Florida Stone Crab

Great Day Trip: Caladesi Island

While its exact ranking will vary slightly from year-to-year, no one will deny that Caladesi Island is one of the absolute best beaches in America.

This practically untouched state park is located just west of Clearwater, but the only way to get there is to take the 15-20 minute ferry from Honeymoon Island.  Including the ferry ride, Caladesi Island State Park is just under 2 hours away from the Villages of Citrus Hills. 

America’s Best Beach

Once you arrive at Caladesi Island, it is easy to see why it was rated the top beach in America in 2008 and continues to be featured on similar lists year after year. This beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear water remains undeveloped. There are no highways, no traffic, no homes, and no commercial buildings. 

While the island is completely undeveloped, there are still plenty of amenities like a snack stand, umbrellas for rent, and lifeguards on duty when in season. In addition to having great sand, and warm water, the beach is also a great place for shelling because it is not overpopulated with tourists. 

For the Active Beachgoers

The idea of relaxing on an untouched beach sums up a perfect day for many of us, but those who need a little more activity will not be disappointed either. Caladesi Island State Park has three miles of nature trails that weave their way through the island’s interior. 

There is also a three-mile kayak trail through the bay. As you hike or paddle around the island, you are likely to spot some of the local gopher tortoises burrowing in the sand dunes. 

Because of the lack of tourist traffic, local anglers will find great salt-water fishing both from the island’s beaches and the surrounding waters. There are also plenty of picnic areas, and if you have your own boat, you can make a reservation to dock it at the Caladesi Island Marina for an overnight trip. 

Stopping for Dinner

There is a small cafe located right on Caladesi Island, but if you are going to be passing through Clearwater on your way back home, you will definitely want to consider stopping at Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizza. This family-owned pizzeria makes some of the best pizza you will ever try. In addition to their fantastic pizza, Cristino’s also specializes in chicken wings that are smothered in garlic and caramelized onions, homemade lentil soup, and their famous panzerotti!

Another great local restaurant that you might want to try is Eatin’ Fresh, but they are only open for lunch, so you will want to make sure to plan your day accordingly and either get back from the island in time to eat or eat before you head out to the beach. Eatin’ Fresh has a great selection of fresh seafood including some outstanding fish tacos and the original Stone Claw Taco. 

The ideal trip to Caladesi Island probably starts with a light lunch of Stone Claw Tacos at Eatin’ Fresh around 11:00 am. From there, you can head out to Honeymoon Island to catch the ferry to Caladesi Island and spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach or exploring the nature trails. Follow your beach adventure with a coal oven pizza from Cristino’s and you will be both relaxed and well-fed for your trip back home to the Villages of Citrus Hills.

Stone Crab Season - October 15 to May 15

Florida stone crabs are known around the world for their delicious claw meat. But did you know that many of the stone crabs on menus around the country come from right here near the Villages of Citrus Hills?

Whether you prefer them served cold with mustard sauce or warm with drawn butter, the experience of cracking and eating these crab claws is something you will never forget!

About Stone Crabs 

One of the most interesting aspects of Florida stone crabs is that they are actually a renewable resource. When the crabs are caught in the traps of professional stone crabbers, the crabbers only take one claw from each crab and the crabs are then returned to the water. As a defense mechanism, stone crabs are able to survive losing a claw and then regenerate that claw in about a year. 

The average stone crab has a lifespan of 8-9 years, and they are generally found in sandy ocean bottoms and seagrass beds along Citrus County’s coastline out to a depth of about 20 feet. Large stone crabs can weigh as much as one pound. They feed on oysters, snails, and various other small marine life. Female stone crabs can spawn as many as six times each year, producing up to one million fertilized eggs each time. In addition to humans, stone crabs can also find themselves being hunted by octopuses and grouper.

Catching Stone Crabs 

The Florida stone crab harvesting season lasts seven months each year from October 15 through May 15. During this time, many amateur fishermen also hunt for stone crabs. 

Amateur crabbers are required to hold a salt water fishing license from the state of Florida,

and they must adhere to certain regulations. They are limited to a total of five traps, and they cannot catch more than one gallon of claws per day. The claws must all be a minimum of 2-3/4 inches. 

Eating Stone Crab

While some find enjoyment in catching their own stone crab, many others prefer to let the professionals do the catching and simply focus on the eating.  Probably the most popular place for stone crab near the Villages of Citrus Hills is Charlie’s Fish House & Seafood Market in Crystal River.

The restaurant was originally started as an oyster bar by Charlie Kofmehl all the way back in 1960. The oyster bar was an immediate success, serving the best fresh fish and seafood in Citrus County. In the early seventies, Charlie turned the oyster bar over to his two sons, Jimmy and Phil.

After years of continuing to grow the business, Jimmy and Phil decided to build a brand new restaurant in 1990. The new waterfront restaurant had seating for 160 guests compared to seating for 30 in the old oyster bar. In honor of their father, Jimmy and Phil changed the name to Charlie’s Fish House. Since then, the family business has continued to grow and guests can now find a third generation of Kofmehls working there. 

The restaurant menu at Charlie’s Fish House features a chilled stone crab appetizer with a mustard dipping sauce. There is also a 1-1/4 pound warm stone crab entree. In addition to stone crab, the menu features plenty of other local seafood favorites like oysters, grouper, shrimp, and scallops. If you prefer to cook your own seafood, Charlie’s Seafood Market sells fresh stone crab claws, as well as fresh caught grouper, mullet, red snapper, and even oysters. They can even ship stone crab to anyone you like across the country!

Saturday, November 5th Downtown Crystal River   

Saturday, November 5th Downtown Crystal River

 

Charlie’s also sponsors the Stone Crab Jam Music and Food Festival every fall in Crystal River. The festival is a fun-filled day of live music, exciting exhibits, and tons of stone crab.

Whether you are a seafood nut, or just looking for a fun experience to share with your family, catching or eating Florida stone crab is a fantastic option. When you live in the Villages of Citrus Hills, you can choose to catch your own, cook your own, or let a place like Charlie’s take care of everything for you!