Nestled on Florida’s enchanting Gulf Coast, Crystal River is a captivating haven where nature’s wonders and cultural heritage unite. Renowned for its crystal-clear springs and intricate waterways, this city beckons visitors to explore its unique underwater world, teeming with gentle manatees and diverse marine life.
Citrus County is known as the “Manatee Capital of the World,” but this small yet charming city is steeped in history, evident in its historic downtown, where quaint shops and eateries harmoniously blend old-world charm with modern vibrancy.
Let’s discover the best things to do in Crystal River Florida!
Best Things To Do in Crystal River Florida
Swim with Manatees
The big drawcard of Crystal River is the chance to swim with manatees. You will find manatees in their natural habitat at Three Sister Springs, King’s Bay, or Hunters Spring Park in Crystal River. However, I find with wildlife spotting it’s better to go with the professionals. They know what they are looking for and have lots of interesting facts about these slow aquatic mammals.
My manatee tour was with the family-owned Crystal River Watersports which was one of the first companies to become a member of the Save the Manatee Club Guardian Guide program. They adhere to the strict code of providing extraordinary ecological and educational experiences for the tourists whilst minimising adverse impacts on the manatees.
Leah, our guide from Crystal River Watersports told us all about the manatees. How they eat, how they interact, and how we should act when we see them. It’s important to give the manatees space, don’t touch, chase or harass them.
A close encounter with these gentle giants is truly humbling, just watching and listening to them munch away on the seagrass was adorable. Snorkeling and swimming with manatees in the best thing to do in Crystal River Florida, and should not be missed. Not only that, the manatee tours are a wonderful opportunity to spot other wildlife such as turtles, dolphins, cormorants and anhinga birds.
Take an airboat ride
Besides the manatees, Florida is known for its’ airboat rides through the wetlands, so this was high on my list to experience. Exploring the stunning backwaters of the Withlacoochee River with Wild Bill Airboat Tours was a real adventure. I loved travelling into the heart of the vast wilderness watching the wildlife in their natural habitat.
The riverside was lined with old Cypress trees and palms and other verdure shading the wading Roseate Spoonbills wading and White Herons fishing. Overhead a red-shouldered hawk soared and an American Alligator glided calmly with his beady eyes above the water. There is an abundance of wildlife in dense vegetation we could not see such as turkeys, deer, bears, and wild hogs.
Airboats are powered by large propellers above the water which, unlike regular boats, don’t cause soil and organic particles in the water to rise up and affect plants, fish, and other wildlife in the water. This more eco-friendly mode of transport avoids leaving any marks or permanent damage to the fragile ecosystem.
You may ask, do you get wet on an airboat tour? Normally, the answer is no. Our trip was in the Floridian summer when sudden downpours can occur so we did get pretty wet although it certainly did not spoil the experience. It seems wildlife hangs out rain or shine, just remember to pack a rain jacket and sunscreen!
Wild Bill Airboat Tours is the first Coast Guard Approved airboat touring company in Florida. They are located on the Withlacoochee River located in Inverness Florida, 30 minutes away from Crystal River by car. Whether you are a nature lover or thrill-seeker, I highly recommend taking an airboat ride in Florida.
Wander around Downtown Crystal River
Beyond its watery allure, Crystal River boasts a rich history, evident in its preserved downtown, where shops and eateries exude a nostalgic atmosphere.
There is a charming selection of galleries such as Glass Werx Studio, Coastal Art Gallery and Franklin Anderson Gallery. The locally-owned artisan shops are worth a visit, including the Karma Cottage and The General Store.
Visit Franklin Anderson Gallery
Franklin Anderson Gallery is located in the historic downtown area and is worth a visit to peruse the work of talented local and international artists. The collection features contemporary and traditional styles in a range of mediums from painting, glass, and sculptures. There is a piece to suit all art-loving tastes.
Eat cake at Amy’s on the Avenue
Amy’s on the Avenue is a popular haunt for breakfast and lunch in Crystal River’s historic downtown. Thankfully they have an umbrella-shaded patio at the rear of the restaurant to cope with the overflow of hungry guests.
The eyes were drawn straight to the signature zesty triple-layered Key Lime Cake, and my friend was lured in by the decadent Southern Humming Bird Cake made with bananas, pineapple, pecans and spices. And boy did they taste good!
The bistro adjoins the boutique shop which sells a creative selection of paintings, clothing, accessories, candles and much more. Perfect for souvenir gifts to take back home!
Visit the Coastal Heritage Museum
The Coastal Heritage Museum is housed in the Old City Hall on North Citrus Avenue, opposite Amy’s on the Avenue. This cute cottage-style construction, made from limestone quarried locally, dates back to 1939 when it was used by the Crystal River City Government until the early 1970s.
This small history museum displays antiques such as furniture, artefacts and photographs giving tourists an insight into times gone by in Citrus County. The volunteer staff are more than happy to impart their knowledge bringing the exhibition to life.
Check out the big Crystal River Murals
Crystal River has some street art adorning the walls and shaping the neighbourhood. However, the latest creation is a huge 68-foot-wide, 14-foot-high mural by artist William Mickey. He spent 11 weeks painting his rendition of Crystal River’s waterway adventures and wildlife from the beloved manatees and pelicans, to kayaking and scalloping.
Round the block, you will find another giant mural beautiful depiction of the Crystal River ecosystem. The illustration of the unique landscape and wildlife from the black bears, manatees, roseate spoonbills and turtles was painted by Florida-based Kelly Quinn.
