We’ve had tons of questions about Cedar Key – from where to stay and what to do.
We’re by no means experts, and generally we don’t like writing travel guides – but now that we’ve been here for 3 extended stays over the past 3 years, we’ll do our best to share.
First of all, to clear up the most common misperception – Cedar Key is not in THE KEYs. It is about 2.5 hours north of Tampa.
If you’re looking for a shiny, well-kept resort or touristy town with built in activities waiting the entertain you – Cedar Key probably isn’t going to be appealing. We’ve heard from a few who came through Cedar Key for a day or two to check out what all the buzz was about, and left disappointed.
The hurried stop-by visitor will likely miss the appeal.
It’s a laid back ‘island time’ sort of place. Restaurants and shops tend to keep their own hours and close up shop early and sometimes randomly. It’s just the kind of pace we love.
It’s a little town with a permanent population under 1000, and the primary industry is clamming. The town is actively resisting growth, and some describe it as being like what the Keys used to be like. It’s old-school Florida.
There’s no stop lights, no big chain stores, no doctors, no pharmacies, no Starbucks and no Taco Bell.
There is however one fuel station, one small and over-priced market, a produce stand, a convenience store, a liquor store, an air strip, a mechanic, four places to get a pizza, a couple banks, a post office, several bars, several churches, some tour boat charters and a handful of small local artist shops & restaurants.
The nearest ‘big town’ is Chiefland that sports a Wal*Mart and a Winn Dixie grocery store – and it’s 35-45 minutes away.
If you’re looking for a place to kick back, relax, get-away from city living and discover a local charm – Cedar Key might just be the ticket.
Just don’t mind the noseeums, they will munch on your ankles.
Where to Stay
There are 4 RV Parks in the area that put you in the Cedar Key vicinity. We’ve only stayed at two of them but can hopefully point you in a direction that will best suit your needs.
Low-Key Hideaway is an adult’s only resort, formerly run by the ever fabulous Pat & Cindy Bonish of Every Mile’s a Memory. These two were full time RVers who ended up falling in love with Cedar Key, and they created a magical place with the Hideaway. It has 3 waterfront full hook-up RV spots and 5 hotel suites.
It also has an onsite Tiki Bar, and a lot of quirky charm. Even if you don’t stay onsite, be sure to grab a drink at the Tiki Bar for a sunset. You might just get hooked and keep coming back.
We have stayed here for a few days, and enjoyed it. But the exposed nature of being sandwiched between Highway 24, the waterfront and the Tiki Bar doesn’t appeal to our more private nature. It’s the closest RV Park to downtown Cedar Key, being just around 1.5 miles to Dock Street.
And at $60/night – it’s the most expensive option in the area. But, definitely a unique experience!
2016 Update: Low Key Hideaway has changed hands, and still offers all of the above. Just no Pat & Cindy.
Sunset Isles RV & Motel
Just a couple ‘blocks’ from Low-Key is our favorite place to stay – Sunset Isle. They have about 60 or so sites, most with full hook-ups. Many of them with waterfront sunset views, some even with docks access and/or kayak launch spots.
Sounds fancy, eh?
Be forewarned, this park is not a resort and the uptight RVer is not going to be happy here. If you can go with the flow however, you might just have one of your best RVing experiences.
Let’s start with the downsides:
- The sites are small. Some are very small… like, can’t fully extend your awning small.
Although some spots can accommodate a 40′ rig, many spots are more ideal for 20-35′ rigs. Be patient getting into your spot – the turns can be awfully tight.
- The shoreline is completely communal and if you have a waterfront spot people will be walking through your (did we mention small?) site to get to the docks and launches. Especially at sunset time. If that will be a problem, don’t book a waterfront spot.
- They get booked up in the winter months, so be sure to have a reservation. They do require full payment upfront at reservation time, and we highly recommend reconfirming your reservation – they seem to have a high rate of inaccuracy. (They just upgraded to a computer system this month, and will soon have online booking too.. progress!)
Despite the negatives, it’s one of the only parks we’ve been to that we don’t mind the small spots so much, because this park is all about community.
With a clubhouse with activities going on (movie nights, pot lucks, bluegrass jam sessions, etc.), an onsite BBQ cafe with fudge & soft serve ice cream, a super friendly staff and just the general location – the tightness grows on you.
And this is one of those rare parks where you’ll likely make friends with your neighbors.
We love that this park is only 1.5 mile from downtown Cedar Key, stumbling distance from the Tiki Bar and offers easy access to the water. We love the charm here, the quirkiness, the community, the blue grass musicians, the brightly painted buildings and the amazing sunset views.
Rates vary from $43-50/night with attractive weekly & monthly rates.
2016 Update: Sunset Isle changed ownership in April, and they’ve done a fabulous job post-hurricane cleaning it up. The hurricane unfortunately took all the docks away. The RV check-in office and restaurant are now separated (sadly, no soft serve ice cream anymore) and the place just generally cleaned up. And their new reservation systems to be working like a charm!
Cedar Key RV Resort
This RV Park is actually about 8 miles from downtown Cedar Key, and technically in ‘Sumner’ according to the town sign. But, Cedar Key RV Resort is your next closet option to stay in the area.
