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Over 30 (AMAZING) Free Things to Do in Gainesville and Alachua County

Get ready to update your bucket list with one of kind free experiences. Read below for the shortlist or scroll on down for the longer read with photos.

  • Visit Depot Park – the most popular downtown park in Gainesville, featuring a playground, splash pad, open fields, entertainment and lots of free programs and events throughout the year.
  • Bat Houses and nightly bat releases! People gather every night outside the world’s largest occupied bat houses on Museum Road across from Lake Alice on the UF campus. The bats normally emerge during a 15- to 20-minutes after sunset and make a spectacular display as they span out over Lake Alice and the surrounding gardens and fields.

  • Bring your own kayak, SUP, inner tube or canoe you can drop in and float down the Santa Fe river at the Santa Fe River Boat Ramp in High Springs or go fishing on the Lake Santa Fe, Little Lake Orange and Lake Lochloosa.

  • Window shop and Instagram your way through Micanopy – Florida’s oldest inland town (circa 1780); visit the antique shops, and stop by the Micanopy Historic

  • Visit Depot Park – the most popular downtown park in Gainesville, featuring a playground, splash pad, open fields, entertainment and lots of free programs and events throughout the year.

  • Bat Houses and nightly bat releases! People gather every night outside the world’s largest occupied bat houses on Museum Road across from Lake Alice on the UF campus. The bats normally emerge during a 15- to 20-minutes after sunset and make a spectacular display as they span out over Lake Alice and the surrounding gardens and fields.

  • Bring your own kayak, SUP, inner tube or canoe you can drop in and float down the Santa Fe river at the Santa Fe River Boat Ramp in High Springs or go fishing on the Lake Santa Fe, Little Lake Orange and Lake Lochloosa.

  • Go back in time at Morningside Nature Park; visit the Living History Farm which re-creates a single-family rural holding in the year 1870 and explore 278 acres feature a spectacular wildflower display and diverse wildlife including deer, wild turkey, box turtles, gopher tortoises, skunks, and numerous birds.

  • Walk or bike your way through a UF campus tour and enjoy free carillon concerts. UF’s carillon, one of just 3 in Florida, consists of 61 bells and is housed in Century Tower, a landmark structure completed in 1956 as a memorial for students and alumni who died in the World Wars.

  • Ben Hill Griffin stadium aka “The Swamp,” is the largest stadium in the state of Florida. It is open to the public on most days, making it a popular place to run the stadium steps or lounge, read and daydream in the bleachers.

  • Stroll through the cobblestone streets of historic downtown High Springs and visit the High Springs Historical Museum.

  • Discover Where’s Waldo (here’s a hint; it’s in Florida!) Learn about the early days of the Florida Railroad in the City of Waldo.

  • Gainesville and Alachua County is known for its cultural offerings, including Art Walk – a free self-guided downtown gallery tour; or visit other galleries such as the Gainesville Fine Arts Association – offering exhibits throughout the year, the GFAA Gallery is run by Florida’s oldest non-profit arts organization.

  • Watch sunset over Payne’s Prairie –  this is a very popular spot for sunsets every night of the week!

  • The Tom Petty Birthday Bash is a music festival celebrating the life and legacy of Gainesville’s hometown hero through music, art and community engagement. Celebrated on or around the weekend of Tom Petty’s birthday, this one of a kind music festival showcases top-notch local and national bands. While in town for The Tom Petty Birthday Bash and make sure to visit the Tom Petty Murals all over town.


See below for the extended version and photos.

NATURE & PARKS

Depot Park
Depot Park is a 32-acre multi-use park just south of downtown Gainesville. The park has paved trails, open fields, entertainment, and programs throughout the year. The playground and splash pad are large and world class, perfect for anyone 12 and under. The park is home to a Historic Train Depot which houses Parkside Subs and Goldie’s Burgers and the trailhead of the Gainesville to Hawthorne Rail State Trail (see below).

Cycling in Gainesville and Alachua County

Gainesville to Hawthorne State Trail
A 16-mile paved trail that can be explored on a scooter bike, skates and is easy to traverse at our own pace hiking on foot. Enjoy scenic vistas, history and wildlife sightings. The trailhead begins at Depot Park and ends in the City of Hawthorne. Bring your lunch to enjoy at one of the benches along the trail.

While on the Gainesville to Hawthorne State Trail, make a stop at the La Chua Trail. The trail provides an up close and personal experience in the heart of Payne’s Prairie with plenty of opportunities to view wildlife via an elevated boardwalk and lengthy dike out to an observation tower. It’s a great place to see alligators up close and in nature.

