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Ten Awesome Things To Do in Gainesville

It’s Back to School: Awesome Things to do in Gainesville

It’s back to school and time to discover 10 Awesome Things to do in Gainesville ranging from the Butterfly Rainforest, to Payne’s Prairie Preserve and Devil’s Millhopper State Park.

Written by Robin Draper; Reprinted including photos, courtesy of Visit Gainesville

I am a University of Florida alumna. But it’s been awhile since I have returned to Gainesville. So this year, our family decided to ”go back to school” for a vacation. And after rediscovering the area, it is now one of our favorites. And here are our 10 Awesome reasons why you might want to visit soon:

Florida Museum of Natural History

The Florida Museum of Natural History

We began our adventure at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus. The full sized mastodon and mammoth, giant shark jaws and ancient fossils of prehistoric animals ignited our imaginations. The Northwest Florida exhibit provided a window into Florida’s cultural and historical past as we walked through a limestone cave and peered into a mangrove forest, while the South Florida exhibit displayed a 1564 Calusa leader’s home. But the stroll through the museum’s tropical Butterfly Rainforest with more than 1,500 free-flying butterflies dazzled us all.

Butterfly Rainforest, Florida Museum of Natural History

University of Florida Bat House & Barn

As we continued our adventure we decided to visit a place we had heard of but never seen – the famous University of Florida Bat House. During a magnificent sunset, we viewed more than 250,000 bats emerging from the Bat House and adjacent Bat Barn. Watch the northern sky as a large dark mass swirls against the twilight sky as bats search for their dinner of flying insects.

Historic Haile Homestead

Haile Homestead

Local history is clearly evident in the 1856 Haile Homestead, once a cotton plantation, constructed and farmed by slave laborers. Of special note is the fascinating “Talking Walls” where the Haile family (of 14 children) recorded their history with more than 12,500 words through daily journals, poetry, recipes and drawings.

Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Sculpted by Mother Nature, Payne’s Prairie Preserve is magical, whether observing wildlife, or just enjoying the outdoors. A 50-foot hike up the observation tower provides a view of this geographical marvel where wild horses and bison graze and eagles soar. For a little serenity, just stop and savor a moment under the moss-draped oak canopy while listening to the songbirds call.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

One of Gainesville most popular destinations is a visit to the Kanapaha Botantical Gardens. Seasonal flowers, ferns and palms are just a few of its wonders, but the Children’s Garden was easily our favorite with special plants, fish ponds and waterfalls. Another vivid memory was the cathedral-like Bamboo garden where we listened to the whistling wind create an amazingly peaceful sound. And don’t miss the giant Victoria water lilies. It’s a perfect place to pack a lunch and enjoy the splendor.

Hippodrome State Theatre

Hippodrome State Theatre

Affectionately known as the “Hipp,” Gainesville’s Hippodrome State Theatre is housed downtown in a century-old Palladium Classical Revival building that once housed a post office and courtroom. Open daily for shows, check the listing of Broadway and off-Broadway shows for a first-rate performance.

The Retirement Home for Horses

The Retirement Home for Horses

Admission fee: Two Carrots. Now that’s a bargain. See 126 horses, 2 donkeys and 1 mule on 335 acres. Saturday is the day to visit Mill Creek Farm providing an equine sanctuary for older, neglected and abandoned horses roaming freely in the pastures.

Matheson Museum

The Matheson Home

The Matheson Museum brings to life the history of Gainesville, Alachua County and North Florida. Fascinating Alachua County history ranging from the earliest Timucuan tribes through the 20th century is well presented. Your visit includes the Matheson and Tison Tool Museums, as well as one of Gainesville’s oldest historical homes, the antebellum Matheson House. Complete your visit with a stop at the adjacent botanical park.

Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo

Open to the public, this low-key Santa Fe College student-run teaching zoo is worth the trip. The 10-acre shady wooded setting provided a comfortable setting to observe more than 200 animals. Meandering at our own pace, highlights included monkeys, otters, tree kangaroos, a gibbon family and lemurs. The playground was also a hit while we enjoyed a relaxing picnic.

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

A mini rainforest of lush vegetation surrounds the 120 ft. deep sinkhole that received its name from its funnel-shaped hole (mill hopper), and the fossilized animal remains discovered at the bottom. Today, visitors discover its beauty by descending more than 200 steps to the blue-green aqua colored pool at the base, now a National Natural Landmark. Florida’s fascinating natural history is illustrated in the park’s interpretive displays.

Our trip to Gainesville was amazingly fun but the added bonus was that we learned so much about the area while experiencing unique places. These were genuine and special moments as a family – ones that are now a precious memory.

More Authentic Florida’s Gainesville area travel stories:

Tubing Florida’s Ichetucknee River

Visit Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Homestead

Cane Grinding: A Taste of Authentic Florida (at Dudley Farm)

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