30 things to do in Gainesville, Florida – the place where nature and culture meet
You have probably come across Gainesville, Florida if you are either a football fan or related to a student who just started classes at one of the top universities in the States, ranking number 5 in terms of size according to the most recent census that was done in 2016. However, if all you’ve ever expected of Gainesville is this, you might be in for a big surprise. The city has so many things to offer that you might find yourself blown away in astonishment. You have everything covered here, from natural parks to artistic happenings, food festivals, museums and much more.
To get an idea on how to place it on the map, Gainesville is at the core of Alachua County and is located at fairly the same latitude as Houston, Texas. Though you might think of Florida as a hot place, Gainesville as a town is quite wet, due to its subtropical climate. So when packing do make you sure you do not forget your umbrella as well as a couple of extra shirts for those crazy humid days.
“Awesome and free” is how most reviews would describe the experience of going to this museum. This is a great pick especially if you are traveling with kids, but also if you are an avid nature lover, eager to explore the state’s unique habitat and rich cultural history. Information about Florida’s early native peoples is included. Make sure you won’t miss the chance to attend the Calusa Indian welcoming ceremony as well as checking out mammoth and mastodon skeletons from the last ice age. The top favorite exhibit for the smaller guests is what “underwater” would look like if you were “very small.” Giant fish, oysters, plants, and birds can be explored as part of their habitat. A complete thrill for the little ones and parents alike.
One of the biggest thrills in Gainesville is The Cade. Opened in May 2018 in the honor of Dr. Robert Cade, the same one who came up with the energizing drink Gatorade. Located at the edge of the Depot Park, this is the go-to place for all the most curious travelers of all ages. The museum celebrates innovation and it breathes this value through all its pores, starting with details such as the organic steel, concrete and glass structure, all the way to the design inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. Usually, the main problem with The Cade is that it closes at 5 pm and they have a really hard time sending home all the very young innovation fanatics!
Cross the street from The Natural History Museum and you will find the impressively diverse collection of art hosted at the Samuel P Harn Art Museum. Everything from American paintings, modern art, photography, all the way to photographs and videos of African dances and an extensive collection of photography commemorating the civil rights era. Admission is free and you will find the best use of at least 2 hours of free time when deciding to go visit.
In 1854 the Haile family, from South Carolina, established a 1500-acre Sea Island cotton plantation. The 6,200 sq. ft home was the site of house parties attended by Gainesville’s finest citizens. The Hailes had an unusual habit of writing on the walls, therefore you will be able to see the “Talking Walls,” over 12,500 words written by family and friends in every room. The museum hosts as well a corner showcasing the experience of the enslaved builders.
In case you are open to spending the night elsewhere than in one of the local bars or restaurants, you might want to check out the local planetarium. Although far from the size and complexity of the Smithsonian, Kika Silva Planetarium is a great chance to look at what is happening in the skies. Another great experience you may want to have with your children in case you are traveling together. The guides are very knowledgeable and in case you don’t want to miss your spot, make sure you book places on the Santa Fe University website.
Parks and other outdoor attractions
6. Depot Park
Planning your trip to Gainesville, don’t forget to pack your sweatpants and a pair of comfy shoes because Depot Park will give you a chance to travel back in time in your childhood years. Book an afternoon with your family or your gang of friends at The Depot, regardless of whether you are 5 or 55 years old. This is one of the coolest playgrounds you will come across in your travels. You have every everything from big kid-sized trains all the way to jungle gyms, forts, walls, and slides. Everything to help you make the kid inside one happy person.
Just outside of Gainesville, a couple of miles away from the bustling life of the city center, you will find an amazing place that will give you the chance to connect with nature while contributing to the local environment. At the park, you can walk more than 3.5 miles of crushed gravel trails and boardwalks, experience the lush landscape from viewing platforms, and learn about the habitat through educational signs and tours. Wilderness at its best, purest form, allowing you to recharge from nature. You can explore the park on your own or take a ranger-led tour!
Gainesville is quite a place full of water, thus swamps are part of the local flavor. Located in the proximity of the forest, Paynes Prairie natural park has an interesting cross section of Florida wildlife, living wild and free on the preserve. Depending on the time of the year and the time of the day you travel there, you may have a personal encounter with the buffalos, gators, horses and other wild creatures. It would be helpful if you refrain from petting them, as they are exactly that: wild and free. It is also a great destination for camping lovers.
