Manatees and More: 25 Things To Do in Crystal River, Florida 2024

by | Travel & Destinations

Welcome sign for Crystal River, historic home of the manatee, with the titles 'Purple Heart City,' 'Main Street USA,' 'Waterfront Florida Partnership Program,' and 'Tree City USA.' The sign is flanked by a manatee zone marker and a striped traffic cone, set against a backdrop of palm trees and a sunset sky."

Manatees and More: 25 Things To Do in Crystal River, Florida

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Exploring the many things to do in Crystal River, Florida is an exciting journey whether you are a local or just visiting. From encountering manatees to marveling at crystal-clear springs, these 25 activities listed showcase the town’s natural wonders.

Nestled in Florida’s Nature Coast, Crystal River has a tropical jungle ambiance, fascinating wetlands, and abundant wildlife, creating an enchanting backdrop for various adventures. Whether you’re boating along the rivers and bays or exploring the clear springs Crystal River offers a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

Crystal River has been a part of our lives for over two decades, and it continues to captivate us with its timeless charm and small-town feel. From our frequent visits for shopping, entertainment, and, of course, encounters with manatees, we can attest that Crystal River’s allure goes beyond its size.

While the town has retained its character, except for the recently demolished Crystal River Mall, the variety of things to do remains abundant.

So, pack your overnight bag, and let’s explore Crystal River, Florida. Welcome to a town where adventure and natural beauty come together.

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1.  Swim with Manatees

A snorkeler and two manatees swimming together through the clear blue waters over a sandy seabed, highlighting the peaceful coexistence of humans and marine life. Highlighting things to do in crystal river.

There is a reason that Crystal River holds the title “Manatee Capital of the World”.

Each winter as the waters in the Gulf of Mexico turn cold, these gentle giants migrate into warmer waters. It is not unusual to see hundreds of manatees floating in the Three Sisters Springs. The sight itself is captivating.

Manatees are docile, curious, and friendly water creatures. They are also a protected species under the Manatee Act which makes it illegal to swim, touch, or play with them. However, Crystal River is the ONLY place that it is LEGAL to swim (actually float) with manatees.

Visitors from far and near, agree that Swimming with Manatees is number 1 on the list of things to do in Crystal River.

StroTip

Before jumping into the water to swim with the manatees, there are precautions and rules to follow.  Consider using a professional tour company that provides wet suits, snorkel gear, and photographs.  Their expert guides will take you to the best places to swim with the manatees.

These are our recommendations for a fun manatee experience.

💧 Crystal River: VIP Manatee Swim with In-water Photographer

💧 Orlando: Manatee Encounter, Snorkeling, and Airboat Ride

2.  Paddle The Waterways

A group of kayakers enjoying a sunny day on a calm blue waterway, with residential structures and lush greenery lining the banks, capturing one of the many things to do in crystal river.

The unique location of Crystal River makes for a kayaker’s paradise. Everyone can take to the water from expert paddlers to novice kayakers like me.

Kings Bay gives access to Three Sisters Springs where kayakers can paddle to view the stunning springs. More advanced kayakers may want to venture on to explore King Springs, which is a bit further down the bay.

On a calm day, paddlers enjoy launching from Ozello Park. This area is more remote making the Ozello Keys popular with locals. When you are on the water you may get a surprise visit from a family of dolphins or even some sea turtles.

While these waters are fascinating, I prefer the small quiet ponds and coves like Mullet Hole in the Crystal River Preserve State Park.

Whatever your preference and skill level, you can find paddling a super fun thing to do in Crystal River.

StroTip

Before you run to the store to buy a kayak, consider renting one in Crystal River. Rental kayaks come equipped with Personal Flotation Devices and paddles. The attendants will even help you launch from the docks.

 💧 Crystal River: Kayak Rental

💧 Crystal River: Clear Bottom Kayak or Paddleboard Eco Tour

3.  Take a Dip in The Springs

How about a refreshing dip in crystal-clear water? Crystal River’s natural springs have a year-round temperature of 72 degrees F.  The water might feel chilly on a winter’s day, it provides a much-needed relief from the sweltering summer days.

Remember to bring your snorkel gear. Some of the best things to see lie beneath the surface.

Hunters Spring Park

Families and individuals enjoy a sunny day at a beachfront park with signage indicating 'no alcohol, no dogs allowed in park', amidst a backdrop of townhouses and palm trees.

Located at the edge of town, is Hunters Spring Park. The calm shallow springs invite visitors to a refreshing dip. The water temperature throughout the year is a comfortable 72 degrees.

Lucky swimmers may even feel a nudge from a curious manatee. Relax on the white sandy beach or jump in, the water’s fine!

