Alicia Earle Renner, courtesy of Florida Tourism Bureau, www.visitflorida.com
Roughly two hours north of Tampa, Cedar Key is a gorgeous outpost near the point where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle. Free of stoplights and franchises, this remote village counts a population of only 900. Vintage fish sheds fill its backwater inlets, along with old mullet boats now used by clam farmers.
Nature continues to be the area's biggest draw. In 1867, famed naturalist John Muir ended his 1,000-mile trek from Indiana here, enthusing about the "many gems of plamy islets called 'keys' that fringe the shore like huge bouquets." Many are now part of Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge, which can be enjoyed by renting a kayak from Kayak Cedar Keys. On a Tidewater Tours cruise around the islands, Capt. Doug Maple points out bald eagles, herons, pelicans, dolphins, and the 1854 lighthouse on neighboring Seahorse Key.
Stay: Built in 1880, Cedar Key Bed & Breakfast features rooms with private baths and central air. Rates start at $99; cedarkeybandb.com. The circa-1859 Island Hotel is a historic B&B with wraparound verandas. Rates start at $80; islandhotel-cedarkey.com.
Eat: In addition to the Island Hotel's excellent restaurant, Cedar Key offers local clam chowders ranging from the creamy version at Tony's Seafood Restaurant (352/543-0022) to the smoky-rich concotion at the waterside Old Fish Hosue Cafe (352/543-9800).