Morningside Nature Center

Morningside Nature Park
Go back in time, visit the Living History Farm which re-creates a single-family rural holding in the year 1870. In addition, explore 278 acres featuring a spectacular wildflower display and diverse wildlife like deer, wild turkey, box turtles, gopher tortoises, skunks, and numerous birds.

Alfred A. Ring Park
Located in the heart of Gainesville, Ring Park is a scenic 1.5-mile loop trail that winds alongside Hogtown Creek. Visit the scenic overlook to see where the clear water of Glen Springs mixes with the tannic water of Hogtown Creek. Visit the koi pond and relax on a bench.

Loblolly Woods
Loblolly Woods has a 2.7-mile loop trail tucked away in the middle of Gainesville. Although so close to all the city amenities, it feels so far away. Loblolly has well-defined trails and boardwalks, with the bonus of the Hogtown Creek water feature. This stretch of woods is known to be one of the best birding spots in the area.

Kayaking on Santa Fe River
Kayaking on the Santa Fe River

Float on the Santa Fe River
Bring your own kayak, SUP, inner tube or canoe to the High Springs Boat Ramp where you can drop in and float down the Santa Fe River.

Lake Fishing
Fish from the bank or dock at Palm Point Nature ParkLake Santa Fe, Little Lake Santa Fe, Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake.

Click here for a list of all area parks.

ART, CULTURE & HISTORY

a florida legacy at harn museum

Harn Museum of Art
Harn Museum of Art is one of the largest university-affiliated art museums in the United States and the permanent home of Claude Monet’s “Champ d’avoine (Oat Field).” The Harn represents major collections of Asian, African, modern, contemporary art and photography and has recently acquired the largest collection of Florida-themed art in the world.

Skeletons at the Florida Fossil Hall at the Florida Museum of Natural History
Fossil Hall at the Florida Museum, photo by Kristen Grace

Florida Museum of Natural History
Florida Museum of Natural History has a full-sized mastodon and mammoth, giant shark jaws and ancient fossils of prehistoric animals. The Northwest Florida exhibit provides 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.

The Florida Museum of Natural History also features permanent exhibits like the Butterfly Rainforest and seasonal exhibits like Survival of the Slowest, which require admission.

Matheson History Museum

Matheson History Museum
The Matheson History Museum in located in the heart of downtown Gainesville in the 1867 Matheson House. They have permanent and temporary exhibits on Alachua County and Florida history, and a local history library and archives filled with resources for the researcher and the curious alike. Throughout the year the museum hosts a variety of programs.

Matheson History Museum Cell Phone Tour
Walk, bike, or drive around downtown Gainesville and learn about the history with the convenience of your cell phone.

Old Florida Heritage Highway with a Self-Guided Cell Phone Audio Tour
Cruising nature, picturesque roads and historic points of interest with a scenic driving cell phone tour is an ideal way to discover unique locations and learn something new.

Interesni Kazki Mural

352walls Cell Phone Tour
Take the 352wall cell phone tour of the murals around downtown Gainesville, 352-327-9004. Park in the Downtown Parking Garage and enjoy murals by local artists throughout the facility.

montage of artwork at Artwalk Gainesville

Artwalk Gainesville
Artwalk Gainesville is a free monthly self-guided tour that combines exciting visual art, live performance, and events in Gainesville. Held the last Friday of each month from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (restarts August 27, 2021).

Downtown High Springs Artwalk
The merchants of High Springs art walk typically takes place monthly and features live painting, exhibit receptions, store discounts and more. Browse artwork and meet over a dozen more artists as you stroll through downtown, historic High Springs. 

Gainesville Fine Arts Association
Gainesville Fine Arts Association (GFAA) has exhibits throughout the year, the GFAA Gallery is run by Florida’s oldest non-profit arts organization.

buddhist temple statue photo

Tu Viện A Nan Buddhist Temple and Statue Park
Stroll through the Temple and Statue Park situated on a serene forested park in southeast Gainesville featuring large-scale Buddhist statues from Vietnam.

