Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Gainesville, FL

  • Published 2022/05/10

The hometown of the University of Florida, Gainesville is an excellent place to travel for a vacation.

Filled with fascinating gems, Gainesville has a lot to offer in terms of nature as well as culture.

A lot of people miss out on its beauty while they are in Florida, making this city quite an underrated destination.

The city brims with breathtaking natural attractions that include state parks, wildlife conservations, and stunning lakes.

On top of that, it also boasts awe-inspiring historical sites that will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a time machine.

Interested in learning more about the city has to offer?

These are the best things to do in Gainesville, Florida:

Visit the Massive Sinkhole at Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

Wooden stairs at Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park

Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that one of Gainesville’s top attractions is a massive sinkhole called Devil’s Millhopper?

You can find a combination of both history and geology at Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park.

The sinkhole is 120 feet deep.

People enjoying the view of the sink hole at Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park

Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even more astonishing than its gigantic size is the presence of different ecological systems inside it.

You can find a sandhill, forest, and a swamp within Devil’s Millhopper.

It is covered entirely with limestone and water.

Narrow paved fenced path at Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park

Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet Exotic Animals at Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation

Two brown horses at Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation

Leonardo E Martinez /

Do you consider yourself an animal lover?

If so, Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is just the place for you.

Though many people treat this spot as a zoo, it’s actually more of a sanctuary, as most of the animals here have been rescued.

The others were relocated from places with unfavorable conditions.

Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is quite an admirable institution, as they primarily focus on the animals’ welfare.

Their needs are looked after properly, and they have experts who cater to the animals at all times.

There are many tours conducted here.

You can book any of these and have a fun day of observing and interacting with these exotic species.

See Amazing Fossils at the Florida Museum of Natural History

Entrance of Florida Museum of Natural History

Kyle S Lo /

The Florida Museum of National History is situated within the campus of the University of Florida.

It is one of those hidden gems that you must not miss during your vacation in Gainesville.

Beautiful butterfly sitting on a bright orange flower at Florida Museum of Natural History

Amanda Widom /

The museum’s prime attraction is its permanent collection.

You have to check out the awe-inspiring fossils on display.

The Butterfly Rainforest is another amazing attraction you must see.

Plants at Florida Museum of Natural History

Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get Creative at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

Exterior of Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

Owen Allen from Atherton, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention was specially constructed to bring out the youth’s creativity.

Nothing can inspire your creative mind as well as this museum, which is specifically geared towards inspiring struggling artists and entrepreneurs.

Entrance of Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

Owen Allen from Atherton, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They have various programs and courses where you can enroll and learn more about bringing creativity into your everyday routine.

Interior of Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

Owen Allen from Atherton, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Revisit History at the Haile Homestead

Lawn and trees near the Haile Homestead in Gainesville

Kvkirkman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The historic Haile Homestead is part of the Kanapaha Cotton Plantation.

Dating back to 1856, the entire house was constructed for the Haile family by 56 enslaved laborers.

The 6,200-square-foot home was built with Cyprus wood.

Sign board of Haile Homestead

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The most fascinating thing about this place is that the plantation’s history is carved into its walls, so you can read about what happened here.

There are more than 12,500 words written on the house’s walls, doors, and closets.

Stroll around Downtown Gainesville

Lit up streets and buildings in Downtown Gainesville

Sean Pavone /

There is a saying that any city’s downtown area is always its liveliest, and downtown Gainesville is no exception.

You can always find it crowded and buzzing with activity no matter the time of day.

Street view of Downtown Gainesville

H.J. Herrera /

Filled with shops, boutiques, restaurants, and chains, the downtown area offers plenty things for you to see, do, eat, and enjoy.

Try buying some souvenirs for this place is home to some of the most affordable shops in the city.

Explore the restaurants, and you’ll find that you can enjoy just about any cuisine here.

Aerial view of Downtown Gainesville during sunset

Sean Pavone /

Check Out the Matheson History Museum

Front view of Matheson History Museum

Rfitzsi12, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Matheson History Museum is quite an intriguing place for any tourist.

