Levy County, established in 1845, is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, south of Gainesville and west of Ocala. As part of Florida’s “Nature Coast,” Levy is home to 52 miles of beautiful coastline in addition to many square miles of forests and marshlands.
Despite continued growth, Levy County remains rural with vast, open wooded areas, natural bubbling springs, and meandering rivers. Levy’s northern border is the fabled Suwannee River, made famous by Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks At Home.” Ideal for nature lovers and historians, here are 20 reasons you should discover Levy County today.
1. Dive Right In
The Devil’s Den in Williston.
Divers never know what they’ll find at Devil’s Den, an underground spring inside a dry cave. The remains of many extinct animals from the Pleistocene Age were discovered at the site, including the bones of early man, dating back to 75,000 B.C. The pleasant year-around temperature of 72 degrees allows comfortable diving, winter or summer. Devil’s Den offers a full dive shop including rentals and dive training for beginner divers. The site also offers volleyball, games, bath houses with hot showers, picnic areas, cabin rentals, camping, fishing, and a heated pool. The adjacent Stellina Resort offers horseback riding. Devil’s Den is located at 5390 NE 180th Avenue in Williston. (352) 528-3344.
The Clam America Celebration in Cedar Key on July 4.
Clam-mania events include the clam hunt, clam shucking demos, clam bag races, a clam cook-off, live music, and much more. The Cedar Key “Clam Out” will take place in Cedar Key’s City Park from 11am-5pm. Call the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce at (352) 543-5600 for more information or visit cedarkey.org.
3. Southern Fixin’s
The Ivy House Restaurant in Williston.
A beautiful old home resting in the shade is now a charming family-owned enterprise. Opened in 1993 by Marjorie Hale, this unique restaurant is staffed by her daughters and granddaughters. Expect not only southern hospitality at its best but also delicious home-cooked food. Famous for the Baked Crispy Chicken with Homemade Macaroni and Cheese and Milk Cake, the restaurant’s signature dessert, the Ivy House is one of Central Florida’s best-kept secrets. As a matter of fact, the establishment was recently named by Florida Trend as one of “The 400 Best Places to Eat in the State.” One visit and you’ll understand why. (352) 528-5410.
4. Mad About Manatees
Manatee Springs State Park near Chiefland.
This first-magnitude spring features more than 100 million gallons of rushing water. Popular for snorkeling and scuba diving, the headwaters of the clearwater spring are also a great spot for swimming. The spring run forms a sparkling stream that meanders through hardwood wetlands to the Suwannee River. A concession provides beverages, snacks and canoe/kayak rentals. Children can enjoy a playground in the picnic area. Hiking and biking are available on the north end trail system and the full-facility campground is surrounded by hardwood trees and sandhills. Reserve a canoe or kayak by calling Suwannee River Tours at (352) 490-9797. Located off U.S. 98, six miles west of Chiefland.
5. An Island Escape
The Island Hotel Bed & Breakfast in Cedar Key.
Hotel staff and local patrons insist that the hotel is haunted and ghost tours are available. It is said that there are at least 13 bonafide spirits occupying the old hotel. The Island Hotel Bed & Breakfast is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and is one of Florida’s most famous bed and breakfasts. Built in 1859, the Island Hotel is constructed from seashell tabby with oak supports. Its walls have withstood hurricanes for almost 150 years, and its sloping wooden floors have endured the passage of innumerable feet. Built as the general store and post office, the building has changed little over the years. (800) 432-4640. Visit islandhotel-cedarkey.com.
6. Lift Your Glass
The Dakotah Winery in Chiefland.
Dakotah Vineyards and is a place of peace and a haven for both humans and birds. At the heart of the Dakotah Winery is the vineyard. The grapes grown in Dakotah’s vineyard are muscadine (or scuppernongs as they are sometimes called). The muscadine is a native Florida grape that was first used for winemaking by the French Huguenots and early Spanish settlers nearly 100 years before wine was made in California. Muscadine grapes are found only in the southeastern United States and in the 12-acre vineyard at Dakotah there are over 30 varieties. Enjoy samples of wine during tasting hours, 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday. A variety of wines and wine accessories are available for purchase at the winery’s gift shop. (352) 493-9309.
7. Hit The Waves
Yankeetown Marina keeps you afloat.
The one-stop boating shop for Levy County. Along with dockage for vessels up to 60 feet, they also offer a fresh water boat ramp just minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, a complete tackle and bait shop, a rod and reel/boat repair shop, and inshore and offshore fishing guides. Visit yankeetownmarina.com for events and fishing reports. (352) 447-2529.
8. Summertime Fun
The Chiefland Watermelon Festival on June 2.
In June 2, this much-anticipated yearly event features parades, live music, craft shows, beauty contests, and, of course, watermelons! Located at City Park, Tommy Usher Center in Chiefland. Call (352) 493-2330 for more information, or visit chieflandchamber.com.
9. A Culinary Oasis
The Blue Desert Cafe in Cedar Key.
Located on Highway 24, the Blue Desert Cafe offers a southwestern take on local seafood. Levy County’s Director of Tourism Carol McQueen describes the Blue Desert Café as having a “unique and eclectic atmosphere — and great food.” (352) 543-9111.
The Williston Airport Recreational Fest & Aviation Fly Market on May 27.
Sponsored by the City of Williston and the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce, this annual event includes hot air balloon rides, sky diving, remote control airplanes, classic cars, and live entertainment. (352) 528-5552.
11. Leap Of Faith
Skydive Williston offers a unique view of the area.
