This town in Florida has a lot to offer. Located along the Gulf of Mexico in Citrus County, the central-west part of the state, it has a unique landscape and an impressive array of wildlife.
It is most famously known as the manatee capital of the world, thanks to the large population of manatees that migrate to the area each year. The crystal clear waters along the Crystal River (a river with the same name as the town) make it the perfect place to kayak, snorkel, and swim with manatees!
Aside from the great wildlife watching, there are a few fun things to do in Crystal River itself as the town has its own unique charm. There’s a cute downtown where you can go shopping or you can spend an afternoon relaxing at the impressive Hunter Springs Park.
12. Franklin Anderson Gallery
This quaint and homey gallery in Crystal River is rustic and full to the brim of local crafts and different art pieces from artists from near and far.
The gallery’s exhibitions are most often wildlife inspired, and focused on the incredible fauna and flora in the local area. There are lots of manatee pieces! They showcase a range of artistic styles, from photography and ceramics to wood and glass art.
You can purchase some of their art pieces or savory antiques to take home, they’ll always remind you of the fantastic holiday you had in Florida.
11. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
The Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a huge sanctuary for rescued animals. There are paved pathways through the park that take you to the different animals, which have been given their natural habitat as often as possible.
Visit the pink flamingos, the swimming manatees, scary panthers, cougars, and bobcats, the cute otters, colorful fish, and freaky reptiles! There’s enough to keep everyone busy for an afternoon and this is a perfect day trip for a family and wildlife enthusiasts. All this is just a 15 minute drive away from Crystal River.
To be clear, the park isn’t like a zoo. In fact, the only non-native species is a single hippopotamus called Lu. The animals aren’t kept in cages either, and they are there in the hope that they can be rehabilitated and released.
10. Coastal Heritage Museum
The Coastal Heritage Museum is in the Old City Hall building on Citrus Avenue in Crystal River. It’s a history museum that opens its doors to tourists looking to find out about the past of Citrus County and the history of the many peoples who have called this land home.
You’ll get to see antique exhibits like furniture, old artifacts, and fascinating photos. There’s so much to uncover and learn, and where better to do it than the Coastal Heritage Museum?
Aside from the alluring exhibits inside, the museum also has a charming stone cottage style exterior, so it’s worth walking past even if you choose not to go in.
9. Crystal River Archaeological State Park
This ancient archaeological park is home to Native American burial mounds, abandoned temple and platform mounds, and so much more. The park is believed to have been a ceremonial site for local indigenous communities.
It was visited by natives who came to bury their dead and trade with other tribes for 1,600 years. Stand on the temple mound and soak up the history beneath your feet.
On your trip, be sure to visit the museum, the mounds, and the coastal marshland. The park is also along the Great Florida Birding Trail, so there’s a good chance of seeing some pretty impressive birds.
8. Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge
This wildlife refuge is a popular breeding and feeding ground for native species. It’s likely attractive to local and passing wildlife because of the many habitats in such a small space. There are saltwater bays, brackish marshes, estuaries, and surrounding harwood swamp!
The spot attracts many aquatic species, like manatees. You can access the refuge by land at the Salt Marsh Trail off Mason Creek Road. There are some hiking trails you can explore and a two story tower you can wildlife watch from.
All the other areas of the park are only accessible by boat. A kayak tour is a perfect way to explore the refuge.
7. Go Scalloping
Scalloping is a part of the region’s traditions, you can’t leave without giving it a go. The scallop season is from July to September, so if you’re planning a summer holiday to Crystal River you’re in luck.
The scallops live some two to three miles offshore; head out onboard a fishing charter with a local tour guide and let the adventure begin.
The best part is, you can take all the scallops you collect to a local restaurant and get them cooked up for dinner. Yum!
6. Heritage Village
In the pretty and quaint downtown of Crystal River there’s the charming Heritage Village. There are lots of shops you can spend a slow afternoon browsing around, in search of cute and unique gifts to take home.
There is also a popular tea house and some cafes where you can stop for a delicious bite to eat. The area is dotted with cracker style cottages, one of which is where it all began. The Heritage House, built in the early 1800s, was the first piece of the Heritage Village puzzle.
The village gives you a sense of what Crystal River once looked like, and definitely has some Instagram worthy photo spots.
5. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
This is the only wildlife refuge across the US that was designed solely to protect manatees. Start your visit at the visitors center in King’s Bay, then head over to the Three Sisters Springs and explore the walk board and trails.
You can get up close to the manatees from a rented boat (or bring your own if you have one) or put your wetsuit on and dive into their world.
But whilst most people come to see the manatees, that isn’t the only spectacular wildlife around. The refuge is frequented by bald eagles, wood storks, and plenty more impressive bird species. Bring your binoculars if you want to get a good look at them.
4. Fort Island Gulf Beach
The Fort Island Gulf Beach is a little beach just 20 minutes drive away from downtown Crystal River. There is a sandy beach area you can relax and play on, a grassy and shaded picnic area, and a charming pier.
You can go fishing off the pier, which has a long walk board leading up to it, spend a lazy afternoon on the beach reading your book, or go for a swim.
If you want to do something a bit more adventurous, rent a boat and launch off the boat ramp – the Gulf of Mexico and Crystal River (the river) await.
3. Hunter Springs Park
A tiny town park that has all the best of Florida in one place: white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and manatees. The park has off-shore swimming areas and kayaking spots, so bring your swimsuits.
If you don’t fancy being in the water then you can stroll along the boardwalk and makeshift beaches on shore instead. There are lots of lovely picnic spots and some great wildlife watching to enjoy.
The manatees hang out here during the colder months of the year, so make sure you come for a visit even if it’s a little more chilly than you’d like.
2. Three Sisters Springs
Part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the Three Sister Springs is an important winter habitat for Florida manatees. There are some beautiful waterside boardwalks and trails around the area too, so even if you don’t fancy getting into or onto the water it’s worth visiting the center.
If you want to kayak or boat at the Three Sister Springs then you can launch off at the ramps found in Hunter Springs Park or King’s Bay Park. Taking a clear bottom kayak is the best idea as then you can look at the manatees from above.
Bear in mind there are rules for swimmers and boaters that you’ll need to check out before going, and that November to April is manatee season in the King’s Bay.
1. Swim With Manatees
Swimsuits, snorkels, and flippers should be at the top of your packing list when you visit Crystal River. There are lots of different places where you can swim with manatees. You can go to Three Sister Springs, King’s Bay, or even try your luck at Hunters Spring Park in Crystal River itself.
You can look for a manatee tour or go off exploring by yourself. It might be easiest to kayak to a manatee hotspot and then get in the water. Remember to keep your distance from the manatees, don’t touch them or get too close as you could scare them off.
Swimming with a manatee is not an experience you’ll forget in a hurry, and it’s definitely a family adventure that’ll make it into the photo albums – consider getting a waterproof camera before your visit!