Cedar Key, FL: Like Key West — 50 Years Ago

This place: Cedar Key. What a place! It’s like Key West, if it were 50 years ago, if there were no Ernest Hemingway and his six-toed cats, no drunken posses of bro’s traipsing in and out of Sloppy Joe’s bar, no tourists paying double or triple for a fried grouper sandwich.

Downtown Cedar Key – built on a pier

You might think “Cedar Key,” oh that must be way south in the Florida Keys. Nope! “Key” is derived from the Spanish word cayo, which means “small island.” So a key can actually be anywhere in Florida.

Florida marketing executives love their Coasts. You have the Emerald Coast, the Forgotten Coast, the Space Coast, the First Coast, the Gold Coast, on and on, including the inauspiciously-named Mosquito Coast. Cedar Key is on the Nature Coast, which used to be called the Big Bend before it got Coast-ified, because it’s where the panhandle turns and heads south.

This is the kind of place where your RV camping spot could be pulled right up facing the water, behind a Tiki Bar named the Low-Key Hideaway.

This is the kind of place where the “check-in” procedure is performed by a bartender while she’s simultaneously pouring a mango martini, and the only information you are given is that there’s a $250 fine if you bring your own alcohol into the bar from your RV, and somehow that is charming rather than annoying.

This is the kind of place where locals and clammers easily mingle with bikers and tourists, where all the firepit chairs are on one side so as to face the water, where Friday night entertainment most certainly involves a couple of retired hippies turned Paul Simon wannabees, and the fact that they are not really that great somehow makes it even better.

This is the kind of place where an afternoon kayaking trip takes you to a nearby island (oops, I mean key), where the thick vegetation and random remains of an old pencil-wood factory (okay, random) make you feel like you’re in an episode of Gilligan’s Island mixed with Lost, and where your picnic lunch just might be in a historic cemetery with burials dating from the 1800’s. Where the fact that nearby keys are called Deadman’s Key, and Snake Key, might give you pause.

This is the kind of place where sunset is the most important time of day, every day. Where every hour is happy hour.

The is the kind of place where King Neptune rules, the ocean is so alive that the fish literally jump right into your boat (cue me screaming and leaping about the kayak), and dolphins are frequently seen just offshore, cavorting and splashing to confuse the fish — because everyone loves a good snack.

This is the kind of place where you visit the island museum, and it only costs $2, but it smells like your grandma’s house. Where crazy artwork and crazy artists settle, and where an art gallery just might be out of the back of the artists’ minivan.

This is the kind of place where the water level gauge is a mannequin half-buried upside down in the water.

This is the kind of place where friends just might arrive via airboat. Where local “awards” are bestowed by non-specific nameless guys and not by committee. Where even the monkeys are a little bit wild.

This is the kind of place that doesn’t take itself very seriously.

This is the kind of place where fresh clams pulled from local waters are the order of the day, and accordingly, a tiny restaurant called Tony’s has won the world championship of clam chowder competitions, not once, not twice, but three times, going up against the finest chefs from New England and worldwide.

This the kind of place to which city-folk move, when said city starts to suck, and thus an astonishing array of over-the-top crazy-delicious food is best obtained from a food truck out in front of the tiki bar, to which a top chef decamped years ago.

This is the kind of place where you’ve got to try a classic Cuban (the sandwich, not the human), even if it’s breakfast. If you’re unfamiliar, roast pork is layered on an ultra-thin sub roll with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard before getting griddled to golden perfection. AKA: God’s gift to humanity.

This is the kind of place where you might be walking down the road in a town with no stoplights and a permanent population of less than 800, and yet someone is yelling “Tessa! Philip!”, and it turns out to be other RV’ers and you follow each others’ blogs, and yet you’ve never met until this random encounter …

This is the kind of place where it easily morphs into happy hour back at the RV, and confirms that Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chickadee are as fabulous in person as they are in their blog, and that RV’ers have the most interesting stories, and that the night can go on forever and you’d never run out of places and things to talk about.

In short … this is our kind of place … one of the last coastal outposts in Florida to remain untouched by fancy resorts, fast food franchises, or mass urban development.

Leaving Cedar Key, we’re heading to a place with a funny name (ok, a few funny names) … how about the Chaskahowitzka River, in Homosassa, not far from Weeki Watchi! Oh Florida, you’re pretty amusing!

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