Three Sisters Springs

A serene view of a crystal-clear blue spring surrounded by a forest with bare trees and lush undergrowth, reflecting nature's tranquility and the purity of untouched water sources.

For many, swimming into Three Sisters Springs is a magical experience. During the summer months, visitors enjoy snorkeling in the pristine springs. The tropical forest and turquoise water will make you feel like you are visiting paradise.

 

4.  Relax on a Scenic Boat Cruise

Passengers aboard the 'plantation adventure cruises' boat enjoy a tranquil river cruise at dusk, with waterfront homes and docks in the background, evoking a sense of leisurely waterfront living.

Leave the navigation to the professionals. Sit back and relax while scouting the waters for marine life and birds along the tour. Keep your eyes peeled for otters, alligators, dolphins, and manatees.

Expert guides may point out bald eagles, osprey, and cormorants as they dive into the water for their fresh catch.

StroTip

Boat Tours are our favorite way to spend an afternoon.  These are our recommendations.

Crystal River Tiki Tour
Crystal River: Kings Bay Manatee Sunset Cruise
Airboat Tour

5.  Rent a Pontoon

What better way to enjoy the Crystal River than on a boat? Don’t have your own? No problem. Rent a pontoon or Skiff and head out on the water. Crystal River is 7 miles long joining Kings Bay with the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether you enjoy a quiet afternoon on the river or a sand bar party at Sandy Point, floating and boating is one of the best things to do in Crystal River.

StroTip:

Call for pricing and availability:

Manatee Swim Center

877-810-SWIM

877-810-7946

6.  Reel in a Fresh Catch

Three deep-sea fishing rods secured in holders on the stern of a boat, with lines cast into the serene blue ocean under a clear sky.

Crystal River is home to award-winning fishing. From charter tours to fishing off of a local pier, anglers will agree that fishing is one of their favorite things to do in Crystal River.

Imagine your fresh catch of cobia, mangrove snapper, trout, and grouper on the grill after your day of fishing. My mouth is watering thinking about it!

Grab your rod and prepare to bring home the big one! 

StroTip

Book your Charter Fishing Expedition Here!

Half-Day Private Guided Inshore Fishing Charter on the Nature Coast

7.  Scalloping

A vibrant mural of a diver in a green sweater and black shorts collecting scallops into a net, with a striped fish swimming nearby. The backdrop is a stylized blue wave that creates the illusion of the diver being underwater.

Dive into a family-friendly underwater treasure hunt with scalloping! Snorkel in clear waters, find hidden gems, and create lasting memories while enjoying the thrill of the sea.

Scalloping is an exciting adventure for all to share and enjoy the rewards together. For me, the reward means a tasty dinner when the scallops are cooked with butter and garlic.

StroTip

Book your Scalloping Tour Today.

Half-Day Private Scallop Harvesting Snorkel Excursion

8.  Explore Crystal River Archaeological State Park

3400 N Museum Point, Crystal River, FL

Wooden staircase ascending a historic native american burial mound covered with greenery, under a cloudy blue sky. An information plaque is visible at the mound's base, inviting visitors to learn about this sacred site.

Discover the wonders of Crystal River Archaeological State Park! Spend a fun and educational day, unraveling the stories within the park’s sacred grounds and celebrating the fascinating history of our ancestors.

The park encompasses 61 acres of walking paths, a picnic area, and river views. Here you can step into the past and explore ancient burial mounds with tales of Native American cultures from over 1,000 years ago.

Dive into history and experience the secrets of this archaeological gem.

 

9.  Hit The Trails:  Hiking and Walking

With natural paths through the forest and paved paths through town, hiking is a fun thing to do in Crystal River.

Crystal River Preserve State Park

Gravel trail meandering through a dense, sun-dappled forest with tall pine trees and palmetto bushes. A blue trail marker is attached to a tree, indicating a path for hikers to explore the tranquil natural surroundings.

Wander through the pine flatwoods, basin marsh and tidal marshes, wet hardwood hammocks, and basin swamps. With varying trail distances, hikers and will enjoy Crystal River.

Keep your eyes open, wildlife is abundant in the off-the-beaten trails.

The Crosstown Trail

If a short walk is your style, the Crosstown Trail is for you. The historic railroad bed has been converted into a paved walking path, For an added challenge, walkers can take advantage of the fitness stations along the way.

Kings Bay Riverwalk

For a leisurely walk, the Kings Bay Riverwalk may be for you. Enjoy Crystal River’s waterfront and downtown area, as the walkway winds past restaurants, shops, and scenic overlooks. There are benches to relax on while enjoying the day.