There is a must-do on the nature-related array of experiences you can go for while visiting Gainesville that can make Batman jealous: watching the sunset from the back yard of the University of Florida, where the Bat House is located. Daily, groups ranging from a couple of dozens up to hundreds of people gather to see the evening bat emergence. The natural show put up by the small nightly creatures lasts approximately 40 minutes time in which you can admire above 250.000 bats going out to their night hunt.
By now you could probably realize that Gainesville is a very welcoming place for families with children. There is yet another spot to add to the list of things to do on a relaxing trip there, and that is going to the Zoo. Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is not going to be the biggest zoo you have ever seen, but it will be the perfect setting for a weekend picnic or relaxing evening. You can admire more than 200 species of wildlife from monkeys, otters, tree-kangaroos, lemurs, and gibbons.
11. Kanapaha Park
Feeling a bit tired or stressed? A walk through one of the alleys of the Kapanaha Park will sure make you feel easy like a Sunday morning. While most locals know this for the Veteran’s Centre, the go-to place for groups who want to organize events in a charming, relaxing natural environment, as a tourist you can opt to take instructed outdoor workouts or a long walk around the lake in order to get some energy and inspiration for the next part of your trip. The park should not be confused with Kapanaha Botanical Gardens! And since we are on the topic….
…are one of the most popular destinations in Gainesville. Kids will probably find the most interesting part to be the “Children’s garden” for its special plants, waterfalls and fish ponds. One of the most remarkable, unique sections of the garden is made up of the Bamboo Cathedral. Next to it, the Victoria waterlilies plantation will relish your senses with the most amazing smell. Another perfect place to pack a sandwich and have a quick picnic lunch in the most serene of the environments.
Cityscape sites and landmarks
Florida’s flagship institution of higher education offers not only state of the art educational services but also quite a pleasant experience in case you are a tourist who wants to immerse into the local environment. The campus is large, it has a superb stadium as well as a basketball dome. If you are lucky enough you might catch a student manifestation so that you get a full flavor walkthrough. Surely if you fancy a football game, this is the best place to see The Florida Gators in action. Otherwise, you will be just as impressed by the Victorian architecture and very relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere around!
Where else can you find Gators other than in the Swamp! Huge, loud. Well maintained, the best stadium in Florida offers you a full option experience of what it is to be a fan of one of the biggest football teams in America. In case you go there for a game, no worries: all seats will give you the same great view of the field. You can, however, go also for a workout session, if you plan to run laps or train stairs.
Known as the O’Dome, the Stephen O’Connell Centre is an 11,000-plus-seat multi-purpose arena located on the University of Florida campus. The facility is located on the northern side of the university’s campus and you can choose to come here and attend concerts and sporting events. The arena plays host to seven University of Florida Athletic Teams.
Home of the Gatornationals, the Gainesville Raceway has operated restlessly for almost 50 years, gaining more and more popularity. If your travels take you to Gainesville in March, you are one lucky tourist as you will get the chance to rub shoulders with some of the superstars of Florida’s most popular race team. Make sure you book your tickets in advance as oftentimes they are sold out. Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses as you are going to spend some time in the open air.
17. Thomas Centre
Take a trip back in time all the way into the 1920’s – it’s free! Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building is a beautifully restored Mediterranean Revival-style hotel. Stroll through the lovely gardens and view the art in one of the two galleries. You can experience the past through the 1920’s period rooms and local history exhibits. Listen to the interesting history of the property and the Thomas Family with a free cell phone tour.
Discover the unexpected history of America’s first Gypsy Vanner Horses on this tour of Gypsy Gold Horse Farm. Wander past trees lined with Spanish moss en route to the stables, where you can meet Gypsy Vanner Horses, famed for their beauty. This tour introduces a niche bit of Florida history and provides information about an uncommon breed of horses.
