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Manatees

The Top 5 Places to Take Visitors in Citrus County

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One of our favorite things about living in Citrus County is that there is an endless number of things to see and do.  There is always something happening right here in the Villages of Citrus Hills, and there are just as many fun attractions throughout the rest of the county.  

All of these attractions and activities are great for those of us who call Citrus County home, but they can be a little overwhelming for those who are just visiting with us for a short time. For that reason, we thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the top five places everyone must see while visiting in Citrus County.  

5. Fort Island Gulf Beach

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Fort Island Gulf Beach is one of those places that you probably say, “We should come here more often,” just about every time you visit. It has beautiful white sand beaches, public restrooms, and a great boardwalk overlooking the water.  

When your guests visit the Gulf Coast of Florida, they are definitely going to want to SEE the Gulf Coast. This is the perfect way for them to see it right here in Citrus County, and it’s also an extremely relaxing way to spend a day.

4. The Withlacoochee State Trail 

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Bicycling is a fun way to show your guests a good time outdoors, making the most of our great Florida weather. There are lots of trails to choose from around Citrus County, but the Withlacoochee State Trail is the one that is a must-see attraction. 

This is a perfect place for cyclists of all skill levels. You can take your time and cruise just a few miles, or push the envelope and explore all 46 miles of former train tracks.


3. Rainbow River Tubing

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 If your visitors are looking for something a little more adventurous that is still a great representation of life in Citrus County, taking them tubing on the Rainbow River is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. 

Tubing is popular from the beginning of April through the end of September and is the kind of experience that your visitors will be sure to tell everyone back home about!

 

2. Downtown Inverness 

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Whether your guests are interested in history, shopping, or great food, there is something for everyone to enjoy just a few miles away in downtown Inverness.  

Every tour of Inverness should start at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum, but you might also want to explore the local shopping or grab some takeout food and head to Fort Cooper State Park for a picnic lunch.


1. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 

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A lot of people who visit Florida want to get to the beach, which we addressed with number five on this list. But the main interest for many who visit Citrus County specifically is to see live manatees, and the best place to do that is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park!  

Visitors can get up close and personal with live manatees from the underwater observatory. They can also learn a lot more about these local mammals from the information sessions held regularly at the park.

Among each of these five attractions, you will definitely show your guests some of the very best highlights of Citrus County. And if you haven’t been to all of these places yourself, what are you waiting for?

Top 10 Reasons to Live in Citrus County

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As any resident of the Villages of Citrus Hills will happily tell you, there are hundreds of great reasons to choose Citrus County as your retirement destination. Depending on your own personal interests, there are a number of different things about our community that might excite you.

To help make sure that you don't miss the most important reasons to head our way, we have put together a list of the top 10 reasons to live in Citrus County!

10. Great Healthcare

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One of the reasons to live in Citrus County that often goes overlooked is the fact that we have an outstanding network of healthcare providers.

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Between Citrus Memorial Health System and Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center, you won't believe the quality of care that is available here, should you ever need it.

 

9. Close to Major Cities…

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Because we’re situated just over an hour from both Orlando and Tampa, there are big-city amenities associated with both of those cities that are available to residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills.

This is great to know for things like catching shows, shopping, or attending professional sporting events, but it can be an even bigger deal if you need to fly out of one of the international airports in those cities.

8. …Not Too Close Though

While many of our residents think nothing of driving to Orlando or to Tampa for a day, we are also located far enough away that you don't have to worry about any of the stress that comes with city living. Like big-city traffic.

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7. Fantastic Golf Courses

One amenity that Citrus County residents are not lacking is quality golf courses. In addition to the excellent courses here at the Villages of Citrus Hills, there are also more than a dozen other public and private courses to choose from in the area.

6. Beautiful Local Parks

Being "just far enough" from the big cities goes hand-in-hand with the number of local, state, and national parks you will find throughout Citrus County. Whether you are looking for a great picnic spot, a place to relax on the beach, or a walk through the woods, you will never run out of quality options here.

5. Rich History

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Many of our local parks also boast impressive history that tells the incredible story of the area. But in addition to the local parks, you will also find lots of history in downtown areas like Inverness and Crystal River, as well as in our local museums. 

 

4. The Nature Coast

Another thing our residents love about all of the local parks in Citrus County is the amazing amount of wildlife you can find there. We are located right in the heart of Florida's "Nature Coast," so there is never a shortage of wildlife to be seen, especially if you are passionate about birding.

3. Wide Array of Dining Options

You can find a single great restaurant in just about any town across the country, but here in Citrus County we are proud of the fact that we have an incredibly wide range of excellent restaurants. No matter what style of food you are looking for, you can find someone making it right here.

