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.
- Explore the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail – Bike, hike or walk a 16 mile trail for scenic vistas, history and wildlife sightings.
- 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.
- Free Museums! UF’s Harn Museum of Art and Florida Museum of Natural History are free and open to the public. The Harn has recently acquired the largest collection of Florida themed art in the world.
- 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 Historical Museum
- 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.
- Visit the Gainesville murals on the 352 Mural Tour and while you’re downtown, park in the Downtown Parking Garage and enjoy murals by local artists throughout the facility.
- Free music abounds throughout the area! Find free music every Friday night at the Downtown Gainesville Free Friday Concert Series, at Celebration Pointe’s Playlist on the Pointe, enjoy live entertainment and movies at the Tioga Town Center, The City of Alachua Legacy Park Free Concert Series and more.
- 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.
- Stroll through the Tu Viện A Nan Buddhist Temple and Statue Park situated on a serene forested park in southeast Gainesville and features large-scale Buddhist statues from Vietnam.
- See the alligators (from a safe distance) on La Chua Trail.
- Enjoy an abundance of annual festivals including the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival, City of Gainesville Downtown Arts Festival,
- Farmers Markets make the perfect place to shop farm to table wares, enjoy fresh brewed coffee, entertainment and more. Alachua County is home to the GNV Market, Haile Farmers Market, Grove Street Farmers Market, and more.
- 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 Weekend and make sure to visit the Tom Petty Murals all over town.
- The Mill Creek Retirement Home for Horse – cost of admission is two carrots for the horses.
See below for the extended version and photos.
NATURE & PARKS
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).
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 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 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.
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.
ART, CULTURE & HISTORY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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:
- Cypress & Grove Farmer’s Market, Mondays, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
- One Love Café Local Market, Wednesdays, 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- GNV Market at Heartwood Soundstage, Thursdays, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
- High Springs Farmer’s Market, Fridays, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
- Newberry Farmer’s Market, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Alachua County Farmer’s Market, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Haile Farmer’s Market, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Waldo Farmer’s Market, Saturdays and Sundays, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.