Road trip to the center of the state! Just a quick drive from anywhere in Florida, Gainesville is the perfect place for a summer getaway with the family – it’s affordable, kid-friendly and fun!
Explore the Great Indoors and Expand Your Kids’ Sense of Wonder
Florida Museum of Natural History
Journey to UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History! If your kids like Jurassic Park, A Night at the Museum, or SpiderMan, get ready for a slice of adventure in Gainesville. With a life-sized mastodon and mammoth, giant shark jaws and ancient fossils of prehistoric animals your family will experience the size and wonder of some of the earth’s largest predators. Walk through a reproduction of a limestone cave with the sights and sounds of a mysterious mangrove forest. Kids of all ages will have a great time exploring the museum, and they just might learn a thing or two about Florida’s cultural and historical past.
Admission to the Florida Museum is free; with fees for special exhibitions and the Butterfly Rainforest
Harn Museum of Art
Right next door to the Florida Museum is the Harn Museum of Art with major collections of Asian, African, modern, contemporary art and photography, and even has a Claude Monet! Release your family’s inner artist with the Harn’s “always-on” art experiences, including the Art Cart which offers art activities, tactile opportunities, games and more for all visitors inspired by objects on view and in our collection. The Harn also has scavenger hunts to take into the galleries to engage in conversation and spark excitement.
Pro-Tip: The Harn has a great gift shop with affordable, family-friendly items to keep your kids entertained on the drive home!
Admission to the Harn Museum of Art is free.
Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention
Did you know Gatorade was invented in Gainesville at the University of Florida? The Cade Museum is named after lead inventor Dr. Robert Cade and celebrates the spirit of invention and discovery for all ages. A permanent exhibit explores the history of Gatorade, while rotating exhibits focus on specific inventions and interactive demonstrations to keep each visit to the museum unique. The Cade Museum is adjacent to downtown Gainesville gem Depot Park which features a playground, splash pad, nature trails, and dining.
ProTip: Take a pic of your kids trying on the life-size football uniform or experiencing literal hair-raising fun with electro-ball conductivity.
Family-Friendly Fall Festivals and Halloween Thrills
Gainesville and Alachua County’s farms put on some of the best fall festivals, pumpkin patches, Halloween mazes
Jump to the Visit Gainesville, Alachua County Festivals page and find fun events to add color to your family’s fall calendar.
Unforgettable Animal Encounters
Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Carson Springs is top-rated on Trip Advisor for a reason – this conservation and educational facility has over 100 animals, including rare and endangered species, which are cared for on 275 acres of lush Florida woods and farmland. Carson Springs has tigers, hyenas, panthers, and is the home of famous best friends, Tuesday the cheetah and Penzi the tortoise.
Click to meet the animals.
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
Have you ever seen a tree kangaroo, gibbon, or lemur? Now’s your chance at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo has over 70 different species of animals and is maintained by about 100 students enrolled in the college’s premier Zoo Animal Technology program.
Marvel at the Bald Eagles, White-throated capuchin monkeys, American alligators, Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo and Asian small-clawed otters in a naturally shaded (think cool) environment. The 1/4 mile trail through the wooded environment is lined with mulch and is stroller and/or wheelchair accessible.
The Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm
Admission is two carrots but you’ll want to bring many more. Now that’s a bargain. See 126 horses, 2 donkeys, and 1 mule on 335 acres. Open to visitors only on Saturdays, that’s the day to visit Mill Creek Farm. They provide an equine sanctuary for older, neglected, and abandoned horses roaming freely in the pastures.
Going Batty in Gainesville
University of Florida Bat Houses
Every evening at sunset over half a million free-flying bats emerge from the University of Florida Bat Houses and fly out over a field and Lake Alice, eating up mosquitoes and other flying insects. If you arrive early, you can explore the beautiful Baughman Center and gardens that are near the bat houses, and during certain times of the year, the field and garden will be filled with blooming flowers!
Lubee Bat Conservancy
Lubee Bat Conservancy is an international non-profit organization dedicated to saving bats and their habitats through research, conservation, and education, with a focus on children and community engagement. They provide a unique educational setting, permitting visitors close viewing of animals in a working conservation center environment. Lubee is located on 110 acres of beautiful old Florida country in a very secluded and peaceful setting. Tours can be given any day of the week and typically last 1-2 hours. Check out their live bat cam!
