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Nine kid-approved excursions in north Florida
By: Joe Kukura

For kids (of all ages, really), Florida is another word for vacation. They’re entertained by the parade of highway billboards, fascinated by the exotic wildlife and foliage and of course energized by the Florida sun. But there’s a whole lot more where that came from.

Check out the best family-friendly day trips and excursions in Gainesville, the biggest city and premier tourist destination in north-central Florida. Part city, part quirky college town and part unspoiled nature preserve, Gainesville has a reputation as sort of an island of enlightenment in north Florida.

9. Skate parks
If your youngster is used to being chased off neighborhood sidewalks for skateboarding, the Hal Brady Recreation Complex is a welcoming skater’s paradise. Half-pipes, quarter-pipes and rails galore are all on hand in a setting that’s safe and inviting for skateboarders of all ages. The complex also offers basketball courts, a water park and lots more that kids love. Parents love the complex even more, because it’s absolutely free.

8. Do the zoo
The Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo is a zoo maintained by students studying zoology, and they keep some pretty exotic company. Bald eagles, Galapagos turtles and tree kangaroos highlight a wild and crazy collection of animal exhibits.

7. Swimming, scuba and snorkeling
Poe Springs Park offers tubing and swimming in the gorgeous Florida sun. For some really amazing water expeditions, Blue Springs and Ginnie Springs offer snorkeling, scuba diving and cave diving in the stunning river springs.

6. Butterfly rainforest
The Butterfly Rainforest literally takes you into rainforest where exotic butterflies flutter freely among you. It’s a built-in multilevel rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History, also home to some giant fossils. But the up-close butterfly encounters are what they’ll be talking about the whole way home.

5. Canoeing and kayaking
Santa Fe Canoe Outpost offers free-roaming canoe trails, canoe rentals and overnight camping options. Adventure Outpost offers canoe tours and guided river excursions for day trips.

4. See live alligators in the wild
Your kids can see live alligators from a close but completely safe vantage point on the La Chua Trail at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The trail has an elevated wooden boardwalk that allows a close view of the gators from an elevation they can’t reach. Wild horses and bison also roam the trail freely. It is recommended that visitors with small children remain on the boardwalk at all times—do not continue onto the open, grassy trail.

3. Go climbing
There are professional tree-climbing tours in Gainesville where expert climbers supply you with ropes and saddles to climb trees to breathtaking and unheard-of heights. Canopy Climbers provides group climbs, guided climbs and lessons in one of those delightful only-in-Gainesville activities.

2. See the planetarium
Have you ever seen Star Gazers on PBS? Co-host James C. Albury also runs the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium, but you wouldn’t call it a day job. The planetarium hosts spectacular, immersive star shows each weekend evening. With evening entertainment including Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin planetarium light shows, parents are sure to love it, too

1. Get pizza or ice cream
When all else fails, pizza and ice cream always do the trick! Gainesville has a number of outstanding pizza places, including Villagio’s for deep-dish pizza, Piesanos for stone-fired pizza, Big Lou’s for New York-style pizza, Satchel’s, where you can eat your pizza inside a refurbished vintage Ford van and Leonardo’s and Blue Highway, which both offer delivery and multiple locations. On the ice cream front, Sweet Dreams can provide the scoop.

Whether you’re vacationing with teens or tots in tow, Gainesville offers outstanding outings for all ages. Plan your next vacation in Gainesville, and leave your family in a Sunshine State of mind!

PICTURED: Scoop from Sweet Dreams Ice Cream
Photo Courtesy of Visit Gainesville
PICTURED: The La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie
Photo Courtesy of Visit Gainesville
PICTURED: Turtles at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
Photo Courtesy of Visit Gainesville