2. Pristine Waterways

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Between the Withlacoochee River, Crystal River, Kings Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico, there are more waterways to explore in and around Citrus County that most people know what to do with. Whether you are passionate about kayaking, fishing, or just heading out for a cruise, there is always something happening on the waterways around the Villages of Citrus Hills.

 

1. The Manatees

As much as we love to brag about the rest of the wildlife you will find throughout Citrus County, our biggest selling point is that we are the only place in Florida where you can swim along with giant manatees right in their natural habitat. 

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Between Homosassa Springs and Three Sisters Springs, manatees make their homes here in Citrus County and our residents love to stop by to appreciate them.

As we said before, this list is just the tip of the iceberg as far as reasons you might choose to live in Citrus County. Come on down and see for yourself!

5 Places to Take Your Holiday Guests in Citrus County

One of our favorite things about living in Citrus County is that there is an endless amount of things to see and do.  There is always something happening right here in the Villages of Citrus Hills, and there are just as many fun attractions throughout the rest of the county.  

All of these attractions and activities are great for those of us who call Citrus County home, but they can be a little overwhelming for those who are just visiting with us for a short time. For that reason, we thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the top five places everyone must see while visiting in Citrus County.  

5. Fort Island Gulf Beach 

Fort Island Gulf Beach is one of those places that you probably say, “We should come here more often,” just about every time you visit. It has beautiful white sand beaches, public restrooms, and a great boardwalk overlooking the water.

When your guests visit the Gulf Coast of Florida, they are definitely going to want to SEE the Gulf Coast. This is the perfect way for them to see it right here in Citrus County, and it’s also an extremely relaxing way to spend a day. 

4. The Withlacoochee State Trail 

Bicycling is a fun way to show your guests a good time outdoors, making the most of our great Florida weather. There are lots of trails to choose from around Citrus County, but the Withlacoochee State Trail is the one that is a must-see attraction. 

This is a perfect place for cyclists of all skill levels. You can take your time and cruise just a few miles, or push the envelope and explore all 46 miles of former train tracks. 

3. Rainbow River Tubing 

If your visitors are looking for something a little more adventurous that is still a great representation of life in Citrus County, taking them tubing on the Rainbow River is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Tubing is popular and with the beautiful forecast for the next week it will be the kind of experience that your visitors will be sure to tell everyone back home about! Kayaking or canoeing is another way to see the beautiful Rainbow River if the tubing is not of interest. 

2. Downtown Inverness 

Whether your guests are interested in history, shopping, or great food, there is something for everyone to enjoy just a few miles away in downtown Inverness.

Every tour of Inverness should start at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum, but you might also want to explore the local shopping or grab some takeout food and head to Fort Cooper State Park for a picnic lunch.  

1. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 

A lot of people who visit Florida want to get to the beach, which we addressed with number five on this list. But the main interest for many who visit Citrus County specifically is to see live manatees, and the best place to do that is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park!

Visitors can get up close and personal with live manatees from the underwater observatory. They can also learn a lot more about these local mammals from the information sessions held regularly at the park.  

Among each of these five attractions, you will definitely show your guests some of the very best highlights of Citrus County. And if you haven’t been to all of these places yourself, what are you waiting for?

The Manatees are Back for the Winter

There are dozens of reasons why Florida is a great place to live, but one of the top reasons has to be that the weather is nice and warm during the winter months.

Many of our friends and neighbors here in the Villages of Citrus Hills go north for the summer only to come running back at the first sign of winter.

Ironically, our local manatee population demonstrates the exact same behavior!

West Indian Manatees are extremely popular animals in Citrus County due to our year round population of them, which gets especially large during the winter months.

Despite their enormous size, these sea mammals have relatively little body fat and require warm water in order to survive. For that reason, they tend to migrate to the warm spring waters such as Crystal River and Homosassa Springs during the winter months. 

Another way that manatees are similar to our snowbird friends and neighbors is that once they find a place they like, they will return to the same spot year after year. It is not uncommon for a mother and her calf to go their separate ways out at sea for the entire summer and then be spotted hanging out together in their usual winter habitat the following year. 

As the manatees begin to migrate back towards our local springs for the winter, now is a great time to be planning your next manatee encounter. Whether you are looking to swim alongside the manatees, kayak near them, or observe them from dry land, there are great places to do all of those in Crystal River and Homosassa Springs!

Crystal River

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The best places to see manatees in the Crystal River area are Three Sisters Springs and the Kings Bay Manatee Sanctuary. Both of these places are best accessed by boat, but you can only get so close. In order to get up close and personal you will have to be in a kayak or canoe.

There are also a number of tour companies that operate out of the Crystal River area that specialize in manatee tours. These companies can take you right up to the popular manatee areas and many will instruct you on swimming right along with the manatees!

