By Mike Miller Updated April 13, 2023
Crystal River is on US-19 on Florida's Gulf Coast about 80 miles north of Tampa. This village of 3,400 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 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.
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.
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. This Hall of Fame baseball player from the Boston Red Sox was also a world renowned sport fisherman.
Ted loved to fish the waters around the village of Crystal River as well as out in the Gulf.
Many of the historic homes and buildings in Crystal River have been converted into art galleries, gift shops, restaurants, and other ventures.
Learn more about swimming with manatees in Crystal River.
114 N.E. 5th Street
Crystal River, FL 34429
There are several good restaurants in Crystal River. Vintage on 5th is one of the best.
It is located in the historic downtown district in an old church built in 1940 that was completely renovated many years ago.
The restaurant specializes in fresh fish, and Crystal River has plenty of them in the fresh waters of the nearby river and the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico.
Read More About Vintage on 5th
Swim with manatees: Crystal River is known as the "Manatee Capital of the World," and visitors can take a guided tour to swim with these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
Explore Three Sisters Springs: Three Sisters Springs is a beautiful natural spring that is home to a variety of wildlife, including manatees and birds. Visitors can take a kayak tour or walk the boardwalk to experience the area's natural beauty.
Visit the Crystal River Archaeological State Park: This state park is home to a pre-Columbian temple mound and burial mounds that date back over 2,500 years. Visitors can explore the park's exhibits and learn about the area's indigenous history.
Go fishing: Crystal River is a popular destination for anglers, with opportunities to catch a variety of fish, including tarpon, redfish, and trout. Visitors can charter a fishing boat or fish from the shore.
Take a scenic drive on the Ozello Trail: The Ozello Trail is a scenic drive that winds through marshes, forests, and wetlands, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. Visitors can stop at local seafood restaurants along the way.
Visit the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge: This wildlife refuge is home to over 20 species of endangered or threatened animals, including manatees, sea turtles, and bald eagles. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about the area's wildlife and conservation efforts.
Go birdwatching: Crystal River is a birdwatcher's paradise, with over 200 species of birds found in the area. Visitors can explore the local birding hotspots on their own.
Visit Hunter Springs Park: Hunter Springs Park is a beautiful park with a spring-fed swimming area, picnic areas, and a playground. Visitors can also rent kayaks and paddleboards to explore the surrounding waterways.
Take a sunset cruise: Sunset cruises are a popular way to experience the beauty of Crystal River's waterways. Visitors can take a leisurely cruise and enjoy the stunning sunset views.
Explore Fort Island Gulf Beach: Fort Island Gulf Beach is a beautiful beach with white sand, clear water, and excellent shelling opportunities. Visitors can swim, sunbathe, attend a drum circle or take a stroll along the beach.
NEARBY PLACES TO VISIT
Our Facebook page has more than 127,538 followers who love off the beaten path Florida: towns, tourist attractions, maps, lodging, food, festivals, scenic road trips, day trips, history, culture, nostalgia, and more. We post articles every day. Please check it out and if you like it, we would appreciate a "like" from you.
By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
Florida Back Roads Travel is not affiliated with or endorsed by Backroads, a California-based tour operator which arranges and conducts travel programs throughout the world.