With cool weather behind us, but summer’s sweltering days not quite here, now’s the perfect time to make the most of what our area has to offer. You don’t have to go far to enjoy a relaxing day trip or mini vacation.
We’ve scouted out some of the very best things to do in four Citrus County towns. Get your calendar and make plans for a fun adventure or two. Whether you’re craving some girls-only time, a getaway with your sweetheart or a family outing, we’ve got you covered.
While Kings Bay is known as the location for the world’s largest winter population of manatees, the town of Crystal River wears more than one hat. Whether you decide to get in the water or stay high and dry, you’ll have a great time in this Nature Coast destination. Choose from outdoor or town activities for your visit.
Although manatee season is “officially” over, that doesn’t mean you don’t still have a chance of seeing these delightful creatures. Skip the boat tour and rent a single or double kayak (or even a paddle board!) at Hunter Springs Kayak. With no noisy engine, you’ll glide peacefully over the water and find yourself closer to nature than you’ve probably been in a while. The helpful staff will get you safely launched and on your way. (Be sure to bring a waterproof pouch for your keys, phone and the map they provide.) Allow yourself two to three hours for an outing.
If you want a dose of nature and history but don’t feel like paddling, visit Crystal River Archaeological State Park. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this Native American site, which is located on a large coastal marsh, covers 61 acres and dates back to the pre-Columbian era. Settled approximately 2,500 years ago, it’s one of the longest continuously occupied sites in the state. Archaeological evidence reveals the influence of at least three cultural periods. You’ll see burial mounds, temple/platform mounds, a plaza area and midden. Allow an hour or two. The park itself is open every day from 8am until sundown, but the museum is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Afterward, satisfy your craving for lunch or dinner at Charlie’s Fish House on Highway 19, a favorite of both locals and tourists. Sit indoors or at an outside table on the deck while you enjoy super fresh seafood. If you can’t make up your mind, try the combination plate. They even have a seafood market if you want to take home something from Florida waters to cook later.
If you’d like to have a girls’ outing, make your way to West Citrus Avenue for a bit of shopping. Must-see stops include Dayz Gone By, with its wonderfully enticing assortment of antiques, estate sales, vintage and repurposed items, and The Heritage House, a graciously kept two-story house filled with gifts and more. Whether you’re seriously shopping or just browsing, you’ll appreciate both places.
After you’ve had enough “retail therapy,” relax and enjoy lunch with plenty of Southern hospitality at nearby Tea House 650. In addition to many varieties of tea, the menu features scones, paninis, sandwiches and flat breads. You can also buy your favorite teas in their shop to take home.
Round out your day with a stop at Copp Winery & Brewery for a glass of their fine handcrafted wine or a growler of craft beer on tap. Looking for a gift? They also sell custom wine baskets and wooden wine totes as well as personalized custom wine labels for special events.
Hunter Springs Kayak hunterspringskayak.com, (352) 212-5518
Crystal River Archaeological State Park
floridastateparks.org/park/Crystal-River-Archaeological, (352) 795-3817
Charlie’s Fish House
charliesfishhouse.com, (352) 795-3949
Dayz Gone By dayzgoneby.com, (352) 228-4931
The Heritage House
theheritagehouse.biz, (352) 564-1400
Tea House 650
teahouse650.com, (352) 564-1500
Copp Winery & Brewery
coppwinery.com, (352) 564-9463
You don’t have to claim Olympic-level fitness to enjoy biking on the Withlacoochee State Trail (WST). The terrain is mostly flat, so it isn’t overly strenuous.
The longest paved rail trail in the state, the WST is 46 miles long and runs from Citrus Springs in the north to Trilby on the southern end. Floral City finds itself basically in the middle, allowing you to easily cycle in either direction. Walkers and hikers also frequent the WST, so if cycling isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy this scenic trail.
Don’t have your own bike or a way to transport it? No problem. Head to Hampton’s Edge Trailside Bicycles, located on Orange Avenue (State Road 48) between State Road 41 and the WST, where the friendly staff will happily answer your questions about the trail and rent you a bike. You might want to test ride and rent a “bent,” one of the wildly popular recumbent bikes that promise a truly comfortable ride. Just be sure to reserve your rental ahead of time and remember that the shop is closed on Sundays and Tuesdays.
The Shamrock Inn is the place for “refueling,” whether you head out of town to ride first or stop in before hitting the trail. Located adjacent to the WST, the Shamrock Inn is popular with both locals and visitors. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, this small town pub and grill offers standard pub fare, with their burgers, wings and sandwiches earning rave reviews.
You’ll want to take a short break from pedaling and walk through the Florida Artists Gallery on Orange Avenue, just a block from the WST. The historic Florida Cracker house features a great collection of works in various media by area artists.
If you happen to be visiting on a Friday or Saturday, stop in at the Floral City Heritage Museum and Country Store, also on Orange Avenue. Soak in a little history about the area as you tour the museum, which is located in the former downtown fire station. Be sure to browse the country store where you’ll find plenty of interesting merchandise not available at the area Wal-Mart, including books, reproduction maps and classic kids’ toys directly related to Floral City and Citrus County. There are also items made by local artists.
Withlacoochee State Trail dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/regions/crossflorida/trails/with_state.htm, (352) 726-2251 To print a bike map, visit: railstotrailsonline.com/images/bikemap.pdf
Florida Artists Gallery flartistsgallery.com,(352) 344-9300
Shamrock Inn shamrockinn-floralcity.com, (352) 726-6414
Floral City Heritage Museum and Country Store floralcityhc.org/museum.html,(352) 860-0101
With a name rooted in Seminole and Creek heritage, Homosassa means something along the lines of “place where wild pepper grows.” With that in mind, a nature-themed outing is the best way to enjoy this Gulf Coast town.
