Located on Florida’s Nature Coast, Crystal River is a charming coastal city known as the “Home of the Manatee.” Hundreds of manatees (and tourists) come to the river’s abundant springs to keep warm, especially during the winter season.
However, this popular tourist destination is not just about the gentle giants. There are plenty of outdoor activities, local attractions and things to do in Crystal River Florida. Swimming with manatees is one of the most popular, but there’s also things like discovering street art and visiting museums.
So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to dive into this aquatic wonderland and discover why Crystal River is the perfect destination for anyone looking for some fun in the sun.
The Best Things to do in Crystal River Florida (Manatees, Restaurants, Beaches & Hotels!)
1. Swim with Manatees
Swimming with manatees at Crystal River, Florida, is a rare and exciting opportunity to connect with nature and witness these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. These gentle ‘sea cows’ inhabit the warm waters of Florida, and Crystal River is one of the few places where you can legally interact with them.
On a guided tour, you can don a wetsuit and snorkel, and observe these majestic creatures up close. Just remember to stay calm and respectful, as manatees are protected by law.
I did my swim with Hunter Springs Kayaks & Tours, where I was accompanied by an in-water guide the entire time to ensure that the rules are observed so that you (and the manatees) will have a great time.
2. See the Mermaid Show at Mertailor
Mermaids may be mythical, but their allure is undeniable – captivating sailors and dreamers alike with their enchanting beauty and mysterious underwater world. And at Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter, a few miles southeast of Crystal River, Florida, they might not just be a figment of playful imagination.
The aquarium features a one-of-a-kind show with real-life ‘mermaids,’ wearing realistic and colorful mermaid fins as they elegantly glide through a large aquarium filled with vibrant marine life.
Watch in awe as these graceful performers swim, twirl, and even interact with the audience, blowing kisses and posing for photos.
Aside from the Mermaid Show, they also have different exhibits featuring macaws, tortoises, eels, rays, and so much more. Truly a magical underwater experience worth visiting!
3. Visit the Crystal River State Archaeological Site
Uncover the secrets of ancient Native American culture by visiting the Crystal River State Archaeological Site, a mesmerizing destination located on Crystal River’s northern banks.
This 61-acre expanse of lush greenery is brimming with awe-inspiring wonders, including six impressive mounds that were constructed between 250 BC and 600 AD, as well as several burial mounds and carved limestone slabs called ‘stela.’
The museum at the site also contains a wide range of artifacts, from intricately carved pottery to fashioned tools and other items used by the people who left their mark on the land.
And as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, you can also venture out onto the nature trail that winds through the surrounding forest and breathtaking landscape.
4. Make a Quick Stop to Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park
Did you know that Florida is the largest sugarcane producer in the United States? And what better way to learn about the state’s sugar industry than at Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park, a must-visit landmark in Homosassa, Florida, located 10.4 miles (16.74 km) south of Crystal River.
Named after Florida’s first Senator, David Levy Yulee, the park boasts the ruins of a 19th-century sugar mill that once used steam and innovative technology to produce sugar for export.
You are in for a treat as you explore the fascinating ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill, which includes a towering 40-foot chimney, stonework foundation, and a well. Among the ruins, iron gears and the rusted cane press still stand as a testament to the mill’s once-thriving sugar production. Picnic pavilions, tables, and grills are also available if you fancy going on a picnic after exploring.
5. Take an Airboat Ride with Ozello Boats
Hold on tight and get ready to experience the thrilling ride of a lifetime with Ozello Boats! Taking an airboat tour with them allows you to explore the crystal-clear waters of Homosassa and Crystal River (Nature Coast) where you can spot a variety of wildlife, such as alligators, manatees, and exotic birds in their natural habitat.
Feel the wind in your hair and the adrenaline pumping as you race through the marshes and mangroves of this beautiful and unique ecosystem. With experienced and knowledgeable guides, you’re sure to have an unforgettable adventure that you’ll be talking about for years to come.
