Florida's Nature Coast
Florida's Nature Coast, along the Gulf of Mexico, is a lond of...
Mangroves and reeds. Eagles and ospreys. Redfish and grouper. Water and sky. Mermaids. (Mermaids?)
Really friendly people, with "Old Florida" hospitality.
Welcome to Florida's Nature Coast!
The Big Bend
So, where is the Nature Coast, anyway? It's on the Gulf of Mexico, and roughly, it's from Wakulla in the north to Brooksville in the south. That translates to from just north of Tampa and through the Big Bend (where Florida's peninsula bends around to meet the panhandle). The counties making up Florida's Nature Coast include (from south to north) Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Levy, Dixie, Taylor, Jefferson and Wakulla. The Suwannee River is part of the Nature Coast -- yes, the one made famous by the song.
Some cities along the Nature Coast include Homossassa Springs, Crystal River, Weeki Wachee Springs, Cedar Key and Perry. And as for getting to these towns, well, just take road US 19 north or south along the coast and you'll pretty much find them (it's the main road linking the area).
Real, Live Mermaids
Yes, there are mermaids along Florida's Nature Coast, in the form of an underwater show at Weeki Wachee Springs. Now obviously the mermaids don't breath water, but they sure do give that impression. What's really neat is that there is no tank or aquarium of any kind -- the theater is built right into the spring! The water is crystal-clear, so your view is excellent.
And just a side note -- since the show takes place in the actual spring, some Florida wildlife sometimes pays a visit. Fish, manatees, turtles. I hear that an alligator has shown up a few times - zowee!
All kinds of fun things to do are bundled into the admission to Weeki Wachee Springs -- a water park, shows and a river boat ride. So, if you're on the Nature Coast, do pay a visit.
Stalking the Elusive Bargain
Just north of Weeki Wachee on US 19, you'll come across a biiiig flea market -- something like 50 acres. Can you feel your wallet tingling (or maybe it's whimpering) already? All the usual suspects (watches, sunglasses, the ever-present Avon) plus all kinds of neat things. Sure, there are many "professional" flea market vendors, who do this for a living. But there is also my favorite -- the person who brings in goodies that they just want to go to a good home (and at a great price). Food, plants, produce -- it's all here. A warning -- in the summer it can get pretty hot, so go early in the day.
Now I have to say that if the thought of outlet and big shopping malls makes you flush in anticipation....you'll have to wait for another area of Florida. Sure, there is some shopping and at least 1 mall that I know about personally, but they don't sprout like mushrooms (as the do in other parts of Florida). Flea markets are far more common. If you're suffering from mall withdrawal, try the one in Crystal River. Otherwise, you'll have more luck the farther south you go...say, into Tampa.
Catch that Fish!
All along the Nature Coast is excellent fishing territory. Big redfish and spotted sea trout are plentiful. Grouper are hanging around out in the Gulf of Mexico. Snook are seen, as well as snappers. Bring your own rod and skiff or hire a guide to take you out. If you bring your own boat, be aware that the area is quite shallow -- this is the Gulf of Mexico, after all. If your boat has more than a 2-foot draft, you'll have to go out one of the boat ramps that are close to deeper water.
My husband and I have been fishing several times up in the Crystal Bay area. It's quiet and peaceful, with plenty of mangrove islands, perfect for fish to snuggle up in. We do have a depth finder and we did use it to keep an eye on the how deep the water was. Despite its name (Crystal Bay) the water is not crystal-clear, so you may have a hard time judging the depth.
There are lots and lots of parks along Florida's Nature Coast. Just a smattering include (south to north)
Not to worry, I'll eventually be profiling all these parks (how to get there, what can you do there, etc.) later. But for now, just know they are there.
Key West, Nature Coast Style
There's a little island hidden up in Florida's Nature Coast called Cedar Key. I often think of it as a very small northern Key West. Boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants galore -- all on the water. Hmm, guess you can take your wallet out for some exercise here.
It's a bit of a hike to get to Cedar Key, off of US 19, and it can be even more interesting if you try to "explore" when returning to US 19. My husband and I decided to take some back roads, for scenery, on our way back to the main road. Mistake. We drove, and drove and drove some more. No other cars, no houses. It was really pretty, just kind of spooky being on a road so untraveled - especially on a holiday weekend!
Since You Asked...
...No, there really isn't much in the way of attractions or shopping here on Florida's Nature Coast. It is the Florida that you thought existed, but wasn't sure where to find. Friendly people, smiling faces, few or no crowds. Laid-back Florida at its finest.
Ya'll come back now!
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