Homosassa Springs 

If you are looking to learn more about manatees, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the best place in the region. There is a daily educational program that gives visitors some background on manatees including their history and the rehabilitation efforts that are conducted at the park. 

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park also has what they call the “Fish Bowl,” which is an underwater viewing area similar to what you would expect to find at an aquarium. This gives visitors the chance to get up close and personal with manatees without even getting wet!

Tampa Electric Company 

Because manatees are attracted to warm waters, they also tend to be attracted to power plants. One really interesting place to observe them is from the Tampa Electric Company near the mouth of the Hillsborough River. The warm water that the power plant discharges into the river is like a magnet for manatees, and the company has built a visitor center, overlook, and walkway for visitors to observe this phenomenon. 

Whether you prefer to break out your kayak and meet the manatees in their natural environment in Crystal River or stay on dry land and observe them from a distance at Homosassa Springs or the Tampa Electric Company power plant, make sure you take some time to get out and see these amazing sea mammals near the Villages of Citrus Hills this winter.

Bird's Underwater: A Highly Rated Local Tour Company

If you are looking for a tour company to take you and a group of friends out swimming with manatees or on a scalloping adventure, you are probably going to start your search using a website like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Because those types of sites tend to attract people who are looking to complain more often than complement, we have all learned over the years that we have to take negative reviews with a grain of salt. But what if there was a company that had hardly any negative reviews? Wouldn’t that be the one you wanted to hire?

 Bird’s Underwater in Crystal River is that company!

At the time of this writing, they are rated 5 stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor with virtually no negative reviews. In today’s eager-to-complain environment, that is really something special! 

About Bird’s Underwater Dive Center

Bird’s Underwater Dive Center is located right on Kings Bay in Crystal River. Bill “Bird” Oestreich and his wife Diane started it back in 1989. They have since grown the business to include a number of certified and insured “captains” that lead all kinds of tours, training classes, and other adventures.

In addition to being popular among local residents and regular vacationers, Bird’s Underwater has also been featured on TV shows like Small Planet, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Lonely Planet, and The 700 Club.

But being featured on those shows is nothing compared to the way that customers talk about Bird’s Underwater. Here is what Kayecee G. had to say about her recent scalloping trip on Yelp: 

I can't say enough good things about our trip."

Scalloping with Bird's Underwater was an amazing experience. On our drive home we had already decided we will be making a yearly trip from Daytona to Crystal River to go scalloping with Bird's Underwater.

Captain Cody was absolutely amazing! He even got in the water to help us since it was our first time. He went above and beyond by taking us out where the grassy beds drop off and we were able to see a huge variety of fish and coral that you don't find in the grassy area where you find scallops. As long as he is there we will always request to go out with him! He has made lifetime customers out of us!” 

Manatee Tours & Scalloping Trips

Swimming with manatees is probably the most sought after experience in the Crystal River area, and nobody delivers on that experience quite like Bird’s Underwater. They have tours leaving daily that seat anywhere from 6-11 passengers. You can also book private tours for parties of 6.

During scalloping season, another popular option is to head out on a Bird’s Underwater charter so that you can catch your fill of scallops without having to worry about getting a fishing license or bringing any equipment. Bird’s Underwater takes care of everything for you.  

Manatee tours can be booked right from their website, and scalloping tours can be booked over the phone during scalloping season.

The Dive Center

On top of delivering amazing tour experience, Bird’s Underwater is also your one-stop shop for all things diving in Crystal River.

Never been scuba diving before? That’s no problem, because Bill “Bird” Ostreich himself teaches regular dive classes right at the facility. With dive experience dating back to the early 1970s, Bird is a wealth of information and an excellent teacher.  

  Devils Den

Devils Den

Bird’s Underwater also offers guided dives that will allow you to experience some of the best dive spots in Citrus County with a local expert guiding you through to all of the best underwater spots. If you are tired of hearing about places like Blue Grotto and Devil’s Den and are ready to see them for yourself, this is a great way to get there! 

As for any diving equipment needs, Bird’s is a Scubapro Platinum Dealer and an authorized Scubapro Service Center. So if you are already an experienced diver, they can fix you up with the best of the best equipment and make sure it is always in tip-top shape.  

Bird’s House Rentals 

If you are looking to really take your Bird’s Underwater experience to the next level, you might want to consider booking one of their two rental properties to stay at during one of their multiple day dive tours.  

One of the houses is located right on the Homosassa River, and the other is on the Halls River. Both of the Bird’s rental houses come with kayaks, TV and internet, and fully equipped kitchens.  

No matter what your level of experience, Bird’s Underwater has an amazing adventure that is perfect for you. So the next time you find yourself thinking about manatees, scallops, or scuba diving, stop thinking about it and book a tour with Bird’s. According to the hundreds of satisfied customers on Yelp and TripAdvisor, you will not be disappointed.