The Nature Coast was formerly referred to as “the lonesome leg” of Florida, but that is no longer the case. This area along the Gulf of Mexico that stretches from Clearwater to Ochlocknee Bay has evolved into one of the most interesting places to spend a weekend getaway. With most of the locations along the Nature Coast being less than a two-hour drive from The Villages, the Nature Coast can also serve as a one-day getaway!
The Nature Coast is made up of the eight counties that cover its stretch of coastline. These counties are Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco. The City of Dunnellon in Marion County is considered by some as part of the Nature Coast, so we've included it here as well.
Each area below offers a slightly different experience, but all have combined to embrace and promote the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast.
Wakulla County is the furthest part of the Nature Coast from The Villages, but it has three premiere attractions that make it worth the extra mileage. The county is home to St. Mark's Lighthouse, the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, and the San Marcos de Apalache State Historical Site.
The county is also home to three public beaches, three state parks, and five campgrounds. Wakulla Springs State Park may have some of the best fishing in the entire state!
Jefferson County is known for being the part of Florida that connects the panhandle to the peninsula. It has a very limited coastline, but the county stretches all the way north and borders Georgia as well.
It is located incredibly close to the state capital in Tallahassee. Some of the attractions in Jefferson County include parks along the Aucilla and Wacissa rivers and Historic Monticello, which is the county's courthouse that was modeled after Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia.
If you like a laid-back, hometown atmosphere, then Taylor County is the place you should target. Some of the attractions in Taylor County include Forest Capital State Park, Taylor Hagens Cove Park, and the Cracker Homestead. The county is also home to two beaches and seven campgrounds. It is known as one of the premiere places for sea scallops and salt-water fish.
Dixie County is the ideal location for anyone who loves fishing or bird watching. Between the Suwannee River, the Steinhatchee River, and all of the coastal marshland in between them, this county is home to an incredible number of natural fish and birds.
Some of the biggest nature attractions are the Suwannee Fishing Village, the Underwater Preserve at Hawkinsville, and Horseshoe Beach. There are a number of campgrounds, including one that rents houseboats on the Suwannee River.
Levy County is packed with natural and historic sites to see! In addition to the county's nine state parks and six campgrounds, it is also home to three federal parks.
The place to see in Levy County is definitely Cedar Key, which is one of the 10 coolest small towns in America according to Budget Travel Magazine. Cedar Key is home to a federal wildlife preserve, two state parks, and museums. Be sure to check out their Sidewalk Arts Festival held every year in April, and their annual Seafood Festival held in October.
City of Dunnellon
While it doesn't have the number of state parks, campgrounds, or beaches that some of the counties along the Nature Coast have, the city of Dunnellon offers plenty of unique attractions that make it well worth the short trip.
The city is home to the Dunnellon Depot Museum and the Fort Izzard Archaeological Site. It also has a fantastic Historic District with a number of restored nineteenth century homes. The city also boasts four excellent golf courses.
Citrus is one of the most popular counties along the Nature Coast. The gulf waters here are perfect for snorkeling, diving, and swimming. There are three state parks and more than a dozen campgrounds in Citrus County.
Some of the county's attractions include: Citrus County Speedway, the Coastal Heritage Museum, the Ted Williams Baseball Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, and Homasassa Springs State Wildlife Park. Citrus County also hosts the annual Citrus County Music Jam every year in November.
Be sure to stop in at Villages of Citrus Hills if you want to see what life is like in another popular community for retirement, about an hour outside of The Villages.
Located less than an hour from The Villages, the Villages of Citrus Hills is a Florida Retirement Community with single family homes and maintenance free villas that have been built with today’s demanding baby-boomer in mind.
But what makes the promise of Florida Retirement in the Villages of Citrus Hills truly come together for today’s new breed of active adult retiree is its extraordinary collection of world-class community country club amenities and extensive social activities. Depending on the style and neighborhood you choose, home and home site packages range from the the $400’s to over $1 million.
If you think you might have an interest in the community, you can request more information here.
As we move further south along the Nature Coast, we begin to find counties that exemplify Gulf Coast living. Hernando County has the views, beaches, parks, and campgrounds that everyone thinks of when they imagine the Gulf Coast.
Two of the more interesting attractions in Hernando County are the Brooksville Historic District and the Gran Canyon Mountain Bike Park. Hernando County is also widely known for its regular music and arts festivals. There is a festival of some sort booked here almost every week!
With six different beaches, Pasco County is the place for relaxing in the sand! In addition to the county's beautiful beaches, visitors should be sure to check out the historic fishing village of Aripeka and the Pioneer Florida Museum. The county also hosts antique car shows in October and November each year. Another recommended attraction is the St. Leo Abby, which is in the northern part of the county.
From St. Mark's Lighthouse in Wakulla County all the way to the beaches of Pasco County, the Nature Coast is absolutely packed with things to see and do! The best part is that it is all within reasonable driving distance from The Villages, so anytime you get that itch to experience the coast it is right there waiting for you!