If you hear someone is going to Gainesville, you may think there are only two things they are doing there. Those would be either going to school or seeing a football game. And though this college town is mainly known for being where the University of Florida is located, there are still so many more things to do in Gainesville!
This blog post contains over 20 different experiences to have, from museum visits to outdoor activities. People of all ages and with any budget can find something fun to do in and around Gainesville on this list! Even if you are visiting for a college tour or a sporting event, you can still find something unique to experience during your visit. If you plan to spend a weekend here, I recommend picking out at least one activity from each section of this list, as well as visiting a few of the excellent local restaurants. Here are my ideas for nature, active and cultural things to do in Gainesville.
Nature Things to Do in Gainesville
In Florida, a day spent in nature often means a day at the beach. However, Gainesville is over an hour away from the beach, so that does not work here. Luckily, its location means there are many other unique experiences to be had in the great outdoors! There is no shortage of wildlife sightings and trails to explore here and the list below contains seven nature things to do in Gainesville.
See Gators on the La Chua Trail
The UF mascot is a gator for a reason-there are tons of them up here! And the best place to see them is the Paynes Prairie Persevere State Park. There are multiple trailheads, but we really enjoyed taking the La Chua Trail. This starts out with a shady boardwalk that leads into the grassy expanse. Here by the marsh, you can see dozens of gators sunning! Of course, you want to stay a good distance away and not bother or feed them, but you can still get an amazing view and pictures! There is even an observation tower at the end of this 3 mile round trip hike so you can get a full view of the wetlands.
Hike through the San Felasco Hammock Preserve
Another excellent nature preserve to visit in Gainesville is the San Felasco Hammock Preserve. This area is a lot more wooded than the Paynes Prairie Preserve and offers birding and other nature sightings. Here you can find six hiking trails that vary from 1 mile to 6 miles long, as well as mountain biking and horseback riding. It’s a beautiful area to appreciate the great outdoors.
Visit Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
For a more historic nature thing to do in Gainesville, you can take a walk through the Olustee Battlefield State Park. This park is where the largest Civil War battle in Florida took place and you can see various memorials, cannons and exhibits. The Interpretive trail provides and educational and outdoor experience where you can learn about the battle while looking for wildlife in the park.
Tour the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
If you want to see exotic nature in addition to native, the Kanapha Botanical Gardens allow for all sorts of beautiful views. Here you can find over 60 acres of different plants, trees and eco-sights. Some of the highlights include the hummingbird garden, the waterfall trail and the bamboo path, where giant Victoria water lilies can be seen. You can even make a day of it by brining your dog and a picnic lunch.
Explore Devils Millhopper Geological State Park
Possibly one of the most unique things to do in Gainesville is to visit Devil’s Millhopper. This is one of the only Florida spots where a sink hole has more than 100 feet of exposed rock layers. You walk down 120 feet into the cavity and see the rainforest-esque views of the sink hole. When we visited, the stairway was closed, so make sure to check before you go. However, you can still hike around and see views of the sinkhole even if you cannot walk down.
Visit the Butterfly Rainforest
Though there is lots to see inside at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Butterfly Rainforest is worth the visit alone. This outdoor part of the museum is a separate ticket from the seasonal exhibits, but still only costs $15 to spend time at. Here you can explore lush pathways while hundreds of butterflies flutter around. This tropical area also has birds, waterfalls, turtles and fish. It’s a fun opportunity to see some colorful sights.
See Bats Take Flight From the UF Bat House
Another exciting UF sight to see is the evening emergence of bats. You can see thousands emerge every night after sunset from the UF Bat House. It is free to see and do, but keep in mind you will see more flying on the warmer nights. If you want to see some bats during the day, you can schedule a tour of the nearby Lubee Bat Conversancy as well!
Gainesville Cultural Experiences
North Florida often gets a bad reputation for being the less culturally diverse part of the state. This stereotype definitely does not pertain to Gainesville though! Thanks to University of Florida, you can find all sorts of ways to learn about and experience a diverse amount of art, history, and even cuisine! Here are eight things to do in Gainesville for an enriching and unique experience.
