Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old Florida Roadtrip: Homosassa, Florida

Are you ready for a road trip? Well buckle up! We're going on a roadtrip of the Florida gulf coast, what I like to call the "Old Florida" roadtrip. I want to rediscover those old tourist dives that were once the hotspots back in the 40's- 60's. These were THE places to vacation before "the mouse" moved into Florida. Today these hotspots are charming little seaside villages, small on crowds but big on fun and adventure. So come along with me and my family as we explore Old Florida (and vow NOT to eat at a single chain restaurant along the way....its all local!)

Today we make our way to what would become my favorite little town in the entire trip....Homosassa Springs. This being our first visit, We loved it so much, we changed our itinerary to not just spend one night/day here...but two. While in Homosassa, Big Daddy and I daydreamed of retiring here one day. Think "Magnolia Springs, Alabama".

Homosassa Springs, Florida....The History
Homosassa is a Native American Creek word meaning “place of many pepper plants”. Before the white man came, this area was home to the Creek and Seminole Indians. Recent digs have uncovered all sorts of native artifacts including canoes. At that time this area was a low lying vast swamp spotted with small islands and many natural springs of crystal clear pure fresh water. Millions of gallons of fresh water per hour pour out of these springs which creates the beautiful contributory creeks and rivers.

To Do:

*Visit the Park:
Beautiful year-round, Homosassa Springs is one of the best places in Florida for visitors to get up close and personal with the huge West Indian Manatee that inhabit the state's Gulf Coast.Located 75 miles north of Tampa and 90 miles northwest of Orlando in the town of Homosassa Springs, the springs were long the center of a privately-run attraction but are now part of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The park was renamed Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in 2009 to honor the late Elli Schiller,
who for many years gave both moral and financial support to efforts to build parks and preserve natural areas in Florida.
Visitors can see West Indian manatees and hundreds of fish every day of the year from the park's underwater observatory, referred to as "the fish bowl", in the main spring.

The park showcases native Florida wildlife, including manatees, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles, and river otters. Make certain to visit Lu the Hippo, who has been a resident for many, many years!

Manatee programs are offered three times daily. At the Wildlife Encounter programs, snakes and other native animals are featured. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, nature study, and bird-watching. The park features a children's education center, providing hands-on experiences about Florida's environment.

Homosassa Springs State Park

*Book a boat, dinner cruise, charter fishing trip, manatee swim, canoe, or kayak through Homosassa Riverside Resorts or several others in the area. We booked a riverboat cruise. Our guide, Jack, was very knowledgeable in wildlife and about the river. Along the way he pointed out native birds and wildlife, as well as some porpoise swimming along side our boat in the river.

*Visit Monkey Island at Homosassa Riverside Resorts. The resort actually does have an island with five monkeys on it. They provide many laughs to guest on land and aboard boats. Monkey Island-It's a story you have to read.

*Other Mentionables in the area:
Enjoy a icecream cone from nearby (walking distance)  while checking out Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Park.

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, the Wahoo Swamp Battlefield and Fort Cooper State Park, are within about thirty miles of Homosassa Springs.

Where to Stay:
Homosassa Riverside Resort looks worth checking out. We did not stay here, but found the resort cute. Certainly not a plush, modern resort...but big on charm and quaintness.

We stayed in nearby Crystal River for just $58.50 a night. See more here.
Where to Eat while in Homosassa:

Enjoy a hotdog or for those with a sweet tooth...an ice cream cone at TazDogs n Scoops .

Speaking of "sweet" Be sure to walk next door and check out Yulee Sugar Mill!
Taz Dogs N' Scoops 10317 W. Yulee Dr. 352-621-5500

McRaes, The Shed- This is where we found a "cheeseburger in paradise", so to speak. McRaes is outdoor dining on the dock.  The Shed is a full service grill that offers burgers, sandwiches, and many fried options. You will not find garden eating here. My children enjoyed watching the fishing boats pass by, and the pelicans nearby...and feeding the birds their french fries. There is spacious seating at the bar, by the dock or around the dance floor. A summer on-shore breeze and a cold beer will keep you refreshed while listening to live music.
MacRae's 5290 S. Cherokee Way  352-628-2602

At Homosassa Riverside Resort you will find a few nice places to eat, including Riverside Crab House and the Yardarm Lounge. But the Monkey Bar was where I spent a day that I will count as one of my most memorable.

The Monkey Bar is fun in the trees! This double-decker tiki bar overlooks Monkey Island. Enjoy cool island drinks and entertainment while watching the antics of the monkeys, the passing dolphins, the jumping tarpon, playful otters, manatee, and many native birds... including Bald Eagles. Oh yes, and the people. We enjoyed listening to live music, while we dined.

Big Daddy and the children all ordered steaks, which were cooked on the grill right in eyesite.

I ordered some vegetable sides.....delicious!

Big Daddy and I toasted pina colada's to a perfect ending to a perfect day!

Riverside Resort 5297 S. Cherokee Way 352- 628-2474

For more stops along the way of our  family trip to "Old Florida", click here.

Thursday is Thrifty Thursday...I hope you will join us by linking up as well as visiting Thrifty Thursday participants.

And come back Friday for more on our Old Florida Road Trip!!!!


CraftyHope said...

I've been to Homosassa before. We went swimming with the manatees. It is a lovely place and you've dine a great review of it!!

Cindy said...

THANKYOU for this marvelous post! My husband is looking @ properties in Ocala all of the time. What I like about that town is the central location to really cool places like your post!


I too have swam with the manatees in Homosassa. I loved this place as a kid. I rank it right up there with Sanibel Island and Captiva. So many people just don't know what they are missing in Florida by just going to see Disney and PC.

Tim C. said...

Omigosh! I have pics SO similar to yours! Hahaha I used to live in Beverly Hills, FL (about 20 mins from Homosassa....I LOVE that area. So beautiful. I live in Indiana now, and seeing your blog made me long to be back on the west coast of Florida. :-( I'm glad you liked the area so much. Looks like your kids did, too!
Could you "friend" me on Facebook? Thanks, and keep up the AWESOME work!
-Tim C.

Julie said...

I have been wanting to do a road trip with my youngest daughter (25) to this area for awhile now...I know what I want to see and do...thank for some inside information...:):)

Anonymous said...

We just bought a beautiful home in this paradise town. I love everything about it. Homosassa is a slice of paradise!