Explore Nature’s Playgrounds and Take in the View at Inspiring Parks and Gardens
Head to the playground and splash pad at Depot Park for active fun. The children’s play area features climbing equipment, swings, slides and an interactive train-themed playset. Get soaked at the blue grotto splash pad with water jets, waterfalls and water canons. The design is inspired by local underwater caverns and has fossils embedded in the limestone decorations from the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Skate and bike at the park along the water’s edge and through the nature conservation area. Depot Park is also a connection hub for Rails to Trails urban trails network and the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail.
Take time out to get refreshed with at pit stop at the historic Depot Station building. Parkside Convenience offers grab-and-go beverages, toys, games, snacks and frozen treats. Goldie’s Burgers has a menu of smash burgers and hot dogs with vegetarian options. Grownups can unwind at Boxcar Beer and Wine Garden.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
One of Gainesville’s more popular attractions is Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Pet-friendly, paved pathways help navigate the collections spanning 68 acres. The Children’s Garden features special plants, fish ponds, and waterfalls. Listen to the whistling wind create an amazingly peaceful sound in the stunning bamboo garden, the largest public display of bamboo in Florida. It’s a perfect place to pack a lunch and enjoy the splendor.
Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is magical, whether observing wildlife or just enjoying the outdoors. A 50-foot hike up the observation tower provides a view of this geographical marvel where wild horses and bison graze and eagles soar. For a little serenity, just stop and savor a moment under the moss-draped oak canopy while listening to the songbirds call.
The Visitor Center is beautiful in itself and facilitates the interpretation of the area’s natural and cultural significance. Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
The La Chua Trail entrance is found at the separate North entrance. From the parking lot take the path to a beautiful boardwalk out to a view of water collecting at the sinkhole. Spot wildlife including a variety of birds and alligators.
Explore the Real Florida and plan adventures at additional Florida State Parks. Pedal the mountain bike trails at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park and join the Junior Rangers program at Devils Millhopper Geological State Park and Dudley Farm Historic State Park.
Make a Splash at Area Springs and Rivers
Poe Springs Park
Alachua County’s largest spring, Poe, is open 7 days a week. Park amenities include pavilions and picnic shelters, play areas, multi-purpose fields, volleyball courts, and bar-b-que grills. There are loop trails throughout the park for hiking, and a boardwalk that traverses the cypress swamp leads visitors to the springs. A boat launch and dock afford watercraft access to the river. Parking is $6 per vehicle, cash only. Get there early, the Park may close when it reaches full capacity.
Explore 8 Springs in 8 Miles
Take a springs-fed paddle trip on the Santa Fe River with Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures. Bring your own watercraft or rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard and experience crystal-clear waters flowing from underground at 72 degrees all year long.
Get Your Game On!
Dave & Buster’s Arcade Center
Dave & Buster’s offers state-of-the-art games and a food menu with options for everyone. Guests can play a variety of games they can’t play anywhere else. Go on a Wednesday and get half-price games.
Find classic arcade games, pinball and lots more at Bragging Rights. A one time fee gets you unlimited play and kids 3 and under can play free.
Mini-Golf at The Pink Flamingo Diner
Located behind the polished stainless steel diner in High Springs, an 18-hole mini-golf course tees up family fun perfect for the kids to burn up extra energy. Each hole represents a Florida spring, complete with educational signs. The Pink Flamingo Diner is a great place to sit down and enjoy great food, milkshakes, and more!
Will Stop for Selfies
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
If you’re visiting the University of Florida, head over to The Swamp. On Saturdays in the fall, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is home to the Florida Gators and 90,000 football fans. During the rest of the year, the stadium is open to the public. Enter at Gate 18 and get a view of the field or the stadium stairs. Next to Gate 18, the Heavener Football Complex showcases Gators history and accomplishments. Drop in the Gator SportShop for orange and blue Gators gear.
ProTip: The best family photo op is outside “Gate 18”, near the 15-foot bronzed Bull Gator statue. Chomp!