Gary Maidhof Walk to Nature

A serene nature walk on a wooden boardwalk amidst tall palm trees and lush greenery under a clear blue sky, with a lone person enjoying the tranquil environment at crystal river.

Enjoy a short walk into the mysterious Crystal River estuaries. Built in memory of local conservationist, Gary Maidhof, the accessible boardwalk was installed for viewing in the marshlands.

There is a viewing platform at the end, which I think would be a quiet place to paint or read a book.

10.  Sunbathe and Swim at Fort Island Beach

A serene sunset view from a sandy beach with the sun casting a warm golden glow across the sky. A lifeguard tower silhouette can be seen against the sunset, and the tranquil scene is framed by silhouetted palm trees, adding to the tropical ambiance of the setting. The beach appears peaceful and deserted, inviting a moment of reflection or relaxation.

The white sugar sand and calm gulf waters are a perfect combination for a day at the beach. Fort Island Beach is family-friendly with covered picnic pavilions and convenient restrooms.

This is a quiet area, known mostly to the locals. It is one of our favorite places to picnic and enjoy the main event. Sunset is mesmerizing as the sky lights up brilliantly when the sun melts into the Gulf.

When we are in town, you can find us here most evenings.

11.  Birding Is a Fun Thing To Do in Crystal River

Crystal River is a great spot for birdwatching because it’s where Florida’s warm weather mixes with the cooler temperatures of North America. With different habitats like freshwater, saltwater, and forests, Citrus County becomes a perfect home for birds passing through and those who stay year-round.

Be on the lookout for Bald Eagles, Cormorants, Pelicans, and Osprey. If you have a sharp eye you may even spot the elusive Florida Grasshopper Sparrow or Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

 

12.  Meet the Gorilla

A large, black gorilla statue with a humorous expression, standing on a platform with the text

With an outstretched hand, the Big Gorilla welcomes everyone to Crystal River. A quick stop and a photo with this guy create a fun long-lasting memory.

13.  Take Scuba Diving Lessons

An overhead view of a scuba diver in full gear, including a black wetsuit, diving mask, and yellow fins, exploring clear shallow waters.

Much of Crystal River’s magic lies in the deep springs and cave systems beneath the surface. Becoming a certified scuba diver gives you the confidence to explore these mysterious spaces.

A visit to Crystal River is a chance to check this bucket list adventure off the list.

For information on pricing and availability check out these reputable Scuba Instructors:

Bird’s Underwater Manatee Dive Center (352) 563-2763

Sea Daddy’s Adventures and Dive Center (352) 794-3452

 

14.  Unleash Your Inner Sea Creature

A person underwater in a swimming pool, wearing a mermaid tail and a patterned bikini top. The person is smiling at the camera, with arms outstretched, embodying the playful fantasy of being a mermaid.

Become a certified mermaid or merman.

In these training classes, you will learn to swim with a mermaid tail, mastering underwater moves and breath control. It’s a blend of swimming skills, creativity, and a touch of magic, offering a unique and unforgettable experience.

Call today!  

Bird’s Underwater Manatee Dive Center (352) 563-2763

15.  Fly The Friendly Skies

From the unique vantage point of the sky, the beauty of Crystal River’s natural wonders come alive, offering an unforgettable and thrilling adventure for those seeking excitement and awe-inspiring views.

Schedule an air tour today!

Crystal Aero Group (352) 795-6868

 

16.  Take an Art Class

Explore your creative self. Crystal River provides opportunities like painting and creating mosaics or glass artwork. Learn to perfect your skills and talents.

Paint The Town: 1808 NW Hwy 1
Glass Werx: 619 N Citrus Ave

17.  Shop Until You Drop

This image shows a street view of heritage village with a welcoming signboard in the foreground. The village appears to be a quaint, historic area with traditional houses featuring front porches and mature trees.

From specialty shops to galleries, there is something for everyone in Crystal River. Visit local artisans who capture the beauty of paintings and sculptures. Shop for the latest in fashion at trendy boutiques. Don’t forget seaside souvenirs for the family!

Be sure to check out the Heritage Village Shops. Remember, shopping should always include ice cream.

18.  Relax By The PoolA sunny view of an outdoor swimming pool area with blue canopies providing shade over poolside seating. A park bench sits in the foreground, framed by palm trees, suggesting a relaxed, recreational setting. The pool is equipped with marked lanes for swimming, a lifeguard stand, and appears ready for visitors to enjoy a day of aquatic activities. A sunny view of an outdoor swimming pool area with blue canopies providing shade over poolside seating. A park bench sits in the foreground, framed by palm trees, suggesting a relaxed, recreational setting. The pool is equipped with marked lanes for swimming, a lifeguard stand, and appears ready for visitors to enjoy a day of aquatic activities.

