Scalloping in Florida: A FUN family adventure to remember

I can’t say scalloping in Florida was on our bucket list for USA travel experiences.

We never knew it existed until we did a Natural North Florida road trip last summer and it was on our itinerary. Even though, we had no idea what it entailed, we’re always up for any kind of adventure.

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Ready to go scalloping!

The more unique the better. Not only, did it help tell the story of the Florida Gulf Coast region we were visiting, but it also pushed us out of our comfort zone to learn a new skill, and have a blast while doing it.

The girls were nervous about going out into the ocean to do this. There was a lot of grumbling (which happens often before any adventure), and a bit of coaxing was needed to get them in the water, but once we did, we couldn’t get them out.

“This is the most fun ever!” they cried when our Florida scalloping adventure was finally over.

Location: Steinhatchee River

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Steinhatchee River

We arrived in Steinhatchee River after our short stay in the fantastic Cedar Key. We discovered a delightful region centered on this short, undeveloped black river in the Big Bend region of Florida.

It’s the kind of place I felt I could stay for several days enjoying the slow pace and the recreational activities on the river.

Signs out the front of our hotel warned “Slow movement. Manatees around!

How cool to be sitting in the hotel riverside garden area and see one of Florida’s favorite wildlife species swim on by. If you’re lucky you may see an alligator or two!

Steinhatchee Scalloping Tour

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Fun with Captain Mike

Around 8 am the next morning we met Captain Mike down at Sea Hag Marina.

Mike is a private charter captain who takes people out on scalloping tours on the Gulf Of Mexico in the Steinhatchee River. He gave us a brief intro to the area and scalloping and made sure we were prepared with our gear before we left.

Check:

  • sun protection
  • drinking water
  • snorkel gear for the kids
  • provided adult snorkel gear from Mike
  • and a six pack of warm cinnamon donuts we picked up from nearby McDavid’s Café on the way to the marina. (The kids will love it if you do too!)

We started with a gentle cruise down the river to the mouth of the Gulf before zipping up the coastline to an area Mike thought would be ripe with scallops.

Steinhatchee is one of the best places in Florida to visit for scalloping.

Millions of scallops naturally grow here and every year from June to September, people can free dive for scallops in the grassy shallows.

Mike pulled up to a region far from the shoreline that was surprisingly shallow. He gave us a quick lesson on how to catch the scallops, ensuring us it would get easier the long we did it.

I was not expecting to catch a scallop only 30 seconds after jumping in!

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My first find after only 30 seconds!

We spent four hours snorkeling among the turtle grass, spying the scallops camouflaged and grabbing them with our hands. Pretty soon you get the hang of it and can spy their mouths opening and closing and how easy it is to spot them if the light hits the water just right.

I was AMAZED at watching a scallop use the opening and closing of its mouth to propel itself up through the water. I travel for these moments of awe.

I loved the closer connection our scalloping adventure gave us to nature. You have a much deeper appreciation for where food comes from when you go to the effort of catching it yourself.

It also gave me a deeper sense of gratitude and honor for the scallop that gave me something to eat. This is a practice indigenous cultures have around the world – taking time to bless and honor each animal that gave its life so we may eat.

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The scallops are protected, and while in so much abundance in this area, there are limits on how many scallops each person can catch. We didn’t even come close to that, making sure we only caught as much as we could eat.

Over the four hours we went to two different snorkeling spots with plenty of scallops to catch. Other boats were around, but we had plenty space to ourselves.

It took us some time to drag our girls out of the water.

Captain Mike was a fantastic guide with an easy going, friendly nature.

He added in one more stop on our way home: a sand bar in waist deep water where we could swim and hunt though the sand for sand dollars.

Thankfully, he was able to find a couple and we got a closer look at these beautifully designed animals.

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Sand dollars!
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The girls having loads of fun at the sand bar

How can you eat your scallop catch?

If you are on a Florida vacation and staying at a hotel, you may be wandering what you can do with your catch. I know the last thing you want to think about is cleaning them!

As part of our tour, Captain Mike organized for our sea scallop bootie to be shucked back at the marina. You can wait and watch or arrange for it to meet you back at your hotel.

Our hotel, Fiddler’s Resort and Restaurant then cooked them for us for a small fee. We had them grilled in garlic butter and had three accompanying sauces.

We enjoyed them with a cold drink and live music on the newly built deck overlooking the river.

This is definitely one of the best things to do in Florida with kids!

Scalloping tours in Florida

You have a variety of options for scalloping tours in Florida. Be sure to check if licenses are included as well as snorkel equipment and scallop cleaning if you need that.

Frequently asked questions on Scalloping in Florida

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Fiddler’s Resort

Where to stay in Steinhatchee?

Fiddler’s Restaurant and Resort

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Common area out front of hotel rooms

Due to its small size and undeveloped nature, accommodation in Steinhatchee is limited. Considering Fiddler’s Resort is pretty awesome, then it doesn’t really matter.

New owners, Sunny and Andy Latimer, reopened the doors of Fiddler’s after extensive remodeling the day before Coronavirus shutdown!

But, they put their heads down to work hard and innovate and grow despite the challenges. They’re keeping the tradition of good times and music that has been present at this hotel on the river since 1934.

The resort is laid-back and blends in beautiful with the stunning natural setting of its Steinhatchee River location.

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Loved our adventure in Steinhatchee. View from the deck

We thoroughly enjoyed our two night stay in our cozy 2 bedroom room with river views.

Rooms have a screened in porch and grassed sections outside filled with giant Jenga, corn hole, swinging chairs and fire pits.

What we loved most was the friendly atmosphere, and the huge newly built outside deck. Every evening they have live music and delicious southern comfort style seafood.

Even if you don’t stay at this Steinhatchee hotel, you can dine in and enjoy the music.

Both artists we saw were incredible and the perfect way to end a glorious day in North Florida enjoying the sunshine and natural beauty

We regret leaving Fiddler’s on our second night to check out highly popular Ray’s restaurant near the river mouth for sunset. Sadly, it turned overcast and we felt the meals were overpriced. We much preferred the meals and music and atmosphere at Fiddler’s Resort.

Staff are friendly and accommodating and have lots of insights on the surrounding area.

We loved that Fiddler’s Resort was an experience rather than just a bed to sleep in! Learn more on their website.

Other Steinhatchee accommodation options:

Video: Wild Scalloping, Florida Gulf Coast

Plus other adventures in the Natural North Florida region:

Disclaimer: Our visit to Steinhatchee River was sponsored by Visit Florida. This post was not part of our campaign, but an additional piece written by us as it was one of our favorite US travel experiences so far!

More Florida tips