Gainesville is a city in North Central Florida best known as the home of the Florida Gators at the University of Florida. But this eclectic city lives up to its slogan: “where nature and culture meet.” Here you can experience a variety of unique places and activities that make it worth a trip! Gainesville is a nature hotspot with some amazing parks. It has four completely distinct Florida State Parks within the city limit, a State Trail, and several other county parks, gardens, and even a State Forest!
Parks & Nature
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a unique Florida State Park with 1 entrance in Gainesville and 2 more just outside of Gainesville. The park encompasses over 21,000 acres of Florida wetlands and prairie, miles of hiking trails and a campground. The main entrance has the majority of trails and activities, the La Chua Trail & Alachua Sink entrance is the best place to spot alligators and birds at the water, and the Bolen Bluff trailhead is the best chance to spot the wild bison and horses.
Devils Millhopper is one of the most unique state parks, because you can climb down 120 feet into a sinkhole! Although the park is small, the stairs and boardwalk down into the lush tropical sinkhole are really worth the trip! After a rain, waterfalls even trickle down into the sinkhole!
For a big dose of nature right inside the city, San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is the perfect place. There are two entrances to the park- the south entrance inside Gainesville is for hiking; and the north entrance just north of Gainesville in Alachua is mainly for mountain biking. With over 6 miles of scenic hiking trails at the south entrance, and miles of mountain biking trails from beginner to advanced at the north entrance, San Felasco has something for everyone.
One of the newest State Forests, Newnans Lake State Forest is located on the east side of Gainesville. There are several different trails to choose from and a variety of ecosystems to explore around Newnans Lake. The trails get pretty wet due to the proximity to the lake, and don’t forget bug spray!
Another unique state park in Gainesville is Dudley Farm Historic State Park. In the 1800s and 1900s, the Dudley Family lived here and established a farm in this area. It’s a unique historic farmstead because all the buildings are original to this farm and have not been relocated. The farm is currently still in operation with crops and livestock, and you can even catch volunteers dressed in period clothing working around the farm.
There are several State Trails that are considered part of the 175 Florida State Parks, and the Gainesville- Hawthorne State Trail is one of them. The paved trail stretches 16-miles between the cities of Gainesville and Hawthorne. The trail is perfect for biking. There are some scenic overlooks, historic markers, and the trail passes through the La Chua Trailhead of Paynes Prairie.
This is a hidden gem in the heart of Gainesville. The picturesque Hogtown Creek runs through Loblolly Woods Nature Park and alongside the hiking trails and boardwalks. This shady forested park is perfect for a hike.
Sweetwater Wetlands Park was created in recent years as a means to filter the water going into Paynes Prairie. There are boardwalks and gravel pathways through several different wetlands areas. It’s a great place to spot wildlife!
Another park on the Hogtown Creek, Alfred A. Ring Park is a favorite among locals. The shady forested trails, bluffs above the creek, and boardwalks make this an enjoyable park in the heart of NW Gainesville.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable stroll through beautiful gardens, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is perfect. There are beautiful blooms and plants year round, including the largest bamboo garden in the state of Florida.
Cellon Oak Park is home to the largest live oak tree in Florida, the Cellon Oak. The oak’s circumference is 30 feet and it is 80 feet tall!
Morningside Nature Center is a very cool park with a living history farm which includes buildings and structures representing an 1800s family farm. Sometimes there are volunteers who will give you information about the structures and allow you to walk inside them. There are also over 6 miles of trails in the park.
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Other Things to Do in Gainesville, FL
One of the most widely visited attractions in Gainesville, the Florida Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit. The free museum is great for kids and adults alike, with several engaging exhibits about Florida’s history and nature.
Butterfly Rainforest: Check out the Butterfly Rainforest inside the Natural History Museum for a beautiful tropical garden and lots of butterflies.
Right next door to the natural history museum, you’ll find another amazing free museum, the Harn Museum of Art. The museum is filled with many different art mediums and styles from different time periods. My favorite is the new gallery of Florida art!
Catch a play at the historic Hippodrome Theater in downtown Gainesville. The theater is housed in one of Gainesville’s most historic buildings. The Hippodrome presents a wide variety of productions year-round, as well as classic holiday specials.
There’s no other experience quite like watching thousands of bats fly out of the UF Bat Houses and over your head at dusk. This is one of my favorite things to do in Gainesville.
Visit the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo to get up close with over 70 animal species that call Gainesville home. Different species of monkeys, birds, reptiles, and small mammals can all be found here. A 1/4 mile accessible shaded path winds through the exhibits.
Enjoy live and interactive planetarium shows produced by the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium as well as full-dome presentations from other world-class planetariums. Topics range from astronomy to ancient cultures, meteorology, geology, oceanography, health sciences and beyond. You can also enjoy immersive music video performances with their Music 360 program.
As the name suggests, the Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention is the perfect place to go to spark creativity. Named after Robert Cade, the UF Professor who invented Gatorade, the museum is sure to inspire creative thinking, future inventors, and early entrepreneurs. Although it’s geared towards kids, everyone will find something interesting at this museum.
Food & Drink in Gainesville, FL
Gainesville has a ton of amazing and unique restaurants. Downtown is a hot spot, but there are great choices all throughout Gainesville. Some of my favorites include:
Satchel’s Pizza, Dragonfly Sushi, The Top, Piesanos, The Flying Biscuit, La Tienda, Nopal by Cintron, Hana Sushi, One Love Cafe, Alpin Bistro
You can’t go wrong with one of Gainesville’s well-known craft breweries. Some of my favorites are:
While you’re visiting Gainesville, you might as well explore what else is nearby! Most of these towns and activities are less than one hour outside of Gainesville.
Micanopy is a small town just south of Gainesville with plenty of antique shops. Admire the historic buildings surrounded by old oak trees dripping with spanish moss.
High Springs is the home of the Santa Fe River, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, Ginnie Springs, Poe Springs, Rum Island Springs, and more.
Also, located in High Springs, O’Leno State Park is one of my favorites. Check out the historic buildings, the river sink and river rise, and the suspension bridge.
Directly to the west of Gainesville, Cedar Key is an Old Florida town on the Gulf Coast. Explore Cedar Key Museum State Park, Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, or enjoy waterfront shopping and dining.
Head north of Gainesville to Ichetucknee Springs State Park for a gorgeous crystal clear spring. The Ichetucknee River is great for tubing and paddling year round.
If you’re heading north to Gainesville via I-75, Silver Springs makes a great stop along the way. You can’t miss the world-famous historic glass bottom boats and the gorgeous collection of springs that feed the Silver River.
Snorkel or scuba in a gorgeous prehistoric underground spring. Or if you prefer to stay dry, you can glance down into the spring from the opening above.
A beautiful botanical garden with cascading waterfalls, 50+ garden displays, koi ponds, and countless breathtaking views!
The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.