Cedar Key is Florida’s second oldest town, but it’s not very well-known outside of the state. Although it is indeed quite small, it’s full of so much historical charm that it’s hard not to love this gem of a place. It has the laid-back vibes and pace of a past long forgotten, and with all the stress in the world today, it’s such an underappreciated place to just unwind, feel the salty breeze in your hair, and let go of your daily troubles. From exploring abandoned islands to haunted inns with secret pasts, these are our favorite things to do in Cedar Key, Florida:
1. Dock Street
As the bustling central hub of the town, Dock Street is the most popular place to visit in Cedar Key, as well as the source of all its quirky charms. This scenic road lies sandwiched in between Cedar Key Beach and the Cedar Key Pier, with restaurants, bars, and shops jutting out over the water on raised buildings populating the entire block. You can stroll the entire length on foot, bicycle, or the local favorite–golf cart!
2. Cedar Key Beach
Cedar Key has a small section of beach with soft sand and pretty views. There’s a bench for resting, a scenic sidewalk for strolling, and even a selection of kayaks to rent if you’re in need of a little adventure. The water in Cedar Key isn’t as pretty as you’ll experience in other Florida Panhandle towns, but this location has the cozy small-town charm that’s hard to find in bigger, more popular locations overrun with tourists. The parking and the beach itself are also both free at Cedar Key Public Beach, and there are clean bathrooms on-site. This is definitely one of our favorite things to do in Cedar Key!
3. Kayak to Atsena Otie Key
You can rent kayaks near the beach (or bring your own), and if you’re confident enough to paddle the half-mile journey from key to key, you can explore the deserted Atsena Otie Key. Once the original site of the buildings and town that would later become modern-day Cedar Key, this small island was mostly abandoned after the hurricane of 1896. Several of its buildings were relocated to what is now Cedar Key, but there are still remnants of a past that were left behind. At the height of its prosperity, Atsena Otie housed a church, post office, school, three factories, and nearly 300 residents. Today all that remains is a walking trail, a cemetery dating back to 1877, and ruins of old buildings. The entire island, including the cemetery, is open to the public to roam and explore. There’s also plenty of wild, sandy beach areas surrounding the outer rim of the island, and many of these spots are popular among kayakers to just sit ashore and hang out while admiring the views of the ocean and of Cedar Key, which remains within sight just across the open water.
Unfortunately, kayak rentals were closed on the day we visited due to strong winds, rain, and bad weather, so we were unable to make the journey this time around but hope to see Atsena Otie on our next trip back to Cedar Key. For detailed photos of what it looks like on the abandoned island, we really enjoyed Florida Rambler’s guide to kayaking to Atsena Otie Key.
4. Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge
The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge encompasses Atsena Otie Key in addition to 12 other islands located within the Cedar Keys area of the Florida Gulf. Established in 1929 to protect the breeding grounds of colonial nesting migratory birds, the refuge today has expanded to include 762 acres and many different wildlife habitats. Most of these islands are not open to the public, but there are a couple that you may legally access and explore. Atsena Otie is open year-round, and Seahorse Key opens to the public during specific open-house days where tourists are welcome to come and tour the historic lighthouse. There are also numerous boat tours from Cedar Key that will take you on a cruise around the inaccessible islands, and these are especially popular amongst birding enthusiasts! This is one of the best things to do in Cedar Key if you are a lover of nature, history, wildlife, or even just boating.
5. Cedar Key Lighthouse | Seahorse Key Lighthouse
There’s a pre-civil war lighthouse located just three miles off the shores of Cedar Key. Often incorrectly referred to as the Cedar Key Lighthouse, its true name is actually the Seahorse Key Lighthouse because that’s the location upon which it actually sits. Seahorse Key is a remote island that can be reached by ferry, but as it’s protected by the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, public access is only allowed a handful of times a year. Tidewater Tours and Cedar Key Boat Rentals and Island Tours both provide transportation to this island, where you’ll then be allowed to tour the lighthouse during one of its open house events. Check with these companies to see when the next available date is to book your Seahorse Key Lighthouse excursion. If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit at the right time, this is one of the best things to do in Cedar Key FL.
6. Cedar Key Boat Tours
If Seahorse Key is not open to the public during your stay in Cedar Key, don’t fret–there are still plenty of other boat tours and adventures that are available daily. Tidewater Tours are incredibly popular. They offer a selection of different types of cruises, including a coastal island tour and a daily sunset cruise in search of dolphins. They also provide island taxi service to Atsena Otie Key, which is an uninhabited island located just a half mile across from the docks. You can stay for a few hours to explore the historical cemetery, located within its center and dating back to 1877, before the water taxi returns to pick you back up (you choose the return time, so it’s even more convenient!) These tours are also pet-friendly, so go ahead and bring your little fluffy booger along for the fun, too!
If visiting an offshore working clam farm sounds like your idea of fun, then you’ll want to charter Captain Bobby at Scale Key Clams to take part in this adventure on Cedar Key’s Original Clam Boat Tour.
7. Cedar Key Fishing Pier
Cedar Key actually has multiple fishing piers, but the main one can be found downtown on Dock Street, right next to all the restaurants and shops. Even if you don’t fish, the pier is a great place to take a stroll to look out over the open water. It extends approximately 250 feet into the ocean, and the views from it are absolutely fantastic! There are also restrooms conveniently located on the pier, and there is no cost to access the area or pier.
