The Best Things to do in Gainesville, Florida

The Best Things to do in Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville, Florida is perhaps best known as the home of the University of Florida and the Florida Gators athletic teams. Since these teams have consistently ranked in the top 10 NCAA Division I teams for over 30 years, the university is what draws a lot of people to the area.

Though Gainesville might not have the same tourist appeal as other major cities in Florida, it still has quite a lot to offer visitors, whether or not they are sports fans. The mild north-Floridian climate makes it a perfect destination for nature lovers, and there is no shortage of parks, gardens, and places to experience a wide variety of plant and animal life. Like many university towns, it also has a flourishing artistic community, so museums, theaters, and galleries abound. And of course, sporting events form their own category of things to see and do in Gainesville.

With so many options available, visitors of all ages and interests are sure to have a great time visiting Gainesville!

Parks and Gardens

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

  • Location: 4700 SW 58th Dr. (Map)
  • Hours: Weekdays 9am – 5pm. Weekends 9am – 7pm or dusk (whichever is earlier) Closed Thursdays.
  • Cost: $10 per adult, $5 per child (ages 5-13). Children under 5 free.
  • Discounts: Group rate (10+ people): $8 per adult, $4 per child.
  • Website: http://kanapaha.org/

Set on 62 acres on the shores of Lake Kanapaha, the Kanapaha Botanical Garden offers 24 major collections that can all be seen from 1.5 miles of paved walkways. The peak colors can be seen from June through September, but the gardens are worth visiting at any time of year. There are several waterfalls and other water features, an herb garden, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, a children’s garden, an arboretum, and so much more. Events such as the Spring Garden Festival and the Moonlight Walk are especially popular times to visit. Nature lovers of all ages are sure to enjoy the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

The Devil’s Millhopper is a limestone sinkhole with its own ecosystem. In the midst of northern Florida’s sandy soil and pine forests, a mini rainforest is thriving in this bowl-shaped area. The cavity is about 120 feet deep and can be explored on trails and boardwalks. It is a great place to hike, picnic, and see wildlife. The area also has a rich history, which you can learn more about through the exhibits in the visitor center or on a guided ranger walk.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

With herds of wild horses and bison roaming, you might briefly forget you are in Florida and think you wandered over to Wyoming or the Dakotas. But when you realize that these herds are coexisting with alligators, you’ll remember that you’re still in Florida. The Paynes Prairie Preserve is completely unique in many ways. Start at the visitor center to learn more about the area. Hiking the La Chua Trail to the observation tower is a highly recommended way to see wildlife and fully experience this amazing park.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park

  • Location: 325 SW Williston Rd. (Map)
  • Hours: 7am – sunset every day
  • Cost: $5 per car / $2 per person (pedestrians, cyclists, and bus passengers)
  • Discounts: Annual pass available.
  • Website: https://www.sweetwaterwetlands.org/

Sweetwater Wetlands Park is found on the northern edge of the Paynes Prairie Preserve, offering visitors chances to see some of the same unique environment and wildlife as the larger state park without leaving the city of Gainesville. It is one of the city’s best birding sites, since more than 215 species call the park home. Explore the park on the 3.5 mile nature trail which is a combination of boardwalks and gravel paths. Check the website for a schedule of ranger led tours to help you get the most from you visit.

Animals and Nature

University of Florida Bat Houses

The bat barns and houses at the University of Florida are the world’s largest, with space for about 750,000 bats. By current estimates, nearly a half-million bats from several different species call these houses home. On warm evenings in the spring and early summer, if the temperature is above 65 degrees, the bats will emerge just after sunset and visitors are welcome to watch as they fly out and begin feasting on insects. The best perspective for viewing them is toward the western sky and around the streetlights on Museum Rd. Stop by the bat houses for an enchanting wildlife experience!

Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation

  • Location: 8528 E County Rd 225 (Map)
  • Hours: Guided tours by appointment only. No general admission. Closed Sundays.
  • Cost: Suggested donation of $25 per adult, $8 per child (under 12)
  • Website: http://www.carsonspringswildlife.org/

In contrast to a zoo, where crowds walk around to see and observe the animals, the Carson Springs Wildlife Center focuses on visitor education. On your tour, you’ll meet each of the different animals from 25 different species, including tigers, cheetahs, hyenas, tortoises and even a rhino. Tours focus on the importance of conservation and maintaining balance in nature. Most of the animals have been rescued or rehoused from other facilities into Carson Springs’ concrete-free animal environments. Visit their website to learn more and to schedule a tour.

Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

  • Location: 3000 NW 83rd St (Map)
  • Hours: Daily 9am – 2pm
  • Cost: $6 per adult, $5 per child (ages 4-12)
  • Discounts: $1 discounts for seniors (age 60+), active military and veterans, and University of FL students and staff (with ID). Free admission for children age 3 and younger, and students/staff of Santa Fe College. 50% discount with AZA reciprocal admissions program.
  • Website: https://www.sfcollege.edu/zoo/index

The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is the only zoo on a college campus that is also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). This 10 acre zoo is home to more than 70 species of animals, cared for by over 100 students enrolled in a Zoo Animal Technology program. Both native and exotic animals can viewed by touring the zoo on a quarter-mile path through the woods. Pack a lunch or snacks to enjoy at the picnic tables near the playground. There are no concession stands available. Check the website for a schedule of special seasonal events that may coincide with your visit.

Lubee Bat Conservancy

  • Location: 1309 NW 192nd Ave (Map)
  • Hours: No general admission. Tours available most days at 1pm, lasting about 2 hours. Reservations must be made in advance.
  • Cost: $17 per person, with a minimum total of $100 per tour group. (If only 5 people, cost is $20 per person.)
  • Discounts: If you are able to share a tour with another group, the total cost per group is $50.
  • Website: https://www.lubee.org/

Lubee Bat Conservancy is part conservation program, part educational program, and part bat habitat. It is the only bat conservation organization in the world to combine all three. Visitors to Lubee learn about the importance of bats as well as what threatens them and how people can help different varieties of bats to survive and thrive. See the habitats that house over 200 bats from a variety of different species, and meet education animals up close. You’ll have the chance to create your own fruit enrichment and offer it to the bats when you’re finished. A tour of the Lubee Bat Conservancy is unique and personal, so take the chance to schedule a tour during your visit to Gainesville.

Museums and History

Florida Museum of Natural History

  • Location: 3215 Hull Rd (Map)
  • Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm. Sundays 1pm – 5pm.
  • Cost: General admission free. Butterfly Rainforest: $14 per adult, $7 per child (ages 3-17). Other special exhibits have an additional cost.
  • Discounts: Available for seniors, students, Florida residents, ASTC Passport museum members, and EBT card holders. See website for details.
  • Website: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/

Stop by the Florida Museum of Natural History to see all of their permanent exhibits for free. Learn about the natural history of Florida, including fossils, wildlife exhibits, and indigenous people groups. You can also learn about how scientists are currently studying Florida and its unique, diverse ecosystems, and what implications their research has on the future. If you choose to add a ticket to the Butterfly Rainforest, you can explore this live exhibit and walk through a colorful rainforest environment filled with free-flying birds and butterflies from around the world. Check the website for schedules and details about traveling exhibits available at the museum.

Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

  • Location: 811 S Main St. (Map)
  • Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm. Sunday 1pm – 5pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Cost: $12.50 for adults (ages 18+), $7.50 for children (ages 5-17), Children 4 and younger are free.
  • Discounts: Available for seniors, students, ASTC Passport museum members, EBT card holders, AAA, first responders, active duty military and veterans. See website for details.
  • Website: https://www.cademuseum.org/

The name says it all! The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is a hands-on wonderland promoting exploration, innovation, and creativity, with a particular focus on STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics). Exhibits are designed to educate but also to stimulate new and innovative thought in visitors of all ages. The museum rotates through specific themes every 6 weeks, so check the website to see what fun and exciting themes you’ll have the opportunity to explore!

