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Crystal River is located along Central Florida’s “Nature Coast.”
Crystal River is a quiet, yet adventurous town off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast. I love the area so much that I went back again this year to check off some of the things I didn’t do last year! Here are some of my recommendations!
1. Enjoy water activities in Kings Bay.
The 600 acres of King’s Bay and Crystal River offers many activities you can enjoy in the water such as kayaking/canoeing, jet skiing, boating, paddle boarding, snorkeling, or swimming. There are many local shops in the area that can assistance you with rental gear throughout the year. They can even assist you on a nature tour or sunset cruise of King’s Bay.
2. Go scalloping.
It’s like an Easter egg hunt while swimming! Except, the prize is scallops that even some local places will cook up for you to enjoy. Just grab your snorkel gear and a mesh bag, then swim along the shallow grass flats looking for the “blue eyes.” Be careful not to scare them, as they will slam their shells shut and try “swimming” away.
Because the water is so clear in Crystal River, it is a good place to look for scallops. Check regulations but the best time to scallop ranges from June until September.
3. Visit historic downtown Crystal River.
Downtown Crystal River, still today, tries to maintain the reputation of a Fisherman Village. Take a stroll along North Citrus Avenue among the canopied Oaks, Magnolias, and Palm trees as you visit the Shoppes of Heritage Village. Cracker style cottages in the downtown area have been preserved dating back to the early 1800s. Grab some lunch or shop for some souvenirs!
4. Visit Three Sisters Springs at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
While there is no water or land access to Three Sisters Springs, you can visit the wildlife refuge to see all that the springs have to offer. We parked at the city hall and hopped on a trolley bus. On the way, we learned the history of the downtown Crystal River area as we drove past it.
The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only refuge created specifically for the protection of the Florida Manatee. Each winter, nearly 600 manatees come here to due to the constant 72 degree water temperature. (Manatees can die of hypothermia if under 68 degrees.)
Take a walk along the wooden sidewalk and take in the color of the blue water. It is absolutely gorgeous and crystal clear, hence, Crystal River!
5. Swim with the manatees!!!!!
Crystal River and King’s Bay has more than 70 springs and is the world’s largest natural winter refuge for manatees. The warm water temperatures attract the manatees to the area. So, it is best to come when it is really cold if you want to swim with the manatees! Here are some tips on swimming with the manatees.
6. Take a short drive south to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.
I can’t tell you how much I loved this wildlife park. The park showcases the native animals, birds, and plants in their natural setting. There are educational programs throughout the day to explain the different wildlife in the park. I got to watch manatees eat lettuce close up and hear a huge hippopotamus warn a bird it was in its territory. It sounded like a man laughing loudly; ha ha ha ha ha!
Here’s a video from my visit.
Plan at least 3 hours to walk the whole park. I advise parking at the main entrance and taking the boat over to the wildlife park. This way, you get to see more of the nature in the area. When I was at the park, there was a tornado warning and we could not go outside! After the wind and rain subsided, I was told I could go back outside. Sadly, I did not take the boat tour over because of the storm and the mention that a lot of the animals would be put away. I was SO happy to find out that I could view each and every animal there that day!
If you chose not to take the boat tour, you can drive to the wildlife park by following the signs to get behind the main entrance.
7. Go to the beach.
Just off the beaten path at the end of Fort Island Trail, you will find Ft. Island, Gulf Beach. The white, powdery, sandy beach in Crystal River is about 1000 feet and is family friendly.
8. Eat some local food.
There are many places in Crystal River that serve fish. And when in Crystal River, eating fish is a must! I went to Crackers and loved it so much, that I went again the next day! (Definitely try their zucchini fries!) It is located right on King’s Bay so you have a view.
Another good restaurant suggested by the locals is Seafood Seller and Cafe. Everything here is made fresh!!!