OZELLO, FL — Sometimes, if the journey is pleasant enough, it’s nice to go no place in particular. And while the fishing village of Ozello is certainly someplace in general, the road to Ozello is well worth investigating for its own sake.
From US 19 south of Crystal River, take a right turn onto 494 (Ozello Trail) and head out toward the Gulf of Mexico. The road meanders over vast salt marshes dotted by islands of sabal palm an cedar. Unlike Cedar Key, whose cedars were all but used up by pencil manufacturers, the native trees still thrive here.
Out here by the Gulf, the sky has plenty of room to stretch out over the expanse of sawgrass. It would be a terrific place to watch an afternoon thunderstorm, and every evening you can enjoy the town’s scenic treasure trove. “Ozello Gold” is what they call the sunsets here.
The Trail makes a great place for wildlife viewing, and since an automobile makes a reasonable blind, you’re likely to see a lot if you drive slowly. Channels along the roadside create a seafood buffet for the local birds. You’re likely to spot ospreys, owls and plenty of kingfishers with their mohawk coifs.
The Ozello Trail draws painters from around the state, but otherwise the place still hasn’t been properly discovered. The town was established just after the Civil War, but until 1961 the only way to get out to these islands was by boat. Some years ago the local school made it into Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” because the school bus was a boat.
Today the community of 600 residents is surrounded by St. Martins’ Nature Reserve, making further development unlikely. Perhaps in another 30 years, it will look much like it does today.
If a picnic is what you’re after, take a left turn on John Brown Drive to a small park and boat ramp. Or you can follow 494 until it ends at Pirate’s Cove (10 miles from US 19). There’s a small picnic ground here that overlooks the water, as well as a restaurant and lounge that features live music on the weekends.
From here you can also hop a ride on an airboat for $10 a person. For out‑of‑the‑way fine dining, try the Yankee Skipper. Owners Skip and Sue Kitchin serve low‑fat fare including seafood, beef and pasta. Don’t dare ask for anything fried. The couple moved to Ozello from Maine in 1978 and raised six children here. They discovered the area by accident, and have been delighted ever since. “There’s no crime down here, and neighbors are neighbors,” Sue said. “It’s just good living.”
NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Ocala Star-Banner in December 1995.
IF YOU GO:
Where: From US 19 South of Crystal River, take 494 west 10 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.