When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
Crystal River, in the heart of Citrus County, is said to be the soul of Florida. The small town takes its name from the 11-km long clear river flowing through it.
It is the perfect place to watch the manatees that live in the waters of Kings Bay and Three Sisters. These friendly giants have been protected in the State of Florida since the 19th century, so you can be sure that your experience will be both authentic and ethical.
In addition to manatee watching, the area offers many other aquatic activities such as sport fishing, kayaking, diving, and boat cruises.
Swim with the manatees
Crystal River is the only place in the word where swimming with the manatees is regulated and carefully supervised. All year round, it is possible to enjoy impressive face-to-face encounters with these large endangered mammals!
Snorkeling is the best way to watch them, making the interaction as silent as possible. You will feel like you're part of the group! Passive observation is required. Bear in mind that you are in their territory and that swimming with them is a privilege. Remain calm and avoid sudden movements; let the manatees come to you. They are curious animals and won't hesitate to come close.
A mask, snorkel and wetsuit are generally included in the tour price. Photos and videos of your experience are sometimes available, depending on the company. As this activity is extremely popular, it is best to book ahead of time. The best time of day for manatee watching is early in the morning, and the best time of year is between November and March. Children are allowed, but they must remain calm and wear a wetsuit (minimum size 6).
The fragile gentle giant of Crystal River
The North American manatee or “sea cow” is a unique mammal known for its gentle behaviour and friendly appearance. A distant cousin of the elephant, it is herbivorous and eats up to 50 kg of aquatic plants daily. Adult manatees are about 3 metres long and weigh around 450 kg. They live in warm water (20 degrees Celsius or more), which is why they spend their winters in Florida.
Manatees have been an endangered species since 1973. They have no natural predators, but the destruction of their habitat has forced them to live in areas frequented by boats, and they are too often injured in boating accidents. Humans are unfortunately their worst enemy…
Crystal River Archaeological State Park
This 61-acre archeological site is one of the longest continuously occupied sites in Florida. For more than 1,600 years, the area served as a ceremonial center for Native Americans. People living on the surrounding islands traveled to the mainland to conduct trade and bury their dead. The park is located on the edge of a vast marsh that is very popular with fishermen and frequented by a wide variety of birds. It has a small museum and several discovery trails.
Open year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday-Monday.
Crystal River Preserve State Park
This park stretches 30 km along the Gulf of Mexico coast and offers nature activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing and nature observation. It also boasts many public trails including Crystal Cove Trail (Mullet Hole), Seven Mile Loop, Eco-Walk Trail, Churchhouse Hammock and the 3 Dixie Shores trails (Loop Lake Trail, Marsh End Trail, Redfish Hole).
The trails are open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset and the visitor centre is closed on weekends. Admission to the park is free.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
This large park contains a natural spring 134 metres deep which serves as a refuge for manatees injured in boating accidents. A team treats their injuries and releases many of them back into the wild. The most seriously injured remain in the park. An underwater observatory offers close-up glimpses of these gentle creatures as they paddle languidly through schools of fish. The park is also a refuge for other animals unable to survive in the wild on their own such as bobcats, turtles, black bears, otters, alligators, crocodiles and birds of prey. The tour includes an exhibit on the history of the park and a boat cruise along the canals.
Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Allow 3 to 4 hours for the visit.
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
Seafood Seller & Cafe ($$-$$$)
This popular Cajun restaurant specializes in seafood. It is easy to see why it's a favourite with the locals! The fish is fresh daily, straight off their own boats and prepared to perfection. You will enjoy a warm welcome and a friendly atmosphere.
Open Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Margarita Breeze ($$-$$$)
Margarita Breeze restaurant, at Port Hotel & Marina, offers good meals with a casual atmosphere overlooking the water. The menu includes fresh seafood, pasta, hamburgers, chicken and steak. You can also dine on the outdoor patio and enjoy a spectacular sunset over Kings Bay and the surrounding islands. You may even spot some manatees! There is bar service and live music some evenings.
Open Sunday-Thursday from noon to 8 p.m., Fridays from noon to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Vintage on 5th ($$$-$$$$)
Vintage on 5th is an eclectic restaurant in the historic downtown area of Crystal River, housed in a renovated 1940 church. It's a winning recipe: excellent service, unique atmosphere, creative cuisine, fresh ingredients and an excellent selection of wines. The me nu features fresh fish, hand-cut steaks, seafood dishes, and regional Southern favorites. Children's menu available. Reservations necessary.
Open Tuesday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
*** Hours may vary ***
- Very Favourable