Now that’s a theatre with a twist. Known as the “Hipp,” Gainesville’s theatre is located downtown in a century-old Palladium Classical Revival building that once housed a post office and courtroom. You can go for a visit daily, check out one of their shows, check the listing of Broadway and off-Broadway shows for a first-rate performance. That’s a really nice way to get cultured while on a trip.
A bonus experience whole on the road, for which the admission fee is just worth of two carrots. Now that’s a bargain. See 126 horses, 2 donkeys and 1 mule on 335 acres. Open to visitors only on Saturdays, that’s the day to visit Mill Creek Farm. They provide an equine sanctuary for older, neglected and abandoned horses roaming freely in the pastures.
Best food places in Gainesville
21. The Food Tour
Discovering the city on foot is the best way to go, but the best just gets better when you throw food in the mix as well. Husband and wife Carolina and Ryan Earl can take you for a 3 hour ride through the downtown of Gainesville and show you the best historical places in the city alongside 6 of the best places to eat in town. Each stop in a restaurant or café has an inclusion; you will also be able to order something extra while your hosts will answer questions about the local traditions and how it feels to be a citizen of Gainesville.
22. Emiliano’s Café
The first stop on the tour will take you to the place of your Latin dreams. Over the past almost 35 years since Emiliano’s was born, terms like Nouveau Cuisine, Fusion Cuisine, Nuevo Latino, Latin Fusion or Pan Latin cuisine have come and gone. But the art of putting together a perfect dinner atmosphere is whatEmiliano’ss still excelling at. Food is not the only Latin thing in the menu. Starting with Latin beer and wine, all the way to mojitos and martinis, all options will be waiting for you at the bar, so that your experience here is flawless.
In case you come here with the intention of exchanging some words with Loosey, you might be surprised to find out that it was the owners’ dog. Everything about this place speaks ‘local’: the beer is crafted in places across the US, the food is locally made and home cooked, and the music is played by local bands since they want to encourage local talent. Loosey’s is a very cozy place where you will feel like home.
24. V Pizza
Not V from Vendetta but V from very good pizza. This is the business of 4 Jacksonville friends who wanted to bring the best Italian experience to the home of The Gators. They became very clear that in order to achieve their dream they should make no compromise to the quality of the ingredients and the kitchen equipment they use. All said and done so now this is where you can get the best Napoletana in Florida.
In case this brand sounds innocent to you, it is 100% certain that this is the best word to describe it. Made with all-natural ingredients, low in sugar intake and spiced up with local fruit and flavors, Hyppo Ice Pops are the summer delight to cool off a hot day as well as to help you unwind after a long day of city exploration. All in all, there have been developed more than 500 recipes, according to the seasonality of the ingredients, and in any given afternoon you will be able to find no less than 50 options to chose from. Good luck!
26. Liquid Ginger
In case you are dreaming of an Asian dish and you are not entirely sure what to pick – Korean, Japanese, Chinese or Thai – your problem is solved. Liquid Ginger offers an immersive experience into all Asian food-related experiences. You could even bounce between foods and cultures in one meal. Everything is very fresh and the service is state of the art. The place has also one of the most impressive selections of teas, with a couple of pages in the menu dedicated exclusively to this chapter.
Places to stay in Gainesville
A home for you with a lot of vintage details, the first ones that you probably will notice are the original wood trims and windows. The proximity to UF cannot be beaten at only a few hundred feet from the Gator Football stadium and the O’Connell Stadium. This place is great for having a home base while exploring the University of Florida with family or staying close by for graduations.
Here is a light, historic home with modern updates right in the heart of Gainesville. A well-cared-for 1950s ranch/bungalow with a short walk to a beautiful wooded public park and pool, and a short bike ride to the university campus, Publix, and many restaurants and amenities.
29. Camelia Rose Inn
Located in the heart of Gainesville, a short walk away from the downtown as well as from the University campus, Camellia Rose Inn offers 6 bedrooms, a separate cottage and a huge porch for outdoor relaxation. The Inn prides itself with having some of the largest rooms in facilities of its sort, that give an overview to the historical center of the city.
In case you are traveling with your pet, you will be both welcome in the Comfort Inn, located in the proximity of most museums in the city. This place offers a hot, generous breakfast, included in the price of your room. The fitness center and the outdoor pool will allow you to get some active rest while traveling.