Bicentennial Pool is the place to be on a hot summer afternoon. Whether you want a quick dip to cool off or exercise with some laps, swimming is one of the many fun things to do in Crystal River.

19.  Cheer On Crystal River’s Little League

Bring the kids and Play Ball! Tryouts for baseball and softball leagues begin in January for ages 5-15.

Come cheer on the Home Team at Bicentennial Park.

20.  Play Pickleball

Grab your gear and join the latest craze, Pickleball. Playing this popular sport is not only a fun thing to do in Crystal River, but it is good exercise too!

If you are new to the area, check out the Crystal River Pickleball clubs in the area. If you are just visiting the area, you can enjoy Pickleball at these courts.

21.  Master Your Moves

Grab your board and head to Crystal River’s local practice skatepark. Located in Bicentennial Park, skateboarders have a dedicated space designed for focused sessions. This is a great place to perfect your tricks and elevate your skills without distractions.

22.  Take to The Fairways

A golfer in a blue shirt and grey shorts prepares to take a swing on a sunny golf course, with golf carts and other players in the background amidst scattered trees and palm trees under a partly cloudy sky.When visiting Crystal River, remember to grab your clubs. Take to the Fairway at the Plantation Resort. The Golf Course is open to the public seven days a week.

For those who are new to Florida’s favorite pastime, lessons are available at the onsite golf clinic.

23.  Celebrate The Strikes

Whether bowling with friends or enjoying solo fun, the joy of sending those pins flying is unbeatable. So gather your crew, lace up those shoes, and head to Bolero Bowling Lanes.

24.  Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Interior of a tavern with a humorous neon sign that reads 'waitress available sometimes', next to a vintage public telephone sign and a decorative ship model. The setting has a rustic charm with exposed brick walls and wooden beams.

You can’t completely enjoy Crystal River without a little food and beverage.

Best Places to Eat in Crystal River

Dan’s Clam Stand: This is our favorite place for beer and clam strips. We like to sit on the deck while enjoying the afternoon.

St. John’s Tavern: Great service and fantastic food. With a lively crowd and friendly staff, you can’t go wrong.

Best Places for Drinks in Crystal River

Copp Brewery and Winery: Enjoy a flight of wine or beer made in-house by Master Brewer and Wine Maker, Fran Copp. This venue brings everything together with food, drink, and live entertainment.

St. Johns Martini Bar: Sometimes the day calls for a martini. Look no further, and pop in for a Lemon Drop before dinner or a desert martini nightcap. Better yet, come for both!

Best Places to Be Merry in Crystal River

Crystal River is just as fun when the sun goes down. Many of the bars and restaurants have live music, karaoke, and dancing on the deck.

These are some of our favorites:

Crackers Bar and Grill

KC Wine and Koffee House

Norton’s Riverside Bar and Grill 

25.  Go Camping in Crystal River

Are you visiting Crystal River in your RV? No problem! Crystal River has several camping resorts. Come and stay the weekend or the season.

The campgrounds in Crystal River have a site waiting for you. For pricing, availability and full details be sure to check these options:

Sun Retreats Crystal River (352) 564-9350
Quail Roost RV Park (352) 563-0404
Encore Crystal Isles (352) 795-3774
Sweet Citrus Acres RV Resort (352) 230-5660

Where To Stay in Crystal River

Crystal River offers several hotel options from luxury accommodations to the cutest cottages.

You can’t beat this location!  The Port Hotel and Marina

We go for the cinnamon rolls!  Holiday Inn Express

For romance or relaxation:  Retreat at Crystal Manatee 

StroTip

Do you require more space and a place that feels like home? Consider renting a private home for your stay in Crystal River.  Click for pricing and availability.

This rental has water access and kayaks!

This rental sleeps 10!

Is Crystal River Worth Visiting?

Crystal River is one of our favorite places in Florida. It is a quaint town with a lot to offer the residents and visitors.

Being close to Tampa and Orlando, Crystal River offers a quiet and convenient escape from the city. Its natural wonders, including pristine springs, scenic rivers, and a captivating blend of wildlife, make it a haven for nature enthusiasts and explorers.

Crystal River is a hidden gem and worth visiting.

When Is The Best Time to Visit Crystal River

Generally speaking, Crystal River is a great place to visit all year long. With that in mind, visitors are more likely to see the manatees during the colder months, November through late March.

Early spring and late fall are most comfortable and may provide a better swimming or paddling experience. However, the summer months can be unbearably hot and humid for visitors to the area.

