Gainesville, located in north Central Florida, is unique because it has a college town feel, along with amazing outdoor activities and nature.
Home to the University of Florida, Gainesville has all the vitality that comes along with being home to such a big school, but it also is home to so much more. Here, you’ll find museums, state parks, nature centers, gardens, and zoos. Along with all the outdoor Florida fun, you’ll also find amazing restaurants, bars and shopping.
Ready to learn more? Here are 19 things to do in Gainesville, FL that you have to add to your bucket list.
CADE MUSEUM FOR CREATIVITY AND INVENTION
The mission behind this museum is pretty cool. In an effort to inspire communities, the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention wants to promote entrepreneurship, creativity, and invention among locals.
You can explore a number of their spaces here, such as the Fabric Frontiers. This kind of exhibit focuses on the artisan handwork of the textile industry, and how it became so modernized today. They also look at things like a tapestry and how it came about. There are a few rotating exhibits, and the museum does offer programs that change weekly, along with special events.
FLORIDA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Right at the heart of the University of Florida is the Florida Museum of Natural History. Great for both kids and adults alike, the museum features amazing permanent exhibits, traveling exhibits, and outdoor exploration, too.
One of their most popular exhibits is the Butterfly Rainforest. What is amazing about this experience is the blend of animals and color. From hundreds of butterflies and birds in the air, to turtles and fish swimming about in the streams, there is so much to see here.
In addition to Butterfly Rainforest, you’ll also find exhibits on fossils, energy, wildlife, and more. The Discovery Zone is a great place for children to do hands-on exploration.
ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS STATE PARK
Florida is a great place to get outdoors, and there really is no better place to do that than Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Gainesville, Florida. State parks have so much to offer, and when it comes to Ichetucknee Springs there are endless things to do each day.
Easily the most popular activity here is tubing. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is 2,669 acres, and is home to amazing wildlife. You can expect to share the park with beavers, otters, softshell turtles, turkey, ducks, and more!
In addition to tubing, kayaking and canoeing are also popular. The park has a river and eight different springs to explore. Make sure to make time to hike the nature trails here too.
In downtown Gainesville, you will find Depot Park, a beloved spot for locals and tourists with lots to offer. The park features a beautiful conservation area that offers tons of opportunity for kids to play, including a splash pad on warm days.
The park is home to so many different things, everyone in your group will find something they love here. The previously mentioned Cade Museum for Creativity and Innovation is located on the campus. You’ll also find a great playground for children.
For outdoor enthusiasts, you’ll find a conservation area to explore. Many events are held at Depot Park throughout the year. The promenade is a great place for a walk or run. A stop here is one of the best things to do in Gainesville.
MORNINGSIDE NATURE CENTER
Let’s keep the outside inspiration going! Another amazing place to visit is the Morningside Nature Center. This 268-acre park is a beauty, and even has a little bit of history to it. It’s been considered to be Gainesville’s flagship nature park since 1970, with the goal of protecting the largest area of longleaf pine savanna within their city’s limits.
Because of the beautiful wooded area, it offers some great hiking trails that keep you cool and out of the sun. The trails span in length from .5 miles to 6 miles, giving you great choices.
From September to April, many come to visit the Living History Farm that spans 10 acres and features historic buildings, livestock, and people dressed the part, ready to make you feel like you’ve really stepped back in time.
Note: Dogs are not allowed at the nature center or Living History Farm.
DEVIL’S MILLHOPPER GEOLOGICAL STATE PARK
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is a really cool state park with a crazy name — and it’s worth a visit!
At this state park, you’ll find a 120-foot deep sinkhole that leads down to, what they call, a “miniature rainforest.” The sinkhole was formed when the limestone underneath collapsed. When the sinkhole was formed, many different artifacts and fossils were found — like sharks teeth, and more.
So how did it get the crazy name? There are a couple of theories, but one is that when visitors found bones and fossils at the bottom of the hole, they thought maybe animals and beasts went down to the bottom of the hole to meet the devil.
Enjoy hiking along the boardwalks that take you to the bottom of the sinkhole, picnicking, and guided tours are offered every Saturday at 10 a.m.
HARN MUSEUM OF ART
Located in the Plaza at the University of Florida, you’ll find the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. This massive 112,800 square foot facility offers amazing art galleries and guided tours.
Here you’ll find amazing art exhibits, garden spaces, and a 250-seat auditorium for events and shows. They feature art from different cultures, from Asia to Africa, and their exhibits include modern and contemporary art. The collection here features more than 13,000 pieces.
You’ll also find a museum store and cafe on-site.
KANAPAHA BOTANICAL GARDENS
Walking through the Kanapaha Botanical Garden will bring you a lot of peace and serenity. There are 68 acres to explore, and 24 collections to check out as you walk the paved pathway through the gardens. This particular botanical garden is home to the largest collection of bamboo, as well as the largest herb garden in the southeast.
If you want to see the most color, be sure to visit between June and September.
SANTA FE COLLEGE TEACHING ZOO
The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is a unique zoo that is open to the public. You will find 10 full-time trained staff here, along with 100 students from the school’s Zoo Animal Technology program who help maintain the zoo. Since it’s open to the public, you can find yourself hanging out with 70 different species among the 10 acres of land.
From exotic animals to more everyday farm life, you will be able to find it here at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. Kids especially love seeing the alligators!
