20 Best Things to Do in Gainesville, Florida
Located in northern Florida, Gainesville is known as the home of the University of Florida, which occupies a sprawling campus in the center of the town. You can visit the fascinating Florida Museum of Natural History, the Bat Houses, and the Harn Museum of Art. A host of outdoor attractions, such as Devil's Millhopper State Park and the Morningside Nature Center, can be easily accessed just outside the city. Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Fotolia
»Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is dedicated to inspiring creativity and invention by encouraging people to look at everyday things in a whole new light. Although the museum will only open to the general public in spring 2018, it already offers educational programs aimed at stimulating young minds. The Early Entrepreneurs Program teaches critical skills required in the business world, while the Living Inventor Series teaches creative problem solving. The museum also offers popular weekly field trips where children and young adults are exposed to hands-on experiments in a real laboratory setting. Participants get to do really exciting and stimulating tasks, such as creating robots and other objects from scratch.
Contact: The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, 904 South Main Street, Gainesville, FL 32601 Phone: 352-371-8001
Photo: Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
»Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
The Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is home to an interesting collection of rescued exotic animals and rehabilitated local wildlife. More of a sanctuary than a zoo, the owners of the facility are dedicated to providing the animals, many of which have been abandoned or traumatized, with a life-long home and plenty of TLC. Besides caring for the animals, the primary focus of the foundation is to aid conservation through education and they offer special educational tours for schools and groups. The price of your private or semi-private tour of the facility goes directly towards providing for the animals.
Contact: Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, 8528 E. County Rd 225, Gainesville, FL 32609, Phone: 152-468-2827
»Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park is a most unusual historical and geological site located in a giant sinkhole just outside Gainesville. Surrounded by dry and sandy terrain, the steep walls of the bowl-shaped sinkhole descend 120 feet below the surface and protect an amazing miniature rainforest. It is quite evident that the sinkhole has been a lure to the curious for hundreds of years, and researchers have found many valuable fossils, marine shells, and fossilized skeletons of extinct land animals in the sinkhole. You can go on a short half-mile hike around the perimeter of the depression and then descend a boardwalk to the bottom. The visitors center offers lots of information, and a ranger-led tour is available every Saturday.
Contact: Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, 4732 Millhopper Rd, Gainesville, FL 32653, Phone: 352-955-2008
Photo: Bill Ragan/Fotolia
»Florida Museum of Natural History
Located on the campus of the University of Florida, the Florida Museum of Natural History is a national gem you should not miss during your visit to Gainesville. The museum hosts a remarkable collection of permanent exhibits as well as regular temporary exhibitions. A few of the most popular exhibits include the Butterfly Rainforest, the Florida Fossils Collection (which traces the evolution of life and land), and the interactive Our Energy Future exhibit. Younger visitors can have hours of educational fun in the children's discovery zone. You can visit most of the museum free of charge (donations are gratefully accepted), but a small fee applies to some temporary exhibits and to the Butterfly Rainforest.
Contact: Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida Cultural Plaza, 3215 Hull Rd, Gainesville, FL 32611-2710, Phone: 352-846-2000
Photo: Irina Burakova/Fotolia
At the historic Haile Homestead on the Kanapaha Cotton Plantation you can step back in time to the 1800s and see the amazing craftsmanship of the enslaved laborers who built the 1854 homestead for the Haile family. The homestead was constructed completely out of pine and cypress wood. One of the most unique features of the house are the Talking Walls – for reasons which are no longer clear, the family covered most of the walls with writing that tells the story of their lives and that off their slaves. You can find out more on one of the guided tours of the property, which are offered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Contact: Haile Homestead on Kanapaha Plantation, 8500 SW Archer Rd, Gainesville, FL 32608, Phone: 352-336-9096
Photo: Haile Homestead
»Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Located 4 miles northwest of Fort White, Ichetucknee Springs State Park protects the head spring of the Ichetucknee River. The surrounding state park provides a wonderful summer playground for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a diverse selection of activities that include hiking, picnicking, swimming, and wildlife watching. One of the most popular activities in the park is tubing the Ichetucknee River or exploring the waterway by canoe or kayak. The crystal-clear waters of the river are also perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. The park is home to abundant wildlife, and you can reasonably expect to see dozens of birds as well as white-tailed deer, raccoons, and more.
Contact: Ichetucknee Springs State Park, 12087 SW U.S. Highway 27, Fort White, FL 32038, Phone: 386-497-4690
»Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
At Gainesville's beautiful Kanapaha Botanical Gardens you can feast your eyes on 24 major horticultural collections, including the largest herb garden in the southeast and Florida's largest display of bamboos. You can see it all as you stroll along the accessible 1.5-mile pathway, which is dotted with benches and gazebos where you can relax and just admire our surroundings. The gardens are at their eye-catching best in spring (March), when the annual Spring Garden Festival takes place, and in May you can enjoy the magical Moonlight Walk, when the paths and meadows are gently lit with twinkle lights and lanterns. Other annual events include the fall plant sale and orchid show.
