Do you ever dream of a mystical, magical place where mermaids swim in sparkling, bubbly springs flowing into crystal clear rivers with colorful birds perched in the trees and manatees grazing on billowing sea grass below?
You may be surprised to find that your dream is real – and it’s in Florida.
Welcome to Florida’s Adventure Coast.
Situated an hour west of Orlando, Hernando County (a.k.a. Florida’s Adventure Coast), is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Withlacoochee River to the east. In the center lies Brooksville, the county seat, a charming small town filled with glimpses of Florida’s past.
Florida’s Adventure Coast
Wherever you are on the Adventure Coast, you’ll find plenty to do and see. The area embodies everything Florida – from kitsch to the natural outdoors – with beautiful mermaids, endearing manatees, emerald green rolling hills dotted by farms and rural living. It’s full of Florida’s fascinating history and home to an emerging group of entrepreneurs who are sharing their Florida dream through business ventures in agriculture, craft breweries, distilleries and restaurants.
Civilian Conservation Corps bath house, Chinsegut Hill Retreat
With so much to see on Florida’s Adventure Coast, consider three paths to cover it all: Water Adventures, Historic Adventures, and a third path Farm, Spirits and Culinary Adventures.
Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Shows
Weeki Wachee Mermaid, [photo, John Athanason]
Let’s start with the fantasy world of mermaids. Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs has captivated families and children with underwater mermaid shows. Here, a first-magnitude spring bubbles up from the Florida Aquifer providing a fish bowl stage where guests are entertained in a glass theatre with synchronized underwater ballet shows.
Former Navy man Newton Perry created this 1940’s roadside attraction that later became part of the Florida park system. Perry’s concept of beautiful mermaids performing underwater while intermittently taking breaths through slim air tubes became an instant hit for audiences. Rigorous training, elaborate (fish-tailed) costumes and a choreographed ballet were set to music against the backdrop of clear natural spring waters.
This old Florida attraction remains one of the best bargains in Florida. In addition to the mermaid show is a riverboat cruise, animal show, and water park with flume rides and swimming in the clear and cool 72 degree water.
Weeki Wachee River Paddle Adventure
Weeki Wachee River
From the springs, the Weeki Wachee River flows over seven miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The translucent water and shallow sandy bottom create a dazzling experience on one of Florida’s best rivers. A slow, easy, five-mile, three-hour kayak paddle downstream is an ideal day on the water.
Paddling Adventures, located adjacent to the Weeki Wachee Park, will provide equipment and tips for an enjoyable ride. You’ll paddle under a shady natural canopy of cypress and oak trees while enjoying plenty of wildlife. You’ll want to stop and swing from one of the ropes hanging from tree branches along the way. Paddling Adventures also provides transportation back to the park, making it an easy one way, downstream paddle.
Hungry after a day of water adventure? Swing over to the nearby Weeki Wachee restaurant called BeckyJacks Food Shack for their signature “Crunchy Fish.”
Brooksville Historic Courthouse
In addition to the area’s beauty there is also history to discover. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered the region in 1539 and the county was named for him. Centuries later, during the Civil War, Confederate and Union troops fought a significant battle in Brooksville, where today the annual Brooksville Raid reenactment is held.
Two different historical venues – one with 168 years of history, the other with a focus on the Florida citrus history are worth a stop to take a step back in time.
Chinsegut Hill Retreat, Brooksville
Chinsegut Hill Retreat
Pronounced “Chin-see-gut” this historic Manor House, retreat and 144 acres northeast of Brooksville is perched on the area’s highest hill and open to the public. Locals claim sunsets are some of the best anywhere. The property is steeped in richly layered Florida history, but its true splendor is the white wooden home surrounded by a majestic green lawn, towering oak trees and colorful azaleas.
The property was homesteaded in 1847 by Colonel Bird Pearson who built a home and plantation to farm cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, corn and citrus. The next owner was Francis Ederington who built the Manor House and expanded the plantation. Through the years the property has had many owners who added historical intrigue to its legacy.
Chinsegut Hill Retreat, surrounded by moss draped oak trees
Raymond Robins, with financial assistance from his sister, Elizabeth, purchased the property in 1904 and gave it the name Chinsegut Hill, an Inuit Indian name meaning “spirit of things lost and regained.” The name fit as the plantation had fallen into disrepair and Robins with his wife Margaret Dreier planned to revive its former splendor. The couple was well-known in social and political circles and hosted many famous guests at “The Hill.” Thomas Edison, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Helen Keller and J.C. Penny were all guests. When they died the home and property were given to the state. Now on the National Historic Register, the property is now managed by the Friends of Chinsegut Hill.
Of special note are the cabins available for rent (a bargain) to individuals or groups.
Boyett’s Citrus Attraction, Brooksville
By the mid-twentieth century Florida’s highways and byways were filled with homespun tourist attractions. Most have been replaced by major amusement parks, but a unique oldie on Spring Lake Highway still exists, and a visit is worth every minute. Boyett’s Citrus Attraction, a popular tourist stop In Hernando County, is perched on a hill surrounded by pastureland and orange groves. Home to the Boyett family, who farmed citrus here since the 1960’s, it is now operated by daughter Kathy Oleson and her husband Jim. They have created a classic old Florida roadside amusement park with gift shop and a citrus packing operation, amusement activities for kids, a real zoo, miniature golf, a museum, an ice cream fountain and art shop – all under one roof.
