The charming Gainesville feels less like a city and more like a sleepy county, especially since it’s also a university town. But there are many things to do in Gainesville, Florida, besides being home to the University of Florida. Culture vultures will love the museums, such as the Harn Museum of Art and the fascinating Florida Museum of Natural History. Even those who love the outdoors have a ton of attractions to explore. These include the Morningside Nature Center and the Devil’s Millhopper State Park outside Gainesville.
If that wasn’t enough, Gainesville also lies less than two hours from Orlando, home to some of the USA’s top tourist attractions and all things magical. All this, and more, make Gainesville a great destination to explore. To that end, here are the top 13 things to do in Gainesville, Florida.
Table of contents
- Florida Museum of Natural History
- Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
- Samuel P. Harn Museum Of Art
- Historic Haile Homestead
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park
- Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
- Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
- Pleasant Street Historic District
- Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
- Lake Alice
- Matheson History Museum
- Bluefield Estate Winery
- Cool Facts About Gainesville, Florida
- Get Some Culture in Gainesville, Florida
- Grab A Bite in Gainesville, Florida
Florida Museum of Natural History
The Florida Museum of Natural History is one of the most fun things to do in Gainesville, Florida, for the entire family. This museum, which sits on the University of Florida campus, is a national gem and hosts a fantastic collection of temporary and permanent exhibits. Some popular permanent exhibits include the interactive Our Energy Future exhibit, the Florida Fossils Collection, and the spectacular Butterfly Rainforest. What’s more, younger kids can indulge in hours of educational and interactive fun in the children’s discovery zone. The best part is that most of the museum is free of charge, but there’s a small fee for the Butterfly Rainforest and some of the temporary exhibits.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Are you an outdoors lover? Then the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is the perfect alternative to other cultural attractions of Gainesville. The park, which sits just south of Gainesville, is the first state park in Florida. Your experience starts right at the visitors center, which has an audiovisual guide to help you guys understand the importance of the park’s diversity of habitats. What’s more, you can also get a fantastic overview atop the 50-feet-tall observation tower. Once you head inside, you can choose eight trails for horseback riding, cycling, and hiking. One of the most popular trails is the paved 16-mile-long (26 km) Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. While it works as a day trail, how about packing one of the best hiking tents, pitch it somewhere scenic and spend the next few days fishing, boating, riding, and walking in the park.
Samuel P. Harn Museum Of Art
The Samuel P. Harn Museum Of Art is one of the best things to do in Gainesville, Florida. Culture buffs and art lovers will love this art museum that’s tucked into the Cultural Plaza on the university campus. What’s more, it’s a massive place and features around 112,800 square feet of learning facilities, auditorium, event space, and galleries. At any given point in time, you can feast your eyes on 600 works of art, which are part of 9,000 incredible works in the entire museum. Moreover, there’s a special emphasis on Asian and African artists, as well as contemporary and modern photography and art. Additionally, there are artworks taken on loan and regular visiting exhibitions.
While the museum admission and guided tours are free of charge, the place is always grateful for donations. After a long day of exploring the entire museum, the premises also has a cafe, a museum shop, and five restful gardens, including an Asian and a sculptured rock garden.
Step back in time to the small town of Micanopy, which has been dubbed the “Town that Time Forgot.” This bucolic rural town, which sits just south of Gainesville, has not changed over the decades, and its short main street still has well-preserved old stores. What’s more, many of the older warehouses now house shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Don’t miss visiting Antonio’s Made in Italy, which has some of the finest Italian food in the entire region. In fact, the entire Micanopy downtown sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Finally, the town also happens to be the home of one of Florida’s best B&Bs, the Herlong Mansion. This 1845-built, “cracker style” mansion’s owners added the grand columns to make it one of the most picturesque old homes in North Florida.
Historic Haile Homestead
The Historic Haile Homestead is one of the most interesting things to do in Gainesville, Florida. Step back in the 1800s to this historic place on the Kanapaha Cotton Plantation, which served as the 1854 homestead for the Haile family. Constructed entirely of cypress and pine wood, this homestead’s most unique feature is the Talking Walls. While most of it has been covered up by the family for unclear reasons, they feature extensive writing telling the story of the lives of the family and their slaves. In fact, there are more than 12,500 words that cover the walls of all the rooms, from the kitchen to the bedrooms. While some are daily musings, blessings, stories, and signatures, others are Bible quotes, lists, and even scattered drawings. On Saturdays and Sundays, there are guided tours of the Haile Plantation House, another name for the property.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Just because Gainesville is a landlocked city, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have your fair share of water fun here. Behold Ichetucknee Springs State Park, which lies less than an hour northwest of Gainesville and houses the protected Ichetucknee River’s head spring. What’s more, the surrounding state park is a wonderful summer destination for outdoor enthusiasts and offers a diverse selection of activities. These include a host of activities such as wildlife watching, swimming, picnicking, and hiking. But, one of the park’s most popular activities is exploring the waterway by kayak or canoe or tubing the Ichetucknee River. Furthermore, the crystal-clear waters of the river are also perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling. The best bit? The park is home to abundant birdlife and wildlife too.
Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
Exploring the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention might be one of the most fun things to do in Gainesville, Florida. The architecturally delightful museum, which backs onto Depot Park, the architecturally pleasing place is a must-visit. It’s named for the creator of the iconic Gatorade brand and was opened to equip and inspire future visionaries, entrepreneurs, and inventors. Moreover, the building, which occupies some 26,000 square feet, is chock-full of information and exhibits relating to ground-breaking inventions and technology developed first at the University of Florida. There’s even something for kids here, as there are classes for kids to learn how to do things like identifying parts of the brain, decorating skeletons, and making slime! Finally, there’s also a section dedicated to the founder’s invention, Gatorade, a historic printing press, and even the “Loot Lab,” the museum shop.