Contact: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, 4700 SW 58th Drive, Gainesville, FL 32608, Phone: 352-372-4981
Photo: Earl Robbins/Fotolia
»Lubee Bat Conservancy
A visit to the Lubee Bat Conservancy is the ideal way to cure bat phobias and lay to rest the many entirely unfounded bat myths and legends. The conservancy is at the forefront of conservation efforts to protect dwindling bat habitats and to save several species of bat from extinction. The conservancy offers guided educational tours on weekdays – you need to request a tour online. If you happen to be in the area in October, you can visit the annual Florida Bat Festival, which takes place at the conservancy and offers a fun and educational day for the whole family as well as the chance to meet some of the giant fruit bats.
Contact: Lubee Bat Conservancy, 1309+ NW 192nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609, Phone: 352-485-1250
Photo: susan flashman/Fotolia
»Matheson History Museum
You'll find the Matheson History Museum nestled in the heart of historic downtown Gainesville, where it is dedicated to protecting and showcasing the history of Gainesville and Alachua County. Some of the highlights of the museum include a huge collection of thousands of historical Florida postcards, illustrated gazettes, and photographs, all of which are housed in the former American Legion Hall, built in 1932. In addition, you can see a re-creation of the Matheson Country Store and several other permanent and visiting exhibits. You can request a guided tour or explore at your own pace. The museum shop stocks many interesting books on the history of the region.
Contact: Matheson History Museum, 513 East University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32601, Phone: 352-378-2280
Photo: Matheson History Museum
»Morningside Nature Center
When you feel like escaping the city and embracing the outdoors, you can head to the Morningside Nature Center, which covers over 260 acres of pine savannah, encompassing a good network of walking and hiking trails. You can check out all the trails and loops at the Environmental Education Center and choose which of the well-marked trails you would like to explore. The center also includes the Living History Farm (open September to April), where you can see a collection of historical farm buildings, animals, and costumed guides who offer children a wide range of interactive farm experiences reminiscent of the pioneer days of the 1870s.
Contact: Morningside Nature Center, 3540 E University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32641, Phone: 352-334-3326
Photo: Earl Robbins/Fotolia
For an alternative to the museums and other cultural attractions of Gainesville, you can make your way to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park to get back to nature. The visitors center presents an audiovisual guide to help you understand the significance of the diversity of habitats in the park, and you can get a great overview from the top of the 50-foot observation tower. There are eight trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, including the 16-mile paved Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. You can visit for the day or pitch your tent and spend a few days walking, riding, boating, and fishing in the park.
Contact: Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park, 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667, Phone: 352-466-3397
Photo: Bill Ragan/Fotolia
»Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (The Harn)
Located on the Cultural Plaza of the University of Florida, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art beckons all art lovers to come and view eleven galleries of superb art from around the world. At any one time you can feast your eyes on around 600 works of art, drawn from the museum's incredible collection of over 9,000 individual works. In addition, there are regular visiting exhibitions featuring works on loan from private collectors or other art museums. Admission to the museum is free and even the guided tours are free of charge (a small donation would be gratefully accepted). You are welcome to browse at your own pace, and the museum shop stocks a good selection of jewelry and other exhibition-related artworks and crafts. Outside the museum you can visit the sculpture garden and Asian rock garden.
Contact: The Harn, University of Florida Cultural Plaza, 3259 Hull Rd, Gainesville, FL 32611-2700, Phone: 352-392-9826
Photo: Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (The Harn)
»Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is home to over 75 animal species, which are tended by more than 200 students enrolled in the college's zoo animal technology program. The college is one of only two such facilities in the country to provide training for people who wish to work with animals kept in captivity. The zoo is open to the public daily and visitors can see a wide selection of both exotic and endemic animals as you make your way along the winding pathway, which is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. You can bring a picnic to enjoy in the shaded picnic area, and the zoo is also a great venue for children's parties.
Contact: Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, 3000 NW 83rd Street, Gainesville, FL 32606, Phone: 352-395-5000
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»The Thomas Center
The Thomas Center was once a private residence, later a hotel, and is now a thriving cultural events center where art exhibitions, historical exhibits, and musical events are staged. The center is worth a visit simply to admire the impressive Mediterranean revival style architecture of the building (which was completed in 1910), the beautifully restored period rooms, and the lovely landscaped gardens. You can browse the center at your own pace with the help of a cellphone audio guide or experience the unique atmosphere of the center as you view a current art exhibition or attend a Jewel Box Concert or the family Jest Fest.
Contact: The Thomas Center, 302 NE 6th Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32601, Phone: 352-393-8532
Photo: The Thomas Center
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»University of Florida Bat Houses (at the Florida Museum of Natural History)
Located on the north side of Museum Road on the University of Florida campus, the Bat Houses are the largest occupied bat houses in the world. The Bat House and Bat Barn are home to several species of bats, which can be observed emerging to eat and exercise at twilight, around 15 to 20 minutes after sunset. Conditions need to be favorable for the bats to make an appearance – they prefer calm warm evenings when there are plenty of insects to eat. Although you can expect to see the bats swooping down to feed, they normally never bother people as long as you do not interfere with them. The best bat viewing seasons are spring and summer.
