Gainesville is located in Central Florida in Alachua County, a destination with a variety of natural parks, springs, trails and more. The region remains one of the best locations for nature enthusiasts to spend their day outdoors due to its protected parks and well-preserved historic farms. The area is also home to variety of fun places to eat, visits ad explore. So when you’re looking to get outside Gainesville for an afternoon, here are some of the best places to go and daytrip ideas in the Alachua region near Gainesville.
1. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park
Distance from Gainesville: 20 minutes southeast
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park in Cross Creek is located on farmland that once belonged to the famed author. Mostly known for her bestselling book “The Yearling,” Rawlings was inspired by the farm’s surroundings as a setting for her stories. Today, families can explore the 1930s cracker-style house where she lived and explore the seasonal garden, hiking trails and indoor exhibit to learn more about the author and her life. Guests are given tours throughout the premises by a ranger in period attire, and families are free to explore the area on their own. Bring packed lunches; the park has a designated picnic area. Adventurous visitors may want to participate in the park’s geocaching to embark on a ‘treasure hunt’ and look for specific landmarks, plants, and animals. Visitors can opt to pick up one of the author’s books from the gift shop as a personal souvenir.
A brief walk from the state park is The Yearling Restaurant. There, diners can try out Old Florida dishes with alligator meat, frog legs, deep fried clams, cooter, venison, stuffed flounder and quail—all reminiscent of what Rawlings probably ate during her time in Florida. The restaurant is located along the Old Florida Heritage Highway, a designated Florida Scenic Highway, and is nestled between several freshwater lakes (some of the restaurant’s catches are locally sourced from its waters). Visitors looking to extend their stay in Cross Creek can book a night in one of the restaurant’s seven historic cracker-style cabins. The restaurant has been feeding locals and visitors since 1952 and has been hailed as one of the best places to eat by Florida Trend Magazine.
2. Historic Hawthorne
Distance from Gainesville: 20 minutes east
Step back in time at the Hawthorne Historical Museum and Cultural Center, built in 1907, that was once operated as an African-American church. The city of Hawthorne prides itself on maintaining its small-town charm even as nearby towns grew substantially over the years. Many of the buildings in the tiny town are original landmarks standing almost 140 years Hawthorne’s founding in 1879 as a railroad community. Inside the museum, guests can browse through an impressive collection of artifacts and vintage paintings reflecting the area’s historical past. Keep an eye out for the series of paintings by the well-known artist Francis Moore (also known as ‘Hawthorne’s Grandpa Moses’) and the iconic quilt with images of 20 historic homes in the area. The museum is only open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
When visiting Hawthorne, bring along your bikes to trek down the 16 paved miles of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail. Undisturbed by cars, the trail takes riders through some of the most scenic routes in the area including the Paynes Prairie State Preserve before ending the ride in Gainesville. The park is famous for its rich wildlife, which includes bison. Riders can alternatively begin their journeys in Boulware Springs Park in Gainesville and make their way east towards Hawthorne. The trail is pedestrian, bicycle and horseback riding friendly as the surface is mostly flat with a few hills. Guests can make stops in several rest areas outfitted with their own kiosk and brochure packets with information about the local flora and fauna.
3. Micanopy Antique and Boutique Shopping
Distance from Gainesville: 15 minutes south
The sleepy town of Micanopy has a population of only 600 but is ranked as one of the most hidden gems in the region for its downtown shopping district. Dozens of antique and boutique shops line its downtown area, making it ideal for antique collectors to do most of their shopping and exploring without venturing too far. Shoppers can find mint-condition vintage clothing at Winters Past along with jewelry from the roaring ‘20s to the disco era. Bibliophiles will find their paradise at O. Briskey Books that is known for its unique collection of rare and antique books. Located off I-75, Smiley’s Antique Mall is the largest shopping complex in the area with more than 24,000 square feet of shopping space filled with vintage typewriters, Victorian jewelry, antique Coca-Cola signs and more. Nearby is another popular antique mall called The Shop that is currently in the historic Dr. Daily’s Old Drugstore building. Additionally, shoppers can take home freshly made jams, soaps, kitchenware and other eco-friendly items at the Mosswood Farm Store.
