Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Florida’s tiny Cedar Key will rise again after Hurricane Idalia’s destruction

One of my favorite spots in Florida, the tiny town of Cedar Key, is digging its way out after being hit hard by Hurricane Idalia on Wednesday.

This was the worst hurricane in 120 years, with a 6.8-foot storm surge on Wednesday morning during low tide. (It would have been worse if it had been high tide.)

It’s been all over the news and got me thinking about how much I like Cedar Key and hope for its revival.

Cedar Key, actually several islands with a population of 700, was the ideal place for someone looking for something off the beaten path in Florida. So much of Old Florida is, sadly, gone—but you could still find it there.

My parents raved about this area after visiting more than 30 years ago. It’s been on my to-do list ever since. After I finally got to visit two years ago, I’ve been back three times.

Cedar Key is low-key; its charm lies in its small size and lack of overwhelming tourists and T-shirt stores. I only counted a couple of motels, but quite a few B&Bs, on my last visit this past May. There is not much of a beach—but it’s got the usual cute waterfront restaurants and quaint shops. What is truly amazing is the heart and history of this town, something some liken to Key West in the 1970s.

Once upon a time, Cedar Key was thriving — population 5,000 in 1888. But three things led to its near demise: overcutting without replanting, a killer hurricane in 1896 that wiped out most cedar trees, and railroad magnate Henry Plant’s decision to extend his railroad to Tampa over Cedar Key.

Today, it’s nearly 25 miles from anywhere. (Gainesville is 50 miles away.) There are two great museums, and the restaurant Tony’s, which ships its famed clam chowder far and wide. My friend left with a dozen cans on his last visit, where he went to kayak around a few islands and further explore the shell middens left by the original inhabitants.

Our favorite restaurant, Steamers, is on the second floor of the waterfront. There is damage (the roof is gone) but owners are already busy rebuilding. Their short-necked clams cannot be beat.

Some facts about Cedar Key:

  • Nicknames include “The Shellfish Trail” and “The Nature Coast.”
  • It is one of the top producers of clams in the United States.
  • A train line that originally connected Cedar Key all the way to Jacksonville was finally abandoned in 1932.
  • It was known for the yellow pencils (remember Eberhard Faber) once made from its juniper trees.
  • The first settlement actually thrived on the nearby island of Atsena Otie. Townsfolk moved a half-mile east to the next series of small islands and kept the name Cedar Key.
  • Besides the deadly storm of 1896, hurricanes in 1935, 1985, 1950 and 2016 have shaped the lives and fortunes of Cedar Key.

But Cedar Key keeps coming back. “We lost everything but each other, and that’s the most important thing of all,” Nancy Beckham, artist and oyster harvester, told WPTV. She lost her art gallery and much of her work. But, “Like I tell my friends, I built it, and I can rebuild it.”

This is the town that can be battered but can’t be beat. If you haven’t been there, maybe you can drive out of your way one day to see it.


Jan Steele
Jan Steele
Former newspaper editor Jan Steele started her career in third grade as a school correspondent for her local newspaper and has been writing for publication ever since, including a 30-year-stint at the Herald-News in Joliet, IL. She decided in fourth grade she wanted to hit the road as soon as she could—and retired eight years ago to RV full-time.


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Neal Davis
25 days ago

Thank you, Jan. Cedar Key sounds great. I’ll see what campgrounds are nearby. Tennessee winters aren’t particularly unpleasant, but a January or February, March even, trip sounds nice.

Marie Beschen
1 month ago

We were there in 2012 and fell in love with that place! So cute with such a BIG personality! I’m not surprised they are gong to rebuild. My heart goes out to them…

Darla VanAlphen
1 month ago

I have such fond memories of Cedar Key. As a teenager my family would fly in my father’s small plane there and buzz the Captains Table restaurant and they would send a driver to airport to pick us up. Clam chowder and heart of palm salad!!! Tony’s clam chowder is always in my pantry. They will rebuild…they always do!!

1 month ago

East coast Floridian here and my wife and I have been to Cedar Key a few times, with and without the RV. It truly is a unique place and we look forward to another visit after they recover.

1 month ago

Cedar Key, specifically Sunset Isle RV Resort, was the first stop we made on our first snowbird trip to FL when we retired in 2013. We ate New Years Eve dinner at Tony’s, including the famous clam chowder, and the area was just as you say. I wish them all the best and I trust they will rebuild from Hurricane Idalia, because that’s the “Florida way”!

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