The students aren’t the only ones who can learn from this teaching experience. The zoo has tons of programs for kids and visitors to take part in as well.
Located in the heart of downtown Gainesville is a local favorite — Loosey’s Downtown. And we can see why! This place is all about the best craft beer and a good time.
You can catch some good music on any given night here. (EXCEPT Tuesdays! It’s closed!) And since their menu is all homemade, it’s hard not to want to order everything. Let me give you some suggestions — the Bittersweet Brussels are a must, along with their burgers. And The Lossey’s Salad is also worth a try — I promise!
MATHESON HISTORY MUSEUM
It’s common amongst people that pop into a new place to be curious about its history. For Gainesville, the best place to do that is to visit the Matheson History Museum. It was originally the 1867 Matheson House, and has now been converted into a museum. The house remains virtually untouched, so visitors can better understand life in Gainesville from the past.
They have some interesting collections, including over 20,000 postcards from every state from all different historical eras. Also tons of local photography between the 1920s and 1950s can be seen here.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA BAT HOUSES
Santa Fe College isn’t the only one interacting with animals. The University of Florida Bat Houses may not sound interesting, but when you think about the fact that they are home to the world’s largest occupied bat houses — you realize this is worth a visit.
After sunset, you can see the crazy emergence of the bats as they take to the sky. It seems like it is something straight out of a Halloween movie, and is incredibly close to a similar experience in Austin, Texas.
The best seasons for seeing the bats emerge are spring through early summer. Make sure you find a spot right before sunset.
LUBEE BAT CONSERVANCY
Speaking of bats, the Lubee Bat Conservancy is different than the UF bat houses. While it also has bat houses, its mission is to save bat habitats by providing them with conservation and a place for people to explore and learn more about their species. It’s been around since 1989, and was originally a breeding center for endangered species.
The Lubee Bat Conservancy primarily works to save fruit bats. At Lubee, they have over 160 bat residents living in the conservation area.
Schedule a private tour, step into their enclosures, and learn more about these amazing animals.
LOBLOLLY WOODS NATURE PARK
Loblolly Woods Nature Park is a great space that offers 159 acres of forest and open space to explore. Through different trails and boardwalks, you can enjoy shady hiking and biking here.
This nature park is also one of the most popular places for birdwatching, because of the trees and habitat. Here you can find the beautiful Possum and Hogtown Creeks, which make for a picturesque setting and a peaceful environment.
Haile Homestead is a historic site in Gainesville, Florida. Taking a guided tour is the best way to get a complete history of this historic place. The homestead is over 165 years old, and is fully recognized as the Haile Homestead of Kanapaha Plantation. This 6,200-square-foot home was built by 56 enslaved laborers for the Haile family when they moved from Charleston to Gainesville.
By coming to the Haile Homestead today, you can learn about the history of the enslaved and what life was like for them and the Haile family. The homestead represents a true history of the times back then, and offers a unique perspective.
PAYNES PRAIRIE PRESERVE STATE PARK
The 21,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a U.S. National Landmark that is definitely worth a visit. At the park, you’ll find an awesome 50-foot observation tower that lets you see the best panoramic views of the prairie.
This state park is the only place in Florida where you can find free-roaming bison and horses. How cool is that? In addition, you’ll also find over 300 species of birds, along with alligators, deer, and more.
You’ll find eight separate walking trails here, including the 16-mile, paved Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail (more on it below). Fishing and canoeing on Lake Wauburg are also popular pastimes.
The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a paved, 16-mile trail that leads you from Boulware Springs Park and through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and to other conservation lands. A hike, run, or bike ride on this trail is a great way to observe Gainesville’s wildlife. You’ll find overlooks and stops of interest along the way.
Although the trail is paved, there is a grassy equestrian trail right next to it, so horse lovers can enjoy the trail too.
Parking is provided at four different trailheads, so you can choose where you start and finish.
With restaurants, shopping, a hotel, and entertainment — Celebration Pointe in Gainesville is the place to be.
You’ll find restaurants that feature everything from sushi to pizza to macarons. The Promenade is a great gathering place, and is where you’ll find concerts and events in the summer. With plenty of shopping, a movie theater, a Dave and Busters, and more, this area is popular with UF students.
Want to stay on site? Hotel Indigo is located in the heart of Celebration Pointe, and Hom Hotel and Suites can also be found here.
TAKE A SELFIE WITH TOM PETTY
Tom Petty is from Gainesville, making him the ultimate icon and legend here. One of the coolest spots to visit is the Tom Petty mural, which sits on the 24th Street Graffiti Wall. The mural is very large, and is a great place to get a selfie.
There are also plenty of other murals and dedications to him throughout Gainesville, so don’t be surprised if he keeps popping up.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
- YOUR FLORIDA VACATION
- FLORIDA’S WEST COAST: 23+ Memorable Stops On The Florida West Coast
- SARASOTA: 40+ Memorable Things To Do In Sarasota For A Weekend Of Fun
- BOCA RATON: 15 Phenomenal Things To Do In Boca Raton, Florida
- OCALA: 14 Amazing Things To Do In Ocala You Can’t Miss
- ST. PETE: 23 Outstanding Things To Do In St. Petersburg, FL
WHERE TO STAY IN GAINESVILLE
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