15 Best Things to Do in Gainesville, Florida
Having lived in Gainesville for nearly ten years now, I can say that it's certainly a vibrant place with plenty to do and see. All my suggestions are generally low cost or free, and I've tried to include a variety of options. Gainesville is a college town, so there is plenty of well-advertised stuff happening for students, but sometimes it is harder to discover things for families and non-students to do.
As well as ideas for things to do in Gainesville itself, I have also included a couple of ideas for day trips to places within easy driving distance.
15 Fun Things to Do in the Gainesville Area
- Look for Alligators at Lake Alice
- Watch the Bats Emerge From the UF Bat Houses at Sundown
- Visit the Florida Museum of Natural History
- Visit the Harn Museum of Art
- Visit the Devil's Millhopper
- Visit Paynes Praire
Visit the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
- Visit the Historic Haile Homestead
- Visit the Cypress and Grove Brewery
- Visit Swamp Head Brewery
- Eat a Pizza at Satchel's
- Wine Tasting at Bluefield Estate Winery
- Visit Gainesville Veterans Memorial
- Day Trip to Cedar Key
- Day Trip to St Augustine
I explain each of my choices in more detail below.
1. Look for Alligators at Lake Alice
Lake Alice is a well-maintained and fantastic free resource situated on campus at the University of Florida. You can park up for free on Museum Road and have a wander around. It is a great chance to see live alligators in the wild.
I normally see at least one alligator, sometimes five or more.
2. Watch the Bats Emerge From the UF Bat Houses at Sundown
This is actually a pretty amazing event to experience and I always take guests there when they visit me in Gainesville. The UF bat houses are also situated on campus at UF, just across the road from Lake Alice on Museum Road. There is free parking nearby.
I would suggest finding out when sunset falls that day and getting down there 30 minutes beforehand. It is often busy down there with a couple of hundred people, or so, so get there even earlier if you want one of the best viewing spots.
There used to be just one bat house, but it collapsed because it was overcrowded and the bat droppings caused damage to the structure. Now there are three structures. The bats are of the Brazilian Free-tailed species and the colony is estimated to be about 500,000 bats.
3. Visit the Florida Museum of Natural History
This wonderful museum is situated on Hull Road, off SW 34th Street in Gainesville. There is parking nearby. At the museum you will find the Butterfly Rainforest, a four-story, outdoor screened enclosure with waterfalls, tropical plants, a walking trail and hundreds of live butterflies.
There is also the Discovery Room, which specially caters for children and adults wanting to learn about Florida’s habitat. There are many other exhibits too, so much so that I would say that it is pretty much impossible to do and see everything in a single visit.
4. Visit the Samuel P Harn Museum of Art
For those more artistically inclined, I would suggest a visit to the Harn Museum of Art, on campus at the University of Florida. It is located close to the Florida Museum of Natural History on Hull Road. It's one of the largest university art museums in the South, and has 6200 works in its permanent collection. There are also visiting temporary exhibitions.
5. Visit The Devil's Millhopper
There are some stunning and marvelous state parks in the Gainesville area. One that is particularly interesting and fun to visit is the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, where there is a limestone sinkhole.
This geological feature is a 120 foot deep basin where the temperature remains relatively cool, not matter how hot it is up at ground level. The vegetation is always lush down there and many interesting fossils have been found there over the years.
6. Visit Paynes Praire
A 21,000-acre savanna in Micanopy, just a short drive to the south of Gainesville, Paynes Prairie is a beautiful state park and U.S. National Natural Landmark. There are eight trails with opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. You will also find an observation tower near the visitor center, which gives you a great panoramic view. Animals to be on the look out for include: 270 species of birds, alligators, Florida Cracker horses, Florida Cracker cattle, and bison.
The park is open 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year, with a $6 fee for parking a vehicle. At the time of writing, there are some partial trail closures, as flooding from Hurricane Irma still hasn't completely gone away.
7. Visit the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
For those who love their plants, or just spend some relaxing and entertaining time outside, the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are a joy. The site is split into 25 specialty gardens which you access via a walkway. The specialty gardens include: Hummingbird Garden, Butterfly Garden, Vinery, Palm Hammock, Bamboo Garden, Herb Garden, Water Gardens, and Rock Garden.
8. Visit the Historic Haile Homestead
The Haile Homestead is a gem of history, where you can discover about the lives of one of the most powerful local families, as well as the enslaved laborers who worked for them.
The Homestead is unique for its "Talking Walls." For reasons no longer known, the Haile family and friends wrote over 12,500 words on the walls, with some of the writings going back to the 1850s.
The Homestead is located at 8500 SW Archer Rd. SR 24. There are tours at the weekends, Saturdays 10 AM - 2 PM, Sundays 12 PM - 4 PM, for a fee of $5 (free for children under the age of 12).
(I have a personal connection to the Homestead, as my wife works there as a docent!)
9. Visit the Cypress and Grove Brewery
Located in a resurgent and increasingly fashionable area of Gainesville, close to a residential neighborhood, Cypress and Grove had its official opening in August 2017. There's plenty of great beer, as well as homemade seltzers, with interesting eats from food trucks. Tours can be arranged by email.
10. Visit Swamp Head Brewery
Founded in 2008, Swamp Head Brewery is located in southwest Gainesville. They have some of the most excellent beers in Gainesville and the staff have always been friendly, when I've been there. Tours generally take place on Tuesdays and at weekends and cost $5.
11. Eat a Pizza at Satchel's
Since it was opened in 2003 by Satchel Raye, this restaurant has grown into a Gainesville institution. You will see many bumper stickers carrying the Satchel's logo when you drive around the city. It's a great place to visit, but be aware that its popularity means that you can sometimes wait for over an hour before being seated at weekends.
12. Wine Tasting at Bluefield Estate Winery
This local winery is just a short drive to the east of Gainesville, but it definitely feels off the beaten track when you are out there. They grow blueberries and muscadine grapes that they use for wine production. They also have a u-pick of their crops during certain times of the year.
I've always found it a friendly and fun place to visit for a wine-tasting and a great idea for somewhere to take friends and family.
13. Visit Gainesville Veterans Memorial
The Veterans Memorial in Gainesville is a powerful, poignant, and tasteful tribute to the casualties of war. It uses tiles and bricks to represent the passing of time and the lives that have been lost in conflicts.
14. Day Trip to Cedar Key
Cedar Key is an attractive, old-fashioned fishing village situated on the Gulf Coast. It is popular with tourists and famous for its seafood restaurants .
There is also a small, but attractive beach there, which has shark netting to provide peace of mind when swimming in the sea. It's often less crowded than some of the bigger beaches too.
It takes just over an hour to drive to Cedar Key from Gainesville, so it's within easy range for a day trip.
15. Day Trip to St Augustine
St Augustine is on the Atlantic coast of Florida and is the oldest continuously inhabited European established town in the USA. It has a wealth of history behind it, as well as plenty of leisure activities for visitors.
There are lots of shops, bars, eateries, museums, a basilica, a lighthouse and beaches not too far away, but it is perhaps the Castillo de San Marcos, an old Spanish fort, which steals the show. It takes about an hour and three quarters to drive there from Gainesville, making it easily accessible for a day trip.
© 2013 Paul Goodman