Florida hurricane season is from August through October. This means that the conditions for hurricanes, tornados, damaging winds, and rain are prime. Unfortunately, weather patterns can change on a dime, and severe weather can devastate vacation plans.

Crystal River Events

A group of young adults lounging and smiling on the grass at a park, enjoying a warm, relaxed outdoor gathering with other people in the background.

Crystal River is host to many events throughout the year. The town comes alive with music, vendors, and fun for the whole family.

Florida Manatee Festival

Each January, Crystal River celebrates its beloved manatees with the Florida Manatee Festival. Listen to live music and snack on your favorite foods while visiting the local artists.

First Friday

Join the party in Town Square on the first Friday of the month. From 5-9, there is live music, food trucks, and lawn games. Bring on the weekend in Crystal River.

St Patricks Dog Parade

What could be more fun than a Dog Parade? Come join the St. Patrick’s celebration and vote for the Best Dressed pup in Crystal River. The parade begins in Town Square at 10 am.

4th of July Celebration

Head out to Kings Bay Park for Crystal River’s annual July 4th Celebration. Join the community in a red, white, and blue party. Bring the family for a fun afternoon of food, music, and fireworks.

Stone Crab Jam

November brings the dance party to the streets! Enjoy live music on six stages in this annual street festival. Shop with local vendors and of course feast on stone crabs a Florida delicacy.

 

Things To Do Near Crystal River

While spending time in Crystal River puts you close to several other towns with super fun adventures.

Homosassa, Florida

A serene river reflects the surrounding forest and clear blue sky, with sunlight filtering through the trees to dance on the water's surface.

Just 20 minutes south of Crystal River is the small fishing town of Homosassa. Known for its natural beauty and world-class fishing, there are a few must-dos while in the area.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

View the manatees in their natural habitat from inside the Underwater Observatory. Wander the paths throughout the park, while viewing the Florida black bear, panthers, and alligators. This park is a favorite.

Monkey Island:

Since the 1960’s Monkey Island has been home to a colony of monkeys. Although you can’t visit the island, you can observe them from the nearby restaurants. **Due to the damage of Hurricane Idalia in 2023, the monkeys have been temporarily relocated. Residents of the area are working tirelessly to repair damage and bring their beloved counterparts back home.

Find The Crack

Make your way down the Chassahowitzka River to the secret crack. This beautiful crystal blue spring is only accessible by paddle.

Bring your paddle craft or rent one at the launch. Don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen.

Dunnellon, Florida

Visitors enjoy a sunny day at a clear, natural spring surrounded by lush greenery, with some people swimming and others observing from the wooden deck.

Only 20 minutes northeast of Crystal River, is the town of Dunnellon. This historic town is home to two of Florida’s beautiful rivers: The Rainbow River and The Withlacoochee River.

Besides kayaking and boating these rivers, there are also a few other things to do in Dunnellon.

Rainbow Springs State Park

When visiting the Crystal River area, Rainbow Springs is a must-do. The clear aqua-colored springs are one of the largest natural springs in Florida. Rent a kayak or bring your own for a paddle down the Rainbow River. You will be amazed.

The park has several trails and 3 waterfalls. Once you visit it is easy to understand why Rainbow Spring fills quite often. Simply stated, Rainbow Springs is that beautiful.

Beautiful Creatures Animal Ranch

Visit an exotic animal and wildlife rescue. Learn about alpacas, sloths, and a variety of other beautiful creatures.

Singing Boat Tour

Be serenaded on the leisurely boat ride down the Withlacoochee River. Witness the color-changing water where the Withlacoochee meets the Rainbow River.

This is one of my favorite tours and one I recommend all the time.

KP Hole Park

Tube down the Rainbow River, swim in the springs, or picnic in the park. This is a beautiful, family-oriented area to spend the day.

 

Things To Do in Crystal River, Florida: Conclusion

The Nature Coast is one of Florida’s hidden gems. Visitors may be surprised at all of the unique things to do in Crystal River and connecting towns. From the beautiful wetlands and wildlife to the clear waterways, it’s a magical place to visit.

The Crystal River area has a special charm that keeps drawing us back. Robb and I hope you have a great time during your stay.

Travel Safe and Adventure Often!

Maureen Wright and Robb Strobridge

The Stromads

Robb strobridge and maureen wright, the stromads.

Entrepreneurs, Wanderlusters, Constant travelers, and Full-time RV Nomads since 2016.  We are fueled by life, love, and the pursuit of all things good.  Thanks for joining our journey and we hope to see you down the road!

RV Couple with Renegade Verona LELTS

ROBB AND MAUREEN

THE STROMADS

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