Gainesville is far more than your average college town. Gainesville is known for world-class education, health care, culture, and is a noted destination for outdoor recreation. Nature, education and beauty can be found all over town.
Although it is a town full of opportunities, it can be quite hard to find them. Many of the best places are well-kept secrets and off the beaten path. We created this guide just for you. Follow these suggestions and you are guaranteed to have a fabulous time.
DAY 1: HISTORY + ARTS
Morning: Florida Museum of Natural History and the Butterfly Garden
After you have had a hearty breakfast at Covey Kitchen + Cocktails, it's time to get going. Start by making your way over to The Florida Museum of Natural History. The museum is essentially the official bank for Florida's culture, history, ecology and natural resources. This is a unique opportunity to explore exhibits and learn about Florida's surprising history from prehistoric days when giant sloths and gargantuan crocodiles roamed the state, to modern-day.
The museum is home to a collection of more than 10 million butterfly and moth specimens (it is one of the largest collections of Lepidoptera in the world, rivaling that of London's Natural History Museum). You can actually see researchers, behind glass plate windows, working on the collections, living and preserved. To meet some of these beauties (the butterflies, not the researchers), steps into the living Butterfly Rainforest (there is a small entry fee). It is a manicured tropical paradise. Dozens of species flutter around this lush rainforest replica, and if lucky, they will land on you.
......Instagram Moment: Butterfly Garden......
Noon: The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
Less than a dozen steps from The Florida Museum of Natural History, is The Harn Museum of Art, one of the largest university art museums in the South. The Harn collections include African, Asian, modern, contemporary and photography from all over the world. If you are looking to be awed and inspired, then this is the perfect place to indulge your creative appetite. Exhibits range from stunning, hand-carved tribal masks from Africa to more than 3,500 works in the Asian art collection. Temporary exhibits are sure to bring you back in the future. Breaking the Frame is a 2020-21 temporary exhibit that celebrates work by important women artists. This exhibit also marks the Harn's 30th anniversary and celebrates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote. Be sure to stop by the gift shop and ask to see any student-designed products. In Spring 2021, The shop featured two silk scarf designs by Mr. German Monetti. One design is of the Century Tower and the other a road map of campus. Both are stunning and either will make a great gift.
Night: Dinner at Hogtown
Make your way to the heart of downtown and discover a whole new part of town. After spending all day in the past with museums, it is time to jump into the present. Hogtown, named after the settlement and trading post started by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539) is a charismatic BBQ joint with a tasteful and bountiful whiskey bar. Don't miss the opportunity to try the pulled pork and definitely order the mac and cheese. Be sure to have a cocktail such as the Black Pearl with Mutiny Spiced Rum, elderflower liquor, blackberry, lemon and ginger.
Extra Credit: Go Gators
Being in the same town as the University of Florida has many benefits. One is that there is always a sports activity to cheer on. In the Fall, football reigns supreme. In Winter, it's all about basketball. In the Spring, baseball, volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, track and field, diving, golf, and tennis are in full swing. Be sure to check out the gymnastics that take place in the O'Connell Center. The UF team ranks high and they are a thrill to watch. For a full sports calendar, visit https://floridagators.com/calendar/
DAY 2: NATURE IS NURTURING
Morning: Day trip to Ichetucknee Springs
As Aristotle said, "In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." The natural springs of Florida truly are a marvel. Geologists estimate that there are more than 1,000 springs in Florida, possibly the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth. Just a short drive away from Hotel ELEO are natural springs with water so clear you will want to jump in (and you can!). Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a unique spring-fed river that is a National Natural Landmark and is reported to be Florida's most pristine spring-fed river. Eight major springs feed its crystal-clear waters, and it has become Florida's most popular tubing destination. Additional activities include birding, Geocaching, Scuba Diving, hiking, paddling and of course, tubing.
......Instagram Moment: Tubing the Ichetucknee......
Lunch: Satchel's Pizza
Quirky, eclectic, creative and delicious are all used to describe Satchel's Pizza, a popular Gainesville hangout. The owner, Satchel Raye, is an artist who believes that nothing should ever go to waste, so they make art from reclaimed items. The entire restaurant is made from recycled materials, including a vintage van that seats diners. The restaurant also features a playground designs by University of Florida architecture students. And of course - pizza, calzones, cannolis, salads and more.
Night: First Magnitude Brewery
Another surprise of this town is the impressive, award-winning craft beer scene. There are several impressive breweries including Blackadder, Big Top, Cypress & Grove, First Magnitude, High Springs, and Swamp Head. After spending the day at the natural springs, it seems fitting to go to a brewery that is both named after a type of spring and also works to protect them. First Magnitude Brewery is a nationally and internationally awarded craft brewery and tap-room located near downtown. They have great beers and offer fun, community-focused events such as their running group, clean-up programs, trivia nights and an annual Spring Run that raises funds for the protection of the natural springs. If you enjoyed the butterfly rainforest, be sure to try one of their limited-edition beers. A few years ago, their brewers and Florida Museum scientists collaborated to brew a first-of-its-kind beer (using yeast from the Frosted Elfin butterflies in Apalachicola National Forest) to raise money for imperiled butterfly research. The Frosted Elfin was a brilliant and refreshing creation that was available for a short time. Be sure to try whatever new creation they have because it may be the last chance to try it. Read more about butterflies brewing here.
Extra Credit: Catch a late-night drag show at The University Club
If you are looking for something to do after hours, there are a lot of bars downtown to check out. Barcade will send you back in time, with three levels all dedicated to arcade games. If you are over 21 you can also enjoy a cold beverage. Next door is another local favorite – The University Club, the historic LGBT nightclub. A great spot for dancing, the venue hosts several drag shows every weekend.
DAY 3: REFILL AND RELAX
Morning: La Chua Trail
After a full day yesterday and possibly a wild night out on the town, it is time for a different kind of wild. After your morning latte (try local favorite Opus Coffee which has multiple locations including one in a vintage Airstream), it is time to explore. Begin with a grounding walk through Paynes Prairie. There are many trails to explore, and the La Chua Trail is our favorite. It is short and scenic, so you can bring just about anyone along. You are likely to see alligators and, if lucky, wild horses and bison as well.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In a college town do as the students do. Head to midtown for lunch. While there are several places to go, let's go to The Social, a sports restaurant with a rooftop bar. Located directly across from campus, you'll be surrounded by the feeling of college life with adult beverages and food.
Back on campus about 30 minutes before sunset, make your way to Lake Alice (walking distance from Hotel ELEO) and the UF Bat Houses. Every night thousands of bats fly out of their homes and take to the skies. It is an oddly romantic scene and something you can get almost nowhere else in the state.
......Instagram Moment: Bats filling the night sky......
Dinner: Chef Charlie Keller at Covey Kitchen + Cocktails changes his menu seasonally and fan favorites always stay on the list. Be sure to try the popular Banh Mi sandwich which pairs very well with the Triple Helix, one of their popular hand-crafted cocktails. Dine indoors or enjoy the fresh air on the outdoor patio overlooking Rush Lake. Sip and savor all the fine memories you just created in Gainesville.
While you may feel you have gotten a good hold of all there is to Gainesville, there is a lot more to discover. Plan another trip to see the giant lily pads at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, dive into the huge sinkhole named Devil's Den, go batty at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, spark wonder at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, experience a ballet performance at the O'Connell Center. Did you know you can even take a solar walk (a 4 billion to 1 scale model of the solar system on NW 8th Ave)?! There are a lot more out-of-this-world experiences to be had in Gainesville. For more inspiration, sign up for our newsletter, and be sure to sign up for Visit Gainesville's weekly What's Good email.
Covey Kitchen + Cocktails
1514 SW 14th St, Gainesville, FL 32608
The Florida Museum of Natural History
3215 Hull Rd, Gainesville, Florida 32611
Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
3259 Hull Rd, Gainesville, FL 32608
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 S.W. U.S. Highway 27
Fort White FL 32038
1800 NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32609
The University Club
18 E University Avenue
1728 W University Ave, Gainesville, FL 32603
Blackadder Brewing Company
618 NW 60th St., Suite A, Gainesville, FL 32607
Big Top Brewing Company
201 SE 2nd Ave. #101, Gainesville, FL 32601
Cypress & Grove Brewing Company
1001 NW 4th St., Gainesville, FL 32601
First Magnitude Brewing Company
1220 SE Veitch St., Gainesville, FL 32601
High Springs Brewing Company
18562 NW 237th St., High Springs, FL 32643
Swamp Head Brewery
3650 SW 42 Ave., Gainesville, FL 32608