It was built to preserve and protect Gainesville’s heritage and culture.

Besides artifacts from Gainesville, you will also see several pieces from the neighboring Alachua County on display.

The permanent exhibit is quite appealing and has every fact and document regarding the two places.

You will also find some hidden gems if you look hard enough.

Plenty of photographs, newspaper cuttings, and letters dating back to Gainesville’s earlier times can be found in the halls of the museum.

Rejuvenate Yourself at Morningside Nature Center

Living history farm in Morningside Nature Center

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you want to be close to nature?

Head over to Morningside Nature Center for a short escapade.

This savannah encompasses a vast area of almost 260 acres.

Entry way to Morningside Nature Center

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is filled with pine trees offering some majestic nature scenes.

There are a lot of hiking trails here, and you can hire a guide if you need one.

Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville, Florida

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spot Live Alligators at Lake Alice

Reflection of the autumn trees in Lake Alice

H.J. Herrera /

Located on the University of Florida’s campus grounds, Lake Alice is mesmerizing.

The place is truly breathtaking and is considered one of Florida’s hidden gems.

Unfortunately, swimming isn’t permitted here.

An Alligator rsting on the shore of Lake Alice

Bill Ragan /

You can, however, spot live alligators in the lake.

Lake Alice is also quite important in Alachua culture.

You will find the graves of their people near the lake.

A white bird at Lake Alice

Bill Ragan /

Take your time, walk around the lake, and enjoy nature.

The Baughman Center and the Bat House and Barn are some of the local spots you can check out nearby.

Fall in Love with Nature at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Different type of plants in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Timeless Tokens Media /

Want to treat your eyes to some gorgeous greenery?

Head over to the phenomenal Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

The place is quite a visual treat, as it has a lot of exotic plant species you might not get to see elsewhere.

It is said that the gardens’ bamboo collection is the largest one in Florida.

Banana trees near a pond at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

romarti /

The best time to visit would be during spring, as it is at the peak of its beauty during that time.

There are wooden boards where you can walk, and wherever you go, you will be greeted with horticulture.

Succulents at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

romarti /

They host many cultural festivals during different times of the year.

If you happen to be in town during one of these, don’t forget to make your way here.

Have a Drink at Swamp Head Brewery

Exterior of Swamp Head Brewery

Excel23, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to sit down and have a drink while taking a break from sightseeing?

Grab some local beer at Swamp Head Brewery.

The best thing about Swamp Head Brewery is that its owners are ecologically conscious and never do anything that will harm the environment.

They also take pride in being Florida-based, using only locally sourced or organic ingredients.

They offer some tours where you can roam around and learn about how they run the business.

Go on a Tour of Bluefield Estate Winery

Bluefield Estate Winery is a favorite among locals and tourists.

It’s a family-owned business run by Jennifer and Bradley Ferguson, a lovely couple with hands-on experience in growing their own berries and producing their own wine.

It all started with a little experiment, wherein the couple attempted to make wine with blueberries in their kitchen.

A decade later, Bluefield Estate Winery is now deemed one of top tourist attractions and wineries in Florida.

Catch a Game at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Bird's eye view of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Felix Mizioznikov /

What’s a trip to Florida without catching a football game?

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is a vast stadium with enough room to seat 90,000 people.

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium packed with people during a football match

Arkorn /

It gets quite lively during football season, and the locals are very invested in the games.

The stadium hosts most of the University of Florida’s homecoming cames.

Front view of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Bryan Pollard /

You might even spot a celebrity or two here, for they are known to make their appearances in some games.

Get to Know Bats at Lubee Bat Conservancy

Entrance of Lubee Bat Conservancy

LittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to overcoming the fear of bats and dispelling misconceptions about their existence, a trip to Lubee Bat Conservancy is the best way to do it.

This organization is at the forefront of efforts to safeguard declining bat habitats and rescue numerous species from extinction.

This conservancy host the annual Florida Bat Festival, which takes place in October.

