Budget-Friendly Florida Beach Vacation on the Gulf of Mexico
BONISH PHOTGRAPHY, Cedar Key, FL
As those looking for an escape opt to stay closer to home and shorten the lengths of their trips, a new budget-friendly travel trend has emerged: the micro-cation. The micro-cation is a short two- and three-night vacation, which involves booking a hot deal for a brief getaway to a nearby (usually driveable) destination.
You can rise from your sofa, pack your toothbrush, some pjs and a bathing suit and drive to the ocean in only a few hours to discover that the core of a vacation at an Old Florida beach is just as you always remembered. Levy County is one of those untouched parts of Florida where vacations are budget-friendly while high rises and condos haven’t destroyed the views or crowded the beaches.
Take a break from the routine of city life and get outdoors to enjoy some much-needed nature therapy. Florida’s Nature Coast encompasses the best of Old Florida and has both stunning oceanfront nature preserves, Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve, the quiet island vibe of Cedar Key, the natural springs in Chiefland and charming coastal villages like Yankeetown. While in Levy County, visit two state parks, Manatee Springs State Park and Fanning Springs State park. Known for unpolluted skies and untouched nature, Levy County is a haven for those looking to spend their days outdoors social distancing.
Fanning Springs State Park, Fanning Springs, FL
Embrace the Coastal Lifestyle
You’ll find all levels of affordable accommodations to fit your budget around Levy County. There are RV and camping sites if you want to be as close to the great outdoors as possible, as well as vacation rentals where your family or friends can be on their own, and small motels and inns with fewer amounts of guests. The budget chain hotels all over Levy County are working hard to ensure every guest is staying in clean, sanitized rooms with social distancing and safety guidelines followed. Here are a few of our favorites from the 65-plus lodging options in Levy County.
In Cedar Key, a must-stay is the Island Hotel & Restaurant, which was built around 1859 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With only 10 rooms, but loads of nostalgia, this place has quite a tale to tell. For a unique experience, learn all about its history as a general store, and other intriguing legends while you try out its on-site restaurant and small bar.
Not far from the town of Williston is the eccentric Devil’s Den where snorkelers, scuba divers and natural spring lovers prefer to stay over in the resort’s cabins, campground or RV park. What’s one-of-a-kind destination’s draw? A hidden gem where guests descend down a narrow stone tunnel to a cavern where sunlight streams in through a beautiful mossy opening above. To comply with Florida’s health guidelines, at this time groups are limited to 10 people and snorkeling is by appointment only, so make sure you call to find out the best time to stop by.
BONISH PHOTOGRAPHY, Devil’s Den, Williston, FL
Tiny House Resort is one of the newer—and most adorable!—overnight accommodations in Williston. There are five separate units, each with porches and plenty of room to spread out once outside. The brand new interiors are modern and bright with shiplap walls and tasteful décor. Hurry before fans of “Tiny House Nation” flock here in droves.
Tiny Houses, Williston, FL
Maybe the most alluring part of this area of Florida is the mom and pop motels that dot the area’s coastlines and roadways with their historic charm and friendly feel. The Cedar Inn Motel in Cedar Key looks like something out of a 1950s beach movie with its pink and blue accents and white lattice work railings. In Inglis, the Nature Coast Inn was built in the 1940s and sits near the Withlacoochee River and is only minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. With four cottages to choose from, guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast, a saltwater pool and gift shop on-site as well as gardens to stroll through on a walk.
Takeout, Delivery or Dine In
With outdoor excursions, comes a healthy appetite. Foodies who have been stuck inside for months are aching to travel and get back out on the road to discover their next great meal. In Levy County, many of the area’s Old Florida, pure Americana restaurants are open with modified seating for dine in and outdoor patios, as well as takeout and delivery. You can always grab something to go and picnic in one of the many gorgeous parks. Restaurants are happy to box up a meal with silverware, napkins and all the trimmings.
If dining out is more your thing, Black Water Grill & Bar is a lovely riverfront restaurant in Yankeetown serving hand-cut steaks, gator tail, steamed clams and more for lunch and dinner. They are seating at 50% capacity and all servers and staff where face masks for your health and safety. Now that you feel secure and are sitting 6-feet away from your fellow diners, dive into grilled jumbo shrimp skewers, perfectly prepared prime rib or bacon-wrapped sea scallops.
Another beloved spot, literally out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, is Tony’s Seafood on Cedar Key. Doors are open for foodies who are willing to travel over the 3-mile bridge and tranquil salt marshes to this island for its beloved clam chowder. Tony’s serious soup has been named the world’s best chowder three years in a row and is sold at restaurants across Florida. Once in town, you can also hop over to 83 West, Duncan’s on the Gulf or Dock Street to enjoy waterfront dining.
Regulars to this area of Florida know they can’t make a trip through Fanning Springs without stopping at 19/98 Grill and Country Store. Snag some zucchini fries or seafood baskets at this kitschy old-school hangout and head outside to enjoy spacious outdoor seating. If the weather looks dicey, you can always dine inside to snack on clam strips, black angus burgers or array of light salads while you admire the John Wayne memorabilia and its general Old Florida vibe. Or, grab a Reuben sandwich, burger or other delicious bites to take home for dinner back in your room or campground. They don’t mind.
If you are craving good ol’ southern food like shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes, The Ivy House Restaurant and Boutique is the go-to-spot in Williston where you can sit and sip raspberry iced tea and nosh on corn bread. The cheerful outpost is now welcoming guests into the dining room and if you’re looking for comfort food, this is the place.
Bar-B-Q Bill’s is another homegrown restaurant in Chiefland, where locals and tourists hang together to devour pork, beef and chicken barbecue plates. Its juicy ribs, country-fried steak and fried haddock are all beloved and can be paired with baked beans, cole slaw, corn fritters or fries. With limited capacity due to socially distanced seating, to-go bites are also available for those on the run. Yum!
BONISH PHOTOGRAPHY, Cedar Key Sunrise, Cedar Key, FL
Whether it’s an appetite for the great outdoors or a new dish you haven’t tried, Levy County is drivable from any city in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina or South Carolina. Come see a Cedar Key sunrise during your next micro-cation in nature’s beloved North Florida playground right on the Gulf of Mexico.Visit Nature Coast encourages visitors to continue individual best-safety practices and to check in with businesses in advance of arriving to make your own decisions based on what is best for you.