Crystal River is on US-19 on Florida's Gulf Coast about 80 miles north of Tampa.
This village of 3,000 people is wrapped around the shores of Kings Bay.
Up to fifty springs feed the bay, and the water flows gently from the bay westerly down Crystal River to the Gulf of Mexico.
This group of springs is designated as a first-magnitude system (more than 100 cubic feet of water per second).
It is second in Florida only to Wakulla Springs south of Tallahassee.
The spring-fed waters of Kings Bay stay at 72 degrees F. all year round, and this attracts manatees, especially during the winter. They escape the colder waters of the Gulf and congregate in Kings Bay.
The area around Crystal River and Kings Bay began attracting settlers by the mid 1800s in the years before the Civil War. After the war. the economy began to grow and was based primarily on commercial fishing and growing and shipping citrus.
The great freezes of 1894 and 1895 destroyed most of the citrus groves, and the economy shifted to turpentine because of the abundance of giant pine trees. The lumber industry also prospered with several large sawmills working in the area.
Phosphate was discovered east of Crystal River and mining and shipping it also became a big industry. The phosphate industry brought the railroad and it finally came to Crystal River in 1888.
This was the beginning of the tourism industry. The tourists noticed and enjoyed watching the manatees in Kings Bay.
There are sometimes more than 400 manatees in the bay during the cold months, and this has become a prime tourism attraction for people that want to see and interact with these gentle animals.
Tourism has supplanted commercial fishing as the number one contributor to the economy, and there are dozens of businesses that cater to helping visitors get out on the water and enjoy the manatees.
One of Crystal River's most famous residents was Ted Williams, Hall of Fame baseball player from the Boston Red Sox. Ted was a world renowned fisherman and enjoyed the waters around the village and in the Gulf.
Learn more about swimming with manatees in Crystal River.