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Visiting the ‘Gem of the Nature Coast’, Crystal River, should be on every nature lover’s bucket list as this is where you can swim with manatees!
While that is the most popular activity in the area, there are other things to do in Crystal River, FL, which feature history, archaeology, art, outdoors, shopping, dining, and bar hopping.
You may also enjoy our guide, swimming with manatees, which gives advice on choosing the right tour.
So, let’s dive into what to do in Crystal River aka Manatee Haven.
Best Things to Do in Crystal River Outside and Indoors
Get Your Bearings at Crystal River Downtown
When you first arrive in Crystal River, the area you will most likely park at is the city’s small downtown area.
You can easily walk between most of the suggestions in this Crystal River travel guide, but there is parking on or close to North Citrus Avenue, where you’ll find a few bars, restaurants, and cafes.
The pleasant Town Square has a manatee monument, manicured grass, colorful flowers, and a free public restroom.
During winter, the area is decorated with Christmas lights.
Just behind the Town Square is a water tower with the city emblem on it, which is quite popular in Florida towns.
This emblem says ‘City of Crystal River – Home to the Manatee’ on it.
Underneath the tower is a splash pad (226 NE 5th St) for kids.
Get a Snap of the Crystal River Mural
On a wall at the Town Square is a huge mural by local artist, William Mickey.
The street art has a kayaker, a stork, a manatee, and some people fishing under the sunset or sunrise at Kings Bay Park.
The Pete’s Pier Marina building sits in the background too.
There is a banner that says ‘Crystal River, FL’ – a colorful welcome that depicts what to expect during your trip here!
Mural hopping is one of the fun Crystal River activities for photography fans.
Heritage Village is located in the heart of Downtown Crystal River, and it is the collective name of the individual businesses dotted around North Citrus Avenue.
Here you can dine, shop, and pick up a souvenir at the shoppes tucked in front of oak, palm, and magnolia trees.
The businesses are located in cracker houses, which are wooden structures built by early Florida settlers.
Some of the shops have cute wrap-around porches.
Collect a Map at Heritage House
Heritage House (667 N Citrus Ave) was built in the early 1800s and was once the home of Harvey and Ada B. Edwards, who left the estate to their family in Crystal River.
Today, you’ll find the Village Welcome Center & Gift Shop, where you can collect a map and coupons to use around town.
Throughout the year there are a number of events on the front lawn of Heritage House, too.
Shop at Salty Girls and See the Giant Octopus
Pick up your swim gear and outdoor accessories at Salty Girls (1 NW US-19).
Stock includes ladies’ and men’s clothing such as useful water activewear, and novelty items with adventure puns.
You can also buy cute beach bags and hats.
The building has a 16-foot octopus mural at the front called The Kraken.
It was designed by William Mickey as part of the town’s Beautification Project.
Take a Peek at a Prison Cell in Crystal River Museum
The Coastal Heritage Museum (532 N Citrus Ave) is located in the historic City Hall building, which was built in 1939.
It once housed the Mayor’s Office, the Police Department, the jail, and a fire truck!
The limestone building was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Inside, you will find a museum run by local volunteers, which includes a holding cell in the jail room.
Exhibitions feature information about the history of Citrus County.
Florida is a Wildlife Wonderland Mural
This majestic mural with deep blues and lush greens is found across from Norton’s Bar and Grill.
The landscape piece includes birds, bears, seals, fish, and manatees, naturally.
The artist, Kelly Quinn from Canvas of the Wild, lets the viewer see a snapshot of what the Sunshine State has to offer, above and below the water.
It was commissioned by the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation.
Crystal River’s Mermaid
This playful mural of a mermaid is the work of Rachel Ford and uses a mosaic-style design in fun colors.
It is located at All About Nails and Hair Salon (905 US Hwy 19).
Kings Bay Park
Kings Bay Park has a walkway over the water so you can see the local birds, jumping fish, boating activity, and if you are lucky, manatees.
The park has picnic tables, a small kids’ play area, and free restrooms.
There is a kayak launch into Kings Bay but parking is limited, so consider this when planning your kayak trip.
Swimming with Manatees
OK, it’s time for the star of the show – swimming with manatees in Crystal River.
The best way to do this is to join an established boat or kayak tour that has permission to take you to the roped-off area in Kings Bay and by the sanctuary at Three Sisters Springs.
So, why is Crystal River the ‘home of the manatee’?
Every winter from mid-November until the end of March, thousands of manatees leave the Gulf and head for the warm spring waters of Kings Bay, keen to take advantage of the 72-degree temperatures that enable them to survive the colder months.
Organizations associated with Kings Bay have made a big effort to encourage manatees to use the water as a winter shelter by creating grass baskets.
They’ve also educated locals and visitors, making them aware of human activity that is harming the sea cows such as boat engine damage and human interference.
The latter is the reason that you should never touch a manatee; just let them swim by you if you see one.
We’ve created this helpful guide which details how to choose an ethical manatee tour so you can experience this truly magical adventure without doing the mammals harm.
Aren’t they just the cutest thing?
Three Sisters Springs
You don’t have to swim with manatees to experience them.
You can take a trip to Three Sisters Springs, which is part of the 57-acre refuge Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (CRNWR), and see the manatee sanctuary from the fee-access boardwalk.
It’s not just about the manatees at Three Sisters Springs, though!
You can do hikes with views of Magnolia Springs, Lake Crystal, and the wetlands.
