Crystal River, Florida: The Best Weekend Getaway
Lisa Valadez | 2/22/2019, 2:59 p.m.
Ready. Set. Go. It’s time to start planning your mini vacation getaway!
Recently, my travels took me to sunny Tampa Bay where I discovered a whirlwind of fun and adventure that included roller coasters, paddle boarding, and swimming with sharks (yes, sharks!). And while I really didn’t think the adventure could get any better, I was immediately proven wrong. Tampa Bay serves as a perfect destination hub for the best day and overnight trips. So get packing and get ready to take a road trip!
Swim With Manatees Tour
Plantation Adventure Center
About 90 miles north of Tampa is Crystal River, one of two places in the US that legally allows swimming with manatees. What are manatees you ask?
Manatees are large (but very cute) aquatic sea mammals that are often referred to as “sea cows”. Don’t worry, they may be big in size but are perfectly harmless and I guarantee that you will find your self in complete awe observing them in their natural habitat while you snorkel in the clear waters. These gentle plant eaters are fun to watch in the morning so it’s best to be prepared to get an early start. Our group was in the water by 7am.
Sidenote: In order to have the best experience, it’s recommended to schedule this particular adventure in the early morning hours since manatees are active looking for breakfast and doing a little socializing in between. After morning hours, the manatees pretty much like to spend their afternoons sleeping. Also, the best time of year to get the best manatee viewing experience is between the months of November through April. Since manatees technically don’t have any blubber to keep them warm, they tend to search for warmer water when the Gulf of Mexico waters dip below 64 degrees. In their search for warmer water, they end up in Citrus County (Crystal River).
For a great professional and educational experience, make sure to book your visit with the Plantation Adventure Center. The friendly, knowledgeable staff has a true spirit for preserving and protecting all of the area’s natural habitats. They will provide you with all of the gear you need, from wet suit to snorkel equipment and even some hot chocolate to warm you up once you’ve finished frolicking in the water with your new manatee friends!
After your adventure with the manatees, make sure to head over to the West 82 Bar & Grill located inside the Plantation on Crystal River Hotel. From fresh Florida seasonal fruits, to sunrise specialties like the eggs benedict, to a three egg omelet (your way), and even tasty biscuits with sausage gravy (I still think about those biscuits!), West 82 will definitely satisfy your appetite after a long morning of swimming with the oh-so- cute “sea cows”.
The Plantation on Crystal River Hotel is also a good place to check in to and spend some time relaxing, sipping on a cocktail while enjoying the scenery of the 232 acre eco friendly resort.
Featuring a 27-hole championship golf course and 4 on-site restaurantsa, this resort and spa offers a variety of amenities and onsite activities such as scuba diving and golf lessons, canoeing on the bay, and even a spa and salon for those that prefer a bit of pampering.
The Plantation on Crystal River is also about a mile away from Three Sisters Spring, which is where your next adventure awaits!
Chassahowitzka River Campground
Seven Sisters Spring & The Crack Paddling Tour
Just off the beaten path is a five-mile long spring fed river known as the Chassahowitzka River. Can’t pronounce it? No worries, the locals gave us all a small break by nicknaming it “The Chaz” for short.
A manatee refuge and home to hundreds of species of birds, the Chaz is a true nature lover’s paradise. But don’t think it’s all just bird watching; the Chaz is home to many hidden gems easily accessible by kayak. Also, while you are able to rent kayaks directly from the campground, experiencing the Chaz via a tour guide is an even better way to explore this particular adventure.
Dave Perry of the Hunter Springs Kayak Company was super informative and extremely patient with our group while each of us built up the nerve to the plunge and swim through an underwater cave in the area known as Seven Sisters Springs. No lie, I was terrified to take the free style dive down under the water and through the cave but once I witnessed how beautiful the water was down below, with its vivid bright blue and emerald green colors, I couldn’t wait to do it again!
It was also quite exhilarating to champion on the other women in my group to try it and to celebrate with them once they swam up from the other end of the underwater cave.
Shortly after, we paddled a few miles downstream through the wildlife refuge and narrow saltwater marshes, spotting a few crocodiles and eventually ending up at one of my favorite hidden gems, the Crack. It’s at this point, that the river gets so shallow; you literally have to get out of your kayak and walk the last few hundred feet in ankle deep water and white sand to complete paradise!
It’s like a secret hidden beach only seen in the movies (and I was there!).
Dinner at Katch Twenty-Two
After a full day of exploring and officially becoming a cave diving expert (ok, maybe not expert) time to freshen up and get ready for a mouth watering culinary experience at Katch Twenty-Two, serving up contemporary cuisine in an intimate setting.
I love beets and you should too (remember, this is a trip of first time for everything!). So naturally, I was overly excited to see that Chef Richard had a roasted beet stack with goat cheese, arugula pesto, pine nuts, and citrus vinaigrette on the menu. Definitely a favorite. And while I didn’t taste everything on the menu like I would have liked to, thank goodness I was on a trip with ladies that like to share because we all got to taste one another’s scrumptious meal choices. (Although I must admit that my seafood risotto was so delectable, I wanted it all for myself.)
Whether a family vacation, weekend getaway with your significant other, a solo trip or even a girlfriend’s getaway, Crystal River, Florida is a unique destination with an adventurous twist that makes for unforgettable memories. So what are you waiting for? Start planning and get to packing. Crystal River awaits you!