Contact: University of Florida Bat Houses, 3215 Hull Rd, UF Cultural Plaza, Gainesville, FL 32611-2710, Phone: 352-846-2000
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»Swamp Head Brewery
After a busy day of sightseeing, what could be better than relaxing over a local artisan beer and some great food at the Swamp Head Brewery? The Swamp Head Brewery prides themselves on producing an authentic all-Florida artisan brew and has been gaining popularity since 2008, when they brewed their first batch. The company aims to leave a carbon-neutral footprint and operate as responsibly as possible, and to that end the ingredients are sourced locally as far as possible, while the by-products are returned to the land. To learn more about the brewery (and get a souvenir glass to take home), you can join one of the weekly tours offered on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Contact: Swamp Head Brewery, 3650 SW 42nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32608, Phone: 352-505-3035
Photo: Swamp Head Brewery
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»Blackadder Brewing Company
Located just a few minutes from downtown Gainesville, the Blackadder Brewing Company is the ideal spot to relax and enjoy a locally produced craft beer. The Blackadder brand originated from a small homebrew business and eventually expanded into the current brewery, producing over 40 separate Belgian-inspired brews, which are available on tap in their traditional cozy pub. Blackadder is owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team of passionate brewers who have collectively won over 30 medals for their beers, so you are in for a treat. The Blackadder Brewing Company regularly hosts themed evenings and trivia competitions – you can check their website for dates.
Contact: Blackadder Brewing Company, 618 – A NW 60th Street, Gainesville, FL 32607, Phone: 352-339-0324
Photo: Blackadder Brewing Company
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»Bluefield Estate Winery
You can take some time off from exploring all the cultural attractions of Gainesville to pay a visit to the Bluefield Estate Winery, located in the small town of Windsor, just outside Gainesville. Here you can sample the unique range of fruit-inspired wines that are produced by husband-and-wife winemakers Jennifer and Bradley Ferguson, who started their enterprise by making blueberry wine in their kitchen. Today, they own a couple of acres planted to blueberries and muscadine grapes, both of which produce fruity wines that are higher in anti-oxidants than other varietals. You can visit their tasting room to sample the fruits of their labor and buy some delicious wines to take back home. Blueberry and grape self-picking is available during the harvest season.
Contact: Bluefield Estate Winery, 22 NE CR 234, Gainesville, FL 32641, Phone: 352-337-2544
Photo: Bluefield Estate Winery
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»Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate
When you need a break from your hectic sightseeing schedule, you can head to the Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate shop to revive your spirits with a delicious cup of your favorite brew and a chocolate treat. Volta serves a wide variety of signature coffees sourced from all over the world, including Rwanda, Brazil, Java, and Bolivia, all brewed to perfection by their experienced baristas. If you prefer tea, you can try one of several rare blends on offer. The chocolate is just as good, and you can even try some chocolate from single-origin vintage plantations. Volta also makes a variety of baked goods and desserts.
Contact: Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate, 48 SW 2nd St, Gainesville, FL 32607, Phone: 352-271-4361
Photo: Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate
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»Curia on the Drag
Curia on the Drag is the place to go for delicious and nutritious vegetarian/vegan food. Rumor has it that even die-hard carnivores will love the food and not even realize that they are eating healthy vegan food. The restaurant serves a variety of really tasty sandwiches using bread baked on the premises and the flavors are robust and satisfying. When the weather is good you can eat out on the deck, and it is also possible to get all your favorite dishes to take home. In addition to delicious food, you can also enjoy good coffee, wine, and beer. Prices are reasonable, and the quality is consistent.
Contact: Curia on the Drag, 2029 NW 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32609, Phone: 352-792-6444
Photo: Curia on the Drag
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20 Best Things to Do in Gainesville, Florida
- Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, Photo: Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
- Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Photo: Courtesy of anathel - Fotolia.com
- Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ragan - Fotolia.com
- Florida Museum of Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of Irina Burakova - Fotolia.com
- Haile Homestead, Photo: Haile Homestead
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Georgia - Fotolia.com
- Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Earl Robbins - Fotolia.com
- Lubee Bat Conservancy, Photo: Courtesy of susan flashman - Fotolia.com
- Matheson History Museum, Photo: Matheson History Museum
- Morningside Nature Center, Photo: Courtesy of Earl Robbins - Fotolia.com
- Paynes Prairie, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ragan - Fotolia.com
- Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (The Harn), Photo: Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (The Harn)
- Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Sagar - Fotolia.com
- The Thomas Center, Photo: The Thomas Center
- University of Florida Bat Houses (at the Florida Museum of Natural History), Photo: Courtesy of JuergenL - Fotolia.com
- Swamp Head Brewery, Photo: Swamp Head Brewery
- Blackadder Brewing Company, Photo: Blackadder Brewing Company
- Bluefield Estate Winery, Photo: Bluefield Estate Winery
- Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate, Photo: Volta Coffee, Tea and Chocolate
- Curia on the Drag, Photo: Curia on the Drag
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
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