Florida Museum of Natural History
If you are looking for a fun and informative museum to visit, the Florida Museum of Natural History is the best around! As mentioned above, not only do they have a beautiful butterfly garden, but also an excellent array of exhibits. Permeant ones include Florida fossils, the people of Florida and the future of energy. There is also always a limited time exhibit, usually focused on some sort of creature, such as sloths or insects! Visiting this museum is an exciting way to learn something new.
Historic Walking Tour of Main Street
Another enjoyable way to take in some history is through the Matheson History Museum walking tour. This takes place in downtown Gainesville and can be done for free on your smart phone! You simply call the number 352-327-9002 and input where you are starting your tour! From here, you can listen to the audio and learn all about the history of Gainesville.
See a UF Game
If you get the chance to watch some Gators play, that is always one of the best things to do in Gainesville! Of course, the football games are all the rage and you can spend the whole day tailgating and then watching the game, However, there are still plenty of other excellent teams here, so look out for soccer, volleyball and basketball games too! Check out this schedule for a list of live events.
Check Out The Harn Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts will definitely want to take a look through the Harn Museum of Art, also on the UF campus. This museum is free to visit and features artwork from a variety of mediums and artists. Exhibits are always changing, but currently it offers a diverse mix of local art, including the Florida Legacy of Samuel and Roberta Vickers, as well as international features, like the Everyday to the Extraordinary Korean Collection. For even more of an educational experience, you can book a group tour, or take the self-led audio tour.
Visit a Brewery
Though college towns conjure images of Coors Light and Jungle Juice, you can actually get some of Florida’s finest craft beer here! One of my favorite things to do in Gainesville is to spend time at the over half a dozen local breweries. Both First Magnitude and Swamphead have wide outdoors spaces to sample a flight of beer and enjoy live music, a firepit or just the great outdoors. Many offer cider, soda and wine, so you can still have fun here no matter what you are drinking!
See a Live Show
With such an incredible theater program at UF, it is no wonder that Gainesville has lots to offer in the performing arts. Those looking to see a play or performance can check out the Gainesville Community Playhouse for a variety of shows throughout the year. The university also has ongoing events at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, including orchestras, ballets and string quartets. And for one more option, check out the Hippodrome, which also puts on plays, in addition to gallery exhibits, classes and film screenings at the cinema, for whatever type of performance you desire!
Go For a Wine Tasting
For those who prefer wine to beer, there are also a variety of places for sampling some in Gainesville. My favorite is the Bluefield Estate Winery, where you can even pick the Muscadine grapes that are grown here for wine making. Inside, it is only $5 for a wine tasting of 4 selections, with a variety of fruity selections to choose from. Other vineyards in the area include Island Grove Wine Company and Loftus Family Farm, which all make for fun tasting and touring experiences
Check Out the Farmers Market
One of my favorite ways to get a taste of a town is to head to a weekend farmers market. For Gainesville, the main one to visit is the Haile Farmers Market every Saturday morning. Here you can find the best produce, baked goods, coffee and crafts Gainesville has to offer. If you rather go during the week, Downtown Alachua has their own farmers market every Thursday afternoon. Both offer excellent opportunities to support delicious or creative small businesses.
Active Things to do in Gainesville
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush on your visit to Gainesville, this next part of the list is for you! I have also found six active things to do in Gainesville for all ages of thrill seekers. Though not all of these are extreme activities, they should provide a livelier experience then walking. Here are my recommendations for some exciting Gainesville attractions.
Take a Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tour
For the experience of a lifetime, The Canyons park is the place to go in Gainesville! This adventure park has all sorts of activities for whatever thrill you are seeking. You can zipline through the trees of over the Lost Spring Lake, as well as traverse the sky bridges. However, if you are afraid of heights, they also have kayak explorations of Cliff Canyon, horseback riding, a history tour and gem mining! It’s about half an hour from the main area of Gainesville, but very worth the drive!
