Cedar Key, Florida
Cedar Key isn't the sort of place I just stumbled across. Situated along the most remote and undeveloped sections of Florida's Big Bend coastline, my first drive to this waterfront village took me across a miles-long two-lane road with water on either side, down dead-end Route 24, a fair piece from anywhere.
But despite its out-of-the-way, end-of-the-road status, Cedar Key does draw its share of visitors. Bird-watchers flock to one of the oldest bird and wildlife refuges in the U.S., and those in the know come here for what has to be one of the most impressive can't-miss-restaurants-to-people ratios in the country.
Fishing is the area's big on-water attraction, and during peak redfish season in October, the town's marina and boat ramps are abuzz with action. You don't need to be a die-hard saltwater fisherman to enjoy the many miles of undeveloped estuaries and backwaters accessible from Cedar Key, but you should have a good depth sounder and some up-to-date charts, as the shoals and oyster bars are numerous and largely unmarked.
Boaters willing to read the waters and follow the channel markers can make their way to any number of small uninhabited islands featuring white-sand beaches and wooded hammocks. Summer brings the chance to snorkel for scallops, while wildlife viewing is best in the cooler months. At any season, nature takes center stage, and your boat becomes a time machine back to an era before Florida was a land of theme parks and beachfront condos.
Overshadowed By: Crystal River and Florida's Panhandle
If You Must Know: Cedar Key was one of Florida's first seaports and railheads.
Most Popular Boats: Shallow-draft boats like pontoons and bay skiffs because of the sensitive tidal waters and numerous oyster beds.