By: Carly Zinderman
One of the best parts about a visit to Gainesville is that, unlike some other Florida vacations, Gainesville is very budget friendly. Without the high entry fee of theme parks, you can spend a day adventuring among some of the nation’s most beautiful scenery without breaking the bank.
Although Gainesville has many budget-friendly hotels and motels, you can stay for even less at one of Gainesville’s campgrounds or RV parks. Even better, if you stay at one of Gainesville’s local state parks, not only can you spend the night for a nominal fee, but you can wake up to enjoy some of the area’s premier natural attractions.
River Rise Preserve State Park is an affordable way for a family to spend the day exploring some of Gainesville’s unique natural treasures. Named for the area where the Santa Fe River rises up after going underground, River Rise Preserve State Park offers biking, birding, horseback riding (you can bring your own ride), fishing, hiking and plenty of wildlife viewing in addition to picnic tables and scenic views. The park has an admission fee of only $5 for cars filled with up to eight people.
O’Leno State Park was one of the first state parks in Florida and remains a favorite spot to spend time. A great place for families and kids, the park features 6,000 acres of camping, fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, cycling and miles and miles of equestrian trails. Take a kayak ride down the river, climb the suspension bridge to watch the river run and check out the spot where the park disappears, or “sinks” into the ground, as the Santa Fe River is one of the nation’s few disappearing rivers. The park is home to many different habitats and forms of wildlife, from deer to turtles. O’Leno also has various camping options, from RV parking to primitive camping and a group camp with historic-style cabins. With swimming spots and playgrounds aplenty, O’Leno is packed with activities to keep the adventure going on a budget.
For more ways to enjoy Gainesville’s state parks, visit Adventure Outpost for guided tours and rental equipment including camping gear and tubes to make your way down the river. For a quick bite, pack a picnic or grab a sandwich and snack from one of Gainesville’s many affordable cafes, like the East End Eatery.
Outdoor adventures can be found all over Gainesville, making it perfect for visitors on a budget, but the area also offers several indoor cultural activities for curious travelers on a budget, as well.
The Matheson Museum gives guests an opportunity to travel back in time, free of admission (although a donation is suggested). Guests can visit the historic antebellum Matheson House, wander the botanical gardens and learn about the area’s rich 500-year history
The Harn Museum of Art, the permanent home of Claude Monet’s Oat Field painting and one of the country’s largest university-affiliated art museums, has free admission to a large collection of art from a variety of cultures. The museum sponsors special events including screenings, lectures and traveling exhibitions – and on the second Thursday of each month, the doors are open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a special, after-hours museum experience called “Museum Nights.”
Whether you like to spend time indoors or out, or both, Gainesville has plenty of activities to keep you busy and leave you with enough wiggle room in your wallet to take home some souvenirs.