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
It might be one of Florida’s smaller zoos, but the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is a fantastic place for visitors interested in wildlife, regardless of age. The zoo, which sits on 10 acres of lush land, is noteworthy as the only accredited college campus zoo in the world. What’s more, it’s uniquely maintained almost entirely by students and is home to more than 70 species. So, you’ll see up-and-coming zookeepers share their knowledge of species ranging from otters and kangaroos to alligators and bald eagles. An easy-to-access, level, and shaded quarter-mile-long trail take you to all displays and cages with animals.
If you can, we’d highly recommend that you participate in one of the fun-filled zoo experiences on offer here. These include everything from feeding and handling animals to the top-tier VIP Experience package that offers a unique chance to interact with huge Galapagos tortoises!
Pleasant Street Historic District
The Pleasant Street Historic District is one of the most picturesque places to see and things to do in Gainesville, Florida. It might be surprising to many, but Florida’s smaller cities have done a fantastic job preserving historic buildings, and Gainesville is no exception. The massive Pleasant Street Historic District, a.k.a. the Northwest 5th Avenue Historic District, features an impressive collection of old homes and other structures. It’s also known as the Northwest 5th Avenue Historic District. In fact, a total of 259 historic buildings line the tree-lined streets of the neighborhood! The area is also particularly historically important, as it was the first black residential neighborhood in Gainesville. Moreover, it was established soon after the abolition of slavery after the Civil War. Most houses are modest bungalow homes from the 1800s-1900s that lie along the leafy streets and make for very pleasant walks.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
The Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is one of the most unusual geological and historical sites in the world. It sits in a massive sinkhole outside Gainesville and is surrounded by sandy and dry terrain. What’s more, the steep walls of the bowl-shaped sinkhole are as much as 120 feet deep beneath the surface and protect and preserve an amazing miniature rainforest. The sinkhole, which was formed when limestone dissolved back in the 1880s and contains many fossilized skeletons of extinct land animals, as well as marine shells and other valuable fossils. After a half-mile hike around the perimeter, descend to the bottom via the wooden boardwalk. Are you looking for an informative experience? There’s a ranger-led tour available every Saturday.
Visiting the scenic Lake Alice is one of the most scenic things to do in Gainesville, Florida. This lake, which sits within the University of Florida campus, is rich in wildlife. In fact, the university students fondly call themselves “gators,” and there are real alligators on the campus at this lake! What’s more, the area used to be the home of Native Americans, whose burial mounds that date back to 1,000 AD can be found in the area. Since the lake is actually free to the public for viewing, you can take a picnic here and watch possums, turtles, and birds hanging around. Another great way to explore the region is walking around the trails and via the many viewing decks.
Matheson History Museum
If you love everything historical, then the Matheson History Museum is right up your alley. This wonderful museum sits in the heart of historic downtown Gainesville and is dedicated to showcasing and protecting the history of Gainesville and Alachua County. Some of the must-see exhibits in the museum include a huge collection of thousands of historical Florida photographs, illustrated gazetted, and postcards. What’s interesting is that all of them are housed in the 1932-built former American Legion Hall. Additionally, you can see many visiting and permanent exhibits, such as the re-creation of the Matheson Country Store. Plus, you could either explore the place on your own or request a guided tour of the place.
Bluefield Estate Winery
Oenophiles, and others, will love sampling the unique fruit-inspired wines at the Bluefield Estate Winery, one of the best things to do in Gainesville, Florida. The winery is run by the husband-and-wife winemaker duo of Jennifer and Bradley Ferguson, who began this enterprise by making blueberry wine right in their kitchen. In fact, the wine estate has the largest selection of exciting wine flavors in the region, ranging from pomegranate and peach to green apple and blackberry. Despite being just a short drive east of Gainesville, the winery feels off the beaten track. So, visit this winery, walk through the sprawling vineyards at the estate, and then pick flavors to taste.
Cool Facts About Gainesville, Florida
- Did you know that National Geographic Adventure ranked Gainesville as one of the “best places to live and play” in 2007? If you’re considering visiting the city, here are the best hotels in Gainesville, Florida.
- There are so many interesting things to see in Gainesville, and one of the most offbeat places to see is Devil’s Caves. They’re one of the most dangerous caves in the world, so tread carefully!
Get Some Culture in Gainesville, Florida
- Hoggtowne Medieval Faire: The medieval ages come to 21st century Gainesville every January in the form of the Hoggtowne Medieval Faire. for two weekends of Renaissance fun. The Alachua County Fairgrounds is transformed into a bustling medieval marketplace. Step back in time when you see knights jousting, jugglers, and knife throwers. Make sure to wear your medieval finery!
Grab A Bite in Gainesville, Florida
- The Top: This downtown Gainesville restaurant caters to vegan, vegetarian, and meat lovers. Dig into traditional local grass-fed beef burgers, sandwiches, salads, and kimchi cauliflower. Wash them down with amazing cocktails and 33 beers on taps. Oh, save some space for the vegan peanut butter pie or the chocolate cake.
- Amelia’s: Are you in the mood for Italian? Amelia’s is the only place to head to! This locally-owned Italian restaurant has been using fresh ingredients for two decades to make every menu item from scratch. Must-try items include dentice Napoli with red snapper, eggplant parmigiana, fettuccini alfredo, and linguine with clams.