Fun things to do in Gainesville, Florida

Florida is the fun state of America – it’s the one place every American wants to visit, and the most-desired retirement location in the country. The state’s associated with pleasant weather, water-based adventure sports, swimming with dolphins, and…shall we say, impulsive people?

If you’re visiting the lovely city of Gainesville in Florida, we hope you’ve booked a room for at least a week, because that place is packed full of interesting places to visit! If you have less time on your hands we’ve done our best to compile this list of the best things to do in Gainesville, FL!

We’ve listed locations based on categories, so you can pick and choose the sort of thing you like. Now on we go!

  1. Wildlife experiences

The Butterfly Rainforest (in the Florida Museum of Natural History) is hands-down the best place for a wildlife experience. The feeling is ethereal – having butterflies flutter around you, and observing them up close. And they’re such friendly creatures too! I swear, it’s like they actually enjoy sitting on people. The place doesn’t have an entrance fee per se; they accept whatever donation you’d like to give ($6 is recommended for adults).

The museum has insects and various other exciting exhibits. It’s fun for children and adults alike – we really recommend it!

The Santa Fe zoo is really fun, as is the Lubee Bat Conservancy – they have fruit bats! If you enjoy the bat conservancy you can also check out the Bat House. You’d expect the places to be goth-looking and eerie, but they’re actually quite pretty.

If you want wildlife that’s a little more wild, try the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation. They have giraffes, lions, tigers – pretty much every cool animal you can think of. It’s not a zoo, so you can rest assured the animals are happy living here – not to say they aren’t happy at a zoo!

You can also try the La Chua Trail, the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail, the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. These are all great for wildlife watching.

  2. Gardens and parks

If you’re more of a nature person and feel at home outside near greenery, you’ll love Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. The scenery is stunning, the air feels different (cooler, fresher), and the place is amazingly atmospheric. Have you ever daydreamed about the perfect forest? This garden is my idea of it.

If you’re looking for slightly more exciting things to do in Gainesville, try out the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park. It’s a mini-rainforest with a guided tour, and it has sinkholes! Those are incredibly cool (and also somewhat scary).

We also recommend the Wilmot Gardens University of Florida, UF Organic Garden, and the Family Garden – the last two are organic farms, and you’ll see some gorgeous fresh produce in summer. You can buy some right off the plant!

On a lazy day when you want to sit quietly and watch the sunset, you can visit the Alfred A. Ring Park, the Bivens Arm Nature Park, Sweetwater Wetlands Park, or you could even try the slightly less-popular Boulware Spring Nature Park. Spend time people-watching, and enjoy the scenery around you.

The area has a lot of nature trails as well, so you can go on a nice long walk, or go biking. Watch birds, spot interesting trees, and observe nature. You can get a full list of available trails from AllTrails, where they’re sorted by length, difficulty and other factors.

  3. Adventure sports

Have you ever been skydiving? Do you want to go? Awesome! One of the most fun things to do in Gainesville FL is skydiving. It’s fun, it’s affordable, and you’ll be with a professional so you’ll be perfectly safe. The feeling of being airborne is indescribable. There are lots of places you can choose from – Skydive Palatka, Skydive DeLand, Skydive City…many others. Check on Groupon and Yelp for deals!

Personally, I prefer water-based adventure sports because I know how to swim – and also because there’s more variety in them. You could go scuba diving, snorkeling, diving, speed boating, waterskiing, or rent a water scooter. It’s wonderful!

You can rent a boat (speedboat, deck boat, party boat) from Lake Area Watersports – or from Boatsetter! Try your hand at some water polo – it’s weird and super fun! Gainesville Water Polo and Gator Water Polo are good.

You can also go scuba diving, snorkeling or diving – the Devil’s Dev Prehistoric Spring is a gorgeous place, as is Ginnie Springs Outdoors. It has crystal clear, cool water, and the caves there look gorgeous. You’ll be hungry after your adventure, so head to their snack bar – they have reasonably priced stuff. You can also try out KP Hole, although in my opinion that’s not the best place – it’s also a bit far from the city.