Swimming is also permitted in spring through to fall, but you have to arrive via the waterways by launching a kayak from Kings Bay or Hunter Springs Park.
Kayak activity is only allowed from April 1 to November 14.
It is important to note that there is no parking permitted on the refuge.
Hop Aboard the Crystal River Trolley
If you plan to visit Three Sisters Springs to see the turquoise waters and wildlife, you can join the trolley service from Heritage Village.
The shuttle service takes visitors to the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs
Other stops include the USFWS Visitor Center, Hunter Springs Park, and South Citrus Ave.
Kayaking and Swimming at Hunter Springs Park
Hunter Springs Park is a very popular place for kayakers and families looking to spend the day at the beach.
For safety, there is a roped-off swimming area; the water is fresh, not salt, which is often preferred by young kids.
Amenities include restrooms, a pavilion, a kayak launch, a picnic area with grills, and a playground.
It is worth noting that the small beach does get crowded at weekends.
Manatees are sometimes spotted swimming at Hunter Springs during the season!
Spend the Day at Fort Island Gulf Beach for Free
Lose a day to the white sandy shores of Fort Island Gulf Beach (16000 W Fort Island Trail).
The small beach area has sheltered picnic tables, public restrooms, a fishing pier, and a boat launch.
Learn More About the History at Crystal River State Archaeological Site
For something different, spend an hour at Crystal River State Archaeological Site to learn about pre-Columbian Native American life.
This is where thousands of Native Americans visited each year to trade and to bury those who had died.
This 61-acre museum offers an indoor and outdoor educational experience, starting with a short video in a small room inside the museum.
You will also find a series of exhibitions with native people’s items such as crockery and weapons.
A useful map on the wall explains the migration process, too.
The museum path then leads you to the outside portion of the site where burial mounds, temple mounds, a plaza area, and a midden are located.
You can take the 51 steps to the top of Temple Mound A for views over Crystal River.
Where to Eat and Drink in Crystal River
Most of the things to do in Crystal River at night are based around the local bars which is great for getting to know the area through people-watching, sunset drinks, and live music.
This section also includes the best Crystal River restaurants and cafes serving meals from breakfast through to dinner, as well as delicious cakes!
Grab a Coffe at Cattle Dog
Coffee aficionados will want to make a stop at Citrus County coffee roasters, Cattle Dog (638 N Citrus Ave).
The cafe also serves breakfast, bagels, and baked goods.
Tea House 650
Is coffee not your thing? No worries!
Crystal River’s Tea House 650 (650 N Citrus Ave) has over 70 unique loose-leaf teas for you to try.
The lunch menu consists of paninis, soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and sweet treats.
Plus, you can pick up souvenirs at the shop.
Amy’s on the Avenue
For a cute cafe vibe, head to Amy’s on the Avenue (539 N Citrus Ave) to dine on salads, soups, and sandwiches.
The cafe also has a huge selection of cakes, including seasonal desserts such as St Paddy’s Day treats.
Amy’s has indoor and outdoor seating; the latter is a lovely deck with umbrellas.
KC Wine Bar
If you like wine and good chats, head to KC Wine Bar (564 N Citrus Ave) where you can ask for recommendations for red, white, and rose wine.
The menu also consists of beers and spirits.
This multi-award-winning bar serves food such as seafood, burgers, shawarma, gyros, falafel, and vegan options.
St Johns Tavern
St. Johns Tavern (572 N Citrus Ave) is a narrow pub located next to KC Wine Bar.
It has seats at the bar, tables to the side, and fun decor.
There are TVs displaying news and sports dotted around the building.
Sports and Live Music at Norton’s
For a lively night out, head to Norton’s Sports Bar (16 NE 5th St), where you’ll find busy servers, sports on TV, and live music in the garden.
This no-frills hangout also serves bar favorites like burgers, hot dogs, and nachos.
If it’s views you are after, make a reservation at Waterfront Social (1610 SE Paradise Cir) which can be reached by foot, car, and boat.
The menu consists of chowder, grouper bites, wings, salad, burgers, steak, and pasta, so there is something for even the pickiest of eaters.
Things to Do Near Crystal River, FL
If you’ve done the above Crystal River attractions and are looking for new ideas close to the city, consider the following.
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park is where enslaver and former Senator David Levy Yulee owned a forced-labor farm that produced sugar.
It is thought that around a thousand slaves were forced to build the 5000-acre plantation at the hammock of the Homosassa River in 1851.
The plantation ran from 1851 to 1864, when Yulee’s home was torched by Union soldiers, and the forced workers were freed as per the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Today, the park features parts of a steam-driven mill that made sugarcane into syrup, including the kettles, engine, and a 40ft limestone chimney.
Enjoy a Sunset
Crumps (11210 W Halls River Rd) in Homosassa is a short drive from Crystal River but well worth it to catch a few rays or enjoy the sunset with a drink in hand.
The restaurant has indoor seating as well as outdoor tables and sun loungers where you can watch the activity at Homosassa Public Boat Ramp.
Crystal River Travel Information
This Citrus County coastal city is located on Florida’s Nature Coast, in the west of the state.
The closest airport is Tampa International Airport (TPA), which is about 74 miles south.
Most people arrive by car and stay overnight at one of the B&Bs or rental properties.
There’s a reason people return to Crystal River and the Citrus County every year! With nature on its doorstep, free access to beaches, a tasty culinary scene, and of course, the majestic manatees, it’s easy to see why.
Have you missed any of your favorite things to do around Crystal River? Tell us the comments.