2023 Cedar Key Seafood Festival – Don’t Miss Seahorse Key

Florida - Cedar Key - Seafood Festival - Seahorse Key
Florida - Cedar Key - Seafood Festival - Seahorse Key

Curious about the Cedar Key Seafood Festival? Festivals are commonplace in the sunny state of Florida and Cedar Key is no exception. Seafood festivals are especially common, but the Cedar Key Seafood Festival is uncommonly special. 

The festival begins just when the cool weather and holiday excitement begins to take hold in the Sunshine State. So, let’s unpack 2023 Cedar Key Seafood Festival.  

Why Go to The Cedar Key Seafood Festival?  

Right away, you know the festival has to be special as it goes down in Cedar Key, one of the country’s most refreshing small towns. It’s a charming little town that has less than 1,000 permanent residents and a rich backstory.  

Notably, Cedar Key is the Sunshine State’s second oldest city. It lies about 60 miles from Gainesville, Florida – to the west. The fact of its distance from any large city helps to keep the quaint town genuine. 

Another factor that makes the Cedar Key Seafood Festival special is that it’s actually one of the US’s top sources for farm-raised clams. Lastly, during the festival is one of the only times you can tour Seahorse Key, the largest island in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.  Notably, it’s home to a historic lighthouse, built before the Civil War. 

The festival lasts from 10 AM to 5 PM on Saturday and 10 AM to 4 PM on Sunday. It will feature over 100 arts and crafts exhibits and live music – including bluegrass and banjo – at numerous locations. On Saturday morning there will be a parade followed by, you guessed it, a lot of seafood with abundant opportunities to taste.  

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Locals recommend various clam chowders, raw and fried oysters, and smoked mullet dip as well as the corn on the cob. You’ll discover crafts like boxed fashioned with locally grown cedar trees egret lawn ornaments, mounted shellfish, and other Floridian crafts. Cedar Key also draws many great artists too. So, you’ll also find a great deal of impressive fine art.

Florida - Cedar Key - Seafood Festival - Seahorse Key

What’s the Deal with Seahorse Key? 

Saturday at the Cedar Key Seafood Festival features a shuttle boat and tours of Seahorse Key which adds another level to the festival experience. The 4th Order Fresnel lens in the Seahorse Key lighthouse was first lit in 1884 when Cedar Key was a major city on Florida’s Gulf Coast. As a result, the lighthouse was critical to navigation around the gulf coast of Florida.  

However, when the railroad came through, Cedar Key, as it stood, used up its supply of cedar trees and was wiped out by a hurricane. The city was then moved from its original location on Atsena Otie Key to another island where it became a small, sleepy fishing village.  

The lighthouse’s light was extinguished for the final time in 1915. And, in 1929, President Herbert Hoover established the Cedar Keys Wildlife Refuge and turned three of the keys into a bird sanctuary.  

Today, the lighthouse is rarely open to the public and has been leased to the University of Florida for its Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory. The lighthouse is used as a dormitory and a laboratory is located near the boat dock. 

The lighthouse will be open on one of its rare occasions on Saturday of the seafood festival. To get to it, you’ll take a boat ride on Captain Doug’s Tidewater Tours that costs $20 and takes about a half hour to and from the island.  

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Tours leave every hour, on the half hour, between 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM and reservations do not apply. You will, however, want to get there early because the island closes to the public at 3 PM. 

Cedar Key Seafood Festival Tips 

For help finding accommodations while in town, call the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce. They keep a list of available rooms. 

Gainesville, Florida (50 miles from Cedar Key) and the I-75 corridor both have many accommodations. This would still allow you to make Cedar Key Seafood Festival a day trip. 

An option used by many visiting artists is camping at RV parks just a few miles outside of Cedar Key.   

Are you currently planning your trip to Florida? Check out our article Road Trip – Top Family Fun Stops En route From Atlanta to Orlando. Stay up to speed on all the hot spots and sweet destinations. Return to Travel Hop regularly for all the latest travel news and updates.