Historic Haile Homestead

  • Location: 8500 SW Archer Rd (Map)
  • Hours: Saturdays 10am – 2pm, Sundays 10am – 4pm. Tours offered once per hour at quarter past. Weekday tours available by appointment.
  • Cost: $5 per person (ages 12+). Children under 12 free.
  • Discounts: Group rates available upon request.
  • Website: https://www.hailehomestead.org/

Haile Homestead was the home of the Haile family on the Kanapaha plantation during the second half of the 19th Century. Restored to its historic condition, visitors can tour the house and learn about the Haile family and the enslaved laborers that the Hailes brought with them from South Carolina to build the house and work on the plantation. Completely unique to the Haile Homestead is what they refer to as its “talking walls.” The Haile family and their visitors wrote on the unpainted walls, everything from personal observations and growth charts to salutations from guests and household inventories. All in all, over 12,500 words are recorded in each room of the house, including closets. There is also artwork. This unique house and its unusual historic records await your visit in Gainesville.

Matheson History Museum

  • Location: 513 East University Ave (Map)
  • Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 4pm
  • Cost: $5 per person (ages 12+) for tours of the 1867 Matheson House. Museum exhibits are free.
  • Discounts: Scheduled tours for school/homeschool groups are free.
  • Website: https://mathesonmuseum.org/

This museum features permanent exhibits which tell the history of Gainesville and the local Alachua County area, as well as a variety of temporary exhibits. The 1867 Matheson House is one of the three oldest houses remaining in Gainesville. The architecture is a unique blend of South Carolina plantation-style, since the Mathesons were originally from South Carolina, and a raised cottage, with Gothic decorative details. The library and archives can be accessed by appointment. Learn more about north-central Florida in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries with a visit to the Matheson History Museum.

Arts and Theater

Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art

  • Location: 3259 Hull Rd. (Map)
  • Hours: Tuesday – Friday 11am – 5pm, Saturdays 10am – 5pm, Sundays 1pm – 5pm. Closed Mondays.
  • Cost: Admission is free, except for occasional special exhibits. Donations welcomed.
  • Website: http://www.harn.ufl.edu/

Since 1990, the Harn Museum of Art has welcomed visitors to view over 8,000 works of art. The museum showcases Asian, African, modern, and contemporary art as well as photography. It is also the permanent home of Monet’s painting, “Oat Field.” A variety of traveling and temporary exhibits come to the museum throughout the year, so check the website for a schedule of current exhibitions. The museum is a part of the University of Florida and is one of the largest university-affiliated art museums in the country.

Thomas Center

Part art gallery and part concert hall, the Thomas Center is a restored Mediterranean-style hotel that features predominantly local artists in both visual and performing arts. The grounds also feature beautiful gardens and historic architecture that can all be toured with free online or cell phone audio tours. A must-see for lovers of the arts!

Hippodrome State Theatre

  • Location: 25 SE 2nd Place (Map)
  • Hours: Showtimes for theater productions, films, open mic night and other events can be found on the theater’s website.
  • Cost: Varies depending on the event.
  • Website: https://thehipp.org/

Gainesville’s only professional theater offers a full schedule of performances, including Broadway and off-Broadway productions. Their cinema schedule offers a range of independent, foreign, and classic films. There are also open mic nights and a variety of other events, so check the website to find all the current opportunities in this unique Gainesville landmark.

Sports

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (University of Florida)

  • Location: 157 Gale Lemerand Dr. (Map)
  • Hours: Unless an event is being held, the stadium is open to the public from 7am – 7pm. Enter through Gate 18. Sporting event schedules can be found on the Florida Gators website.
  • Cost: Free to visit. Ticket prices for sporting events vary and can be purchased through the Florida Gators website.
  • Discounts: Military and First Responders can purchase discounted tickets online. University of Florida students can also purchase discounted tickets.
  • Website: https://floridagators.com/

Come see where the Florida Gators football magic happens! When no events are being held, visitors are welcome to tour the stadium  at their leisure (just stay off the field!) Whether running the stadium steps for exercise, taking pictures, or just listening to the echo of an empty stadium, there are lots of reasons to visit. Or, don the blue and orange and root for the Gators during a game or match. Opportunities vary by season, but there’s almost always something to cheer for happening at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Gainesville Raceway

  • Location: 11211 N, N County Rd 225 (Map)
  • Hours: Race schedule can be found on the Gainesville Raceway website.
  • Cost: Spectator fee $10, but may vary by event.
  • Website: http://www.gainesvilleraceway.com/

The Gainesville Raceway is considered one of the fastest on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit, and speed records are often broken at the annual NHRA Gatornationals event. Other racing events are held on most weekends, so check the schedule to find the race that interests you most. Drag racing fans are in for a treat when they watch races at the Gainesville Raceway!

