Florida Life, Small towns in Florida

A Florida must-do: Manatees in Blue Spring and Downtown DeLand

Winter is here and in Florida the cold weather brings a few opportunities to enjoy the Sunshine State much differently than any other season.  The best way to enjoy Florida during Winter is to see manatees as they migrate to warmer waters near Central Florida. Blue Spring State Park is the undisputed champion of such a sight. Hundreds of manatees can be spotted in Blue Spring during the Winter months, and with its proximity to charming historic downtown DeLand, it’s the perfect real Florida day!

Location and pricing

Blue Spring State Park is located in West Volusia County. It’s fairly accessible for Orlando visitors as it’s about 45 minutes from the attractions area. Such a drive is an easy shot up Interstate 4 and fairly reasonable considering many people will gladly wait 45 minutes for a 3 minute ride at the theme parks. Here you get to experience real Florida and see these gentle giants in the wild. For locals there really is no excuse to miss this experience.

The park is open 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.

  • $6 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle.
  • $4 Single Occupant Vehicle.
  • $2 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.

(cash only, what a small price to pay for such beauty)

On busy weekends it is important to try and get to the park no later than 10:00 AM otherwise it may be temporarily closed due to capacity.

Manatee viewing areas

After parking, an open lawn of grass sprawls out before you. To the left of this lawn is the St Johns River with the Blue Spring feeder waters gracefully connecting to the right.

Along the water a walkway leads visitors to multiple platforms that overlook the water. These can get a little crowded on weekends. We found that standing to the side still allowed us a nice view while we waited a few minutes for a front facing spot to open up.

Further down the walkway, just across from the Thursby House, there is a metal platform that is used for swimmers to enter the water in the Spring and Summer. After a few minutes we noticed that the stairs leading into the water is a popular spot for manatees to swim through. So we stood near these submerged steps and enjoyed seeing manatees swim right beaneath us.

Manatees at Blue Spring – right beneath our feet
Manatees at Blue Spring
I marveled at hearing these creatures come up for air. Their grace unencombered by their size. Anytime a flipper broke the surface of the water I giggled in delight.

Behind us, on the shore, a wild pig foraged in the woods. When observing nature you must keep your eyes open and look all around you, you never know what you might see.

The Boardwalk

After the initial viewing spots along the water there is a gift shop and camp store. A small gazebo houses a grill where hot dogs, burgers, and other fare is offered. The boardwalk begins here and leads through the woods to the head of the spring.


Even on such a busy weekend I found peace and contentment on this walk. The sun peaked through the trees. An armadillo scuttled along the forest floor. I brushed my hands along the palm fronds.

Just before the overlook of the spring, a walkway splinters off the main boardwalk and leads down to the water. In the Spring and Summer scuba divers can enter the water here. We headed down this walkway and delighted in the quiet and near solitude it provided. Our exploration was rewarded with the sight of a single manatee drifting along in the water. A moment of peace.


Playground, boating, and more

Seeing manatees at Blue Spring State Park is certainly the top thing that comes to mind about this park, but there are great boating, kayak, and canoe facilities. Plus kids can enjoy a nice playground, and during our visit we saw many couples and families enjoying the wide open grass lawn, some enjoying a picnic too! It brought a big smile to my face to see so many people enjoy the day and real Florida together.

Blue Spring State Park

2100 W. French Avenue
Orange City, FL 32763
(386) 775-3663

Downtown DeLand

Just ten minutes, a near straight shot, up the road from Blue Spring park is charming downtown DeLand. Repeatedly, each year, downtown DeLand wins awards for having the best main street or being the best historic downtown. In 2013, Orlando Sentinel readers voted it as Central Florida’s best downtown. After one visit you’ll see why.

The amount of eateries, bars, and shops can be overwhelming. It seems as though there is not a bad restaurant in the bunch. On the day of our visit to Blue Spring we visited Bill and Frank’s Brickhouse Grill, located directly on the main street of Woodland Boulevard.

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Brickhouse Grill

Brickhouse Grill’s atmosphere is warm, but industrial. As you can imagine by the name, brick walls are everywhere.  The menu is simple American classics. We quickly learned that barbecue is where it’s at! Go straight for the ribs and don’t look back!


We started with the Pork Nachos and a round of beverages. Being a Sunday we were able to indulge in a Bloody Mary and a Mimosa for just $3.00 each! The Pork Nachos (only $9.99) piled it on straight out the gate. A mountain of toppings including succulent, tender roast pork, cheese, lettuce, tomato, BBQ sauce drizzle, and fresh jalapenos covered crisp tortilla chips.

We split the Baby Back Ribs ($14.99 half rack / $18.99 full rack) which fell off the bone, heck, the meat practically jumped right off. Tender, flavorful, smokey, everything you want a rib to be. The mashed potatoes that accompanied this meaty plate bowled me over. Of course, it’s been years since I’ve indulged in mashed potatoes, so maybe I’m a little biased. I’d recommend Brickhouse Grill, especially to families looking for a good value and classic food.

All in all, combining a relaxing, inspiring visit to see manatees at Blue Spring with an afternoon enjoying downtown DeLand is one of the best ways to spend these remaining Winter weeks. After the high of the holidays it can be tough to get through January and February, but we are fortunate here in Florida to have such beauty to enjoy.



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