21 Best Things to do in Gainesville, Florida While on Holiday

things to do in gainesville

The city of Gainesville, albeit best known as being the home of the University of Florida, is much more than just a college town. It has a rich and illustrious history that dates back to the hunter-gatherer age, and many of its wild woods and marshes have been scrupulously preserved to the present day. Anyone looking to get away from it all will find themselves in a naturalist’s paradise here.

However, Gainesville is a bustling college town with lots to see and do for those looking for something more active during their vacation. There are shops and restaurants and malls, museums, nightclubs, and breweries, all of which are accessible.

The Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Florida Bat Houses, and the Harn Museum of Art are all worth seeing. A number of outdoor attractions, including Devil’s Millhopper State Park and the Morningside Nature Center, are conveniently located just outside of town.

It’s possible that you’re not sure where to begin. What are the most notable points of interest in the surrounding area? What are some of the best travel tips you can use to make the most of your vacation time?

Visit the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium

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Image credits: SF College

The Kika Silva Pla Planetarium, located on the Santa Fe College campus, will show you the wonders of the universe. The planetarium also offers entertaining, innovative presentations that integrate anything from music to laser art, in addition to regular “star shows” where you can explore the night sky without ever leaving your seat.

John Pla and his wife donated this planetarium in memory of his mother, Kika Silva Pla, features stunning displays about the universe, our ancient cultures, and the Earth. The SpacePark Show, for example, is modeled after a thrilling cosmic roller coaster experience. During eye-popping visual displays of stars, galaxies, supernovas, and black holes, the Music 360 Show blasts Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

The Kika Silva Pla Planetarium does not require you to be an astronomer to appreciate it. In fact, many of the visitors are children and families who simply want to relax and enjoy a celestial display similar to a movie. So, stop by the planetarium if you’ve never seen one before and let it transport you.

Vist the Florida Museum Of Natural History

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It’s a massive, expansive complex with everything from life-sized dinosaur bones to living butterfly rainforest, and it caters to people of all ages, genders, and interests. There are numerous displays where you can admire ancient animal remains.

You can go through leafy hallways and underwater domes that replicate real-life caverns, cliffs, rivers, bogs, and waterfalls if you’re a nature lover. Kids will be able to get their hands dirty with interactive games and activities in “discovery zones.” Information stations will provide exciting details about what they’re learning to mom and dad.

Don’t worry, it’s completely free? Only a few special displays will necessitate a ticket purchase. Everything else is completely free, making the Florida Museum of Natural History one of Gainesville’s greatest free attractions.

Take a Trip to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park

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Image credits: Florida State Parks

Gainesville is a landlocked city, so unlike other Florida vacation places, you won’t be able to visit a local beach. However, don’t assume that Gainesville is completely devoid of moisture. The Ichetucknee River, known for its brilliant blue waters, offers a variety of outdoor activities for a weekend retreat.
Swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving are all options: tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. You can have a good time even when you’re not in the water. The Great Florida Birding Trail runs through much of the park, and there are plenty of hiking and picnicking opportunities. It’s a fantastic spot to observe nature and wildlife.

Do you want to get a little wet and wild while you’re in Florida? Are you looking for some exciting summertime escapades that get your blood pumping? Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a must-see.

Visit the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

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The only park in Florida that is physically located in a sinkhole is Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park. Visitors can descend to the bottom through winding wooden steps and boardwalks that lead to an observation deck, which is more than 120 feet deep and 500 feet wide.
For various reasons, the sinkhole is a natural wonder. It’s not just full of water and limestone, but it’s also large enough to have three unique ecosystems.

Because of their distinct exposure to rain and sunlight, a marsh, a forest, and a sandhill all formed independently of one another. Many people joke about Florida being the end of the world, but visiting Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park may make you feel like you’re witnessing the end of the world firsthand.

The fact that so many animal bones were found scattered at its bottom gave it its demonic reputation. According to legend, the sinkhole was their final destination before entering hell.

Visit the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation

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Image credits: WUFT

The environment will change from paved asphalt to lush green hills if you travel a few miles outside of Gainesville. You’ve arrived at the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation if you saw this. The Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, founded by a pair of animal lovers, is an animal sanctuary that contains more than 25 species of rare and unusual animals.