6. Shop at Heritage Village
Get ready to shop till you drop at The Shoppes of Heritage Village, a hidden gem located in the heart of Downtown Crystal River! With over 13+ locally-owned shops, this charming shopping destination offers a unique and diverse selection of merchandise you won’t find anywhere else. From handmade arts and gifts at Glass Werx Studio to antiques and vintage finds at The General Store, the Shoppes have something for everyone.
But it’s not just the shopping that makes this place special – it’s the atmosphere. The beautifully restored historic buildings and tree-lined walkways create a charming ambiance that is both relaxing and inviting. And with plenty of dining and refreshment options like BubbaQue’s and Tea House 650, you can take a break from shopping and enjoy a delicious meal or refreshing beverage while taking in the sights and sounds of this unique shopping experience.
P.S. Check out the Heritage House Visitor Centre along North Citrus Avenue for a walking map of Heritage Village and any available coupons.
7. Pop Into the Coastal Heritage Museum
The Coastal Heritage Museum is a fascinating historical destination if you’re interested in learning about Florida’s rich history and unique cultural heritage. The museum is housed in the historic 1939 Crystal River City Hall building, which has been beautifully restored and renovated to showcase the area’s rich past.
Inside, you can explore a variety of exhibits that highlight the history and culture of the Crystal River area, including a 1927 diorama of Citrus Avenue, an old holding cell, and a fish house facade. Another unique feature of the museum is its collection of antique fishing gear, which provides insight into the history and evolution of commercial fishing in the region.
8. Get Some Pics at the Historic Crystal River Train Depot
The Historic Crystal River Train Depot is an iconic landmark located at Crystal Street in Crystal River, Florida. The depot, which was built in 1909, served as a hub for transportation and commerce in the region for many years and is now a popular destination for tourists and history buffs alike.
The depot’s distinctive architecture and design make it a popular spot for photographers looking to capture its rustic character and historical significance. The building features classic elements of turn-of-the-century train stations, such as its simple, white wooden aesthetic and classic red caboose.
9. Walk the Boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs
Whether you’re a nature lover, wildlife enthusiast, or simply looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, walking the Boardwalk at the 57-acre Three Sisters Spring is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Located within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the Boardwalk follows the banks of the three springs, featuring different viewing platforms where you can see the gentle manatees or the colorful bird species and other wildlife who call the place their home.
10. See the Animals at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Seeing the animals at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a truly unique experience that combines nature, education, and entertainment. This 210-acre park is home to a wide variety of animals native to Florida, including alligators, black bears, bobcats, and panthers, just to name a few.
The park’s Fish Bowl Underwater Observatory offers you a rare glimpse into the world of freshwater fish, while wildlife encounter programs allow you to interact with some of the park’s animals.
In addition to its animal exhibits, the park also boasts beautiful botanical gardens, walking trails, and picnic areas, making it a great place for you to spend a day with family and friends.
11. Check Out the Street Art
While Crystal River may not be as well-known for its street art scene as some other cities, the area does offer a unique and growing selection of murals and other urban artwork.
In recent years, local artists and community organizations have been working to bring more street art to the area, transforming otherwise blank walls into colorful and eye-catching works of art. These murals often depict scenes from the natural world, such as manatees, pelicans, and other wildlife, reflecting the area’s close connection to the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
Some notable works include the 16-foot-high mural called ‘The Kraken’ by William Mickey, painted on the side of the Salty Girls Beach Shop, the 68-foot-wide, 14-foot-high mural at Town Square in Downtown Crystal River, and ‘The Crystal Blue Manatees,’ a floor mural inside the Crystal Blue Lagoon Bed & Breakfast, also in Downtown Crystal River.
Whether it be on the outside or inside, there’s always a street art or two to surprise you along the way. How many of them can you find?
12. Kayak the Chassahowitzka River
Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a novice, kayaking the Chassahowitzka River (or ‘The Chaz’) offers a one-of-a-kind adventure that is sure to leave you with lasting memories. Located 14.8 miles (23.81 km) south of Crystal River, the river winds through the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, home to different wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, and a wide variety of bird species.
One of the most unique features of the Chaz are the many small springs that feed into the waterway. These springs, which are crystal clear and incredibly pure, create a series of pools and channels that are perfect for swimming and exploring. You can also paddle up to the headsprings of these springs and take a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can go on a dive and explore one of the underwater caves!