An Authentic Place to Stay
Mary’s Fish Camp, Bayport
Mary’s Fish Camp
This authentic fish camp opened in 1946, a time when such camps were plentiful along Florida’s coasts and getting a cabin, or camping, or just pulling over to drop a line, were commonplace activities. At this iconic Mud River fishing hole there’s a reason crowds pack the seawall to fish. Fish are plentiful. Mullet, snapper, snook and redfish are there for the taking. Cabins and RV hook ups are available. The camp has been recently updated by a group of local entrepreneurs who are intent on preserving the lure of the camp’s fishing past.
Florida Farm, Spirits and Culinary Adventures
After getting off the water you may be ready to ramble through the countryside of Hernando County’s back roads. Here farmers and courageous entrepreneurs are fulfilling their Florida dreams:
Sweetfields Farm, Masaryktown
In Masaryktown, on Hernando County’s southern border, Sweetfields Farm is a celebration of down home country fun. Owners Lisa and Ted Kessel transformed an old hay field into an organic farm. In addition to producing regular vegetable crops, they host two signature annual events – a Fall celebration highlighted by a corn maze – and a Spring celebration featuring their stunning sunflower crop. Visitors wind through a maze of corn or sunflowers (depending on the season). They delight in the fun and also discover a real farm experience with a peek into rural life while learning how healthy food is grown.
Sweetfields Farm springtime sunflower maze
Old-fashioned hayrides, pig races, a homemade play area and tree house for climbing, a craft area, and even Florida tales told by a local storyteller are part of the experience.
Take home some tasty memories by stopping by the farm’s fully stocked produce barn.
U Pick Farms
U-Pick Blueberry Farms
If you like U-Pick farms, here’s a place to grab your bucket and get busy. Spring kicks off blueberry season and the Florida Blueberry Festival takes place in April. But there’s plenty more to pick including strawberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, corn, vegetables, melons, loquats and (muscadine) grapes.
Little Rock Cannery, Brooksville
Little Rock Community Cannery
Want to preserve your down-home Florida freshness? Little Rock Cannery north of Brooksville on US Hwy. 98 is a very special community effort. Canneries, once popular during the World War II when Victory Gardens were common, are a rare find nowadays.
Manager Kathi Comandi demonstrates canning process
This old fashioned cannery is housed in a building dating to 1941 when it served as a schoolhouse, and later as an orphanage and library. The community came together and transformed the building into a cannery for public use. A commercial kitchen with pressure cookers, equipment, and utensils provide all the essentials for those who want to preserve their food quickly and efficiently. Canners call ahead to schedule their time, and arrive with recipe in hand, bringing their own ingredients and jars.
Open to the public through a day pass ($10) or an annual pass. Be sure to call ahead for reservations.
Marker 48 Brewery, Weeki Wachee
Marker 48 Brewery, Weeki Wachee
Florida natives Christina and Maurice Ryman are launching a new craft brewery in Weeki Wachee named Marker 48. They have skillfully repurposed an old transmission shop and garage into a brewery using recycled wood and corrugated metal roofing. Huge garage doors slide above leading out to a beer garden and food truck, wood tables stretch across the room amidst a tasting bar, brewery and stainless steel tanks. The look may be rustic but the brewing is state of the art. After extensive research and visiting 200 breweries across the country this passionate craft-beer couple created a brewery with sixteen styles of beer available, all made with pure Weeki Wachee spring water, blended with malt, yeast and hops. You might want to try the signature core brews such as Mermaid’s Milk Stout, the Pine Island IPA or even the Sand Hill Brown.
The Rymans plan to open Marker 48 in November.
Wild Buck Whiskey, Weeki Wachee
Wild Buck Whiskey Distillery
In 2002 Natalie and Kevin Goff purchased 80 acres of wild Florida land in Hernando County’s Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management area. Nestled within the palmettos, pines, cypress trees, and among bears, wild bucks and rattlesnakes, was this property, once used as a hunting camp and equestrians stop.
But it was the comment by Natalie’s visiting Irish dad, Donald McCracken, that prompted the Goff’s future business. “This would be a great place to make whiskey.” From that day, McCracken, an experienced moonshiner, became their source of inspiration.
With dad’s old journal of recipes, and plenty of research into the distillery business, laws and regulations, Natalie and Kevin brought their dream to life. Kevin, a pool contractor, built a modest home, a barn and distillery (inside the barn). Natalie handled the myriad complexities of alcohol regulations and marketing. They focused their attention on every detail of the whiskey making business including Kevin’s design and development of the equipment. It became their 100-proof labor of love.
Making small batches, using all natural ingredients including filtered rainwater for mashing, local farm-grown rye, and then aging the whiskey 10-15 months in charred American oak barrels, they have created an award-winning, hand processed, hand labeled, sought-after fine rye whiskey.
Want to try it? Visit WildBuckWhiskey.com to locate a store outlet.
Two Authentic Florida Restaurants
Florida Cracker Kitchen, Brooksville
For good home cooking try two authentic Florida favorites located in Brooksville. The Florida Cracker Kitchen, owned by brothers Blair and Ethan Hensley, serves up the classics like Brooksville blueberry pancakes, the Cracker omelet, smoked mullet dip and Okeechobee gumbo. Their mother, Larie DeWitt Hensley, owns another nearby favorite, Mallie Kyla’s Café, a southern style restaurant where locals go to lunch, especially for the homemade cakes and pies.
So, when you are ready for adventure, a little magic, some authentic history and lots of good food and spirits, try Florida’s Adventure Coast. This authentic jewel sparkles with real Florida fun and special folks to make your visit a delightful one.
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If You Go
Links to help you plan your visit:
Mary's Fish Camp, 8092 Mary's Fish Camp Road, Weeki Wachee