Visitors can find cheetahs, pumas, lemurs, hyenas, giraffes, tigers, tortoises, and other animals there. Visitors can observe feeding demonstrations and walk right up to the habitat enclosures. Some of the more sociable cats will even extend out and greet you at the fence.

The Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation’s only drawback is that it is not open to the general public. You’ll need to plan a tour ahead of time, so phone ahead before flying to Florida.

Go Downtown Gainesville

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You could spend an entire weekend exploring its attractions, which range from old-fashioned movie theaters to cutting-edge shopping malls, and still not see everything. The sun-dappled streets are alive with the sights and sounds of commerce during the day.

If you want to eat out, go to the Paramount Grill for a burger or the Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company for a seafood platter. The Union Street Farmer’s Market is a great place to get fresh food if you like to cook your own meals.

Do you have money in your pocket that’s burning a hole in it? Explore the center plaza’s shops, cafes, booksellers, bakers, and souvenir shops. At night, downtown Gainesville comes alive even more. Every week of the year, the Hippodrome Theatrical hosts live theater performances, while the Swamphead Brewery provides ice-cold beer in thick-bottomed mugs.

Like Rockey’s Dueling Piano Bar, you can also try something different where pianists compete and receive music requests from the audience. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to spend your entire trip in Gainesville. The remainder of the city offers just too much to see and do. Consider downtown, however, if you’re seeking a suitable site to start your trip.

Take a Trip to the Bluefield Estate Winery

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The Bluefield Estate Winery, located just outside of Gainesville, is a family-run enterprise that began in a married couple’s kitchen. They wanted to brew their own wine, and after a few rounds of experimenting with grapes and blueberries grown locally, they thought they were onto something.

The Bluefield Estate Winery is now a tiny business located off the main path in the larger Gainesville area. It isn’t flashy, but it is genuine. Blueberry and muscadine grape vineyards dot the horizon, and each bottle of wine is handcrafted and corked.

During harvest season, the proprietors will allow you to choose your own berries for custom-made wines. Consider visiting the Bluefield Estate Winery in Gainesville if you’re searching for something different to do. It’ll make for a fantastic holiday story, as well as a fantastic bottle of booze.

Visit the Historic Haile Homestead

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Image credits: The Clio

This colonial property, also known as the “Haile Plantation House,” was erected in the 1850s for a white family and their slaves. It appears to be a typical old-fashioned Florida home from the exterior. The walls, on the other hand, convey a different tale on the inside. The Haile family scribbled all over their walls for reasons that have since been forgotten.

More than 12,500 words are used to cover everything from the kitchen to the master bedroom. There are Bible quotes, lists, signatures, anecdotes, blessings, and everyday reflections among them. There are also some drawings by aspiring painters strewn about.

The fact that the “talking walls” document both the Haile family’s and their slaves’ life is perhaps the most intriguing aspect. The house is transformed from a roadside curiosity into an extraordinary historic landmark thanks to this glimpse into authentic, first-person history.

Its historical value has even been recognized by the United States National Register of Historic Places. It isn’t for everyone to visit the Haile Homestead. It’s a somber reminder of Florida’s past as a slave state. However, if you like history, there are few places more authentic than a plantation house filled with the personal belongings of its owners.

Visit the Depot Park

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Image credits: Depot Park

Depot Park, which is open from dawn to dusk, is one of Gainesville’s liveliest attractions. Kids can run, jump, climb, and slide; adults can eat in the pavilion or play chess on a life-size chess set in the grass.

When you’re feeling hot, head to the “blue grotto,” where you can splash around in a small waterfall complete with water cannons, splash pad, and jets.

You might even be able to catch a special event at Depot Park if you plan beforehand. It organizes anything from fireworks displays to live bands for summer concerts, so all you have to do is coordinate your calendar and go to the nature park when there’s something fun going on.
Depot Park also has the advantage of not depleting your travel budget.

It’s one of the many free things to do in Gainesville, so all you have to pay is a couple of bucks to the ice cream man if he happens to come by!

View the Lake Alice

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Image credits: WUFT

Lake Alice is one of Florida’s lesser-known historical places. Around 1000 AD, it was home to members of the Alachua County, who are said to have built burial mounds nearby. Although times have changed, Lake Alice remains a peaceful and polite environment. It’s also one of America’s most gorgeous locations.