You can find many kayak (and other boats) rentals in the area, such as at Chassahowitzka River Campground and 7 Sisters Springs. Alternatively, you can also bring your own kayak with you.
13. Go Scalloping
Are you up for a bucket list experience that combines the thrill of a treasure hunt with the excitement of snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico? Then don your swimming gear and let’s go scalloping! During scallop season, which runs from July to September, locals and tourists alike flock to the area to experience the thrill of catching these tasty mollusks.
To go scalloping in Crystal River, you typically need to go out into the Gulf of Mexico. You can go there aboard your own boat (saltwater fishing license required,) or by booking an experienced guide (who can also take you to the best scalloping spots!). The scallops are usually found in shallow waters between 4 and 8 feet deep, especially where there are lots of eelgrass/seagrass.
Once you have your bag of scallops, you can clean them up and cook them however you like. Or you can also call one of many participating restaurants in advance, who’ll be happy to cook up your bounty for you.
14. Explore Kings Bay
Nestled within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River’s headwater of Kings Bay is a jewel of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Fed by over 70 springs which keep its waters at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the area is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and abundant marine life, especially its beloved population of gentle giants – the manatees.
One of the best ways to explore Kings Bay and see the manatees is by taking a guided boat tour or renting a kayak. As you paddle along the crystal-clear waters of the bay, you’ll be able to see these majestic creatures swimming gracefully beneath the surface, as well as other wildlife like dolphins and sea turtles.
Of course, there is much to see up in the air and on land as there is under the water, such as the Roseate spoonbill and white-tailed deer, inhabiting one of 20 small islands in and around Kings Bay.
15. See the Local Art at Franklin Anderson Gallery
The Franklin Anderson Gallery is a must-visit destination for art lovers visiting Crystal River. Located in the heart of the historic downtown area, this gallery showcases the works of some of the area’s most talented artists, as well as national and international artists.
Although it is small, the gallery features a diverse collection of art, including paintings, sculptures, and mixed media pieces, each with its own unique style and story. You can view works ranging from traditional landscapes to abstract pieces, and everything in between. And did I mention that you can also buy one-of-a-kind gifts to take home with you right here?
16. Watch Some Car Races at Citrus County Speedway and Track
If the sound of engines roaring and fast cars zipping by gets your adrenaline pumping, then this one’s for you! The Citrus County Speedway and Track at Inverness, 18.1 miles (29.13 km) east from Crystal River, is a hub for local and regional car racing, offering an exciting experience for visitors of all ages. The track’s challenging layout, with tight turns and high-speed straights, is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
But that’s not all – they also feature a snack bar and merchandise booth, and comfortable seating areas for great views of the action. Regular events, such as stock car and modified racing, are hosted throughout the year, making it a thrilling and exciting destination for car racing enthusiasts and visitors alike.
17. See Monkey Island
Did you know that there’s a tiny island in the Homosassa River that’s home to a family of spider monkeys? This man-made island, known as Monkey Island, was built to house the monkeys and prevent them from causing mischief elsewhere.
The island features huts, ropes, trees, and even a small replica of a lighthouse, all carefully maintained by the Florida Cracker Riverside Resort (formerly Homosassa Riverside Resort). The monkeys receive regular feeding and check-ups from the resort to ensure their health and well-being.
While you are not allowed to set foot on the island, there are plenty of ways to get up close and personal with the monkeys. The resort’s restaurant and nearby dock provide the perfect vantage points to observe the monkeys as they go about their day, and you can also get a closer look by taking a boat or kayak tour.
18. Hang Out at Hunter Springs Park
Hunter Springs Park is a wonderful destination for anyone looking to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Crystal River. With its stunning springs, sandy beach, and range of recreational opportunities, it’s a destination that’s sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors of all ages.
