9 Fun Things to do in Gainesville, Florida
Gainesville, Florida is often recognized as the home to one of the state’s most well-known institutions, the University of Florida. However, thanks to the city’s tasty food scene, top-notch trails and outdoor venues, and cultural activities, Gainesville is a travel destination in its own right.
My daughter, Taylor, and I visited Gainesville, Florida in the spring. We were very impressed! I didn’t expect upscale museums, spectacular meals, or incredible outdoor offerings. Here are nine fun things that we recommend for you to do during your visit to Gainesville, Florida!
#1 Harn Museum of Art
This intimate art museum packs a powerful punch and is one of only three museums in the United States with Frida Kahlo exhibits. Admission to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art is free and well worth the visit. The Harn Museum contains African, Asian, modern, and contemporary art and amazing photography. It is a University of Florida affiliate.
#2 The 352 Walls
Impressive art murals are all over Gainesville, Florida. Check out the 352 Walls mural tour webpage to see a map including the popular addresses of Loosey’s, Make.Work, Cowboys Saloon, Market Street Pub, The Top, and North Downtown Parking Garage. Artists from around the world have shared their eye-catching talents with the city of Gainesville for this popular project.
#3 Florida Museum of Natural History
The Florida Museum of Natural History has five permanent exhibits: South Florida People & Environments, Florida fossils, Northwest Florida Waterways & Wildlife, Butterflies, and Exploring Our World. This impressive history museum also features limited run special attractions. During our visit, it was Frogs: A Chorus of Colors. We got to see live frogs from around the world and learn about their habitats, importance to the ecosystem, and hear frog calls. Children will love all of the special features geared towards their ages.
#4 Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens were original and refreshing, unlike any that I have been to. The gardens were organized in a simple, yet effective pattern that was not overwhelming. Best of all, everything was easy to identify as it was labeled. My favorite parts were the Herb Harden and walk through the Chinese royal bamboo forest. The almost musical bamboo clanged together in the wind; the sound was enchanting. Pace yourself because the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is huge. Make sure to visit the hummingbird garden!
#5 University of Florida Campus Tour
The University of Florida’s 160-year-old campus is enormous (2,000 acres). It is easier to see by car rather than on foot, as there are 900 buildings around the campus. The University of Florida generates a huge amount to Florida’s economy through their research programs.
Taylor and I did a self-guided tour from the campus website suggestions and map. We walked through the student union and enjoyed seeing groups of students busying themselves in a variety of activities. Taylor, a huge football fan, was thrilled to see the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. We were shocked by the number of colorful Vespas parked around campus.
#6 Florida Fun Bikes
Gainesville’s party pub on wheels is a blast! Pedal your way around town with a group of no more than 12 others. This is a great activity for fun or team building. You can cycle around town and sightsee or pair your cycling with food and drink stops along the way. This bike ride is a great way to see Gainesville’s 352 Wall Mural Tour. The owners of Florida Fun Bikes are entertaining and keep the energy level high. Bring your own drinks; coolers are onboard to keep them chilled.
Our tour included the food and drink option; we stopped at Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que, Palomino Pool Hall, and Whiskey House (now closed). I’ve seen this kind of tour across the country but this was my first time engaging in one. I highly recommend this activity for fun, laughs, and networking.
#7 The Hippodrome State Theatre
Referred to as “The Hipp“, Gainesville’s historic state theatre is a lovely regional professional place to take in a cultural performance. This elegant town centerpiece screens movies and offers live theatre performances. The theatre is beautiful and seats 222 people per performance. The Hipp serves popcorn, packaged snacks, and drinks in the lobby. Taylor and I saw Becky’s New Car, a light-hearted comedy about middle age and the paths we choose in life.
#8 La Chua Trail
The La Chua Trail is a fantastic spot to take an easy hike through sinkholes in a beautiful natural setting. The trail is partially on a handicapped accessible elevated boardwalk. This gorgeous hiking spot is at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, near Micanopy, Florida. Come for the abundant wildlife and wide array of birds; it is a top spot for viewing alligators. I was shocked at how up close and personal we were with the gators.
#9 Butterfly Rainforest
The Butterfly Rainforest is located at the Florida Museum of Natural History but required a separate admission ticket. It housed thousands of exotic butterflies in the most incredible 6,400 square foot venue I have ever seen. Tropical plants and foliage provided the perfect spot for these beautiful butterflies to land, making it possible to capture incredible pictures of this delicate species. The “Wall of Wings” inside of the museum displayed thousands of butterflies from around the world. As a travel writer, I have visited many places like this around the country; the Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville, Florida was far superior to any other of its type that I have been to.
Where to Stay in Gainesville
The Doubletree by Hilton, near the interstate, was a smart choice for our visit to Gainesville. Taylor and I were delighted with the fun and vibrant lobby and its stylish decor. Our room was spacious, had comfy beds, a mini-fridge, and a balcony that overlooked the courtyard.
A noteworthy feature about this property was the outdoor lobby bar with welcoming seating groups and an enormous TV wall.
So Much to Do in Gainesville
I loved Gainesville! I had no idea that this college town has so much to see and do, and Taylor and I barely scratched the surface!
Bring the whole family to Gainesville, Florida for an educational and cultural weekend getaway. Better yet, pair it with a typical Disney vacation for a few days of unwinding, since it is only two hours away.
I hope to visit Gainesville, Florida again soon and watch the town grow to an even greater magnitude.
Gainesville Photo Gallery
For where to eat in Gainesville, check out our 4 Places You Must Eat in Gainesville post.
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