Visit Crystal River, Florida and discover its abundant natural beauty, wildlife, history, and restaurants. Plus, see manatees from both land and water. This is a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast that you need to visit!
**A big thank you to Discover Crystal River Florida for taking the time to show us around Crystal River and providing us with park tickets. As always, however, all opinions are our own.**
Why You Need To Visit Crystal River
We always embrace the idea of discovering what’s in our own back yard. We’d always heard of Crystal River and how beautiful it was and were excited to finally take some time and explore this area of Florida that we had never been to.
It certainly did not disappoint and we have now visited a second time, seeing both new things and going back to old favorites. We definitely think you should visit Crystal River because there is a lot to see and do.
Swim With Manatees In Crystal River
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.
Kayak With Manatees
If you don’t entirely feel comfortable swimming with manatees, an alternate way to see them up close would be to go kayaking in Crystal River. During our most recent visit, we kayaked with Hunter Springs Kayaks.
When we arrived we watched a quick video that informed us of rules and regulations that we had to follow to make sure we and the manatees remained safe while we were out on the water. Then we walked a few blocks over to Hunter Springs Park, where our kayak was ready and waiting for us.
Equipped with a map, we paddled to the entry of Three Sisters Springs where we saw a few manatees. Most were sleeping but some were coming and going from the area designated as a manatee sanctuary. It was really cool to see them swim by so close to us.
Kayaking With Manatees Video
You can see more of our experience kayaking with manatees in the video below…
Three Sisters Springs
When you visit Crystal River, you absolutely have to visit Three Sisters Springs. This wildlife refuge is gorgeous! Photos just don’t do it justice, so you simply have to see it for yourself. You can see the edge of it from the water when you swim or kayak with manatees, but the grounds themselves are worth a visit.
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 the three springs and the refuge also offers guided walking tours.
Note: There is only handicapped parking available at Three Sisters Springs so park your car at the Three Sisters Springs Center on US-19. From there you will get a ride on a trolley to the springs themselves. Also, if you have a Federal Land Pass or Duck Stamp, you will get $5 off admission for you and up to three guests.
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!
Coastal Heritage Museum
What used to be the town’s City Hall is now the Coastal Heritage Museum which has artifacts, photos, and exhibits about the early history of the area. It was built in 1939 and was used until late 1970. Not only did the building hold the city council, it also was the home to Chief of Police and the town’s fire department!
We saw a lot of really interesting pieces, including mastodon bones, one of the old jail cells, and newspaper clippings describing when Elvis himself came to Crystal River to film a movie!
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 3pm and admission is free.
Sunsets In Crystal River
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
When you visit Crystal River, just south of the city is Homosassa Springs and we recommend paying them a visit as well. With its own variety of natural and historic landmarks, it is definitely worth the 20 minute drive. While you’re in the area, make sure to stop by these locations…
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife 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. He is the oldest hippo in North America; the average lifespan of a hippo is 50 years and Lu turns 60 on January 26, 2020.
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins
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.
Old Homosassa Veteran’s Memorial
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.
Where To Eat In Crystal River
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.
Day Trips From Crystal River
Another awesome 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.
Final Thoughts On Crystal River
We loved both of our visits to Crystal River. It’s natural beauty and wildlife are stunning and we know that there are still more activities and eateries we want to try out so we plan on visiting again.
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! 🙂