Get outside this winter and explore the more authentic side of Florida in Crystal River, Florida. There are many places where you can experience beautiful beaches in Florida, but there is only one place in the world where you can swim with manatees legally and I came to Crystal River, Florida to do just that as well as take part in my first scalloping season.
If you want to experience nature, outdoors, and stay in comfort a holiday in Crystal River and exploring the Citrus County region could be just for you. Here is a guide to a 3-day trip to experience the best things to do in Crystal River, Florida.
*This trip was hosted by Discover Crystal River the experiences, resort, and activities/food were covered by host. All views are my honest opinion. If you find affiliate links in this article they help me with a small commission however they don’t add extra cost to you. This helps me continue bringing you quality content to help plan your next adventure.
Where is Crystal River, Florida?
Crystal River, Florida is one of the most unique places to visit in Florida located on the Nature coast of Florida. It is easy to get to Crystal River, Florida from Orlando and Tampa it is only a 90-minute to 2-hour journey by car.
Also, there are places along the way like Inverness, Florida, or Homosassa Springs that can break up the journey.
When is the best time to visit Crystal River, Florida?
Year-round! I am excited to share that Crystal River and Citrus County are beautiful year-round. Whether you come for scalloping during scalloping season or visit during the winter for peak manatee season there is something to do any time of the year and you are almost guaranteed to see manatees year round.
The only time I would avoid it is peak hurricane season. Scalloping season is July- September and hurricane season is late summer to early fall.
Eat Breakfast in Downtown Crystal River
Want to experience small-town life in Florida? Head to Crystal River downtown and eat at Amy’s on the Avenue located on Citrus Avenue. I had the best coffee and breakfast here that kept me going for my adventures in the springs and scalloping. The downtown is quaint with a few shops, adventure fitters, and bars but offers a great way to see a different side of Florida as opposed to larger cities like Tampa and Orlando.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in Florida (but the world) is swimming with manatees. The Plantation on Crystal River where I stayed has an adventure center where you can organize a tour swimming with manatees. The whole experience was 10/10 and the guides made me feel super comfortable as a swam next to 1000-pound sea cows.
The Plantation Adventure Center offered everything I needed: a wet suit and snorkels, and they even offered to film you and take photos on your tour. When should you visit to swim with manatees in Crystal River? I would say anytime a year because about 40-50 manatees are in King’s Bay. When waters get cold the manatees come closer and closer to Crystal river for the constant 72-degree waters in Three Sisters Springs.
Kayak in Three Sisters Springs
When you visit Crystal River you cannot miss a visit to Three Sisters Springs, and the only way to swim and go inside Three Sisters Springs is by kayaking or swimming. The closest kayaking center to Three Sisters Springs is Crystal River Kayak Company & Dive Center.
They have double-seat kayaks, single-seat kayaks, and clear-bottom kayaks for rent and they also offer tours. However, if you want to go leisurely and have the springs to yourself, go right when they open and get to Three sisters springs early because it is bound to be busy!
If you are a first-time scalloper, a veteran, or you just want to go snorkeling for 5 hours to get one scallop, I would suggest taking a tour with Crystal River Watersports. The 5-hour tour was a scalloping charter and went out past Kings Bay and took an hour to get to where we saw so many scallops. While it took me a while to get a hang of it, I did get a scallop and I will always remember finding my first one. Our tour consisted of four people and the owner of Crystal River Watersports and we all split our catch at the end. It was an experience learning how to shuck scallops and see them in their natural environment and see them swim in the seagrass. If you are not around for scalloping season though check out getting a fishing charter.
Cook your Catch
After you go scalloping you can cook your catch at West 82 Bar and Grill. The restaurant is located at Plantation on Crystal River hotel and cooked our catch into a nice appetizer. There are a few other restaurants that will do this for you, but you must clean and shuck your scallops before you arrive.
Take An Airboat Ride
Florida is known for being a giant swamp. Wild Bill’s Airboat adventures are one of the most known since it was also seen on America’s Got Talent. The airboat will have you sliding from side to side, and even getting a little wet.
Learning about Florida’s number one predator, alligators are really interesting and often spotted along the Withlacoochee River is the second river in Florida that flows south to north over 160 miles long. I found it super interesting that small springs dot the river where locals will go to take a dip away from the throngs of tourists at Three Sisters Springs. However, it is necessary to have an airboat.
Watch Sunset at Waterfront Social
If you have not experienced a Gulf of Mexico Sunset or sunset on Florida’s nature coast you are missing out. The fresh air as you sit on the patio of Waterfront Social as you watch kayakers pass by and the sunset will be one of the most memorable moments as you eat the fresh catch of the day.
Explore Inverness, Florida
Did you know Jeepers Creepers and Elvis filmed a movie in Inverness, Florida? A small town called Inverness is located between Orlando and Crystal River. This town has been reimagined and redeveloped to have one of the best cycling trips in the state of Florida, and also just shows you what small-town life is like in Florida and have coffee at the local roaster Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters. After meeting a local who shared with me some of the highlights of Inverness I checked out the old courthouse where Elvis filmed “Follow That Dream”.
Then I walked around and found the old train station that has been turned into The Depot, a spot where you can get icees, ice cream, and snacks, and they are even opening a pin bowling alley.
After exploring Inverness or getting wild on an airboat ride, it is always a treat to head to The Cove Pub and Grub knew for amazing chicken wings and southern cooking. It is very Florida, and you can even pull up your airboat to the place. They have a few Airbnb properties too if you are looking for an escape.
Cycle Withlacoochee State Trail
Finally, if you want to explore one of the longest rail cycling trails head to Inverness, Florida to begin your ride. I rented bikes from Cooter’s rentals and cycled to Fort Cooper State Park. This was a hot day so afterward, I headed to grab some icee drink before heading back to Crystal River to get ready for dinner.
Where to stay in Crystal River, Florida?
Plantation on Crystal River is a recently renovated resort and offers one of the only hotels in Crystal River located right on the waterfront. It offers a spa, pool, restaurant on site, and the Plantation Adventure Center where guests can do fishing charters, swim with manatees, and relax poolside after a long day exploring the amazing things to do in Crystal River.
The room was very spacious and opened up with a little area outside that allowed you to sit as boats went by. There was a fridge in the room as well to keep your drinks cool to put in your cooler to explore in the hot Florida sun. The location was perfect and it was a spot to enjoy your vacation and relax.
Hopefully, this best of Crystal River Guide has you ready to go outside of the box for your next Florida holiday and move a little outside of your comfort zone. I never thought I would be scalloping and shucking/cooking my catch in Florida. But I hope my experience shows you it is never too late to try something new even in a place you call home. This Florida can officially say she has gone scalloping successfully and swam with manatees. It is truly one of the best Florida experiences you can have. If you are looking for more Florida adventures check out one of the many state parks to help inspire your next holiday.