A gem of the Florida’s Nature Coast, Crystal River is a designated Outstanding Florida Waterway. Accurately dubbed the “Home of the Manatee”, this seaside city on the west shore of Florida boasts eco-tours for marine animal life interaction, boating, water skiing, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, and diving.
A small town with just over 3,000 residents, Crystal River lies around Kings Bay and averages 72° F (22° C) year-round. A cluster of 50 springs feed the bay and connects it with the Gulf of Mexico. Crystal River is located southeast of the Crystal River Archaeological State Park and near the Preserve State Park.
This area is the largest gathering place of manatees in North America. It’s also the only place in the U.S. where you can legally swim alongside these incredible marine mammals. Up to 400 migrate to the Nature Coast to escape the chilly waters on the Gulf of Mexico each winter.
The large, plant-eating West Indian Manatees are the sites’ main attraction. Swim alongside the massive hippo-like mammals in the state parks. December, January, and February are the best months to visit because of the hundreds of manatees that migrate during this time.
Guided tours offer opportunities to snorkel or dive in the clear teal waters. Definitely consider bringing underwater cameras to capture the experience! After a guided tour, leave time to explore on your own on boat.
Don’t miss out on kayaking the gorgeous Chassahowitzka River, or ride alongside it via the scenic equestrian trails. Afterwards, stop by the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for wildlife watching, including catch panthers, bald eagles, and alligators. There’s even a hippo named Lu!
Freshwater and saltwater fishing is abundant at the Crystal River Archaeological coastal marsh. The park offers wildlife viewing areas, a museum, boat tours and picnic sites. Crystal River is also one of the best places to “treasure hunt” for underwater scallops in Florida. The bay scallop season goes from July to September.
Heritage Village provides ample antique shopping, fresh seafood, and convivial bars. Spend the day shopping and then head to one of the many parks with BBQ grills, sports courts, and picnic tables. Try Seafood Seller & Cafe for lunch and do Vintage on 5th, a restaurant in a refurbished cottage home, for dinner.
King Spring near Banana Island is another great place for getting in the water with the manatees. For a day spent out of the water, consider that an hour and a half south is the city of Tampa. There you can experience the Florida Aquarium, then hop on the Wild Dolphin Cruise for a catamaran ride through the natural habitat. Stroll along the St. Pete Pier and grab dinner while watching the sun set and the pier light up!
One hour north of Crystal River is the Dakotah Vineyards and Winery in Chiefland. Located on a 12 acre site with thousands of grape vines, you can wine taste and feast on specialty cheese and fine dine. The winery also offers a self-guided innovational wellness walk through the stunning grounds for a romantic and peaceful afternoon.
The Wild Waters theme park is located an hour drive away in Silver Springs! In the park, you can also float on glass bottom boats along the crystal clear springs, or take a guided kayak tour to soak up the plant and animal ecosystem.
Waterfront accommodations are the ideal way to take in Florida’s Nature Coast. Or choose a historic family home on the bay! Some homes may offer local launch points and kayaks, jet skis, or a dock with rental. Many feature some view of the water, ideal for watching sunrise and sunset from the comfort of your own porch.
The city features it’s own small airport. There’s also the Gainesville Regional Airport 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Crystal River, and the Tampa International is an hour and 15 minutes to the south. In Crystal River, Citrus County Transit Bus offers vans with bike racks and buses that take riders anywhere within a 773 square-mile radius.
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