FESTIVALS & CELEBRATIONS

crowed gathered at the spring arts festival. tents line the streets. pole banner reads Spring Arts Festival

Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival
Santa Fe College’s annual Spring Arts Festival is one of Gainesville’s most beloved family events. Fine arts, crafts, food, music and more make Northeast Gainesville’s historic district come alive during each event. Held annual at the end of March.

downtown festival and art show

City of Gainesville Downtown Arts Festival
The nationally recognized Downtown Festival & Art Show transforms downtown Gainesville into a masterful blend of art, music, and entertainment. For two days, visitors can marvel at works from 190 of the nation’s most talented artists, who display their original oils and acrylics, vibrant watercolors, captivating sculptures, dazzling jewelry, decorative ceramics and vivid photography. The Show has been in existence since 1981, and 1996 has ranked among the top festivals in the nation. Held annually in November.

Arts Festival at Thornebrooke
Find fine artists and craftsmen exhibiting throughout the park-like setting of Thornebrook Village Center. Follow the Art Festival Facebook page for artist and musician line-up and other details. Held annually in October.

5th ave arts festival

5th Avenue Arts Festival
Hosted by the Cultural Arts Coalition, the annual 5th Avenue Arts Festival is a free two-day event that celebrates and highlights the rich cultural heritage of a historic African American Community, the 5th Avenue neighborhood.

Music performance at Depot Park

The Tom Petty Birthday Bash
The Tom Petty Birthday Bash is a music festival celebrating the life and legacy of Gainesville’s hometown hero through music, art and community engagement to share his music for generations to come. This one-of-a-kind music festival showcases top-notch local and national bands. The Bash takes place around the weekend of Tom Petty’s birthday, Oct. 20.

MUSIC

Free Friday Concert Series
The region’s longest-running free outdoor concert series features local and regional musical talent at Bo Diddley Plaza located in downtown Gainesville. From May-October, enjoy free weekly concerts under the stars with classic rock, reggae, R & B, soul, ska, funk, blues, and more.

Celebration Pointe’s Monthly Music Events
Enjoy live music in an open-air atmosphere at Celebration Pointe with Playlist on the Pointe (4th Friday of every month) and Jazz on the Green (2nd Saturday of every month). The live music typically takes place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but sure to visit their website or Facebook page to confirm times and band information.

hogtown slayers at tioga town center

Tioga Town Center Concerts Under the Stars
During the warmer months find weekly music performances and movies at the Tioga Town Center Amphitheatre at The Square.

Legacy Park Free Concert Series
The City of Alachua hosts a free monthly concert series at the beautiful Legacy Park Amphitheater with food trucks and general concessions.

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA CAMPUS

Century Tower and the Univeristy Auditorium at the University of Florida

Carillon Concerts
Walk or bike your way through a UF campus and enjoy free carillon concerts. UF’s carillon, one of just three in Florida, consists of 61 bells and is housed in the Century Tower, a landmark structure completed in 1956 as a memorial for students and alumni who died in the World Wars.

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Also known as “The Swamp,” the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the largest football stadium in Florida. It is open to the public on most days, making it a popular place to run stadium steps or lounge, read and daydream in the bleachers. It’s great for photos too!

bat houses at university of florida

University of Florida Bat House
The Bat House on the University of Florida campus is the world’s largest occupied bat house. During dusk, when the temperature is above 65 degrees, you can see over 500,000 bats emerge out of the house and adjacent barn – it is a spectacular sight to see, like none other.

SMALL TOWNS IN ALACHUA COUNTY

High springs downtown shops

High Springs
Enjoy a stroll through the small town of High Springs, lined with antique shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Located near the Santa Fe River, High Springs is known as the Gateway to the Springs with quick access to Poe Springs, Gilchrist Blue Springs, and Ginnie Springs. Make a stop at The High Springs Historical Society Museum which provides a window into pioneer life as it was during the late 1800s to early 1900s steam train era.

Micanopy
Window shop and Instagram your way through Micanopy – Florida’s oldest inland town (circa 1780). Peruse the antique shops make sure to visit the Micanopy Historical Museum.
The Museum is home to a collection of artifacts and historical items from the Native American and Seminole Wars era through the Civil War and the early 20th century.
A half a mile south of downtown Micanopy is the Tuscawilla Preserve. The Tuscawilla Preserve trail system is short, but it enables hikers to make a loop beneath ancient oaks. The understory is very open, making for scenic views from a variety of perspectives beneath the moss-draped oaks. Park across the street from the trailhead at the Micanopy Native American Heritage Park, which has additional hiking trails.

grove street farmers market

FARMERS MARKETS
Farmers Markets feature your favorite local farmers, local baked goods, prepared foods, meats and fish, cut flowers, plants, crafts and more. Do your weekly shopping or spend a relaxing morning strolling the market and enjoy the entertainment. Alachua County is home to the following markets:


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