Kayaking

Kayaking: Things You Need to Know Before Pushing Off for the First Time

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Having some fun in the sun is one of the best things about living along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and kayaking is one of our absolute favorite ways to do just that here at the Villages of Citrus Hills. Our community is surrounded by popular kayak destinations, so if you are looking for a fun activity to enhance the summer, we have the perfect idea for you!

While there isn't a whole lot to know when it comes to paddling your kayak, purchasing one and getting out to use it can actually be pretty intimidating for a first timer. In order to help with that, we put together this simple guide to make pushing off as easy as possible for you.

Buying a Kayak

The act of purchasing a kayak that will best suit your needs can be as complicated as you want to make it. As long as it floats, most any kayak can get you where you want to go, but there are an endless number of different options you can tweak to make sure that you get the most out of your investment.

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The most important factor in evaluating how well any kayak will fit your needs is the size of the kayak. You will find that the longer and wider kayaks offer more stability, are faster in the water, and can carry more equipment with you. On the flip side, shorter and narrower kayaks are easier to maneuver in the water, and the fact that they are lighter makes them easier to transport.

Another factor that you will want to consider is the shape of the hull. Kayaks with flat hulls will offer greater stability, while kayaks with round hulls will allow you to change course much more efficiently.

 

 

 

Tips for Beginners

The most important thing to remember any time you are out on the water is that safety should always be a top priority. And the most important safety precaution that a kayaker can take is to always wear a properly fitting life vest. On top of that, it is always safer to kayak with a friend or a group of friends so that you have someone to help you if something goes wrong.

One of the best ways to get started kayaking is to go on a group trip with an experienced guide. This will help you learn the basics like how to hold the paddle and steer the boat in a completely safe environment.

When you are ready to head out without a guide, make sure that you always have a plan for where you will be kayaking, and it never hurts to have a change of clothes with you…just in case!

Where to Kayak

You don't have to look very hard to find a great kayak destination near the Villages of Citrus Hills, and most of our residents get started by exploring the crystal-clear water of the Rainbow River just north of the community.

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Once you have mastered the Rainbow River, we recommend taking some time to explore other nearby destinations like The Withlacoochee River, the Chassahowitzka River, and the Crystal River.

In addition to exploring local rivers, there are also lots of state parks that feature boat launches, and don't forget to hit up all of the popular manatee destinations as well!

No matter how much boating experience you have, kayaking is the kind of thing that just about anyone can learn and enjoy. And with so many local destinations surrounding the Villages of Citrus Hills, there is no reason not to spend your summer getting out and exploring our local waterways.

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!

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.

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.  

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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.