We stopped by this park recently and were quite impressed with it. The sites are unusually large with lots of room and shade, the RV spots paved and there’s a pool. The entire park seems very well kept and maintained. We had a few friends stay here during our 2014 winter, and they all reported they liked the park just fine. It just lacked the quirkiness and charm of Sunset Isle, the closeness to Cedar Key itself and of course, the sunset views.
So if the other options are full up, or if the smaller sites at Sunset Isle are a problem for you – this is your best bet. Sites seems to be $38/night here.
Angler’s RV is right next door to Cedar Key RV Resort, and is the most affordable location to stay in the area at rates of $25/night or $310/month. We drove by this location, and it looked clean enough. The sites were smaller than over at the resort next door. And we’ve heard this is where some of the locals working in the area stay at.
What to Do in Cedar Key
We’re not really touristy. And after spending nearly 4 months collectively in Cedar Key – I have to admit, we’ve not hit most of the typical places the tourists go.
We just love the laid back authentic pace of life in Cedar Key in a beautiful backdrop. And of course, the RVing community that tends to join us here.
But here are some of the things we’ve enjoyed in our time here:
- Kayaking & Canoeing – With a kayak launch right at our site, we had a Sea Eagle 370 inflatable kayak delivered via Amazon Prime to our site in 2013. We’ve loved exploring Cedar Key by water, and even paddling over to Atsena Otie, one of the nearby islands that used to be the town center. Kayaking and canoeing are both popular activities here. If you don’t own one, you can rent one downtown and you can even rent one to have delivered to your site. If you’re not comfortable on your own, there are a couple kayaking tour guides as well (you’ll find flyers for them all over town.)
- Kayak tips: Be in tune with the tidal patterns of Cedar Key – the fluctuate by as much as 4′ a day. The bay channels (which Sunset Isle sits on) can go from a mud pit to kayakable in mere hours. Plan accordingly. Also, the oyster beds are dangerous – we popped our inflatable kayak (easy fix) on one, and have seen deep gashes in hardsided boats too. Study the area well and use a satellite map with GPS or charts to know where the channels are.
- Biking & Walking – Cedar Key is a very bikeable and walkable town. From Low-Key and Sunset Isle, you’re only a 1.5 mile from town – which is a great diversion. The only downside is, there’s a short bit between the RV Parks and bridge 3 where there are no sidewalks.
- Tour by Air – Go on out to the air strip, and some days you’ll find pilot Marvin sitting in a lawn chair waiting to take passengers up for a ride. He loves to fly and he loves people – his theory is, if he can cover his fuel costs and end up the day with enough to buy a beer – he’s happy. For $25 pp, this is a great experience.
- Tour by Boat – There are a couple of boat tour companies downtown where you can charter a tour or rent a boat for the day. There are lots of keys to go explore, including Seahorse Key which is home to the Cedar Key Light Station (only open a few times a year for tours).
- Museums – There’s a museum downtown and one out at the State Park that will give you more insight into the local history.
- Shopping – There are several small shops downtown, both on 2nd St and Dock St. that display the works & crafts of local artists. There are very few shops with typical touristy trinkets.
- Dining – Several local eateries will offer dining choices ranging from casual sandwiches, a taco truck to fancy seafood. Each year we’ve returned it seems several have closed and more have opened, so I won’t spend too much time recommending places. Tony’s Seafood is known for their award winning clam chowder, but we recommend exploring other options in town too.
- Night Life – Ok, there’s not much of it. But if you poke around downtown at either the Pelican Railroad by the Market, or down on Dock St. – you might come across some live music or karaoke. And apparently the Black Dog Saloon has quite the beer selection.
- Tiki Bar – I’ll mention it again, visit the Low-Key Tiki Bar at least once in your visit. It’s a magical place and just about the only bar we’ve ever felt comfortable with (we’re not bar people).
- Sunset viewing – when the sunsets are good here, they are really good. We’ve experienced some of our best.
There’s other stuff to explore around Cedar Key too, including afternoon trips to surrounding shell mounds, Manatee Springs State Park near Chiefland or up to Crystal River for kayaking or snorkeling with manatees.
To round this out, here’s some blog posts made by some of the other RVers in our 2014 convergence about their experience of Cedar Key:
- If It Can Go Well, It Will by Alayne & Christian of The RV Nomads
- There is Something About Cedar Key by Jeremy & Robin of Live, Breathe, Move
- Little Known Facts by Croft & Norma of Croft’s Mexico
- The Nature Coast ~ Cedar Key by LuAnn & Terry of Paint Your Landscape
- Dark Waters & Kayaks. by Barb & Jim of Bounding the Borders
- A small village, a perpetual vacation and the community by Cheng of LogicGirl
- Cedar Key Nomadic New Year Convergence by Elliott & Ann of Swiftpassage
- Several Cedar Key Posts by Craig & Lucie of Living Learning Mobile
- Several Cedar Key Posts by Dan & Jonell of Liv2RV
If you visit Cedar Key.. enjoy!