and photography. The University of Florida also operates a marine research lab on Seashore Key that offers educational programs to visitors. To visit the refuge a boat, kayak or ferry trip is needed.

5. Railroad Trestle Nature Trail

This nature trail follows the historic path of the railway that once connected the port of Cedar Key to other parts of Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A relatively easy trail to navigate, the path is only 2/3 of a mile roundtrip. While walking the trail, be sure to take notice of all the native vegetation, surrounding bayou and wildlife.

6. Shell Mound

Location: 17650 SW 78 Pl, Cedar Key, FL 32625 (Campground)

Situated about nine miles from downtown Cedar Key, Shell Mound is the largest Native American mound on the Central Gulf Coast. The 5-acre mound is a part of the Lower Suwannee Wildlife Refuge. It is estimated that the mound dates back to 1,800 years ago. To see the mound, visitors can a take a hiking trail to the top that is 28 feet in elevation. Nearby the mound is an observation deck, boat ramp and even a campground.

7. Rent a Golf Cart of Bike

Once you arrive in Cedar Key, you will find that it is easy to get around but if you are tired of walking or want a new method of travel, golf carts or bikes can be used. There are a couple of places in Cedar Key that rent bikes and golf carts including Cedar Key Golf Carts and Bikes and Cedar Key Adventures.  

8. Historic Island Hotel

Historic Island Hotel, Cedar Key, Florida
Historic Island Hotel, Cedar Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Jud McCranie

Address: 373 2nd St, Cedar Key, FL 32625

Originally opening as Parson’s and Hale General Store in 1859, this historic Island Hotel has survived years of countless struggles from the Civil War, to hurricanes, prohibition and more! Around 1884, the store began taking on boarders and was converted into a hotel in 1915. It is rumored that President Grover Cleveland spent the night at the hotel on a return trip from Cuba in the 1890s. Famed singer Jimmy Buffet often frequented this hotel during his visits to Cedar Key. This historic hotel is a great place to visit for dinner or for a night, plus your overnight stay comes with a tasty complimentary breakfast.

9. Cedar Key Historical Society

Address: 609 2nd Street, Cedar Key, FL 32625

Uncover the history of Cedar Key and its early years through the present days of being a tourist destination. The Cedar Key Historical Society operates the Lutterloh Building and the Andrews House. The Lutterloh Building was built in 1870, first as a house and now is the main location of the museum. The Andrews House was actually originally built on Atsena Otie Key but after the 1896 hurricane, was partially moved via barge and rebuilt in modern day Cedar Key.

10. Try Local Cuisine

Cedar Key Clams, Florida
Cedar Key Clams, Florida | Photo Credit: Flickr – Larry Hoffman

Not only is Cedar Key known for its history, it is also known for its vibrant food that visitors and locals alike enjoy. From the tasty seafood catch of the day to oysters and clams, dining is Cedar Key makes for a fun culinary adventure. The city makes the claim that the clams that come from this area are some of the best in the world!

11. Stroll D Street and Downtown

Dock Street, Cedar Key, Florida
Dock Street, Cedar Key, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Zdv

Cedar Key’s Dock “D” Street and downtown area are easily walkable and visitors often say that its vibe is reminiscent of a sleeping fishing village. The downtown area offers shopping at charming boutiques and plenty of dining options for hungry travelers. Enjoy the culture that Cedar Key offers along with the architecture and artistic influences that have transformed this historic city into a cozy destination.

12. Cemetery Point Boardwalk & Park

Starting beside Cedar Key Cemetery, this boardwalk is 1,200 feet long and takes walkers on an adventure across marsh land before ending at Cemetery Point Park. Within the park, visitors can walk amongst nature or use the fitness equipment in the park. Worth the visit, this boardwalk and park can be an exciting activity.

13. Go on a Boat Cruise

As mentioned above, several Cedar Key attractions are only accessible by boat which makes going on a boat cruise, that much more fun! There are different options for embarking on a boat cruise ranging from a ferry to the offshore attractions or simply going off on a sunset cruise. Tidewater Tours offer several different water adventures and there are fishing charters offered at the marina as well.

Plan Your Visit

Cedar Key is located within what is commonly referred to as the “Big Bend” region of Florida. It is situated on a coastal key about 21 miles west of US Highway 19 at Otter Creek.

If you enjoyed reading this post or have visited Cedar Key before, leave a comment below or share this post on your favorite social media!

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