Visit the Springs
Probably the most notable thing to do in Gainesville is to visit the many freshwater springs. Gainesville is near at least a dozen different watering holes where you can find gorgeous, clear water to swim in. Though you are in for a refreshing dip no matter what time of year you visit, I especially like visiting the Gilchrist Blue Springs for a swim or a paddle through nature. For a more adventurous time, you can visit Ginnie Springs for a tube ride down the river, or better yet, scuba diving through a tavern! A visit to these springs is just the way to experience the exhilarating beauty of Gainesville’s natural side.
Go Horseback Riding
There is something about the Gainesville area that feels a little more country than the rest of Florida. This makes it the perfect place to go horseback riding! At the Haile Equestrian Center, you can book a casual horseback riding experience for $60 per hour. This gives riders the chance to enjoy a relaxing riding tour and learn more about raising and training horses. For those even further interested, you can take riding lessons here for whatever level you are at!
Fishing at Newnans Lake
Just because there is not an ocean nearby, does not mean sport fishing isn’t an option! Visitors from all over flock to Newnan’s Lake for catching largemouth bass, bluegills, sunfish and more. It is a challenge to fish from the shore, so brining or renting a canoe, pontoon or power boat is recommended. Whether you go out on your own, or make an experience out of it and get a boat with a guide, you have a good chance of catching some decent fish here!
Play a Game of Golf
For golfers, Gainesville offers a variety of golf courses for visitors of any skill level. Most are public and do not require a membership either! Favorites include the Ironwood Golf Course, Gainesville Country Clun and Turkey Creek Golf Course. You can find driving ranges here too if you want a more laid back experiences. For less serious golfers, there is only one mini golf option. That is at Skate Station Funworks which isn’t in the best shape, but still fun if you enjoy putting!
Go Cycling through a Bike Trail
Though you can traverse the many nature trails by foot, biking through them can be an even more exhilarating experience. Whether you bring a bike to Gainesville or rent one at the Super Cool Bike Shop, there are over a dozen local trails to ride through. You can experience the Gainesville Hawthorne Trail or the Archie Braid Trail for some gorgeous views. The San Felasco Hammock Preserve mentioned earlier, also has some excellent trails too! Even if you just bike around campus, it can be just what you need for an active day!
Though there are plenty of things to do in Gainesville all year, certain times of year are extra special for a visit. In the winter and spring, it is festival season! There are a variety of events featuring local delicacies or showcasing talents, welcome to all. Many are free to attend and just require spending on goods. Some have entry fees, but include all sorts of entertainment. Below are five festivals I think Gainesville is worth visiting for.
- Santa Fe Springs Art Festival – Annually in April
- Gainesville Seafood Festival – Annually in March
- Hogtown Beer Fest – Annually in April
- Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival – Annually in February
- Hoggtowne Medieval Fair – Annually in February
Know Before You Go: Things to do in Gainesville
I hope this article convinced you that Gainesville is not just a college town, but a fun place to travel to! There are so many unique things to do and see in the Gainesville and Alachua area that you can spend a lot of time and still not see it all. Whether you are a local, visiting for a college tour or taking a vacation here, I recommend taking some time to enjoy a few activities on this list and gain an appreciation for Gainesville, Florida. Here are a few other things to keep in mind before your visit!
- The best times to visit Gainesville is the fall and spring. The summer can be really hot and steamy and the winter can be a little cold for Floridians!
- For flying into Gainesville, there is small airport here that Delta and American Airlines fly into. For more flight availability and better prices, I recommend either Orlando airport, Orlando-Sanford Airport, or Jacksonville Airport.
- If you are visiting Gainesville you definitely want to rent a car. Though you could manage hanging out around the campus and using a rideshare service, many of the nature attractions mentioned are a drive away
- If you are looking for nightlife in the area, Downtown Gainesville is the place to go, as it has many of the best bars and restaurants. Things are rowdier during the school year, especially during a football game, and slower in the summer.
- Gainesville is one of the few Florida destinations where you can’t take a beach vacation! If you want to visit a beach near Gainesville, the closest are about two hours away on the east coast near St. Augustine and Jacksonville.
Have you been to Gainesville before? Let me know what your favorite thing to do here is if you have! For more advice on visiting the area, check out my guide to the best Gainesville restaurants and my favorite place to stay when visiting here.