Cedar Key, Florida
“A sun-bleached fishing village with funky wooden structures” was the only breadcrumb I needed to set me on the trail. When you’re cursed with gypsy blood and dead-set on finding your paradise, it really doesn’t take much to get you moving. So that one sentence in a South Carolina newspaper was all it took to get me packing. And by packing, I mean everything. It was time to move again and this place sounded like just what I was looking for – refreshingly simple and nostalgic – and I just had to check it out. My daughter happened to be away for the summer so we packed up her room and picked her up on the way. (She loves telling that story.)
Like all of our vacation/moves, things did not go off without a hitch. There’s a long-standing family curse that dates back to when my husband’s grandfather missed his boat to America. In this instance, we discovered that the headlights on the moving van didn’t work – or rather, they blinked. Unfortunately we didn’t discover that until after we had loaded the 20′ truck and were ready to set off before the sun came up. The rental company offered to exchange trucks – bahahahahahaahaha – good one! We decided to “strobe-it” instead.
Our goal – make it to Cedar Key, Florida before dark, and two major rain storms and 500+ miles later – we rolled into an island beyond the reach ofcorporate America, seriously ignored by time.
We had lived all over Florida, from Key West to the Panhandle and several places in between, but we had never even heard of Cedar Key. That’s probably because it’s not anyplace that one might stumble across. It’s a tiny island 55 miles due west of Gainesville and surrounded by nature. There are no chains of any kind, no traffic lights, one K-12 school, a handful of Mom and Pop businesses and incredible fishing and wildlife. The main industry is farm-raised clams and it boasts being the number one producer of these farm-raised jewels from the sea.
We arrived around 8:00pm on a Saturday night. The house we rented from the local newspaper (the only rental listed at the time) was easy to find – as was the key the owner left under the washing machine, so we checked out our new home, cleaned up and went out for a bite to eat. Unfortunately for us, by 9:30pm every place was closed! It was so quiet we were conscious of our footsteps as we walked down the main road. We searched out the restaurant my husband had been hired to work at (the only job advertised in the newspaper at the time) and knocked on the door when we saw someone inside. They had apparently just closed and cordially let us in. (We were, after all, really hungry because remember we couldn’t stop to eat on the way because we had to make it by dark.)
So that began our eight years in Cedar Key.
If you are looking for a truly nostalgic place to visit, where you can sit on your porch and wave to people walking by, this is the place. Bring a book because some of the rooms for rent don’t have tv’s or telephones. Pick up any groceries you want before 8:00pm when the market closes (6:00 on Sundays) and if you want to people watch or meet some locals, just hang out near the post office.
Owls, osprey flying with fish in their talons, Roseate spoonbills, white and brown pelicans, egrets and herons are everywhere! Wildlife photographers will have a funny tan when they leave! In the back bayou alone we’ve seen dolphins, a rattlesnake swimming on top of the water and a crocodile. One time a local reeled in a huge tiger shark just offshore and hauled it up to the school for all the kids to see.
The beach, at times, is covered with horseshoe crabs and the road into town is littered with deer (so drive safely). We’ve had possums in our trash cans, rattle and coral snakes in our yard and once we spotted an elusive Florida panther. There is no doubt that you will encounter pesky bugs so you will thank yourself profusely for not forgetting the bug repellant.
The restaurants change like the seasons in this town but some mainstays are The Island Room at Cedar Cove which has the best crab bisque I’ve ever had, Annie’s Cafe – a local favorite, and Cedar Key Pizza, run by a very dear couple, Bud and Mary (please tell them we said hello).
Seafood lovers should plan to visit in October when the town comes alive for the annual Seafood Festival. Art booths are set up all along the main street and lead to the beach park where organizations set up and serve all kinds of local food favorites. There’s also the Art Festival in April each year which resembles the Seafood Festival in many ways. In most ways. Well, pretty much in all ways. These are both huge fundraisers for the school and other local organizations. If you can brave the heat, the island comes alive again on the 4th of July with “Clam-Merica” a festival of fried foods, family fun and fireworks.
Rent a golf cart and explore the entire island and if you go, tell them Bill and Rose sent you.