Never heard of Crystal River, Florida? Well, it’s about to go to the top of your “must travel” list! My husband and I had a fun weekend trip here in February, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a place that RV-ers, groups, families, animal lovers, “tourists,” and even seasoned travelers can enjoy. Famous for manatees, freshwater springs, and local seafood, here are the 10 best things to do in Crystal River!
10. Visit the Coastal Heritage Museum
This free little museum only takes up two rooms in the old City Hall (which was also the fire station and police department at the same time in its past!), and it will only take about 20-30 minutes of your time. However, there is a lot of great information in here! There are artifacts of every sort from Crystal River’s history and that of the surrounding area. What I found most intriguing was the information about “Ghost Towns” in this part of Florida. It’s a real eye-opener of how things change so quickly!
9. Explore Historic Downtown Crystal River
As a small town girl myself, I love visiting other small towns! Many of the earliest buildings here were lost to a great fire decades ago, but some remain (including the 1939 City Hall that houses the aforementioned museum), and it’s very walkable. You’ll find beautiful murals, locally-owned eateries, and unique boutiques here, as well as a Crosstown Trail that Steve and I used almost every day for our morning run!
This trail is 2.5 miles round-trip, and it’s an easy walk—just look out for roots, rocks, and skunks! It’s the perfect place to stretch your legs if you’ve just been on a road trip, or want a lovely afternoon walk to enjoy the outdoors but also get some shade. Parking and entrance are FREE, so there’s really no reason to skip it!
More here: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
Three Sisters Springs is one of the most popular places to go in Crystal River, but remember that also means its often very crowded! You won’t be able to get into the water from land here at the State Park, but you can enter elsewhere and swim, paddle, or take a tour to get here by water. It is more expensive for adults to visit in winter ($20 per person instead of $12.50 per person in summer), so take that into consideration. Kids ages 6-15 are always $7.50. That said, the water in these springs is some of the clearest, most beautiful you will ever see!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit Crystal River
6. Shop Local
This is one of my favorite things to do anywhere in the world—shop local! I love finding things like soap, bags, and gifts that were made locally, maybe even by the proprietor. While you’ll certainly find your typical tee shirts, sweatshirts, pajamas, mugs, and more mass-produced items, you’ll also find locally-made jewelry, pottery, and the like made right there in Crystal River or the surrounding communities. Just make sure to look at the label!
More here: 5 Tips for Shopping Local in Your Travels
5. Eat Local
Another of my favorite things to do in my travels is, of course, eat the local food. But “local” gets taken to an entirely different level here. Not only will you find locally-roasted coffee and farm-fresh veggies, you’ll also get the chance to taste seafood caught that very morning, on the restaurant’s own fishing boats! Want to catch your own dinner? Many restaurants here will cook it for you. I recommend going to the Crab Plant (FYI: it’s cash only!), Seafood Seller, Amy’s on the Avenue, and the one restaurant that made me break my “never eat at any restaurant twice” rule: Cattle Dog Coffee Company. We ate there three times!
Keep eating: The Best Places to Eat in Crystal River
This was well-worth a visit for American history buffs like us. There are burial mounds here dating back thousands of years. You can even climb up the steps of one of them for a view of the river. The small museum does a great job off displaying, explaining, and showcasing both the way of life people used to have here, and the artifacts found in the area.
Need to know: How to Plan a Trip (your step-by-step guide!)
3. Play at Fort Island Gulf Beach
Looking for a beach? You’ll be looking a while! There are not a lot of beaches in the area around Crystal River, but the one place you can find one is Fort Island Gulf Beach, at the end of Fort Island Trail. It’s a lovely little spot with fine, white sand, and it faces the Gulf of Mexico. This is also the only spot where you’ll find salt water. The surrounding springs pump up so much fresh water each hour, it overpowers the Gulf and keeps the saltwater away from the rivers and springs! There are bathrooms here, as well as a boardwalk and pier just a few steps away.
Read next: What to Pack for a Beach Trip
2. Drive Down to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Refuge State Park
This one is not directly in Crystal River, but it is a quick, 15-minute drive south on Highway 19 to Homosassa Springs. This wildlife refuge is just that—a refuge for injured or life-long captive animals to live and be taken care of. While the refuge used to house many exotic animals, it has become a place for Florida’s native animals to come over the years. Every animal here, from the black bear to the flamingo to the manatees, is native to Florida, with one notable exception: Lu the Hippo!
Lu is an African Hippopotamus who was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1960. He lived there until he was four years old, when he came to Florida. He has worked in TV and movies, so he’s a great poser for everyone who wants to take photos! He’s an honorary Florida citizen and much-loved by Floridians and visitors alike. Interestingly, hippos in captivity often live to be 50, but rarely live longer (and they live only into their 30s or 40s in the wild). Not Lu, though. He’s still living his best life at 62, as of 2022!
More details here: Your Ultimate Guide to the Ellie Schiller Wildlife Refuge State Park
1. Swim with Manatees!
This is most likely the reason you started planning your trip to Crystal River in the first place! In the wintertime, hundreds of manatees call the waters around Crystal River home. The natural, freshwater springs are always about 73 degrees (F), so these gentle giants come here to stay warm. You can (and should!) take a tour with knowledgeable guides to swim and snorkel with these mammals that pirates mistook for mermaids. We went with the Adventure Center at the Plantation on Crystal River, but I also know that Manatees in Paradise is an excellent manatee tour company as well!
Get all the details: How to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida
Want more? Check out all my posts about Florida and Crystal River on my United States Page!
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