The Santa Fe Canoe Outpost is good too – albeit a slightly different kind of experience (in a good way). Canoeing is exciting – and often humorous!

  4. It’s party time!

All the party animals out here raise your hands! If you visit Florida and don’t go partying, you’re missing out. No-one parties quite like a Floridian. Here are some of the best places to go out, meet new people, and have fun. The nightlife in Florida is great, so you should experience it! If you’re looking for fun things to do in Gainesville, you can’t do better than the local karaoke places.

Loosey’s in downtown Gainesville, the Stage 7 Karaoke Bar, Applebee’s Grill & Bar, Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub and Munegin’s on 13th are some of the best. They’re fantastic karaoke places – the music is loud, the people are nice, and the place is lively. The food, it goes without saying, is worth every penny.

There are lots of other awesome places that have karaoke and trivia (Boca Fiesta, for example – they’re lovely), so go bar hopping and see what looks the best to you.

Do you want to try a bit of gambling? It has a bad rep, but casinos are certainly exciting – especially if you win some money. So go out and try your luck at High Dive, the Hilton University casino, Hampton Inn (it’s beautiful!), or the La Quinta Inn. You’ll win some and lose some, but you’ll enjoy every last one!

Also visit some of their comedy clubs for a good laugh – the Bonkerz Comedy Club, Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar (stand-up comedy), and The Midnight.

  5. The best places to eat

It’s time for a good meal – and Gainesville has some really cool restaurants and eateries. I’m a pizza person, so let’s start with some of the best pizza places in the city.

Satchel’s Pizza, Blaze Pizza, and Big Lou’s NY-style are great. For picky eaters like kids, Pizza Hut is a safe choice. If you like deals and discounts, try out Gumby’s or CiCi’s Pizza (I personally like the latter more). They have a discount coupon available on Groupon for a limited time. God, their pizzas are good!

If you’d prefer some Italian, you can choose from Francesca’s Trattoria, Manuel’s Vintage Room (charming, but pricey), Napolatanos, Carabba’s Italian Grill, Pomodoro Café, and of course the local Olive Garden.

Talking of things to do in Gainesville – visit a winery! The area has some lovely ones, with Bluefield Estate Winery being especially visit-worthy. Plus, they’re offering 46% off on Groupon (wine tasting for four and two bottles of wine for $30). We also recommend the Island Grove Wine Company, which is a short distance away but has some unique wines (like the blueberry wine).

The Gainesville area is fantastic for wining and dining – no matter what cuisine you like, there’ll be the perfect restaurant for you. Look for deals on Yelp and Groupon, and always remember to call to check the restaurant’s timing before heading over!

Honorary mentions

These things didn’t make our top list, because we couldn’t find enough items in the same category that we liked. However, they’re all wonderful and deserve your time. So make sure you go check them out!

  •         The Florida Museum of Natural History –They have very interesting natural exhibits, from skeletons to butterflies and other insects. They also have limited time exhibits based on ocean life, climate change, extinct creatures and more. Don’t miss it!
  •         Kika Silva Pla Planetarium – Their name sounds like a clerical error, but once you’re in there all thoughts of it will fly out of your head. The universe is unimaginably large and holds numerous secrets. At this planetarium, you can begin to get some idea of both…
  •         Thomas Center – If you’re interested in history and architecture, this “beautifully restored Mediterranean Revival-style hotel” should interest you!

So these were some of the best things to do around Gainesville. We hope you liked this list! The city has so much to offer that it’d be impossible to have a comprehensive list, but we’ve tried to be impartial and choose the most popular spots and/or the best ones for this time of the year. Have fun in Florida!

A Day in Motion is a travel blog that aims to cover all the best places around the world and introduce something fresh and new to the mix. Stay tuned for exciting new posts that’ll change the way you travel!

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