Crystal River is fun, fun, fun! Abundant in natural beauty, wildlife, history, and entertainment, this is a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast that you need to visit.
Here at BTTM, we always embrace the idea of discovering what’s in your own back yard. We’d always heard of Crystal River and how beautiful it was and were excited to take a weekend and explore this area of Florida that we had never been to. It certainly did not disappoint and we now believe that it is a Florida destination that everyone should visit.
There are a lot of things to see and do in and around Crystal River. Here are our top recommendations…
Crystal River is considered to be the “Manatee Capital of the World” and one of the best ways to get to know these cuties is to go for a swim with them. “Passive observation” is allowed by the federal government in the area of Kings Bay, so you can literally get up close and personal with manatees. For more information on passive observation and swimming with manatees, check out our more in depth post.
This wildlife refuge is gorgeous! Photos just don’t do it justice, so you have to see it for yourself. The different hues of crystal clear blue water are amazing and you’ll get to explore trails and see all kinds of local animals. Manatees, of course, are the main attraction, and the best time to see them is during winter months. We recommend visiting at any time of the year though. Their boardwalk makes it really easy to get around and they also offer guided walking tours.
Welcome to historic downtown Crystal River! This charming area of Crystal River has specialty shoppes and cafes located along North Citrus Avenue. It’s a great place to walk, eat, pick up some unique gifts, and admire the buildings themselves (many of which are considered “Historic Homes” and are designed with wrap around porches and tin roofs). We especially recommend stopping by Tea House 650 for some refreshing tea!
Without a doubt, Crystal River has incredible sunsets. A great place to go during the evening to watch the sun go down is Fort Island Gulf Beach. It is off-the-beaten path, free to enter, has picnic tables and pavilions, and plenty of parking. Enough said!
Just south of Crystal River is the city of Homosassa Springs. With its own variety of natural and historic landmarks, it is definitely worth the 20 minute drive. They also have great restaurants like The Green House Bistro & Market and Riverside Crab House. While you’re in the area, make sure to stop by these locations…
This state park is a great place to see native Florida wildlife. Daily programs and animal encounters offer visitors a chance to learn more about some of the animals in the park, such as manatees, alligators, otters, snakes, etc. There’s also the “Fish Bowl” which is really cool because you get to step down into an underwater observatory and see what’s swimming around in the springs. To visit, park your car at the visitor center. From there you can either take a boat or tram to the park. The tram is faster, but the boat is nice because it goes along Pepper Creek and a park ranger tells you about the history of the park and the area.
Fun Fact: The only non-native animal in the park is Lu, a hippopotamus that was declared an honorary citizen of the State of Florida.
Once a thriving sugar plantation owned by David Levy Yulee, the space is now a state park with the remains of some of the sugar mill parts and equipment. You can see a 40 foot limestone masonry chimney, iron gears, and a cane press. There are signs all around explaining how the mill worked and the equipment. It’s not a large park and walking around will only take a few minutes, but if you’re in the area we think it’s a pretty cool thing to check out.
Whenever we find out there’s a veteran’s memorial in a place that we visit, we always stop by to pay our respects. It was a little hard to find (it’s not in Google Maps) but it’s right across from Homosassa Elementary School so if you search for that you’ll find it.
Crystal River has a lot of great dining options. We wrote a whole post about where to eat in Crystal River, which details some of our favorite restaurants and cafes. From tacos to steaks, you’ll be sure to find something delicious.
Another great thing about Crystal River is that it’s a great place to base yourself to explore even more areas of Central Florida. Tampa and Orlando are each only an hour and a half away. So if you want to experience big city hustle and bustle, but still want a quiet and relaxing place to end the evening, Crystal River is perfect.
We personally can’t wait to go back and explore more of Crystal River. It’s natural beauty and wildlife are stunning and we know that there are a lot more activities and eateries we want to try out.
Have you visited Crystal River, Florida? Do you have any recommendations for our next visit? We’d love to read your comments and suggestions below! 🙂
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**A big thank you to Discover Crystal River Florida for taking the time to show us around Crystal River and pointing out the top things to see and do. As always, however, all opinions are our own.**