You can’t swim in the lake, but you can watch the birds, turtles, possums, and alligators slink along the shore. To gain a better perspective, there are many walking trails and viewing decks. There are a few sights along the beach that you might explore as well.

Many visitors end up strolling into the Baughman Center for solitary prayer or meditation, which is made of cypress wood and has floor-to-ceiling windows that reflect the light of the lake.
When the sun goes down, you can see more than 300,000 bats glide in and out of their home at the Bat House and Barn, a nature sanctuary.

Florida is a fun destination to visit, but it can also be exhausting. There’s no shame in needing a few minutes to relax and recharge next to a lovely lake. Allow Lake Alice to provide you with some much-needed calm during your journey.

Take a Trip to the West University Ave

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Image credits: Dwell Design Studio

While not exactly a vacation destination, West University Avenue is one of those spots in Gainesville where there is always something to do. It’s densely packed with pubs, clubs, restaurants, stores, gyms, and movie theaters, making it a lively part of town. It’s also one of Gainesville’s greatest nightlife locations. West University Ave is the place to be if you enjoy drinking and dancing!

On West University Ave., you can discover a turn-off to the natural reserves up north or the museums and art galleries down south. Put your salsa outfit on. For date night, slick your hair back. It’s time to bring some magic to Gainesville, and West University Ave will serve as your Hogwarts.

Visit Sweetwater Wetlands Park

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Image credits: Florida Springs Institute

There are many parks and reserves in Florida, but Sweetwater Wetlands Park stands out. This is true because it is a wetland area with plants and creatures that aren’t seen anywhere else in Gainesville. Have you ever wished to see an alligator snap at a wood stork, for example? Would you like to include photographs of rare marsh flowers and seeds in your scrapbook?

Sweetwater Wetlands Park is so remote that visitors must adhere to severe guidelines in order to enter. Because of the wildness of the area, birds, snakes, and gators, no cars are allowed on the paths, and pets are discouraged.

Go Watch Live Sports at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

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Image credits: Alligator

The Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, sometimes known as “the Swamp” by locals, is one of Florida’s largest. It has a capacity of about 90,000 people and has hosted a number of sporting events, concerts, ceremonies, championships, and pep rallies.

People travel from all around the state to see televised skits and live comedy performances. Celebrity guests frequently come, and it’s a fine old time that gets everyone in the mood for football. Of course, there are other, less well-known attractions at the stadium.

It is regularly used to host high school and collegiate bowl games. Concerts used to be regular, but they are becoming increasingly rare because of concerns over the turf. If you’re a football enthusiast, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Even in the off-season, one of Florida’s largest and most popular stadiums is certain to have something worth seeing.

Visit the Cade Museum For Creativity And Invention

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The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, which a real-life inventor founded, is one of the top venues in Florida for young people interested in science and technology. For starters, it’s chock-full of permanent exhibits, displays, and interactive stations where visitors can touch everything from machine parts to snakes preserved in fluid jars.
You and your children may easily lose hours wandering through the corridors, but don’t worry: volunteers are waiting around every bend to assist you in finding the next fascinating thing. If your family is planning on staying in Gainesville for a while, the museum’s weekend workshops may be of interest. They provide lessons where children may learn how to make slime, decorate skeletons, and identify the many parts of the brain.

Overall, the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is a pleasant and instructive stop in Gainesville that may just inspire a future Einstein in your family.

Visit the Lubee Bat Conservancy

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The Lubee Bat Conservancy is working to alter that. Bats are among the world’s most misunderstood creatures. The Lubee Bat Conservancy, located in the heart of Gainesville, is home to dozens of bat species, including several rare and endangered varieties. The establishment’s mission is to educate the public about these unexpectedly delicate species while also caring for individual animals in need of rehabilitation.

If you want to visit the Lubee Bat Conservancy, you’ll need to make an appointment, so don’t fly to Florida without contacting first. When you get there, though, it will be well worth the effort. You’ll get a private tour and get the opportunity to observe, feed, and adopt a bat symbolically.