8. Neptune Lounge
The Neptune Lounge has been a local favorite bar in Cedar Key for over 75 years. Named after the God of the Sea himself, the highlight of this cozy little place is the large mural of King Neptune and a harem of mermaids that was painted back in 1948. Music legend Jimmy Buffett also performed in the Neptune Lounge in the early 1980s! You can find this unique bar inside the Island Hotel & Restaurant located on 2nd Street. We here at Adventure Dragon are lovers of all things fantasy and mythology, so this, of course, had to make our list of the best things to do in Cedar Key, Florida.
9. Cedar Key Festivals
Cedar Key hosts festivals all throughout the year. In November, there’s the annual Cedar Key Pirate Invasion. During this unique event, the Mayor ceremonially turns over the town to the pirates for a day. There’s a costume contest for kids, historical reenactments, games, weapons demonstrations, music, dance performances, food, clam harvest, and even a parade. Christmas brings a tree lighting ceremony downtown, complete with hot cocoa, cider, and music in the park, and there’s a golf cart Christmas parade as well. For foodies, there’s an annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival that you won’t want to miss! For a full list of annual and upcoming festivals and events, see the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce Events Page here.
10. Harbor Master Shoppes
The Harbor Master Shoppes–also known as the Dilly Dally Gally–is a Cedar Key Gift Shop and Plaza nested within the Harbor Master Suites located on Dock Street. With its mermaid mural and waterfront garden area, it’s definitely the cutest place to visit in Cedar Key. The shop sells mostly women’s goods like purses, clothing, and jewelry, in addition to scented candles, perfumes, chocolates and quirky souvenirs like glass birdfeeders. Even if you have no plans to buy anything, this is a charming little spot to explore and is easily one of the best things to do in Cedar Key Florida!
11. Visit a Cedar Key Museum
If you’re a history buff, you might want to visit a museum in Cedar Key, and there are several to choose from.
The Cedar Key Historical Society Museum: The Cedar Key Historical Society Museum showcases the history of this small town through exhibits featuring an extensive collection of photographs, artifacts, and documents from prehistoric times through the 20th century. Cost is just $3 for adults.
Cedar Key Museum State Park: This museum is a unique mix of state park and historical exhibits encompassing over 18 acres of land. It is one of the cheapest things to do in Cedar Key, costing just $2 a person for admission.
12. Eat at a Waterfront Restaurant
Cedar Key is known for its cluster of waterfront restaurants lining Dock Street, so no visit to this little town can be complete until you stop to dine inside or on the decks of at least one of them! We’ve got an entire article dedicated to the best waterfront restaurants in Cedar Key coming soon, so check back in a few days to get the details on each.
13. Take Home Tony’s Clam Chowder
Tony’s Seafood Restaurant isn’t waterfront, but its clam chowder is world-famous, so if you’re a lover of this particular seafood soup, you absolutely won’t want to miss your chance to try it or take some home. The fame all started in 2009, when Chef Eric entered his chowder in the Newport Rhode Island Great Chowder Cook-Off after years of encouragement from his loyal customers. He not only won the competition, but he returned to win it again for three world championships three years in a row, before being inducted into the event’s Hall of Fame and automatically retired from the competition.
If you’d like to try this clam chowder for yourself, you can find Tony’s Restaurant in Cedar Key’s historic downtown district on 2nd Street. Important: Make sure you arrive early, as the restaurant closes each day by 3 or 4 PM. (We were very sad to have made this mistake ourselves, and that’s why there’s no decadent photo on this page from us of our own tasty clam chowder because we ended up eating regrets instead. Do not be like us.) If you end up loving the chowder, it’s also available for purchase in take-home quarts and gallons! It’s even available to purchase online in 15-ounce and 51-ounce cans that can be shipped across the continental USA.
14. Look for Ghosts at the Island Hotel
Even if you have no plans to stay in its rooms or dine in its restaurant, you should stop by to see the Island Hotel! Why? Well, for starters, they say it’s haunted, but we’ll get to that. First–a little history! Originally constructed in 1859, the Island Hotel & Restaurant first served as a general store and post office before later becoming a hotel.
When Cedar Key was captured by Union soldiers during the Civil War, they burned down almost every building in town except for this one, which they promptly began using as officer quarters and a warehouse. After the Confederacy retook the town and the war ended, the building resumed its original operations as Parson and Hale’s General Store until a relative of John Adams–Langdon Parsons–eventually sold the building in 1914 to Simon Feinberg, who converted it into the Bay Hotel.
Throughout the following years, the hotel changed names and ownership many times, even operating as a speak-easy and brothel during the Great Depression, before finally becoming the Island Hotel in 1946.
It’s said that there are at least 13 ghosts living in this hotel, including a murdered prostitute who sits on the beds of guests staying in rooms 27 and 28, a Southern Army soldier who stands guard on the second floor, and a little boy who has been hiding in the basement ever since he drowned in the water cistern located on that level.
The Island Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and was also featured on the Fox Network television series, Haunted Inns & Mansions. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Cedar Key for anyone who loves spooky things or just a little bit of history!