While in Micanopy, stop at Pearl Country Store for mouth-watering Florida barbecue. Diners will enjoy traditional meat dishes like pork sandwiches, chicken tenders, ribs and beef brisket. In addition to the restaurant, a country store sells food items like homemade pies, hot sauces, BBQ sauce, jelly, pancake mixes and more. Several Floridian-themed books are available for purchase for guests to learn more about the area. Don’t miss breakfast; Pearl Country Store is also known for its satisfying traditional egg plates with endless country-style side dishes.
Blue Highway Pizza, which has locations in Tioga Town Center and Ocala as well as Micanopy, is a popular joint known for its vibrant crowd, kitschy vibe and delicious menu. Diners can choose from dishes including pizzas, calzones, salads, sandwiches, and hummus plates—making it easy to cater to picky eaters.
4. Dudley Farm State Park
Distance from Gainesville: 30 minutes west
Home to three generations of farmers (from the 1850s to 1940s), Dudley Farm State Park is a 325-acre area with its own cracker-style farmhouse. The house-turned-museum is open to the public for guests to browse through exhibits of artifacts, photographs of the early pioneers, and gardens. Staff dressed in period attire will give lectures and demonstrate farming techniques like corn shucking and cane grinding to show the lifestyle of the early farmers. Visitors will also get a chance to meet local livestock including horses, cows, and chickens.
5. High Springs
Distance from Gainesville: 35 minutes northwest
Get up close and personal with nature from the comfort a canoe. Make your way to High Springs and rent a canoe from Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, and become aquanted with the Santa Fe River. Paddlers will be given a detailed map of the area and plan their journey. Kayaks and paddle boards are available for rent as an alternative at the outpost. Also located in High Springs, Drift SUP is a fantastic place to rent paddle boats or stand-up paddleboards to explore the Santa Fe River. Participants will have the choice of going on a group tour led by a guide or can go solo. The area is known for its crystal-clear springs, making it ideal for guests on paddleboards to see wildlife and fish through the water. Drift SUP also provides a memorable and relaxing experience with paddleboard yoga.
Also located in High Springs is The Great Outdoors Restaurant, where you’ll find fresh seafood, sandwiches, burgers, soup, salad and tasty desserts. The restaurant is located in High Springs’ historic district, inside a building that once served as an opera house. You can eat inside among the historic decor and head outside to at a pet-friendly patio table. The restaurant has received Golden Spoon awards every year since 2011.
6. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Distance from Gainesville: 60 minutes northwest
North of Gainesville is the can’t miss natural oasis called Ichetucknee Springs State Park that is known for its crystal clear water in an incredible natural setting.. Tubers can lazily drift past the unspoiled wilderness and catch glimpses of wildlife like deer and turtles along the way. Visitors can also choose to snorkel, hike, canoe, or bike in the area. Food vendors are available at the park for guests to take lunch breaks in between activities.
Distance from Gainesville: 25 minutes northwest
Alachua is a tiny town with a charming Main Street that receives thousands of visitors annually to chalk things off their shopping wish lists. The street is covered with towering live oak trees and guests can browse in an out of boutique and antique shops. Several restaurants are easily accessible on Main Street for shoppers to take breaks and enjoy a savory pizza from Main Street Pie Company or authentic Italian from Ristorante Deneno’s.
While in Alachua, check out some of Florida’s nature untouched by humans at the San Felasco State Park. This 7350-acre park is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers and guests looking for a tranquil picnic spot. Guests can also keep an eye out for some of its natural wildlife like deer, bobcats, wild turkey, foxes and hundreds of birds.
8. Retirement Homes for Horses
Distance from Gainesville: 35 minutes northwest
Alternatively known as Mill Creek Farm, the Retirement Home for Horses is a sanctuary for more than 100 rescued horses. Many of the horses living at the farm were victims of negligence and mistreatment. The farm gives horses a second chance at a healthier, comfortable and happier life with free reign on the farm. Guests can visit the farm to learn more about the sanctuary and meet the horses.