Gulf Coast Charmer

The open-air Tiki Bar at Low-Key Hideaway sits on the water and is known as the best spot on the island to enjoy sunsets.

 

Cedar Key, Florida, is a worthy off-the-beaten-path retreat

 

Located in Florida’s upper Gulf Coast between Gainesville and Ocala is the laid-back town of Cedar Key. The key sits 4 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico and is part of a small chain of keys (islands formed from coral reefs). It’s just the kind of place we dreamed of discovering as we navigated the highways and byways of America in our motorhome. Our destination in Cedar Key was the Low-Key Hideaway Motel, RV Resort and Tiki Bar.

A bird’s-eye view of Way Key, the primary island upon which the city of Cedar Key is built.
A bird’s-eye view of Way Key, the primary island upon which the city of Cedar Key is built.

The pastel-hued Low-Key Hideaway is a family-owned business that relies on word of mouth rather than advertising, which is exactly how we first heard about it. We were traveling from California through Texas on our way to our favorite RV destination — the more famous Florida Keys off the southern tip of the “Sunshine State” — when we had a chance meeting and conversation with one of our new RV neighbors. With the usual greetings and small talk out of the way, we were told, “Since you are going to be traveling along Florida’s Gulf Coast, you must go to the Low-Key Hideaway!” After a very enthusiastic and passionate explanation as to how unique and special Cedar Key is, we had to go there.

With yet another modification of our trip route and a call ahead for reservations (something highly recommended since there are only four RV sites and five motel rooms), we arrived at the cutest little RV park we have ever seen. If you can’t get a reservation at Low-Key, there are other RV parks in Cedar Key, including Sunset Isle RV Park located next door.

  Getting There Cedar Key is located approximately 55 miles southwest of Gainesville, 135 miles northwest of Orlando and 150 miles north of Tampa. From Interstate 75, take state Route 24 west. The town of Cedar Key is on Way Key, the only inhabited island in the chain of low-lying keys.
Getting There: Cedar Key is located approximately 55 miles southwest of Gainesville, 135 miles northwest of Orlando and 150 miles north of Tampa. From Interstate 75, take state Route 24 west. The town of Cedar Key is on Way Key, the only inhabited island in the chain of low-lying keys.

Every room and RV site at the Low-Key Hideaway is right on the waterfront and close to Low-Key’s unique Tiki Bar. We were assigned to RV site No. 4, which in our opinion is the best as it is next to an undeveloped lot and motorhomes have the option of nosing in or backing into the site depending on how you want to enjoy the spectacular views. Also, sites 1 and 4 have raised wooden decks that hang over the water and come with deck furniture. Sites 2 and 3 are no slouches, as each has either a hammock or bench swing along with their waterfront view.

After a friendly check-in, which included being personally guided into our site, it was time to explore this small, but very impressive, one-of-a-kind RV park. One of the first things that impressed us was the very personable managers, Pat and Cindy Bonish, a husband-and-wife team that has completely transformed what was once a “boys-only” fishing camp into this tropical adults-only retreat. The owner of the property has turned this dynamic duo loose to do whatever they need to do to make this the best little motel, campground and Tiki Bar in Florida, and now there is no stopping them. The Bonishes have extensive knowledge of how a campground should be run, as they have been full-time RVers for many years who also founded an RV-based website (www.everymilesamemory.com) that they maintained as they toured the United States. Their extensive RV experience, personal touch and nonstop imagination can be seen throughout Low-Key, but is most apparent in the ever-evolving, open-air Tiki Bar. Just when you think you have seen and picked out every unique and special little detail in and around the bar and grounds, you see 10 more — just another reason to return. The Low-Key’s Tiki Bar is known throughout Cedar Key as the best spot on the island to enjoy the fabulous island sunsets, meet new friends and have a cold one!

Cedar Key’s Dock Street is lined with shops and cafés.
Cedar Key’s Dock Street is lined with shops and cafés.

The grounds of Low-Key Hideaway have an abundance of pleasant surprises for its lucky few guests, such as hammocks hanging from palm trees, Adirondack-style chairs on the lawn and a covered swinging bench — all arranged perfectly for viewing the Gulf of Mexico, the diverse bird population and, as previously mentioned, the dazzling sunsets.

As spectacular as this little vacation hideaway is, you must venture out into the historic fishing village of Cedar Key, which is an easy walk, bike ride or short drive away. Once there you will want to taste the local, right-off-the-boat seafood, farm-raised clams and award-winning clam chowder. This small island town was named the Clam Capital of the U.S. because of the large amount of farm-raised sweet littleneck clams it produces. You will find a nice mix of local businesses, art and antique shops, along with the usual tourist establishments for such a town. You will also want to sample the clam chowder at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, which has won the title of world champion three years running, was placed in the Clam Chowder Hall of Fame and ultimately retired from further competition, as three world titles is the most any one competitor is allowed to win. Oh, you can also have Tony’s ship its chowder anywhere in the contiguous 48 states.

This signpost was painted by children and gives directions to everywhere on the key.
This signpost was painted by children and gives directions to everywhere on the key.

This Old Florida island town has plenty more to offer and you should never be far from your binoculars! The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the state’s largest rookeries for colonial nesting birds; this means an abundant, year-round presence of white ibis, egrets, herons, pelicans and cormorants. In addition, osprey and eagle nests can be seen all over town and around the islands. Hundreds of other species pass through the area on a seasonal basis.

With shallow waters, a coastline with multifaceted tidal creeks, channels and bayous, the waterways around Cedar Key are full of delights to explore; you can kayak on your own or arrange for guided tours. In addition, there are walking trails, boardwalks with viewing areas, picnic tables, playgrounds, swimming beaches and a state park — Cedar Key Museum State Park — with a small museum detailing the area’s history.

Cedar Key is also home to a number of outstanding artists and craftsmen. The city boasts numerous galleries, shops and studios, where local art and crafts are displayed. Every April the town hosts its Annual Fine Arts Festival, a juried art show that draws thousands of visitors to Cedar Key.

If you find your travels take you to Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast, remember to check out Cedar Key and the Low-Key Hideaway. We don’t think you will be disappointed and it just could be your new favorite place to call home for a few days, a week or even a month or two!

The colorful Low-Key Hideaway Motel, RV Resort and Tiki Bar is just what the name implies — a laid-back retreat.
The colorful Low-Key Hideaway Motel, RV Resort and Tiki Bar is just what the name implies — a laid-back retreat.

 

 For More Information

Guests enjoy a full-moon party at Low-Key Hideaway’s Tiki Bar.
Guests enjoy a full-moon party at Low-Key Hideaway’s Tiki Bar.

Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce
352-543-5600 | www.cedarkey.org

Low-Key Hideaway
352-543-0700 | www.lowkeyhideaway.com

Sunset Isle RV Park and Motel
800-810-1103 | www.cedarkeyrv.com

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant
352-543-0022 | www.tonyschowder.com


 


 

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