When you hug the Gulf Coast going north from Saint Petersburg toward Tallahassee, you take US19 into the Nature Coast. I used to go that route when I drove to Florida State University as a graduate student and back then it was a lot of miles and a lot of trees and few towns.
Even today few people will select Perry or Cross City for vacation spots, but further south the region has wonderful clear spring rivers and good experiences into more of Old Florida. Don’t expect to find any beaches or unless you boat out to one of the small Gulf islands.
The Nature Coast is about boating, kayaking, and exploring Mother Nature with capital letters. Urban civilization starts to vanish when you drive north into Hernando County. When there is a hurricane the swampy, river country to the west of US19 must be evaculated so it doesn’t have the development on the coast found to the South.
You take a Boat From US19 to Homosassa Springs
Fifty miles north of Saint Petersburg is Homosassa Springs with the State of Florida operating the scenic Homosassa Springs State Park where Ivan Tors used to house some of his TV stars like Gentle Ben. The boat ride past Monkey Island and the underwater theater with its abundant blend of fresh water and saltwater fish is fantastic.
The word “Riverside” Means That On The Nature Coast
If you are into boating and fishing and looking for manatees, a place to stay is rustic Riverside Resorts where boating and fishing are the features. They have a program to swim with the manatees in the refreshing 72 degrees F waters.
The Plantation Inn Is As Upscale As You Will Get
The town of Crystal River has a huge bay famous springs attracting dozens of manatees in the cold months. The Plantation Inn resembles an Old Florida resort with golf, fishing, and nature trips. There is the largest selection of motels along US19 here. Nearby is the ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill, owned by Florida’s first U.S. Senator.
The Crystal River Natives Are Friendly But Leave Them Alone
The favorite weekend spot of a lot of University of Florida students is Cedar Key with its historic downtown and its funky waterfront of somewhat touristy seafood restaurants and gift shops. You can stay in motels, RV parks, b&bs, but I love the 1859 Island Inn for his history and its nice restaurant.
The Funky Cedar Key Waterfront
Cedar Key was once the third largest port on the Gulf of Mexico and its railroad extended eastward to Jacksonville. The end of the lumber industry meant the village would survive as a fishing port. Out in the Gulf of Mexico are small islands (one with lighthouse) with nice beaches.
The 1859 Hotel Is Old Cedar Key
North of Cedar Key on the beautiful Withlachoochee River is very quaint Yankeetown, started in 1923 by some “Indiana Yankees.” The historic Izack Walton Lodge (Riverside Inn) burnt down in a 1999 fire and was rebuilt without upstairs rooms. You can still rent boats there for fishing in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
The Rebuilt Izack Walton Inn in Yankeetown
Yankeetown was the site of the Elvis Presley movie Follow That Dream (1961) and you’d still recognize the streets and buildings after all these years.
There are two more fishing villages off US19: tiny Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County and Steinhatchee in Taylor County. The latter has some condo units and more odern facilities for boating and fishing.
When you reach Perry, Florida civilization and I-10 is just minutes away.