Visitors may encounter some of the enormous fruit bats that live there during the event, which is informative and exciting.

Explore the Greenery at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Boardwalk at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Kyle S Lo /

This 264-acre park is a great place to go for a day of fun.

As a great place to unwind for parents seeking free activities in Gainesville with their kids, Sweetwater Wetlands Park has something for everyone.

If you’re looking for some affordable family fun this weekend, you’ll find it here.

Cute little bunny munching on the fresh grasses at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Chase D’animulls /

While exploring the park, keep an eye out for Florida cracker horses, butterflies, and various birds.

Educational tours and signage can be found along the 3.5 kilometers of boardwalks and paths.

Marshland at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

William Silver /

Learn the Value of Preservation at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

Name board of Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

romarti /

At the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, more than 200 zoo animal technology students care for more than 75 different types of animals.

For those who want to work with captive animals, this institution is one of just two in the nation that offers training.

Entrance of Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

LittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every day, visitors may wander the zoo’s meandering road, accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.

Additionally, see a wide variety of exotic and endemic creatures up close.

Close up of a bald eagle resting on a bark at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

GorissM, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You may bring your own food to eat in the covered picnic area, and the zoo is an excellent location for children’s parties.

Discover Heavenly Bodies at the Gainesville Solar Walk

On NW 8th Avenue, you’ll find the Gainesville Solar Walk: a stunning 4-billion-to-1 solar system replica that spans almost a mile.

This one-mile trek is a fantastic way to see the splendor of our solar system.

Elizabeth Indianos created a monument for each planet in the solar system.

Each monument is a work of art in and of itself.

There’s a Time Malles-designed bronze plaque for each planet, too.

Get some exercise while educating your kids about the solar system by strolling along this street.

Appreciate Exquisite Works at the Harn Museum of Art

Entrance to Harn Museum of Art

Kyle S Lo /

The Harn Museum of Art is located on the Cultural Plaza of the University of Florida and invites all art enthusiasts to come and visit 11 galleries of exceptional art from across the globe.

Over 9,000 unique pieces of art displayed in the museum’s extraordinary collection.

Visiting exhibits from private collections and other art museums are also held regularly.

You’ll find an excellent range of jewelry and other items relevant to the current show in the museum store.

You may also see sculpture gardens and an Asian rock garden outside the museum.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Enjoy the Water at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Pristine water at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Joanne Dale /

Are you missing the water?

Ichetucknee Springs State Park is less than an hour’s drive away from Gainesville.

The park protects the water of the Ichetucknee River’s head spring.

A man boating in Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Joanne Dale /

The first thing that will capture your attention is the water’s stunning blue color.

There are many different water-related activities you can enjoy in this park, like scuba diving, kayaking, and snorkeling.

A RV parked on the campsite of Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Joanne Dale /

Take a Deep Breath at Paynes Prairie Preserve Staet Park

Picturesque view of the road covered with green plants and trees at Paynes Prairie Preserve state park

Andriy Blokhin /

Located just 15 minutes outside Gainesville, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is the first-ever state preserve in Florida.

This tranquil location is the perfect place to escape to when you are tired of the city.

Paynes Prairie has a lot of activities lined up for visitors to enjoy, such as hiking, fishing, canoeing, and observing wildlife.

Boardwalk at Paynes Prairie Preserve Staet Park

Andriy Blokhin /

It’s home to almost 300 bird species, along with alligators, deer, and other animals.

You can go hiking along one of the park’s eight trails or climb up the 50-foot tall tower that overlooks the entire park.

Prepare to be awed—the views are panoramic and truly dynamic.

Alligator outside the swamp at Paynes Prairie Preserve Staet Park

Andriy Blokhin /

Final Thoughts

Even though it’s renowned as a college town, Gainsville boasts a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy.

It’s an excellent place for families and groups to visit with instructive and entertaining institutions to spark your curiosity.

Start planning your getaway to Gainsville, a family-friendly paradise!

© All rights reserved.