Found in sunny northern Florida, Gainesville is primarily known for being home to the University of Florida. There’s a list of hidden things to do in Gainesville, FL, on the university’s campus, like art and natural history museums. There are also plenty of things to do with kids in Gainesville, FL, such as visiting the Butterfly Rainforest and Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.
For older kids, one of the best teenage things to do in Gainesville, FL, in summer is to go tubing in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. As for free things to do in Gainesville, FL, visit Depot Park and spot live alligators at Lake Alice. Keep reading for more ideas of fun things to do in Gainesville this weekend.
1. Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is a natural wonder. While Florida is known for its sandy shoreline and sunny weather, this park has a 120-ft deep limestone sinkhole. Take the stairs into its depths to discover a mini rainforest, which remains lush year-round thanks to small streams trickling down the sinkhole’s slopes. There are interpretive displays throughout Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, which regularly hosts guided walking tours and yoga classes that suit all fitness levels.
2. Florida Museum of Natural History
Located at the University of Florida, the Florida Museum of Natural History features exhibits on Florida’s unique natural habitats and cultural history. Its permanent collection includes 40 million specimens and cultural artifacts, including one of the world’s largest butterfly and moth collections. Inside, you’ll find the Butterfly Rainforest (featured below), the hands-on Discovery Zone, Florida Fossils, and Northwest Florida: Waterways and Wildlife. Outside, there’s the Fossil Plant Garden and a Florida Wildflowers and Butterfly Garden.
3. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Named after the nearby Lake Kanahapa, the Kanahapa Botanical Gardens are home to 24 collections, which visitors can see from the garden’s 1.5-mile paved walkway. It’s home to both Florida’s largest public bamboo display, and the southeastern United States’ largest herb garden. The best time to visit is June to September when most plants are in full bloom. Kanahapa Botanical Gardens is also a popular wedding venue and hosts special events throughout the year.
4. Downtown Gainesville
Described as the city’s symbolic heart, downtown is home to a smattering of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, and parks. Take a peek inside the independent shops at Union Street Station’s pedestrian mall; see a show at the Hippodrome Theatre; listen to some live music at a handful of bars; and dine at establishments like Crane Ramen, Original American Kitchen, and Flaco’s Cuban Bakery. Plus, popular Depot Park is just a stone’s throw away from downtown.
5. Butterfly Rainforest
As mentioned, the Butterfly Rainforest is located inside the Florida Museum of Natural History. The amazing live exhibit is not only home to hundreds of free-flying butterflies, but birds, turtles, fish, and tropical plants as well. Visitors get the opportunity to walk through the lush living ecosystem and see the animals alongside tropical butterflies feeding on fresh-cut fruit. A visit to the Butterfly Rainforest is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Gainesville.
6. Depot Park
Depot Park is the city’s most-used public space, with a little something for every member of the family. This includes a children’s playground and the Blue Grotto Splash Pad, which operates year-round as long as the weather remains above 70 degrees. Depot Park also has paved walking and bike trails, covered picnic pavilions, a conservation area, and scenic ponds. Check out its calendar for upcoming festivals, fun runs, and more events happening at Depot Park.
7. San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is home to one of the state’s finest and largest remaining mature hardwood forests. Animals that call this towering forest home include bobcats, white-tailed deer, turkey, and gray foxes. It’s a popular destination for hikers, bikers, bird watchers, and equestrian enthusiasts. There are 20 miles of cross-country biking trails that suit all levels, while the southern part of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park only has designated hiking trails.
8. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is home to eight major natural springs, which together make the six-mile Ichetucknee River. Surrounded by birds and other wildlife, it’s a perfect 72 degrees year-round. With crystal clear water, people take to the river to snorkel, dive, swim, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard. However, the most popular activity from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day is tubing from Ichetucknee Springs State Park’s Southern Entrance, where there are three tubing adventures available.
9. Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is the United States’s only Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo on a college campus. It’s both a community zoo and a training facility for students enrolled in the Zoo Animal Technology Program. The zoo is home to over 200 animals from 70 species. This includes caracal, ocelot, American alligator, and Galapagos tortoise. Because it’s a training facility, the zoo is one of the city’s most affordable and family-friendly attractions.
10. Paynes Prairie
Speaking of fun things to do in Gainesville, pay Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park a visit. Florida’s first state preserve, it’s biologically, historically, and geologically unique. Nowhere else in the state can you find wild-roaming horses and bison alongside 300 bird species, alligators, and deer. One of its eight trails is the 16-mile Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. Other things to see include the 50-foot high observation tower and Lake Waueberg, which comes equipped with a campground.
11. University of Florida
The University of Florida is a top-ranked public research university. It features gothic revival architecture and 20 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The university’s Century Tower is dedicated to students lost in World Wars I and II and plays a rendition of Florida Chimes on the quarter-hour from 8 am to 8 pm. Notable University of Florida alum includes TV personality Erin Andrews, actress Allison Miller, and sports star Tim Tebow.
12. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Another place to visit on the University of Florida campus is the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Popularly known as The Swamp, it’s the home venue of the Florida Gators, the university’s football team. As the state’s largest football stadium (and one of the loudest/most intimidating in the country), it has a capacity of just over 88,000 spectators. It’s named in honor of Ben Hill Griffin Jr, a citrus magnate, alum, and major benefactor.
13. Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
Located on the University of Florida campus, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art is one of the largest university art museums in the United States. Its permanent collection includes over 8000 pieces of contemporary art, Asian and African art, and photography. The museum’s claim to fame is that it’s the permanent home of Claude Monet’s Champe d’avoine (Oat Field). Museum Nights involves an interactive after-hours museum experience on the second Thursday of the month.
14. Gainesville Raceway
The Gainesville Raceway is a quarter-mile dragstrip that has hosted the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) GatorNationals since 1970. One of the world’s fastest tracks, drivers have clocked speeds of up to 300 mph at the raceway. GatorNationals happens every March in front of over 135,000 fans. The Gainesville Raceway also hosts weekly racing events throughout the year. A visit to the raceway is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Gainesville.
15. Lake Alice
The University of Florida campus is home to an assortment of attractions, include Lake Alice. You can spot live alligators at the lake, as well as softshell turtles. Surrounding the lake is the Lake Alice Conservation Area, the University Gardens, the UF Bat Houses (yes, they are houses for bats rather than students), and the Baughman Center. Fortunately, there are trails around Lake Alice, so you can see its friendly residents from a comfortable distance.
16. Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is foremost a conservation and education facility that rescues exotic wildlife in need and preserves them in their natural habitats. It currently houses 110 animals from 35 species, which includes some endangered animals. At Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, you can see lots of big cat varieties, like an Amur leopard, tiger, cheetah, and jaguar, as well as an Indian rhino and warthog. Visit their website for specific opening times.