The Getaway
Gallivanting in Gainesville Is a Pleasant Way To Holiday

Gainesville was initially known as Hog Town because the local Seminoles kept pigs. These days, this north-central Florida city is mainly considered a bustling university town. Disney World is just under two hours away, and there are no beaches here because its slap bang between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Still, Gainesville's Cracker-style houses, oak-lined and Spanish mossed avenues, small-town roots, and proximity to rural Florida have their appeal. And the thriving arts and culture scene anchored by the University of Florida and the Hippodrome downtown makes for a memorable stay.


01 Bat House and Bat Barn

Near Lake Alice on the north end of Museum Road, what looks like two giant birdhouses on stilts is an abode for Brazilian free-tailed bats, the world's largest in fact. For more than three decades, these nocturnal creatures have assembled here during the day before leaving their roost en masse to find a meal. Why you might ask, are they so generously accommodated? Well, bat houses make it easier to contain the smell of guano. You can head to the observation area here just before dusk, and you'll likely get goosies when hundreds of thousands of vampire cousins emerge and take flight. It's the best free 20-minute show ever, right on UF's campus.


02 Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Sunset Over Paynes Prairie in Gainesville, Florida dosecreative / Getty Images

While you can spot the Sunshine State's famous alligators from the banks of Lake Alice, you're much better off going to Paynes Prairie Preserve in quaint Micanopy for encounters in the wild. The savannah in this National Natural Landmark is home to roaming bison, Spanish cattle, deer, armadillos, sandhill cranes, turtles, and elusive wild horses, not to mention hundreds of bird species. The prairie used to be a cattle ranch in the 17th century and a fish camp in the 19th century before the sink dried up. If you follow the park's guidance and take precautions, you'll be perfectly safe on the La Chua trail, but remember to flee from the UF mascot in a zig-zag if necessary. Gulp.


03 Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Located in Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a popular place for tubing, kayaking and other water sports

Just 45 minutes away, you can spend the day floating on the gorgeous spring-fed Ichetucknee River. Solo tubing is great if you need to get away from pressing deadlines or chill out for a few hours but go in a group for maximum fun and get there early before the route hits capacity. You can choose how long you want to laze around by launching from different points, and in the summer, there's a free shuttle service between the north and south entrances. In the winter, you can opt to go picnicking, kayaking, or canoeing rather than swimming.


04 Florida Museum of Natural History

Another on-campus highlight, this museum has a delightful butterfly rainforest vivarium. It's a 6,400 square feet slice of the tropics and is the world's largest butterfly research facility. Over four stories, 60 species of these beautiful creatures flutter about, drawing wows from visitors. It's a very zen and enjoyable diversion for all ages. Check out the traveling exhibits, the Hall of Florida Fossils, and the Native American art and culture displays too.


05 High Springs

High Springs is 20 miles away from Gainesville, so you don't have to drive too far for a fantastic day trip. This laidback small town has antique stores, art galleries, artisanal goods, eateries, and loads to do outdoors. The water temperatures never dip below a comfy 72 degrees, and excellent snorkeling and diving adventures await.


06 Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Victoria lily pads in a garden

You don't have to be a horticultural expert to find these 62 acres of botanical gardens enchanting. There are seasonal giant lily pads on Lake Kanapaha, some of which may be record-breaking at 8 feet wide. And when you're done taking in the water lilies, there's one of the largest herb gardens in the U.S. to stroll through and subtly sniff. The bamboos sing when it's windy, and you can feed the fish to round off the outing.


07 Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for her novel "The Yearling" about a boy who adopted a deer. She lived on a citrus farm in Cross Creek, about 20 minutes southeast of Gainesville. An excursion to her former home, where she wrote the story, is worth including in your itinerary for a taste of old Florida. The property is now a National Historic Landmark with walking trails.


08 Tu Viện A Nan Buddhist Temple and Statue Park

This temple, built in 2010, is relatively new. Whether you're religious or not, there's much to appreciate here, including the shaded park, calming meditation pavilions, and tall Buddhist statues from Vietnam that collectively weigh around 85 tons. The space is often used for group classes, and you can check the venue's calendar for special events and ceremonies.


09 Harn Museum of Art

The Cultural Plaza is also home to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, with its impressive range of approximately 7,000 artworks from across the globe. The museum is spacious and flows well from one exhibit to the next. The bottom floor has a lovely café if you're feeling peckish after all the perusing, and you can walk around the Japanese garden on site too. If you're keen on an outdoor gallery, make the short trip to the 352 Walls urban art project. It's vibrantly colorful and has been delighting locals and visitors since 2015.


10 Depot Park

Depot Park is a fab place to while away leisure time in the city. Formerly the site of an old train station, today you can sunbathe, cycle, walk around the ponds and wetland, or take kids to the splash zone and numerous playgrounds. During the festive season, twinkly lights add Christmas cheer, and there are fireworks on New Year's Eve.


11 Alfred A. Ring Park

Nestled in the heart of Gainesville, Alfred A. Ring Park is a hidden gem that offers a tranquil escape from the city's hustle. This scenic 1.5-mile loop trail, winding alongside Hogtown Creek, is perfect for nature lovers and photographers alike. The park's highlight is the scenic overlook, where the clear water of Glen Springs merges with the tannic water of Hogtown Creek, creating a mesmerizing natural spectacle. Don't miss the koi pond, where you can unwind and enjoy a moment of serenity.


12 Loblolly Woods

For those who appreciate the whispers of nature, Loblolly Woods is a must-visit. This 2.7-mile loop trail, tucked away in the middle of Gainesville, offers a peaceful retreat with its well-defined trails and charming boardwalks. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the variety of feathered friends that call this stretch of woods home. The Hogtown Creek water feature adds a soothing backdrop to your exploration, making it a perfect spot for a reflective walk or a leisurely hike.


13 Matheson History Museum

Step back in time at the Matheson History Museum, located in the heart of downtown Gainesville. This museum, housed in the historic 1867 Matheson House, offers a fascinating glimpse into Alachua County and Florida's past. With a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits, the museum showcases a range of historical artifacts that tell the story of the region's evolution. Whether you're a history buff or just curious, the museum's local history library and archives are a treasure trove of information.


14 Artwalk Gainesville

Immerse yourself in Gainesville's vibrant art scene with Artwalk Gainesville, a free, self-guided tour that showcases the city's dynamic visual art, live performances, and events. Held on the last Friday of each month, this cultural extravaganza transforms downtown Gainesville into a bustling hub of creativity. Wander through galleries, meet local artists, and experience the artistic pulse of the city in a way that's both engaging and inspiring.


15 Downtown High Springs Artwalk

Just a short drive from Gainesville, the Downtown High Springs Artwalk offers a quaint and artistic experience. This monthly event features live painting, exhibit receptions, and unique store discounts, making it a delightful excursion for art enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. As you stroll through the cobblestone streets of historic High Springs, you'll encounter a charming blend of artwork and meet a diverse array of artists, adding a colorful touch to your Gainesville adventure.


Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.