One of the main attractions of Hunter Springs Park is its crystal-clear waters, which provide a refreshing and relaxing place to swim, snorkel, or simply soak up the sun. The park also features a small sandy beach area, perfect for building sandcastles, enjoying a picnic with your friends and family, or launching your kayak/canoe.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, Hunter Springs Park also offers a range of recreational opportunities. The park features a playground for children, as well as several picnic pavilions and grills for you to enjoy a meal outdoors. The park’s trails provide a scenic spot for a leisurely walk or jog, and there are also bike racks available if you prefer to explore on two wheels.
P.S. They charge a small fee for parking.
19. Escape from the Crystal River Room Escape
Looking for a different kind of thrill for your Crystal River adventure? This one’s for you!
The Crystal River Room Escape is an exciting and challenging adventure game that tests your puzzle-solving skills and creativity. Located at SE Mayo Drive, this escape room is a fun and unique destination for groups of friends, family members, or coworkers looking for a memorable and exciting experience.
You can choose from one of four different scenarios, from aliens to whodunnits to treasures to ‘going down memory lane.’ With their challenging puzzles, engaging themes, and exciting atmosphere, will you and your group unravel the mysteries of the room before time runs out?
P.S. As they are open by appointment only, be sure to book in advance.
20. Golf at the Plantation on Crystal River
The Plantation on Crystal River is one of the oldest resorts in the city and home to one of the most beautifully landscaped golf courses in the area. The resort’s 18-hole golf course is designed to challenge players of all abilities, with its rolling fairways, challenging water hazards, and strategic bunkers. The course is impeccably maintained, with lush green grass, stunning views, and a serene atmosphere that makes it a pleasure to play.
After a day on the links, you can relax and unwind at the resort’s restaurant and bar, which offers delicious food and refreshing drinks in a casual and welcoming atmosphere. If you want to stay overnight, the Plantation on Crystal River has comfortable and spacious rooms to choose from, including cozy options and luxurious suites.
21. See a Show at The Valerie Theater (Inverness)
The Valerie Theatre in Inverness, Florida, is a restored historic theater built in the 1920s that offers film, music, and live theater events. It features plush seating, state-of-the-art projection, sound equipment, and stunning acoustics.
The Theatre is known for its commitment to preserving classic films from Hollywood’s golden age, where you can catch weekly screenings of beloved movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca.” They also host live music concerts and theatrical productions featuring both local and national talent.
22. Spend the Afternoon at the Historic Floral City
Also affectionately known as ‘Old Florida’ by the locals, Floral City is a charming town located 24.4 miles (39.27 km) southeast of Crystal River. It is best known for its historic homes, abundance of wildflowers, and its once booming phosphate mining history. Here are some places you should not miss out here:
Floral City Heritage Museum
The Floral City Heritage Museum is located in an old fire station and is home to an impressive collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents that showcase the town’s rich history. Don’t forget to check out their Heritage Country Store for one-of-a-kind items like antique tin signs, wooden dolls, and more.
Found just across the Museum, the Duval House is a two-story historic home built in the late 1800s and is considered to be the oldest residential building in Citrus County still standing to this day. It is currently owned by the Duval Preservation Trust.
As the house has no fixed opening schedule, you may need to contact the Trust President at 352-697-2999 for any special group private tours.
Fort Cooper State Park
Fort Cooper State Park is a beautiful 700-acre state park is located just a short drive south of Floral City and is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. You can hike through the park’s trails, fish, swim, or kayak in Lake Holathlikaha, or have a picnic in one of the park’s many scenic spots.
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Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or simply looking for a charming destination to visit, an afternoon at Floral City is surely worth the trip.
23. Where to Stay
With so many activities to do, things to see, and places to visit, a day at Crystal River will surely not be enough. Plenty of hotel accommodations are available around the city, and here is one we highly recommend:
Plantation on Crystal River
If you’re dreaming of a place where you can unwind and bask in the beauty of nature, the Plantation on Crystal River is the perfect retreat for you. Imagine waking up in one of their comfortable rooms (they have 196!), surrounded by stunning scenery and the sound of gentle waves lapping at the shore. You’ll have plenty of room to spread out, whether you’re traveling with family or friends, as most rooms can be joined together to create a home away from home.
