A Three-Day Escape To The Jewel Of The Nature Coast
Often described as the “Jewel of the Nature Coast,” Crystal River offers a sampling of most everything that visitors to Citrus County love. Combining small-town charm, a deep and fascinating history and a wealth of ecological attractions, Crystal River delights visitors year round with its unique collection of things to see and experience. Please read on for a few suggestions for a memorable three-day getaway—keeping in mind that the area has enough activities for a month or more!
There’s perhaps no better way to begin exploring all that Crystal River has to offer than soaking up the local flavor in the city’s downtown, which features the charming Heritage Village collection of shops and restaurants. Head to Citrus Avenue (495) just off of Highway 19 to begin the fun.
Creative and affordable lunch offers can be found nearby. Several eateries are in the Village including Fat Cat Grill, The Highlander Café, Just a Cupcake, Flip Flop Yogurt Shop and Cafe 360 Tea Bar — all within walking distance. A frosty cold adult beverage can be found at Burke’s of Ireland, The Wine Shop 3 & Wine Bar or Copp Winery on the Bayside of the downtown area.
In the afternoon, enjoy the full span of the area’s centuries of history by Coastal Heritage Museum and Crystal River Archaeological State Park.
The Coastal Heritage Museum chronicles the beginnings of western Citrus County, and its historic building was built in 1939 by WPA labor. The Archaeological State Park dates back significantly further, when the series of shell middens at the park were an important ceremonial center for the thousands of ancient Native Americans. A museum showcasing a variety of artifacts can also be toured at the park. After a busy day of shopping and history, you will be in the mood for the local tastes available from Crystal River restaurants. Enjoy fresh-caught local fish and fresh produce (often locally grown) in a variety of familiar dishes and new favorites. The area has more than enough one-of-a-kind restaurants for your entire stay, from the fine eclectic flavors of Vintage on 5th, to “taste of Cuba” and live music of Cravings on the Water.
Boat tours by knowledgeable guides will show you the natural aquatic wonders of the Crystal River and its estuary. Learn about—and see up close—a vast array of flora and fauna from the unique ecosystems of the Nature Coast, and take in the beautiful scenery. A number of tours operate daily, both in Crystal River and neighboring Homosassa.
If you would prefer to do the exploring yourself, you can also rent a boat and traverse the area’s picturesque waterways at your own pace. Pack a picnic lunch and meander until you find a nice shaded place to stop and eat. Several restaurants along Citrus County’s waterways also offer dock access. Plus, renting a boat makes it easy to dive into the area’s many springs, which have consistent temperatures all year long for your swimming pleasure.
Manatee tours operate all year round, although the very best time to meet a manatee is in the cooler months. As the water temperature in the ocean drops, hundreds of manatees make their way into the comparatively warm springs and spring-fed rivers of Citrus County, creating North America’s largest manatee gathering every year. These guided trips often depart early in the morning, carrying you to ideal grounds for sea-cow encounter in the crisp morning air. Tour operators typically supply a snorkel and fins; just don’t forget a swimsuit—and your sense of wonder.
Another seasonal sensation is scalloping. Yielding a great deal of fun with little cost or equipment needed, scalloping is a wildly popular family activity from June 1 to September 10 each year. Grab a snorkel and mesh bag to harvest scallops in about six feet of water a short way offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. As with manatee swims, many guide services are available.
As your third day of adventure draws to a close and you set to return home, you’ll discover that there still remains much to experience in Crystal River and throughout Citrus County. Fortunately, The Water Lover’s Florida is always ready to welcome you back for another affordable family vacation!