Swimming with manatees at Crystal River

7 Most Picturesque Small Towns In Florida's Nature Coast

There is a reason that Florida's Nature Coast has its name, featuring many picturesque coastal towns that offer major natural exploration opportunities. These less-visited bucket-list getaway towns in the state with hundreds of miles of tranquil remoteness, less crowds, and pure natural beauty are mentioned below. 

Cedar Key

Cedar Key, Florida.
Kayakers enjoy a beautiful day on the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key, Florida.

A busy port in the past, Cedar Key is a charming enclave along the Nature Coast, with a quaint vibe and old-fashioned atmosphere that artists and writers adore for inspiration among unspoiled natural beauty. This picturesque town in Levy County is spread over a cluster of islands and is a known fishing mecca and a hotspot for amazing seafood. Representing a slice of traditional Florida, it is set off the beaten path, accessible by Route 24, with a small downtown area cozily lined with century-old oak trees and boutiques. Multilevel houses sit on stills overhanging the Gulf of Mexico, while the beachfront airport makes a great spectacle from the white sand with quiet, gentle waters. The Lil Shark Park city park is a perfect getaway for families with a playground and more white sand beachfront. Nature lovers will love visiting the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and the Cedar Key Museum State Park to see flocks of the endangered spoonbills flying over the area and even landing on the beach. The numerous beaches are best viewed during a Floridian orange sunset.

Crystal River

Swimming with manatees at Crystal River
Swimming with manatees at Crystal River.

This tourist hotspot on the Nature Coast of Citrus County is widely known for its West Indian manatee sightings. One can see the gentle giants and float with them in water on an eco-tour at the Three Sisters Springs. Tucked away within the residential district, it provides a warm and safe hideaway for the manatees during wintertime's cold temperatures at the Gulf, while the surrounding boardwalk makes them great to spectate from. Easily reachable by the Three Sisters Springs Trolley, the recent wetlands expansion restored the natural habitat for the animals and added to the experience of watching them. The town has one of the purest and clearest spring-fed water systems in its Crystal River, with kayaking and snorkeling year-round. The quieter Homosassa River and the Rainbow River are full of fish, turtles, aquatic plants, and natural spring vents nearby. The Crystal River State Archaeological Park displays the remnants of Florida's Native Americans through an insightful perspective highlighting the historical significance of their early life in the area. Coming inclusive with stelae, burial mounds, middens, and a paved walkway throughout the 61-acre site, there is also a stairway to the scenic view from the top of Temple Mound "H." 

Fish Creek

Known as a "spring-breakers" town, Fish Creek is perfect for any taste, whether one is looking to have fun or relax in the laid-back atmosphere, including those passionate for fine art, entertainment, culinary experience and excellence, and intoxicating culture. The town of Fish Creek comes complete with exquisite storefronts and quirky eating places, along with Boutique clothing stores, art galleries, specialty shops, and home décor retailers along its picturesque downtown streets. The Adult Night at Hands On Art Studio is a spanned-out interactive workshop set within a refurbished picturesque barn held on Friday nights with beer, wine, music, and a variety of art to try, such as metalwork, painting, and ceramics. Another sought-after experience in town includes stocking up on the locally sourced cheeses, bakery items, and gifts at the stress-free atmosphere of the family-owned Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery & Market, with complimentary wine and product tastings.

Hernando Beach

Hernando beach florida
Hernando Beach. Editorial credit: Feng Cheng / Shutterstock.com

Off the path and out of sight, the picturesque oasis of Hernando Beach town is a best-kept secret of the state. Set on the west coast along the Weeki Wachee River and Springs, it is a shrimping mecca that offers direct access to the Gulf of Mexico and Gilligan's Island, while its picturesque houses are lined along the canal, a la Venice. Prior to becoming a waterfront canal community, it was all wetlands before 1950s when a developer Charlie Sasser purchased the area and had it ready by 1970. The restrictions on wetland development came next year, with state claiming ownership and the Army Corps of Engineers accusing the developer of not having the proper permits. Sesser was ordered to restore the land to its natural state, as he built a dike around the 144 acres to separate it from the gulf. Although some say that the town should not exist, those who visit to see the shallow sand bars glistening from the clear turquoise waters, along with the proximity to the scallop patches, would argue otherwise. Perfect for boating, it is also home to the Hernando Flats, which will make one think they've landed in the Caribbean.


Tourists taking a boat ride in the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Florida.

Set near the southern end of the Big Bend on Florida's Gulf Coast, Homosassa is known for its several state parks. The Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park offers manatee viewings through an underwater observatory, while the Yulee Sugar Mill State Park gives one a tour of a sugar mill that served troops during the Civil War. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park features various animals including alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingos, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity. The town was also a popular train stop in the early 1900s, where people would debunk not for a smoke break or some fresh air, but for swimming and fishing in the place, even then, known as one of the most beautiful spots in Florida. Today, the town with great scalloping opportunities and the quintessential springs still has the air of a "throwback to simpler times". The "Florida Cracker Riverside Resort" is a hot spot especially during the scalloping season, set on water, with a private boat ramp, and boats for rent. 

Horseshoe Beach

Horseshoe Beach is known (or not) for its extreme remoteness of a peninsula that juts out from the nearest main roadway into the Gulf for 20 miles, where a sparsely-populated fishing and boating community sits at the tip in a secluded area. Nevertheless, there is a restaurant, a full-service marina, an athletic area, and a park, while rocks and walls surround the town's beach for a dramatically picturesque setting right out of a movie. The park comes with a boat ramp, picnic areas, and water views, although there is no actual beach for swimming. The only natural beachfront is reachable by driving to the end of the County Road 351, or the town's Main Street.

Steinhatchee, Florida

Steinhatchee, Florida

Set on the Gulf of Mexico at the southern end of State Road 51, Steinhatchee, Florida, is a little fishing village on the north side of the Steinhatchee River, with some 1,000 residents. Commercial and sport fishermen on the river and the gulf represent the export and the tourism that "feed" the town's economy, with fishing as its biggest industry. The Gulf's shallow waters brim with scallops, stone crabs, and blue crabs, where tourists come to snorkel for scallops during the season. The Steinhatchee River has a large trout and redfish population. The surrounding wilderness, teeming with alligators, panthers, hogs, turkeys, and all kinds of shorebirds, makes one think they have landed in Africa's Amazon. Artists love this town to capture Old Florida and the "jungle" images. The streets are wonderful for biking and walking to marvel at the Victorian homes set along the river. For a laid-back weekend, one can stay at one of the charming Old Florida B&Bs, while fishing, exploring, cycling, or just getting away from it all in this picturesque place with a quintessential charm that suits its name. 

 By visiting Florida's Nature Coast, one will see the difference between the terms "wild" and "unspoiled," often used interchangeably. While some towns are more rugged and others simply untouched, they all make for a unique experience in the Sunshine state's very picturesque natural place. 

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