5 Awesome Things to do in Crystal River, Florida

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I've got a thing about kitschy, Old Florida towns. I love the history and the quirky character of them. In the past, Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast used to be my favorite.

But I think I have a new favorite now after visiting the coastal town of Crystal River, Florida.

Kayaking the Chazz

Located about an hour and a half north of Tampa, Crystal River is exactly the sort of funky, slightly touristy, laid-back Florida town that I love. There's great seafood, nearby beaches, and more than enough to do to keep you busy for a short visit.

Many people skip this part of Florida, but here are five reasons why you shouldn't skip Crystal River.

Unique things to do in Crystal River, Florida

Swim with manatees

Crystal River is known for being one of just a few places in Florida that native manatees flock to each year during the cold months. The town and its surrounding waters are dotted with natural springs that remain a balmy 72 degrees year-round, drawing in the manatees that can't survive in colder water (because yes, it DOES get chilly in Florida in the winter).

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Hundreds of these gentle giants stuff themselves into springs and rivers around Crystal River each winter (and a handful are “resident” Crystal River manatees who live in the area year-round), making manatee sightseeing tours really popular.

I went swimming with manatees on my visit to Crystal River, and it was nothing short of incredible!

Want to get up close with these gentle giants in the water, too? .

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

(If you decide to go looking for manatees without going on a tour, just remember that these ARE wild animals, and that you should always give them their space. Don't approach a manatee too closely, and respect signs if they tell you not to swim into a specific area.)

Visit the Three Sisters Springs Boardwalk

One of the most famous places that the manatees gather in Crystal River is at Three Sisters Springs, a collection of (you guessed it) three natural springs that feed the Crystal River. Swimming in the springs (like you do on a manatee tour) is amazing because the water is so clear.

But if swimming isn't your thing, don't worry — you can walk the boardwalk above the springs, too, which is nearly just as awesome.

Three Sisters Springs

You can book this visit to Three Sisters Springs through in Crystal River. They'll bus you out to the boardwalk, and then you'll have an hour to wander around and talk to the volunteers who watch over the springs.

It's a beautiful location well worth visiting. (And yes, the water really is that color!)

Three Sisters Springs
No manatees, but still beautiful!

Kayak “The Chazz”

One of my favorite non-manatee things I did in Crystal River was kayaking on the beautiful Chassahowitzka River. Like many rivers in this part of Florida, “The Chazz” is spring-fed.

Along with Tara from Citrus County tourism and Dennis who runs the campground where you can rent boats and kayaks, I paddled leisurely along the Chazz to its source — a natural spring everyone just calls “The Crack.”

While there were no manatees around, we did see plenty of mullet (fish that like to leap out of the water and scare you) and lots and lots of birds. The Chazz is part of the larger Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and should be on your list if you're looking for a chilled-out morning or afternoon.

Kayaking the Chazz
Kayaking the Chazz

Kayaking the Chazz

Catch a beach sunset

Crystal River itself isn't directly on the coast, but Fort Island Gulf Beach is a short 15-minute drive away (so it's basically a Crystal River beach). This beach on the Gulf of Mexico is perfect for an afternoon picnic or beachy sunset.

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach in Florida

I got lucky with a brilliant pink sunset when I visited.

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach in Florida

Meet Lu at Homosassa Springs

Lastly, you should make a stop at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Originally opened as a kind of zoo in the early 1900s, today the park is run by the state of Florida.

When the state took over the park a few decades ago, it slowly started whittling down the animals living there to ones that you'll find in Florida, keeping humane captivity in mind. Today, there are resident manatees, alligators, bald eagles, and even an orphaned Florida panther.

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Florida

One odd animal you'll still find here is Lu the hippo. Hippos are certainly not indigenous to Florida, but when the state took over the park the locals petitioned for Lu the hippo to be able to stay since he'd been a staple at the park for so long.

The state ended up granting Lu honorary Florida citizenship so he could continue living at Homosassa Springs.

Lu the Hippo at Homosassa Springs
Lu the Hippo, an official Florida resident!

Where to stay in Crystal River

I stayed at The Plantation on Crystal River, a lovely historic hotel that resembles (you guessed it) an old antebellum plantation. The rooms are large and comfortable, and the pool is the perfect spot to relax after a day of sightseeing.

The Plantation also has an on-site restaurant and offers its own dive shop and manatee tours, meaning you don't have to go far at all if you want to book a tour or rent a boat for the day.

Check out TripAdvisor reviews here | Book your own room at The Plantation here!

Or, .

More essential info

  • Looking for packing suggestions for Crystal River? Head over to to see all my favorite travel gear!
  • Pick up a before you go.
  • Don't leave home without a good travel insurance plan – because you never know what might happen! I recommend World Nomads for affordable basic travel insurance.

Who's ready to book a trip to Crystal River?


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Great things to do in Crystal River, Florida
Great things to do in Crystal River, Florida


Many thanks to Visit Citrus County and Visit Florida for helping with my trip! As always, all opinions are my own.



"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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