With a name like "Florida's Adventure Coast," this destination naturally promises to be an exciting trip... but nowhere else in Florida can claim to be home to manatees and mermaids, in addition to world-class outdoor activities and charming little towns. Whether you're kayaking alongside sea cows, swimming with sirens of the deep, hiking through a lush jungle-like forest, or enjoying a cold beer at a friendly local brewery, Florida's Adventure Coast is sure to be a thrilling experience.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park might just be America's most unique state park. For starters, it's home to real, live mermaids. It all started in 1947, when a former US Navy man who trained frogmen divers bought the natural spring, cleaned it out, and decorated it. He had a crazy idea to hide air hoses in the underwater scenery to allow divers to discreetly breathe while putting on a performance. Once he'd perfected the technique, he built a submerged theater, found some pretty girls to train, and opened the first mermaid show.
By the 1950s, the spring was one of the country’s most famous attractions. In 1959, ABC bought the spring and built a larger theater, putting on elaborate underwater ballets inspired by Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Peter Pan. It’s managed to keep its kitschy, magical vibe. And, it still attracts aspiring mermaids from all over to try out, attend camp, or enjoy the shows.
There's more to the park than just the mermaid shows. It remains an oasis of incredible natural beauty, and anyone looking for a more traditional state park experience can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the onsite outfitter, Weeki Fresh Water Adventures. On a three-hour, 5.5-mile paddle down the stunningly blue Weeki Wachee River, canoers might spot manatees, turtles, pelicans, and otters. There's also a more leisurely River Boat Cruise, the Buccaneer Bay water park, and wildlife demonstrations. Pro tip: the river can get crowded on weekends, so visit during the week for a more serene experience.
Florida's Adventure Coast's newest craft brewery is a tribute to everything that makes beer great. Tidal Brewing Company boasts a facility where staff craft some delicious and highly drinkable beers; it also has a tasting room where they pour wares for thirsty patrons to sample. They claim to brew beers for sunny weather and beach bums, and their easy-to-drink offerings are sure to please even the pickiest palate. From trendy brut IPAs to tangy goses, along with traditional lagers, flavorful pale ales, light blondes, and more, there's plenty to love here. There are frequent events, an always-rotating tap list, and it's dog-friendly, all of which are great reasons to come back again and again.
Highlighting the best of the Adventure Coast, the Good Neighbor Trail connects quaint and historic downtown Brooksville with the scenic, 46-mile-long Withlacoochee State Trail. The Good Neighbor portion is about 10 miles long with a good amount of shade trees along the path, making it perfect for walking, hiking, or biking. It's a rail trail that follows what was once the route of the Florida Southern Railroad Line. The trailhead in Brooksville is located near the 1885-era Brooksville Train Depot Museum, a former switching yard. The Train Depot Museum is open between noon and 3 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and has an awesome old railcar outside.
One of the gems of historic downtown Brooksville is Main Street Eatery. This local joint has been serving up homestyle Cuban food and lunch specials since 1989. The soups, salads, and sandwiches are all huge, and crafted with love and an attention to flavor and detail. Definitely make sure to order a side of Cajun bean soup (or the notoriously hot chili, if you're feeling brave... if you can survive one helping of the spicy stuff, the second order is on the restaurant!) But most importantly, you must save room for dessert; the eatery chef makes a killer peanut butter pie, and a special piña colada icebox pie as well.
Another delicious eatery in Brooksville is Little Lady Cafe. This restaurant is an example of Southern home cooking at its finest. Think big portions, great prices, and friendly service. Club sandwiches, patty melts, fried clams, and fries are among the offerings on the lunch menu, but the breakfast options are completely irresistible. Country fried steak, biscuits and gravy, omelets, corned beef hash... the menu has something for everyone, and it all pairs well with a cup of coffee. Plus, there's something to be said for a place that knows the difference between home fries and hash browns, and offers both.
Florida oranges are always in season at Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction. What started as a simple fruit stand selling oranges in the 1960s has grown into a full-blown tourist stop. Between November and May, it offers grove-fresh oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, kumquats, and more for sale, but when it's not citrus season, you can still buy Florida-style souvenirs (think seashell crafts, shark teeth, and the like) and hand-dipped ice cream cones. Onsite you'll also find a wildlife park complete with an aviary and aquariums where you can meet and even feed creatures like monkeys, zedonks (a zebra-donkey hybrid), an alligator named Elvis, goats, and more. There's even mini-golf, gold panning, and a dinosaur cave.
Withlacoochee State Forest's 157,479 acres are spread across seven tracts and four counties, but the Adventure Coast's Croom Tract is something special. Along the winding Withlacoochee River is a stellar campground and day-use area that offers well-maintained facilities, a boat launch, and access to the Withlacoochee State Trail. The forest itself is a perfect example of how Florida's woodlands and rivers can be just as magical as its beaches. There's something incredible about canoeing deep into a lush forest that makes you feel like you're thousands of miles away from civilization, even when you really aren't.
Lake Townsen Regional Park is made up of 37 developed acres and 338 acres of untouched natural beauty. It's in a great location, with the State Forest to the north and the Withlacoochee River to the east. Lake Townsen provides boat access and connects to the Withlacoochee State Trail, and other amenities include a fishing pier, horseback riding trails, sports courts, and a lovely playground. You can immerse yourself in the stunning wild cypress swamp ecosystem here, which offers excellent bird and fish spotting.
River Ratz Cafe is located on a shady river bank, and makes the most of the scenery with plenty of outdoor seating and lots of live music. It's not hard to spend an evening relaxing here, with cheap and cold drinks, and menu of enticing bar bites. Fill up on burgers, fried seafood, or the signature Blackened Garlic Wet Wings as you enjoy a cocktail and the music. The setting is especially beautiful around sunset. Pro tip: Since the cafe is along the river, you can actually canoe here.
Whether you're kayaking with manatees, meeting mermaids, feeding a gator, camping out below a Spanish moss-draped oak, or just enjoying a big slice of peanut butter pie after an afternoon hike, there's a sense of perfection that permeates the Adventure Coast. It's a truly authentic escape.
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