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Must Visit Crystal River Florida – Manatee Capital of the World

Where is Crystal River Florida Located

A quick answer to where is Crystal River Florida located is 80 miles north of Tampa on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast. In an hour you can be in Crystal River, the Manatee Capital of the World, from the Tampa airport.

From Orlando it is about an hour and forty five minutes west. See the Map of Crystal River Florida below.

King’s Bay is Center of Waterfront Crystal River

Crystal River is one of those places where there are so many things to do, you spend more time planning your trip to the Manatee Capital of the World, than just getting out and enjoying this wonderful location.

One of the most popular things to do in Crystal River is a boat ride in King’s Bay. You will quickly see why Crystal River is called the Manatee Capital of the World. These gentle sea cows are literally everywhere. Florida Travel Blog has visited this haven for manatees many times.

manatee capital of the world crystal river snorkeling
Snorkeling Kings Bay and swimming with Manatees is one of the fun things to do in the Manatee Capital of the World, Crystal River Florida.

Our first contact with a manatee in Crystal River a decade ago was as we enjoyed a refreshment at the tiki bar of our hotel, The Plantation Inn

As we looked over an inlet leading to King’s Bay, a manatee was chewing on some leaves on a low-hanging branch no more than 25 feet from us.

Since that time, we have learned that the area is the home to hundreds of manatees year round. One of the reasons is Three Sister’s Springs. Located in

 
visit crystal river manatee capital of the world - wildlife refuge crystal river
The Crystal River Wildlife Refuge provides protection for the manatees and other wildlife in Kings Bay.

the heart of Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring flows into King’s Bay and the river basin. The Bay provides year-round protection, food, and breeding opportunities in a nearby preserve in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

Fans and curiosity seekers flood into Crystal River to swim with the gentle giants of the river. There are dozens of charter companies that will take you to multiple locations where manatees lazily forage. 

Swimming with the manatee and observing these gentle giants is probably one of the most popular things to do in Crystal River and Citrus County. 

Crystal River has used its title as Manatee Capital of the World to draw people who love these animals. What is there not to like about a 1500-pound friendly sea creature?

Scalloping Season in Crystal River

Scalloping Crystal River - Visit the Manatee Capital of the World Crystal River
Boy scalloping in Crystal River – a fun thing to do in Crystal River Florida.

While the manatees rule the shallows, the flats around Crystal River host Scallop Season every year in July. The scallop harvesting season is short but it brings thousands of people to Crystal River! 

things you need when flying

If you like the water, scallops for dinner, and fun, just head to Crystal River from the beginning of July until September. 

Hire a charter boat to take you out in the shallow waters of the bay to gather scallops. It’s a fun day rewarded by some great eats. You can find boat captains at The Plantation Inn and other locations in Crystal River.

Our recommendation is to stop by the Adventure Center at the Plantation Inn and ask about the best time to go scalloping, the best charter captains, and the snorkel equipment needed.  Of course, our recommendation may include a beer or two at the Plantation Inn tiki bar a few steps from the marina. For many people, scalloping is one of the top things to do in Crystal River.

An experienced guide generally furnishes you with a mask and snorkel to find those little mollusks in a couple feet of water. The views will be gorgeous as you motor out to the shallows. The Crystal River basin has thousands of acres of shallow sea grasses that are the perfect estuary for bay scallops.

Places to stay in Crystal River - The Plantation Inn
The Plantation Inn is our favorite play to stay in Crystal River Florida. It is budget friendly and the center of manatee viewing in Crystal River.
 

Other Things To Do in Crystal River

While late summer is scallop season, fishing for snook, redfish and trout is excellent in this area year-round. Some of the charter captains can give you detailed assistance in planning a great inshore fishing trip.

Offshore species targeted in the Gulf of Mexico include grouper, snapper, kingfish, and other pelagics that roam the clear gulf waters.

You can rent boats, Kayaks, paddleboards, sailing boats and jet skis for even more fun in Crystal River. For a complete list of things to do in Crystal River check here.

World Class Golfing Available in Crystal River

While the Plantation Inn has its own golf course, if you want world-class golfing, go to World Woods.

World Woods has two very well-groomed courses just 20 minutes away. Pine Barrens course at World Woods has been a top 100 Florida golf course for years.

Another golf option is Black Diamond about 30 minutes away. Black Diamond is one of the top ten courses in Florida.

Just about eight or ten miles south of Crystal River is the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park and just a few minutes from there is the

Crumps Landing Homosassa - Must visit Crystal River Florida Manatee Capital of the World
Crumps Landing is one of our favorite tiki bars in Central Florida. It is just a few miles south of Crystal River.
Crumps Landing at Homosassa Springs

sprawling tiki bar Crump’s Landing. Probably one of the largest tiki bars you can find.

You can also check out some charters to swim with the manatees at the springs. This is one of the most popular things to do in Homosassa Springs.

Best Places to Eat in Crystal River

Below are a couple of our favorite restaurants in Crystal River. However, Florida Travel Blog did a complete discussion of the Best Restaurants in Crystal River. You can find out about all the choices of food in Crystal River.

In “downtown” Crystal River you will find places to shop, eat and drink on Citrus Ave. a mile or two north of the Plantation Inn.

One of the newest places we like is St. John’s Tavern. The tavern is a total remodel of a historical building with great service and many draft beer choices. They have a darn good “smash” burger too!

Pecks Old Port Cove Inn - Crystal River Florida Manatee Capital of the World
Peck’s Old Port Cove is known for their blue crabs.

Down the street is the new Kane’s Cattle Company. They advertise locally raised beef and the steaks are superb. The locals say Kane’s is a great addition to the food scene. 

Want seafood? We recommend Seafood Seller. Their Cajun twist on seafood classics is our favorite. The Crab Plant is always fresh and a rustic way to enjoy seafood on King’s Bay.

 

For a little adventure, take the drive to Ozello, Florida. This little village in the middle of salt grass flats is about 20 minutes south of Crystal River.

At the end of the Ozello Trail Road, you will find a restaurant called Peck’s Old Port Cove Inn. This is another one of our favorites. Fresh blue crabs highlight the menu as well as local clams. The clam chowder is one of the best you will find. Your view while dining will be the Crystal River basin opening up to a large bay. Make this one of the things to do in Crystal River!

Best Places to Stay in Crystal River

If you decide to make a Florida day trip and overnight stay, The Plantation Inn is the grand old dame of the area. If you are looking for elegance, don’t bother. This hotel is convenient and has character at a very reasonable price. The hotel has an inviting tiki bar outside and Plantation’s own golf course across the street. 

A few miles north is the Hampton Inn if you want a name brand. More hotels in Crystal River Florida can be found here.

places to eat in Crystal River Kanes Cattle Company
Kane’s Steak House is one of the best places to eat in Crystal River.

Crystal River is the Manatee Capital of the World, but this west Gulf Coast town has plenty more to offer than just manatee viewing.

Directions to Crystal River Florida

This Florida day trip to Crystal River Florida is about an hour and a half from Tampa or Clearwater north along the Gulf coast. From Orlando, it is about an hour and forty-five minute Florida day trip. Last trip we went to Crystal River was May 2024.

Map of Crystal River and the area is below. Florida Travel Blog day trip ideas are at More Destinations in Florida.

tiki bar Plantation Inn
These ladies enjoying the tiki bar at the Plantation Inn in Crystal River.
St. John's Tavern in Crystal River is a great place to watch sports and try their hamburger!

Where is Crystal River on a Map

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