In the Gulf waters along Florida’s Adventure Coast, something amazing lies beneath the surface. Waving with the ocean currents, vast stands of seagrass create an aquatic wonderland where manatees and sea turtles roam. The underwater plant life also supports the growth of scallops, which can be harvested for a delicious meal. It’s a magnificent environment that you can’t find just anywhere, and it provides unique opportunities for those seeking outdoor adventure.
Beyond the sea, this region of Florida offers even more special opportunities. From its open-air music festivals to its award-winning trails, Florida’s Adventure Coast offers an abundance of unforgettable experiences. Here’s a sampling of things you shouldn’t miss when you make your next trip to the area.
Every spring, the historic town of Brooksville is transformed into a lively celebration of all things blueberry. Billed as the “Best Little Festival in Florida,” the annual Brooksville Blueberry Festival is an engaging event for foodies of all ages. The weekend-long celebration features live music, an eclectic collection of food trucks, and more than 200 different vendors. Along with an entire Kid Zone for youngsters, the festival also offers a beer garden serving artfully-crafted local brews. There’s even a Blueberry Lane loaded with all sorts of blueberry-infused creations, from pies and soaps to artisanal jams.
The Weeki Wachee mermaids have been entertaining visitors since 1947. The brainchild of Navy man Newton Perry, the mermaid show originated as a private roadside attraction, drawing curious travelers to the crystalline waters of Weeki Wachee springs. The location even provided the backdrop for the movie Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, which premiered in 1948. These days, the mermaid show is part of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, and the underwater ballet continues, with daily performances showcased in a 400-seat amphitheater. Beyond the iconic mermaid show, the park offers riverboat cruises, paddling tours, and the state’s only spring-fed water park.
Along Florida’s Adventure Coast, the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico are irresistible. The region is second only to the Florida Keys in terms of seagrass, making the area a hotspot for marine life. More than 250,000 acres of thriving seagrass attract creatures like sea turtles and manatees, along with a wide array of fish and mollusks. In addition to providing critical habitat for marine animals, the Adventure Coast’s vast seagrass beds also trap sediment, making water conditions crystal clear for snorkelers. During the summer, visitors can even don a mask and snorkel and scour the Gulf for harvestable bay scallops. After a day in the water, the Adventure Coast’s “You Catch We Cook” eateries will even transform that bay scallop haul into an unforgettable meal.
Go for a boat ride on the Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail and there’s a good shot you’ll spot manatees.
With more than 170,000 acres of protected parklands, Florida’s Adventure Coast is a haven for wildlife. The region has eight different stops along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, which offers a range of opportunities for nature lovers, especially birders. In the southwest corner of Hernando County, the 11,206-acre Weekiwachee Preserve is a hotspot for songbirds and regularly draws an astounding variety of migrating sparrows during the spring and fall. The preserve also provides habitat for creatures like bald eagles, painted lady butterflies, and Florida black bears. To catch a glimpse of these natural wonders, you can explore nearly 10 miles of trails in the preserve.
For birdwatchers, the Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area offers abundant wildlife, family-friendly hikes, and year-round education programs at the onsite Conservation Center. The two-mile Pines-to-Prairie Trail connects the Conservation Center Tract with the Big Pine Tract, home to one of the largest contiguous expanses of old-growth pine forest in the entire state.
If you enjoy canoeing or kayaking, launch your boat on the 1.7-mile Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail. Linking Bayport Park and Linda Pedersen Park, the trail takes paddlers through a wildlife-rich tidal estuary frequented by dolphins and manatees. You might also spy birds like laughing gulls, belted kingfishers, and common loons.
Along the Adventure Coast, there are plenty of ways to appreciate local foods. Using the region’s handy U-Pick and Farm Tour Brochure & Map, it’s easy to spend a day exploring the scenic backroads and byways linking the region’s family-friendly farms and open-air markets. Visitors can plan a berry-picking outing, join a farm tour, or seek out tasty treats at local farmers’ markets, like the Brooksville Farmers Market or the Spring Hill Farmers Market.
Offering an alluring combination of natural wonders and cultural richness, the Adventure Coast has been enticing travelers for decades. The region is still peppered with classic spots offering “Old Florida” charm. Just outside Brooksville, Boyett’s Citrus Grove began as a roadside fruit stand more than a half-century ago and has since emerged as an entertaining mix of crowd-pleasing attractions. The family-friendly location includes a wildlife park, old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and a sprawling gift store loaded with kitschy Florida-themed treasures.
In Bayport, Mary’s Fish Camp has been perched beside the spring-fed Mud River since 1946. Renowned as a hotspot for migrating mullet, the nostalgia-inducing fish camp is the perfect place to drop a line. Beyond the shoreline fishing, Mary’s Fish Camp also offers five fully-furnished waterside cabins, RV campsites, and an onsite tackle shop.
History buffs will also love the May Stringer House. Situated on a hilltop above Brooksville, the seven-gabled, gingerbread house dates back to 1856 and now functions as a museum with more than 11,000 historic artifacts on display. The museum even offers ghost tours on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Meandering through four different counties, the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest paved trail in Florida. The Adventure Coast’s portion of the nationally recognized recreational trail is especially scenic. The route parallels the picturesque Withlacoochee River and traverses the 158,000-acre Withlacoochee State Forest. There are plenty of places to stop for a picnic and admire the Withlacoochee River, like Lake Townsen Regional Park. You can stop for ice cream and unique shopping at River Oaks Landing. There’s a nice spot to sit by the river and enjoy your treat. Near Brooksville, the Withlacoochee State Trail also intersects with the 10-mile Good Neighbor Trail. For an extended adventure, the Silver Lake Recreation Area also offers year-round camping near the southern terminus of the Withlacoochee State Trail.
A long-lived spring jamboree, Swamp Fest offers three days of craft vendors, crowd-pleasing cuisine, and live music. The annual festival has been a fixture along the Adventure Coast since 1994. During the festival, food trucks dish up rib-sticking bites like Cuban sandwiches, gator-on-a-stick, and ice cream sundaes. Plus, there are more than a hundred different vendors selling everything from original artwork to artisanal foods to handcrafted pottery. One of the festival’s most beloved traditions is the annual Swamp Monster Contest, where attendees of all ages show off clever costumes.
With its blend of festivals, natural wonders, and old-world charm, Florida’s Adventure Coast is unlike any other place in the country. Its unique culture, rich history, and abundant wildlife make it an ideal destination for an adventurous escape or a family vacation. From the depths of the Gulf waters to the berry fields of Brooksville, this part of Florida is filled with things you shouldn’t miss—and you’ll always remember.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with Florida’s Adventure Coast.
Featured image provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife