A drive through the outskirts of Gainesville feels like a drive through many of the small Florida towns that run through the middle of the state—quiet, slow-paced, surrounded by thick greenery and moss-draped oaks. But at the heart of the city, there’s a vibrant university scene that few other places can boast. Gainesville is largely centered around the University of Florida, and the school brings a unique vibe to an area that’s unlike any other place in the Sunshine State.
Downtown Gainesville buzzes with unique restaurants, cool bars, sultry nightclubs and hip coffee shops. It’s a great place to spend the day.
Book tickets for a show at the Hippodrome Theatre (25 SE Second Place, Gainesville; 352.375.4477; thehipp.org), one of the leading regional theaters in the country. In addition to its main stage productions, the theater also screens first-run foreign and limited-release films.
Bo Diddley Plaza (111 E. University Ave., Gainesville; 352.393.8202; bodiddleyplaza.com), named for the legendary musician and Gainesville native, sits at the heart of the historic downtown. The plaza has a standing free concert series on Friday nights and runs musical events and festivals throughout the year.
A university town is a great place to learn, both in and out of the classroom. Stop by one of Gainesville’s exceptional museums for an infusion of knowledge.
The Florida Museum (3215 Hull Road, Gainesville; 352.846.2000; floridamuseum.ufl.edu), on the university’s campus, is one of the top-five natural history museums in the nation. It has extensive displays on the waterways and wildlife of north Florida, as well as the Indigenous people who called this area home. Don’t miss its fossil collection, including a jaw of the giant megalodon shark.
The Harn Museum of Art (3259 Hull Road, Gainesville; 352.392.9826; harn.ufl.edu), also on campus, has 11 galleries dedicated to specific collections—African, Asian, modern and contemporary art and photography. The museum houses a permanent collection, as well as traveling exhibitions.
Outside Gainesville itself, the surrounding area has some of the most beautiful and remarkable landscapes in the state. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park (100 Savannah Blvd., Micanopy; 352.466.3397; florida- stateparks.org) is known for its herds of wild horses and bison. The wild horses are descendants of those brought by the Spanish in the 1500s; the bison arrived more recently as part of a State Park project. When wild bison once roamed the plains of the western United States, their territory extended as far south as northern Florida, so a herd of wild bison was introduced to Paynes Prairie in 1975 from Oklahoma as part of an effort to return the grass savannah to its native state. Today, the park has 21,000 untouched acres. The La Chula Trail is three miles round-trip and offers excellent opportunities for spotting wildlife on the hoof.