The Cedar Keys in Florida are a small group of islands located in the Gulf of Mexico about half way between Tampa and Apalachicola in what is known as, “The Nature Coast.” It is also called “Old Florida,” due to the lack of development and ubiquitous strip malls. Cedar Key is a small island town of less than 1000 residents that support themselves clam farming and with a modest tourist industry. This place is every bit of the old fishing village one can conjure up in imagination; weathered piers and fish shacks, with well worn boats built for a singular purpose. A small group of artists also call the island home, establishing a collective and adding a hard to miss funky charm. The pace is slow, the work is hard or long, and there is little more than nature to provide entertainment. It is frequently compared to what Key West was during the time of Hemingway.
Cedar Key gets it name from the cedar trees that used to be prolific and were harvested during the 19th century to make pencils. From the mid to late 1800’s the town was bustling with a population of about 4000, large for Florida at the time. A rail line shipped sea food, sponges, cedar, and palm fibers to destinations north. During this time a young John Muir, the famous naturalist, found himself here after walking from Indiana. Finding work in the mills, he soon was stricken with malaria and stayed a few months to recover. It was during Muir’s time here that he came to believe that nature is valuable for its own sake, a value that later was the premise for advocating the national park at Yosemite and the creation of the Sierra Club. There is something special about Cedar Key and its magic is in its natural setting and abundant wildlife.
The island’s laid back vibe, friendly atmosphere, and nature allow one to shake off the concerns of the mainland and commune in fellowship and surroundings. The people here are genuinely friendly and always seem willing to help another or shoot the breeze. For us we enjoyed the ritual of taking in the sunset each night with others, impromptu get-togethers, and frequent bluegrass jam sessions. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I came here a number of years ago and never left.” This is not a place for people who crave urbane sophistication or party life, but what it does have it is exceptional.
Alayne and I ended up here somewhat serendipitously. Looking to establish some community on the road, we changed our plans so we could meet other nontraditional/younger fulltime RV’ers after reading online a few were converging here. In the process we met and learned from fellow nomads, had a great time, and got to experience a one of kind place.