From majestic trees draped in Spanish moss, to gentle manatees floating along the inland waterways, to world-famous mermaids, Florida’s Adventure Coast beckons with a magical—and unique—appeal. This stretch of the state, which encompasses Hernando County and the charming towns of Brooksville and Weeki Wachee, reaches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico on the west to the Withlacoochee State Forest on the east. As rich in centuries-old history as it is in outdoor adventure, this 589-square-mile county is named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who encountered Native Americans here on his 1539 expedition. The sense of adventure still pervades, with more than 52 miles of river waterways and nearly three dozen state, community, and county parks that beckon modern-day exploring.
Here are eight reasons why your next vacation should be to Florida’s Adventure Coast.
Every month of the year, a flurry of fun festivals celebrate the history and culture of this part of the Sunshine State. A highlight in January is the Brooksville Raid Re-Enactment, Florida’s largest Civil War re-enactment that portrays the 1846 raid on Bayport. More than 2,000 actors, along with cannons, horses, and vendors selling old-time goodies like fry bread, make this a don’t-miss (and free!) event for history buffs. In the spring, the Weeki Wachi Swamp Fest—which has been going strong for 25 years—thrills festival goers with the beloved Swamp Monster contest, as well as plenty of other fun activities and plenty of vendors. And the Brooksville Blueberry Festival in April is an excellent way to honor this fan-favorite fruit.
Music lovers, meanwhile, flock to toe-tapping celebrations like the Orange Blossom Jamboree in May and November’s Riverhawk Festival. And the end-of-year holiday season comes with a bumper crop of seasonal events, from haunted houses and harvest festivals to the iconic Cardboard Boat Races, a spectator-friendly extravaganza in Hernando Beach to the festive Christmas on Main Street in downtown Brooksville.
It’s earned the nickname Florida’s Adventure Coast for good reason. It has 589 square miles that span stunning stretches of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico, rivers and inland waterways ripe for paddling, and miles of biking and hiking trails, as well as about 200,000 acres of protected parklands. You can make your adventure as ambitious (a century bike ride under the scenic canopy of Spanish moss-draped trees) or as laid-back (a sunset boat cruise) as you like. In addition, unique offerings like diving for scallops are a great way to get a true taste of local culture.
Highlights for visitors who like their vacation with a little adrenaline: biking a stretch (or all!) of the 42-mile Suncoast Trail, an award-winning Scenic Recreation Trail, or the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail (a nationally recognized recreational trail); hopping in a canoe or kayak and paddling the 7.1-mile Weeki Wachee River; and, for anglers, world-class fishing. After all, Hernando Beach is just the spot for casting a fly for some bragging-rights tarpon; it’s the site of the state-record fish from 2001.
These mythical creatures come to majestic life at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. For more than seven decades, the Weeki Wachee mermaids have delighted audiences with underwater performances. Currently, they’re portraying Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid in the submerged 400-seat amphitheater. The shows are first-come, first-served, with several daily performances, and some of the most well-known guests over the years have included Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffett, Larry the Cable Guy, and Paris Hilton.
In addition to the mermaids, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, whose name came from the Seminole Indians and means “little spring” or “winding river,” also is home to many other attractions, including riverboat cruises, wildlife shows, and, of course, the stunning aquamarine springs themselves.
But mermaids aren’t the only aquamarine beauties this stretch of Florida is known for: Manatees, too, are quite skilled at stealing the show. As aquatic relatives of elephants, these gentle mammals, often called sea cows, are a delight to watch in the wild along the area’s inland waterways, whether you’re on a boat tour, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard.
The Adventure Coast is home to several spots where you can see manatees in person, including Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and Bayport Park on the Gulf of Mexico. But keep in mind that manatees are a threatened species, so be sure to keep your distance to keep them safe. In addition, because they’re so popular, the state park can be crowded on weekends; time your visit for a weekday trip and you’ll see far fewer visitors.
An alternative to the Weeki Wachee River is the 1.7-mile Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail (also known as the Coastal Paddling Trail). Opened in 2017 to give paddlers an alternative to the Weeki Wachee River, this trail runs from Bayport Park on the Gulf of Mexico to Linda Pedersen Park, with an additional 1.4-mile side trail through a tidal salt marsh to Redfish Bayou. It’s an intermediate trail, which means paddlers are recommended to have some experience, and tides and weather conditions should be monitored beforehand.
Nestled within the Withlachoochee State Forest—the third-largest state forest in Florida and named one of the “10 coolest places in North America you have never been” by the World Wildlife Federation—the Croom Motorcyle Area is a popular spot for off-road ATV and OHV enthusiasts. The 2,600-acre park features plenty of dirt roads, dry lake beds, and forest for more experienced riders to explore, as well as a training area and groomed trails for any beginners in the group. And for the MTB set, there are plenty of trails to check out as well.
And, thanks to the on-site Buttgenbach Campground, it’s a cinch to turn your ATV or MTB adventure into an overnight trip—so you can be ready to be the first one on the trails again the next day.
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Another stop on the tour of historic homes and museums for Heritage Day. This was the Ederington House, built in 1895, and is now known as the Dolan House Bed & Breakfast. It's beautiful! I totally want to stay here. Even thought it's only about 25-30 minutes from my house. 😁
It’s a cinch to make Florida’s Adventure Coast your home away from home, no matter what kind of digs you’re looking for. For a romantic retreat with a special someone, a B&B like the Dolan House, which was built in 1895, offers charming rooms, cozy common areas, and even kayak tours. Families and groups, meanwhile, love the Chinsegut Hill Retreat at the circa-1850s Chinsegut Hill Manor House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property is perched atop one of the highest elevations in Central Florida and surrounded by majestic oak trees, magnolias, and cabbage palms. The wraparound porch is perfect for enjoying the afternoon breeze and the beautiful, serene setting. Visitors looking for a more back-to-nature experience have plenty of options to choose from as well, with a large array of RV parks and campgrounds.
For anyone who loves exploring on two wheels, Florida’s Adventure Coast is a perfect place to get rolling. The area is a popular place for cyclists of all stripes, from hardcore roadies to those just out for a casual cruise, with several multi-use trails that make biking a breeze. One notable new addition is the Good Neighbor Trail, a 10-miler that starts at the circa-1885 train depot in downtown Brooksville and connects to the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail (another excellent trail). And, for a more competitive experience, hop in the saddle for any number of annual rides in the area.
From the stately oaks draped with Spanish moss to finger-lickin’ fried baskets at down-home seafood shacks to the serenity of coastal habitats, this part of the state exudes a tangible ethos of Old Florida. Two of Florida’s most popular vintage attractions—the Weeki Wachee mermaids and Boyett’s Citrus Grove—a can’t-miss hybrid of orange grove, ice-cream parlor, eclectic live animals, and gift shop—both call the area home. And however you idly or actively pass the time—a paddle along a quiet waterway, a stroll through downtown Brooksville, or simply sipping a glass of iced tea on a wraparound porch—you’re tapping into beloved traditions and ways of life in this part of Florida.
Wherever you are along the Adventure Coast, the laid-back atmosphere and front porch charm evoke bygone eras before cell phones and social media—and a visit here is all but guaranteed to make you take a deep breath, savor the surroundings, and stay for a spell in this unforgettable part of the Sunshine State.
Written by Blane Bachelor for Matcha in partnership with Florida’s Adventure Coast.
Featured image provided by U.S. Geological Survey