When people think of vacationing in the Sunshine State, they think of white sand, Coppertone spf 50, and umbrella drinks. This is understandable, considering Florida spends boatloads of advertising dollars reeling tourists into these high-cost get-away spots. It’s a wise investment. Because of the revenue generated by the tourist trade, Floridians pay no state taxes.
Florida is so much more than what the naked eye beholds in a glossy brochure or pamphlet. Those parts of the state which now attract throngs of stressed out vacationers on their one-week off used to be considered sleepy little towns. Nowadays if someone wants a taste of “Old Florida,” before it became a popular tourist destination, they have to look beyond the travel agency ads.
A mere 76.5 miles north of Tampa, traveling straight up U.S. 19 past the congestion and numerous traffic lights, lies Crystal River. If a slower, sleepier pace is more your cup of Corona, with plenty of activities to keep you busy, you’ve just found your new favorite Florida vacation spot.
There are plenty of hotels from national chains like Hampton Inn, to family-run establishments, to the Plantation Resort for those wishing to experience a more high-end stay. There are also plenty of RV campsites for those preferring to bring their own bed and kitchen with them.
If kayaking is your thing, Crystal River is where you need to be. Don’t worry about lugging one with you, there are plenty of places offering them for rent. Without having to be shuttled, the majority of these rental locations are located directly on Kings Bay.
From Kings Bay, Seven Sisters Springs is a short paddle away. At the springs, kayakers are treated to crystal clear water where they can watch manatees up close in their natural habitat.
If paddlers get hungry after a few hours on the water, they can pull right up and dock at the restaurants at Paradise Point for a great meal, and if in the mood, a nice cold margarita.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge – Swim with the Manatees
Hop right in a swim with the manatees. Get up close a personal. Wetsuits and/or snorkeling gear are available. What a perfect opportunity for snapping some underwater photos to share with friends back home.
There are several seaworthy captains, most notably Capt. Jack, who has been around the area for years and will gladly get you and your family in the water with some.
In addition, there are dolphin tours where families can watch the playful mammals swim and jump in the boats wake. If you are interested in observing Florida in the wild, you may wish to take a nature tour and learn more about the delicate balance of Florida’s sea life, as well as the importance of the mangrove coast.
A highly recommended trip is the Matlacha Back Bay Eco Tour. Matlacha is “Old Florida” in its finest representation. This quaint fishing village consists of art shops, boutiques, and plenty of the best seafood you’ll ever shovel into your mouth.
Numerous birds call the coastline home, and if you’re lucky, you just may see a vast majority of them. Expect to see osprey, pelican, anhinga, great blue heron, night heron, great and snowy egret, ibis, and bald eagle.
Want to get hitched on the water? No problem. How about a burial at sea? They’ll do it.
Crystal River Archaeological State Park
This 61-acre pre-Columbian Native American site boasts six burial and temple/platform mounds. For 1600 years as many as 7,500 Native Americans sojourned to the ceremonial site annually to trade and bury their dead.
The park sets on the edge of a coastal marsh where both salt water and fresh water fish can be caught. It is also on the bird-watching trail so numerous varieties of feathered friends can be observed.
When it comes to saltwater and freshwater fishing, Crystal River offers some of the best to can be found anywhere in Florida. Tarpon, speckled trout and redfish are in abundance in the bay. It’s rare for an angler to return home with an empty stringer.
Largemouth bass, crappie, brim, and catfish are all waiting within the many lakes just a short drive away where several angler competitions are held throughout the year.
Numerous fishing charters are available, such as the one run by Captain Kelly Kofmehl, a native of Crystal River who has fished the area for 30 years.
Depending on the dates of your travel, you may wish to plan your vacation around one of the several annual festivals held in Crystal River. These festivals are very well attended and the city pulls out all of the stops.
The Manatee Festival takes place in January. Music and many other activities fill the streets during this event that attracts roughly 20,000 people. The festival is in its 31st year.
The Stone Crab Jam takes place every November. As is indicated by the name, stone crab is the menu of the day. City streets are filled with craft vendors and multiple bands perform all day long.
If Florida is on your list of destinations, but the glitz and glamour of the popular vacation spots have little appeal, now you know where you should go. Not to worry if you still want to take in a beach. Crystal River has one of those also. So, what are waiting for?