Dine in KC Wine & Koffee Bar
KC Wine & Koffee Bar is a gastronomic gem in the historic downtown Crystal River. We were greeted with a warm welcome and an atmospheric dining experience. If you are looking for something a little more upbeat, check out their events for weekend live entertainment on the outdoor patio at the back.
This family-run restaurant serves its signature crispy Lumpia (Filipino spring roll) as an appetizer, main course, and dessert. I recommend adding them to your menu choices for one course at least! Aside from that, they offer a superb selection of fresh fish cooked to perfection but also cater to vegan and vegetarian diets. KC Wine & Koffee Bar boasts a fine selection of wines, craft beers, spiked seltzers and ciders.
I’d definitely recommend a meal in KC Wine & Koffee Bar on your visit to Crystal River Florida. If you don’t believe me, check out the reviews on Tripadvisor!
Visit the natural springs of Citrus County
Citrus County is teaming with natural freshwater springs, you’d be hard-pushed not to stumble across them. The crystal-clear waters are an idyllic hangout for a relaxing day.
Three Sisters Springs comprises three main springs Pretty Sister, Deep sister, and Little Sister. The water remains constant at 72 degrees all year-round making this a spot for the manatees who claim the springs as their home away from the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico between November and March.
Visitors can swim at Three Sisters Springs by arriving through the waterways. Kayaks launch from Hunters Springs Park and Kings Bay Park if you wanted to book at kayak tour at The Sisters Springs.
Homosassa Springs Group includes nearly 30 natural springs pumping out 65 million gallons of water daily making this one of the largest springs in Florida. The Homosassa River is fed by Homosassa Springs and flows 8 miles to the Gulf of Mexico making this a partially saltwater and freshwater river. Swimming is not allowed in Homosassa Springs but kayaking is possible in the Homosassa River.
Visit Crystal River Archaeological State Park
Visiting Crystal River Archaeological State Park is a journey into Florida’s prehistoric past. This park, located on the Gulf Coast, preserves ancient Native American burial mounds and temple mounds, offering a glimpse into the rituals and lifestyles of the indigenous people who lived here over 1,000 years ago.
The centrepiece is the Crystal River Mound, an impressive earthen structure. A museum provides insights into the region’s history and artifacts. Guided tours shed light on the significance of these mounds. Nature trails weave through the lush landscape, enhancing the experience with glimpses of local flora and fauna.
Meet the wildlife in Homosassa Springs State Park
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a natural haven for birds and animals that are sadly unable to survive in the wild due to injury or captivity. They also have manatee rehabilitation facilities working closely with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Save the Manatee Club.
The park is located a 15-minute drive from Crystal River and features crystal-clear springs, native wildlife like manatees and alligators, and informative wildlife programs. Its underwater observatory offers an up-close view of the Homosassa Spring’s inhabitants, making it a unique and educational destination.
There is one resident at Homosassa Springs that is non-native. Lu the Hippo is a retired Hollywood star born in 1960. His full name is Lucifer and was with Ivan Tors Animal Actors before being transported to Florida at the age of 4.
Walk along the paved trails viewing the wildlife, or take the Pepper Creek Birding Trail. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a wonderful place to visit for all ages and is a joy for photographers and bird lovers to watch the Roseate Spoonbills and Birds of Prey. I was in my absolute element there!
FAQs for visiting Crystal River Florida
Where is the best place to stay in Crystal River Florida?
To be in close proximity to the best things to do in Crystal River Florida, these are the best-located hotels to maximise your stay. Hope you find it useful!
($) BUDGET: The Port Hotel and Marina in King’s Bay feature an on-site waterfront restaurant and a dive centre with equipment, boat, kayak, and snorkel rentals | Check Prices & Read Reviews at The Port Hotel and Marina
($$) MID-RANGE: Best Western Crystal River Resort located on the spring-fed waterfront on King’s Bay, is a comfortable stay with easy access to downtown Crystal River by foot | Check Prices & Read Reviews at Best Western Crystal River Resort
($$$) HIGHER-RANGE: Retreat at Crystal Manatee is a family-run hotel making positive steps toward sustainability. They offer accommodation with a garden, free private parking, and a terrace | Check Prices & Read Reviews at Retreat at Crystal Manatee
($$$) HIGHER-RANGE: Plantation Resort on Crystal River has a quality dining restaurant, a lagoon-style pool, an Aveda spa, and a world-class, traditional golf course | Check Prices & Read Reviews at Plantation Resort on Crystal River
Is Crystal River worth it?
A big yes to this! Crystal River is definitely worth a visit on your travels to Florida. The city’s connection to nature is profound, offering not only water-centric activities like swimming with manatees, kayaking, and fishing but also a gateway to nearby wildlife reserves. Crystal River is a destination where history, nature, and community converge in an inviting embrace.
Can you swim in the Crystal River?
Crystal River is quite literally a hotspot for swimming with manatees, as the springs flow consistently at 72 degrees all year round. Manatees thrive here in the winter months and visitors love it too!
Handy Links To Visit Crystal River Florida
Here are some useful links for your Floridian adventure to Crystal River to help you find tours, places to stay, and gear to take. These are companies I have used and can recommend with confidence.
Accommodation In Crystal River
- Best accommodation deals with Booking.com
Crystal River Tourist Information
- Tourist information on the Discover Crystal River website
- Book day tours with GetYourGuide or Viator
- Find attractions and places to eat in Crystal River on Tripadvisor
Discounts On Recommended Gear
The trip to Crystal River was a sponsored press trip with Discover Crystal River. All opinions are my own.
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