Manatee Capital of the World: Crystal River, Florida

Manatee Capital of the World: Crystal River, Florida

Katelyn and Howard at Three Sisters Springs

Welcome to Crystal River, located on Florida’s beautiful nature coast, about 80 miles north of Tampa! With a walkable downtown area, great dining and of course, manatees, Crystal River is a must-visit destination in Florida.

Its warm spring-fed rivers and bays make this an ideal winter home for one of the Sunshine State’s most beloved marine mammals, the manatee! With hundreds making their way into the springs for the winter (a 2024 census counted almost 900 at one time!), this is officially the Manatee Capital of the World! You can view these gentle giants from above via boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs, or see them up close & personal on a manatee snorkeling tour. 

WHERE TO STAY

Sweet Citrus RV Resort: This RV resort is one of the nicest that we have ever stayed at. The amenities are top-notch and they even have daily food trucks! Sweet Citrus RV Resort is only a five minute drive to town, making it an ideal base camp location for your Crystal River trip.

The RV sites all feature full hook-ups and large concrete pads. There’s a massive, beautifully designed club house that leads you to the pool and  hot tub and has a full bar, workout room, TVs & more! 

Paddletail Lodge: If you’re not traveling by RV and looking for hotel accommodations, we recommend a stay at Paddletail Lodge. I stayed here for one night during our trip with a friend and it was great! It’s right on the water and they have recently renovated the rooms. We were able to walk to dinner and walk to Birds Underwater for our 6 am snorkeling tour!

WHAT TO DO

Most visitors flock to Crystal River to see the protected Florida manatee, which can best be viewed in the colder winter months (November – March). There are plenty of opportunities to see them above, on or below the water depending on if you want to take a kayaking tour, a snorkeling tour or stroll through the wildlife refuge at your own pace. 

Three Sisters Springs: Up first we went to Three Sisters Springs, where there are three spring vents that attract the manatees when the water in the Gulf is too cold. We’ve been to other springs throughout Florida that have manatees, but we’ve never seen this many!

There is a dedicated parking area and admissions building where you can purchase your tickets. Then you have the choice of walking across the street to enter the wildlife refuge or hop on their shuttle that will take you directly to the main boardwalk viewing area. You can easily spend a couple hours here walking the trails or listening to a program like a ‘Manatee Talk’ or a guided walk. Make sure to check the schedule and see if they are offering any programs during your visit.

Bird’s Underwater: If swimming with manatees is on your bucket list, we highly recommend taking a trip with Bird’s Underwater. If you can, book the 6:00 am tour! It’s absolutely worth the early wake up call because you’ll be the first ones out on the water as the sun is coming up and the manatees are really playful! Keep in mind, you can’t actively seek out or touch manatees but most of the time, they’ll come up to you to say hi as you float along the top of the water.  All your snorkeling gear and a wet suit is included in the price of your ticket. They even had hot cocoa and donuts for us when we got back on the boat, which was very nice on such a chilly morning! 

Snorkeling with Bird's Underwater
WHERE TO EAT

The Crab Plant: Looking for fresh seafood? Head to the The Crab Plant! True to its name, this location was actually a crab plant in the 1960’s & 70’s where they picked the blue crab meat, canned it, pasteurized it and shipped it all over the world. Today, it’s a cash-only restaurant and seafood market that is well-known in Citrus County as being one of the best places to get a fresh catch!

If you happen to visit Crystal River between October and May, you’re in luck because it’s stone crab season! The Crab Plant goes out almost daily on their fishing boats to harvest stone crab claws and catch grouper, snapper and other fresh fish. They also make their own potato salad, coleslaw and lots of their sauces. And just like Crystal River is the manatee capital of the world, we’re dubbing the crab plant the unofficial stone crab capital.

If you don’t have cash on hand, there is an ATM in the lobby!

The Low Country Boil at The Crab Plant

Guyer’s Ice Cream: Guyer’s is a brand new, single location ice cream shop that you’ll only find in Crystal River. The owners, Cheryl & Tom Guyer, are self-taught ice cream makers, and off to a great start in their first year! All of their homemade (and delicious) flavors are made right on site.  All of the cake donuts are made-to-order as well and have great topping options.  We highly recommend ordering a ‘Chubby Mermaid’, which is the best of both worlds. They take one of their fresh cake donuts and pile it high with your choice of ice cream and toppings. 

In addition to over 20 homemade ice cream flavors, they also offer no-sugar added and dairy free options. This is the perfect spot to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Ice Cream & Donuts at Guyer’s

Want to travel with us? Check out our Newstate Nomads Group Trips, brand new in 2024! Experience the food, culture and must-see attractions side-by-side with us on a curated, small group trip. See our upcoming trips and learn more at newstatenomads.com/grouptrips

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Katelyn & Howard Newstate

Howard and Katelyn Newstate have traveled over 80,000 miles in their Winnebago Navion Class C RV, exploring from Alaska to mainland Mexico since 2018. Joined by their adventure pups, Piper, Ella and Scout, they share how to “Live Like a Local” in every New State they explore. For more information on their travels or the 51 Parks in 52 Weeks tour, visit NewstateNomads.com/NationalParks

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We helped bring all the alpacas up to the barn for the evening and even got to take some on a walk. Just be careful... they spit! (ask Howard, he knows 🤣)

The farm is home to dozens of alpacas, gander geese, a retired mule, Peaches the dog, chickens and one llama! It was one of our favorite stays ever and very convenient to all the main attractions in Bowling Green! 🙌🥰🦙 

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If you're short on time, these are our can't miss recommendations:

1. Stroll down Aviles Street, which just so happens to be the oldest street in the Nation! 

2. While you're on this historic side street, pop into @forgottentonic_sta for amazing craft cocktails and delicious food. The blackened chicken egg rolls are *chef's kiss* 👌

3. Take the @flaglercollege Historic Legacy Tour. It's $17 pp and lasts about an hour, but you get access to areas the general public can't go. You'll get to see the largest collection of Tiffany glass and 11 Tiffany chandeliers ✨

4. Step back in time at @castillonps where you can watch a cannon demonstration and learn from the amazing interpretative volunteers. The fort was constructed in the late 1600s 🤯

5. Visit @staugustinedistillery for a tasting & a tour. They have free options or different experiences you can book. It was so fun and we learned a lot about the distilling process!

6. If you're an RVer like us, try to snag a spot at @anastasiastatepark or just visit for the day! Easy beach access and beautiful campsites, what more do you need? 😍

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