For those who are new to jumping, your first jump requires only a brief amount of ground instruction before you are geared up and attached to an instructor equipped with parachutes large enough to carry the two of you gently back to earth. Jumpers will ride up to 11,500 feet or higher in the jump plane, plunge into a 45 second freefall, and enjoy a 5- to 7-minute canopy ride, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the Gulf of Mexico, horse farms, and natural springs. (352) 528-2994.
12. Back In Time
Cedar Key Historical Museum is a link to the past.
Exhibits include prehistoric and Native American artifacts, the 2nd Seminole Indian War, the Civil War, the cedar pencil and lumbering industries, maritime activity prior to Tampa’s development as a port, and the seafood industry up to today’s successful clam aquaculture. There is also an extensive collection of old Cedar Key photographs in our archives. The museum is located on the corner of 2nd Street and State Road 24. (352) 543-5549.
Williston Highlands Golf & Country Club for a day on the links.
This semi-private course is an excellent place for beginners to take up the game. There are only a few hazards on the course and water doesn’t come into play anywhere. Built in 1967, this course features 18 holes and is a par 72. The 39th Annual Mixson Tournament will take place May 18-20. Call (352) 528-3284 or visit willistongolf.com to sign up.
14. Quilt To The Hilt
The Levy County Quilt Museum in Chiefland.
Founded by the Log Cabin Quilters club, The Levy County Quilt Museum is the only registered quilt museum in the state of Florida. This museum attracts many visitors during the show season and throughout the year. Finished quilts are for sale at the museum, averaging $300 to $400 for a hand-stitched quilt. The museum features wraparound porches and sits on two beautiful acres. There is no admission charge. (352) 493-2801.
15. Get Your Motor Runnin’
The Bronson Motor Speedway will fill your need for speed.
Looking for something to do on Saturday night? The Bronson Motor Speedway track is a new American Speed Association (ASA) member, owned by ASA National Tour competitor, Mike Cope. The 1/3-mile, high-banked asphalt track is just a short drive from Chiefland. The speedway offers events like street stocks, mini stocks, pure stocks, late models, and modifieds. Visitors, so long as they are 18 or older or have a signed release, indemnity, and waiver agreement, can even enter the pits! Weekly racing takes place between March and November. (352) 486-3763 or bronsonmotorspeedway.com
16. A Continental Delight
Catch a sunset at the Island Room at Cedar Cove Beach & Yacht Club in Cedar Key.
The menu, described as continental with an island flair, features many local favorites including Crab Bisque, Oysters Rockefeller, Linguini Alle Vongole, Grouper Savannah, and Crème Brulee. The Island Room at Cedar Cove was recently awarded Florida Trend magazine’s “Top 250 Award” for the seventh consecutive year. So what do the critics have to say? Robert Tolf, restaurant editor for Florida Trend calls it “a gastronomic oasis in this one-of-a-kind community” and David Carlson of the Gainesville Sun reports that the Island Room “may be the best restaurant on the long stretch between Tampa Bay and Tallahassee.” (352) 543-6520. Visit islandroom.com.
17. Belly Laughs
Red Belly Day at Fanning Springs State Park on May 26.
This outdoor event features a variety of music groups as well as activities, craft booths, and fishing tournaments. The world-famous belly flop contest is entertaining for everyone. Confederate Railroad (“Queen of Memphis,” “Trashy Women,” and “Jesus and Mama”) is scheduled to perform at this year’s event. The Festival will take place between 9am-4pm.
18. A Class Act
Suwannee River Playhouse in Chiefland.
Suwannee Valley Players is the only community theater serving Levy, Dixie, and Gilchrist counties. After over a decade of performing in the tri-county public school auditoriums, the group purchased the original movie theater in Chiefland, known to Levy county residents as The Chief Theatre. The theater’s next production, The Importance of Being Ernest, will be showing on select dates between June 1 and June 10. Adults $8, students $5, children under five are free. Visit SVPlayers.com for details and season schedules.
19. Historic Hideaway
Seahorse Key in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Seahorse Key is used as a dormitory in connection with educational programs. In 1951 the University of Florida established a marine laboratory at Seahorse Key. Seahorse Key provides access to diverse habitats including extensive banks of marine grasses and algae, sandy beaches, mangroves, sand and mud flats, oyster bars, sponge-shell litter channels, turtle grass beds and salt marshes. The hammocks on the island are important as protected nesting areas for as many as 54,000 birds including brown pelicans, ibis, egrets, cormorants, herons, spoonbill, and osprey. Seahorse Key can be reached by boat and Cedar Key Island Hopper offers transportation to the island and educational tours. Landing on Seahorse Key is not permitted from March 1 to July 1 due to bird nesting. Call (352) 543-5904 or visit www.zoo.ufl.edu/shkml/ for details.
20. Trail Mix
The Nature Coast Trail State Park is part of Florida’s statewide system of greenways and trails.
This 31.7-mile paved trail winds through beautiful rural areas, connecting Old Town, Fanning Springs, Cross City, Chiefland, and Trenton. Among the trail’s highlights is a historic train trestle that allows trail-goers to cross over the Suwannee River near Old Town. The trail is open year-round from 8am to sunset and equipment, including bicycles, can be rented along the trail. For those taking a daylong excursion, sandwich shops and other rest areas are located periodically along the trail. (352) 535-5181.
County By County
A Three-Part Series
This trio of summer articles highlights special events and unique tourism opportunities in our neighboring counties. With its abundance of natural beauty and distinctive destinations, Levy County seemed a perfect starting point. What’s next? Our editors discover Marion County in June and Alachua County in July. Stay tuned!
To learn more about these 20 items in Levy County or additional recreational opportunities, log on to visitnaturecoast.com