Visit the 34th Street Wall

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Gainesville is home to the 34th Street Wall, which is unique to the city. It’s a massive 1,120 feet long, and it’s completely covered in graffiti. The initial objective of the 34th Street Wall, which was built several decades ago, was to prevent erosion on a nearby golf course.
It was the neighborhood’s pride and joy, and any “marking” was soon covered over with a fresh coat of paint. The artists, on the other hand, persisted. Words, drawings, messages, prayers, and announcements were added. They painted memorials to the victims of local homicides. For awareness efforts, they had celebrities pose with the wall.

While it is still unlawful to graffiti the 34th Street Wall today, no one enforces the law. It’s regarded as one of Gainesville’s most distinctive and vivid features. Some of the paint has over 250 layers, and people continue to add to it! The 34th Street Wall certainly qualifies as a site full of oddities and wonders.

Gainesville Raceway

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Do you get a whiff of gasoline? Do you hear the scream of brakes and the clamor of a rapt audience?

It comes from Gainesville Raceway, a dragstrip where both amateurs and professionals may live out their high-octane racing fantasies. The Gainesville Raceway is best known as the site of the NHRA GatorNationals. This annual drag racing event attracts over 135,000 spectators who come to see their favorite drivers compete head-to-head.
It does, however, conduct weekly and monthly races for those who do not have large sponsorships or a large following. The great thing about the Gainesville Raceway is that anyone with a fast car and enough nerve can make a name for themselves. Gainesville Raceway, on the other hand, is unrivaled in terms of thrills. On that Florida strip, it’s life or death!

Go Shopping in the Oaks Mall

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While not the largest mall in Florida, the Oaks Mall is one of the largest shopping areas in Gainesville, and it’s a fantastic spot to pick up some mementos before you go. It has a good mix of high-end stores and dirt-cheap vendor stalls, so you should be able to find something to fit your needs. There are stylish boutiques and jewelry stores, as well as charming booksellers and sweets stores.
Everything is on one floor, with maps written all throughout to assist weekend tourists. The mall also has a food court and a small children’s play area. You might even come upon the life-sized alligator statue that keeps a watchful eye on passing customers if you take the appropriate route.

The Oaks Mall isn’t one of those colossal, cutting-edge shopping centers, but it’s a pleasant place to end your visit to Gainesville. The Oaks Mall will be there for you if you forget to get your sister a commemorative “I heart Florida” hoodie at the last minute.

Take a Trip to the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

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Image credits: FRVTA

Visit the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens to get away from the city. They’re a tranquil sanctuary away from Gainesville’s raucous throng, and they’re especially relaxing if you need to unwind after an action-packed visit. The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are a group of gardens. Rock gardens, rose gardens, butterfly gardens, and bamboo gardens are all available. They have a beautiful arboretum and fields of flowers that go for miles.

They even have enormous lily pads flowing down their brooks that a full-grown toddler can ride. The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens’ best feature, however, is its annual calendar of special events. There’s a Spring Garden Festival with food and music in March, and in May, there’s a Moonlight Walk with lights and lanterns where you can stroll the grounds at night.

If you appreciate Florida travel advice, remember this one: Before choosing your vacation days, look at the calendar. You won’t want to miss out on the one-of-a-kind events that happen only once a year.

View Art at the Samuel P. Harn Museum Of Art

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Image credits: Visitgainesville

The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, also known as “the Harn,” is a fantastic museum in Gainesville. Not only does it have over 10,000 paintings to appreciate, but it is also completely free. You might begin your vacation by taking a tour of the various traditional and contemporary art galleries.

After you’ve finished admiring the inside art, take a walk across the grounds and gardens to experience a more natural form of beauty. Stay the on-site cafe or gift shop to round out your visit. There’s a reason the Harn is typically at the top of the list of free things to do in Gainesville.

You cannot often immerse yourself in so much history and culture in one place, especially when you don’t have to pay for it.

Visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

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Just 15 minutes south of downtown is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a 21,000-acre Savana. Imagine seeing bison and horses wandering freely in the wild right in front of your eyes. Or witnessing deer, alligators, and a variety of bird species while hiking a beautiful 16-mile track. Paynes Prairie, a former Seminole tribal territory, has such landscapes.
While hiking the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, keep an eye out for wildlife in their natural habitat. A 50-foot-high observation tower offers panoramic views of the savanna upfront. The prairie is scattered with lakes, which provide opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and boating on Lake Wauberg.

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