• Restaurants and shops are perched over the water on Cedar Key. Pat Foster-Turley takes readers on a journey to one of her favorite places in her Wild Ways column. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Cedar Key revisited

It’s time for another story about a favorite place of ours in North Florida: Cedar Key. It’s directly across the state from us, on the opposite coast, but a world apart. Whenever Bucko and I want a brief getaway for a couple of days, this is where we head.

We don’t go there for the nightly entertainment or the fancy restaurants, movie theatres, jet skis and speedboat rides. The place has none of that, and that’s the reason we go. Sometimes on our own fast-growing-beyond-capacity little Amelia Island, we get overwhelmed by the crowds and hubbub and just want some peace and quiet. For us, that means Cedar Key.

This town of about 700 residents encompasses a number of small islands at the end of a 20-mile long road from the nearest highway, U.S. Route 98. The nearest hospital is who knows where – maybe Chiefland? The nearest large grocery store, about the same. But when we are there, we don’t plan on getting sick (who does?) and don’t do any grocery shopping. We just relax.

For us, relaxing is a simple matter of driving around wilderness roads, eating in local seafood restaurants that mostly close by 9 p.m., and watching people and wildlife. Other people go there to fish off the fishing dock or with fishing guides. During scallop season, more people show up to snorkel for scallops in the shallow waters. This time, the most exciting thing we saw was a fisherman catching a sheepshead right off the dock. On our last trip there, watching some inept people trying to get their boats in or off the water captivated us as we ate a big bowl of steamed clams in the clam bar. It may not be much, but it works for us.

This recent Thanksgiving visit more than fulfilled our expectations. We drove through Gainesville with a stop to meet my old professor friend, Liz, then on to Cedar Key, which is about an hour further. If you plan your own trip, from Gainesville you take State Road 24 to its end in Cedar Key. All in all, it is about 3.5 hours from Amelia Island.

Although Wednesday was the biggest traffic day of the year due to the holiday, the roads we took were deserted – just miles of countryside, pastures with cattle, pine trees, swamps, and small towns. By the time we got to Cedar Key, we were already relaxed. There was nothing else to do that evening but walk to Dock Street to eat steamed clams and drink beer. Our Thanksgiving dinner the next day was at our favorite Dock Street restaurant, Duncans. For $18.95, we had an excellent leg of lamb, mashed potatoes, squash, yams, green beans, asparagus, Waldorf salad and key lime pie. A steal, and all prepared by an experienced chef.

Our ensuing rides along the country roads did not disappoint us either. Cedar Key is surrounded by the Cedar Key and Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuges, the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, and the Shell Mound Archeological Site. All of these have scenic, mostly untraveled dirt roads and lots of hiking trails through wild areas of cypress swamps, some cedar trees (but most lost long ago to the pencil making industry), small ponds and the shores of the Suwanee River. Although we didn’t rent kayaks this trip, these are available for a more adventurous way to view the surroundings.

History buffs will also like the Cedar Key Museum State Park, with its restored homestead and interpretive materials, and just walking through this old, small town full of historic buildings, fishing suppliers, and little shops uncrowded with tourists.

For those with less mobility or seeking a different mode of transportation, there are golf carts available for rent, and much of the close-to-town area is perfect for getting around that way.

Maybe you’ll want to visit Cedar Key at some point. As long as your expectations are for relaxing and looking at nature and maybe fishing, you will enjoy it. If your idea of a getaway is a busy, tourist-heavy place like Amelia Island, with lots of amusements, then don’t go to Cedar Key. It’s a different world.

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