But that’s just the beginning of the fun. Take a swing at their 18-hole championship golf course or try your hand at water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding. If you’re in the mood for some pampering, indulge in a spa treatment or enjoy some wildlife viewing. And when you’re ready to refuel, you won’t be disappointed – the resort offers mouthwatering food and drinks that are sure to delight your taste buds.
24. Where to Eat
What’s a visit to Crystal River without having a taste of its delectable dishes and grub to fuel your body? Let’s check out some of the best bites in and around the city that will leave you wanting more:
Wild Sassa (Homosassa): Wild Sassa is a seafood food truck that offers a unique dining experience featuring locally sourced ingredients and a menu that changes seasonally. Be sure to try out their tacos and wild shrimp quesadillas!
Waterfront Social (Crystal River): A trendy waterfront bar and grill that offers a variety of food and drinks, including seafood, smash burgers, and craft cocktails, with live music on the weekends.
Copp Brewery: A craft brewery in Crystal River that offers a rotating selection of beers on tap, wines, and a delicious menu of ‘Prohibition’ plates & tacos, sandwiches, and other pub fare.
Wallace’s at the Greenhouse (Homosassa): Wallace’s at the Greenhouse is a charming restaurant that serves up fresh seafood and classic American dishes in a cozy and inviting atmosphere.
West 82 Grill (Crystal River): This bar & grill restaurant is located at the Plantation on Crystal River and features seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, offering a variety of dishes that range from seafood pasta to steak.
Vintage on 5th: A stylish bistro in downtown Crystal River that offers a menu of seafood, hand-cut steaks, and regional Southern dishes, along with an extensive wine list. Shrimp and grits, anyone?
Kane’s Cattle Co: A casual steakhouse at the heart of Crystal River that offers a unique dining experience, featuring mouthwatering steaks and fresh seafood, in a rustic yet elegant setting.
Dan’s Clam Stand: A no-frills seafood shack in Crystal River that offers a variety of fried seafood dishes, including clams, shrimp, and oysters, along with sandwiches and sides.
Crump’s Landing (Homosassa): A beloved seafood restaurant and bar, offering delicious local cuisine, waterfront dining, live music, and a laid-back atmosphere that’s perfect for relaxing with friends and family.
And that brings our list of the best things to do in Crystal River, Florida to a close. Crystal River is a unique and exciting destination that offers an unforgettable experience for travelers of all ages. From swimming with manatees to exploring local attractions, there is something for everyone in this charming coastal city.
So, whether you are seeking a relaxing vacation or an adventure-filled trip, Crystal River is the perfect place to unwind, explore, and create lasting memories. Don’t wait any longer, pack your bags, and come discover the wonders of Crystal River for yourself.
Best Tips for Visiting Crystal River Florida
How to Get to Crystal River Florida: Tampa International Airport (TPA) is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. There is no direct connection from Tampa International Airport (TPA) to Crystal River. To get there, you can combine using buses and a taxi. You can take a taxi to Crystal River after taking the line 30 bus to North West Transfer Center Tampa, the line 812 bus to Sr. 580 + Summerdale, the line 19 bus to Huey Ave. & Tarpon Ave., and the line 19 bus to Sr. 52 & Us 19. For a more direct trip, you can also drive or hire a town car.
Getting Around: Driving in a new destination can be a bit of a challenge, but if you choose to rent a car, RentalCars.com has great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of other options. Taxis, Lyft and Uber are available all over the city. For a more budget friendly option, you can take the public bus.
Best Time to Visit Crystal River Florida: According to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the best months to visit Crystal River for the weather are February 19 to May 20 or October 1 to December 301. But you may go on a great trip at any time of the year.
Where to Stay in Crystal River Florida: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Holiday Inn Express Crystal River, an IHG Hotel, Best Western Crystal River Resort and The Plantation on Crystal River is a great choice in Crystal River. For something on the less expensive side, try Hampton Inn Crystal River located in Crystal River. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
- Crystal River Small Group Swim with Manatee Tour
- Homosassa: Gulf of Mexico Airboat Ride and Dolphin Watching
- Crystal River: Pontoon Boat Cruise and Swim with Manatees
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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Swim with Manatees & Other Encounters in Florida’s Crystal River