Stephen C. O’Connell Center

  • Location: 250 Gale Lemerand Dr. (Map)
  • Hours: Event schedule can be found on the O’Connell Center website
  • Cost: Varies by event
  • Discounts: Student/faculty discounts available for some events.
  • Website: https://www.oconnellcenter.ufl.edu/

The University of Florida indoor arena offers visitors the chance to watch indoor sporting events, such as basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and swimming. It also hosts a variety of concerts, craft shows, and other events. When no events are being held, the facilities can often be used for open recreation, exercise, and swimming. Find schedules for events and open recreation times, ticket information, and more at the O’Connell Center website. Don’t miss a moment of the action!

Unique Food and Beverages

Swamp Head Brewery

  • Location: 3650 SW 42nd Ave (Map)
  • Hours: Tasting room: Tuesday – Thursday 4pm – 10pm. Friday – Saturday 1pm – 11pm. Sunday 1pm – 8pm. Closed Mondays. Tours: Tuesdays at 6:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00pm
  • Cost: $5 per person (over 21 only) for the brewery tour. Tasting room – beverage prices vary.
  • Website: https://swamphead.com/

With a focus on being “Inherently Floridian” and environmentally responsible, the Swamp Head Brewery offers a variety of unique beers in their tasting room, “The Wetlands.” While many varieties are available year-round, other beers are seasonal, so the selection is always changing. Brewery tours are available (age 21 and older only) and include a souvenir pint glass filled with one of Swamp Head’s signature beers. While they do not serve food, food trucks are often available and they welcome visitors to bring outside food with them. The Swamp Head Brewery is also dog-friendly, as long as you and your furry friend are respectful of other guests. A unique and memorable Florida experience!

Bluefield Estate Winery

  • Location: 22 NE CR 234 (Map)
  • Hours: Thursday – Friday 11am – 5pm. Saturday – Sunday 12pm – 6pm. No appointment necessary.
  • Cost: Wine tasting – $5 to taste 4 different wines, $8 to taste 8 different wines; Muscadine picking, $1 per pound.
  • Website: http://www.bluefieldestatewinery.com/

Visit this local vineyard for a wine tasting, to buy wine by the bottle or the case, or to pick muscadine grapes for yourself. No appointments or reservations are necessary during regular open times. The Bluefield Estate Winery makes wine primarily from the blueberries and muscadine grapes grown on their 2.25 acres, but they also offer a variety of other unique and fruity blends. Family owned and run by a couple of University of Florida graduates who have turned their winemaking hobby into a successful winery, the Bluefield Estate Winery is well worth a visit!

Gainesville Food Tour

  • Location: Meeting/parking information for your tour will be sent after you’ve made a reservation.
  • Hours: Check website for current tour schedule. Advance reservation required.
  • Cost: $60 per person.
  • Discounts: Children who will be sharing food with parents do not need to purchase a ticket.
  • Website: https://gainesvillefoodtour.com/

A 3-hour walking tour of downtown Gainesville, where your guides show you the sights, share the history of the area, and take you to sample food from 3-6 different local restaurants. Offering a treat for your mind and your mouth, the founders of the Gainseville Food Tour believe that eating, drinking, and laughing are the best ways to see a city. Let them introduce you to their hometown and see the foodie side of Gainesville!

Gainesville, Florida is a diverse university town with so much to offer. However long you plan to stay in Gainesville, you won’t run out of things to see and do. From sports and outdoor activities, to museums and the arts, to unique culinary delights, there is something for everyone in Gainesville! Enjoy your trip!

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Christine Lindstrom

Christine Lindstrom is a freelance writer and digital nomad who has made travel her lifestyle. She has explored parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Central America and is currently traveling in the United States in an RV with her husband and three kids. She is passionate about helping others learn to travel well and overcome common challenges, especially women and families.
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