Cedar Key, Florida

I spent a few days in Cedar Key, Florida right after a visit to Bike Week in Daytona. The contrast between the noise and crowding of Daytona during Bike Week and the lazy pace in Cedar Key was striking (and very welcome).

Those who complain about the boring, straight roads in Florida need to stop trolling up and down the A1A and get out into the countryside, and I don’t mean going to tourist traps like Orlando. A day trip to Cedar Key will allow you to experience what I think of as the “real Florida”. Cedar Key is a sleepy town on the Gulf Coast three miles out from the mainland at the end of a dead-end road, just south of the coffee-brown waters of the Suwannee river where the coast starts to bend around to the Florida Panhandle.

You could get to Cedar Key easily enough by taking Highway 24 west out of Gainesville, a pleasant university town in the centre of Florida. A nicer route from Daytona is to head west from Holly Hill and cross the Ocala National Forest. This should be an eye-opener for those whose impressions of Florida are drawn solely from CSI Miami. The forest is a strange mixture of spruce, cypress and palms and roads through the area will eventually lead you through rolling horse country where wealthy Northerners winter their expensive pets.

If you veer far enough to the south past I75 to pass north through Crystal River, you will cross the aborted Cross Florida Barge Canal on Route 19/98. Turn west on the 24 at Otter Creek for the final leg into Cedar Key.

Take a close look around town and you’ll realize that a large part of it is built on stilts, this being hurricane country. The cedar trees that give the area its name look like giant bonsai trees — gnarled and stunted by the salt in the air. Try the local seafood delicacy: Mullett dip.