Act like a tourist and visit the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on Highway 19. There’s a reason this state park is so popular. West Indian manatees frequent the springs year-round and are easily viewed from the park’s underwater observatory. There’s also a boat tour, which offers a great chance to spot native wildlife, such as manatees, deer, black bears, bobcats, American alligators and river otters. Stretch your legs on the easy 1.10-mile hiking trail that meanders through the park. If you’re into birding, don’t miss the Pepper Creek Birding Trail near the visitor’s center, one of 20 birding trails in the county that is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Plan on three to four hours to fully enjoy the park.
Homosassa is home to virtually all of Florida’s major fly fishing records for tarpon and remains one of the state’s most popular fishing spots. Want to try your hand? There are numerous professional fishing guides and charter services if you want to spend a few hours on the water.
If fishing’s not your thing, but you still want to explore by boat, you can rent one or, better yet, schedule an airboat or pontoon boat tour on the Homosassa River. River Safaris & Gulf Charters is owned by a fifth generation Florida native who enjoys getting people close to “real” Florida. (Don’t miss their alligator exhibit.)
Before or after your boat ride, grab lunch at the Coyote Cafe on-site. Then, check out neighboring Pepper Creek Pottery and the Glass Garage to find a little something made by local artisans and craftsmen to remind you of your day in Homosassa.
Because you’re so close, stop in at the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park on State Road 490 for a glimpse of Citrus County history. Wealthy land owner, politician and developer David Levy Yulee built a 5,100-acre sugar plantation and sugar mill along the Homosassa River in 1846. The plantation is long gone, but the 40-foot limestone masonry chimney, iron gears and cane press remain. It only takes a few minutes to walk through the ruins, but it’s a great spot for photos and a picnic.
Speaking of history, right next door to the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins you’ll find nostalgia, antique printing presses and tasty Cuban sandwiches at the Olde Mill House Gallery and Printing Museum. Owner Jim Anderson is a wealth of information about the printing business in Florida’s past and is happy to share his knowledge.
You can’t come to the coast without indulging in some fresh seafood. Head to Seagrass Waterfront Restaurant & Tiki Bar for lunch or dinner where you’ll enjoy plenty of tasty options from this picturesque spot right on the Homosassa River.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
floridastateparks.org/park/Homosassa-Springswildlifepark, (352) 628-5343
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins
homosassaguidesassociation.com (Click on “Member Captains”)
riversafaris.com, (352) 628-5222 or (800) 758-FISH
Olde Mill House Gallery and Printing Museum
Seagrass Waterfront Restaurant & Tiki Bar seagrassresort.com/restaurant,(352) 503-2007
Pepper Creek Pottery
facebook.com/peppercreekpots, (352) 293-7756
The Glass Garage
theglassgarage.net,(352) 212-3617 or (352) 228-3875
Originally known as “Tompkinsville,” this quaint city was settled in 1868 and later renamed after the famed town in Scotland. Inverness is actually the largest municipality in Citrus County and a welcoming destination for either a day or evening visit.
If you opt for a day visit, head to historic downtown and start at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum. The courtroom scene of the Elvis Presley movie Follow That Dream was filmed here in 1961. Admission to the museum, which is open weekdays, is free (but you can make a donation), and you’ll learn about the area’s history from pioneer days to the present, plus find great gifts in the Museum Store. Allow about an hour for the museum and shop.
Downtown Inverness is home to an intriguing variety of boutiques, eateries and pubs, antique shops and retail venues, so browse and shop to your heart’s content. Take a break for lunch and head to The Ice Cream Dr., a cleverly named, old-fashioned ice cream shop in Old Towne Inverness. Enjoy delicious BBQ, and polish it off with one (or more!) scoops of their 50 flavors of Hershey’s ice cream. Don’t leave town without stopping at one of the local parks or walking along the shores of scenic Lake Henderson; the kids can burn off some energy and you can feel less guilty about your double scoop of ice cream.
Don’t leave without snapping a photo in front of the historic red caboose near downtown.
Come on the third Friday of the month and you can take in “Friday Night Thunder.” Held from 5 to 8pm, this monthly gathering features a classic car show and live entertainment.
If you’re thinking of visiting Inverness for an evening, you’ll want to check into what’s happening at the Valerie Theatre when making plans. Located in downtown Inverness on Courthouse Square, the theatre is home to a great variety of entertainment, from concerts and plays to movies and stand-up comedy. Purchase your tickets online, and coordinate dinner reservations at nearby McLeod House Bistro, just a short walk from the square.
Since opening in early 2010, the McLeod House Bistro has earned a reputation as one of Citrus County’s fine dining highlights, thanks to the talents of their classically European-trained, award-winning chef and the charming setting in a century-old house. Whether you come for lunch or dinner, be sure to save room for one of their tempting desserts, always made in-house. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday evening, you’ll enjoy live music.
Old Courthouse Heritage Museum cccourthouse.org/courthouse-museum.php
citruscountyhistoricalsociety.org, (352) 341-6429
The Ice Cream DR. (352) 341-4237
valerietheatre.org, (352) 341-7850
McLeod House Bistro
mcleodhousebistro.com, (352) 726-7700