Manatees and More Things To Do in Crystal River The Manatee Capital of the World
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.
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
the heart of Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring flows into King’s Bay and the river basin. This 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 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.
Scalloping Season in Crystal River
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! 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.
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 include grouper, snapper, kingfish, and other pelagics that roam the clear gulf waters.
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
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.
Places to Eat in Crystal River
Hungry? Try lunch at Crackers on the waterfront about a mile down the bay from the Plantation Inn. The food is average bar food, but the view of the bay is great!
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 burger too!
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!
Where 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 a Best Western if you want a name brand.
Crystal River is the Manatee Capital of the World, but this west gulf coast town has plenty more to offer.
This Florida day trip to Crystal River is about an hour and a half from Tampa or Clearwater north along the Gulf coast. From Orlando, it is about a two-hour Florida day trip. Last updated December 2022.
Map of Crystal River and the area is below.
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