Most famous as the home of the Florida Gators, Alachua County is known for much more than just football and partying. In Gainesville and the surrounding areas, you can explore the beautiful rivers and lakes, cool natural springs, and the unspoiled wilderness parks of an exquisite sub-tropical region. Easy access to the city puts visitors in the middle of a region filled with cycling, canoeing, hiking, golf, camping, bird-watching, and fishing opportunities. Gainesville and the nearby towns also offer outstanding art and antique shopping, dining, and first-rate accommodations. Explore Gainesville for yourself!
1. gainesville in bloom!
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens features the largest herb garden in the Southeast.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a 62-acre facility developed and operated by the North Florida Botanical Society. Comprised of 14 major collections visually accessible from a 1.5-mile paved walkway, Kanapaha’s signature plants include a premier stand of Chinese royal bamboo (Wong Chuk), and — during the warm months — giant Victoria water lilies and Asian snake arums. Open Monday-Wednesday and Friday from 9am-5pm. Open Saturday and Sunday 9am until dusk. Closed Thursdays. $5 adults, $3 for children ages six-13. Children under six are free. Entrance on SW Archer Road 1 mile west of Interstate 75. (352) 372-4981.
2. a terrific trail
The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is for cyclists.
The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park stretches 16 miles from the City of Gainesville’s Boulware Springs Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area. The recreational trail is designed for walking, cycling, and horseback riding. There are three main trail heads: Boulware Springs Park at 3500 SE 15th Street in Gainesville, near C.R. 2082 west of Hawthorne at 7209 SE 200th Drive, and at 300 SW 2nd Avenue in Hawthorne. (352) 466-3397.
3. beautiful butterflies
Walk among the free-flying butterflies at Gainesville’s Butterfly Rainforest.
At the exhibit, visitors come face-to-face with exotic, vibrant butterflies. As the newest permanent exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the butterfly exhibit houses subtropical and tropical plants and trees to support 55 to 65 different species and hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Guests can stroll through the Butterfly Rainforest on a winding path and relax to the sounds of cascading waterfalls year-round. Open Monday-Saturday from 10am-5pm and Sunday from 1-5pm. (352) 846-2000.
4. cool fun in the hot sun
Ginnie Springs Outdoors offers outdoor recreation at its finest.
Enjoy seven crystal-clear, freshwater springs nestled in over 200 wooded acres along the banks of the Santa Fe River in Florida. Each day, the 7 separate springs of Ginnie Springs Outdoors discharge hundreds of millions of gallons of crystal-clear water that is a constant 72 degrees, year round. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, and tubing are just a few of the activities to keep you cool this summer! Discover Scuba Diving is a non-certification program. The emphasis is on enjoying the experience of breathing effortlessly under water — not on mastering complex skills. The cost is $99 per diver. (386) 454-7188
5. it’s a zoo in here!
There’s no need to travel to Orlando or Tampa to visit a zoo. The Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo is just around the corner.
Santa Fe Community College’s Zoo Animal Technology Program is the premier wild animal technology program in the United States. SFCC Teaching Zoo is home to over 75 different species of animals and over 200 individuals. Their diverse collection contains both native and exotic species that everyone can enjoy. Some family favorites are the Bald Eagles, White-throated Capuchin monkeys, Sika deer, Galapagos tortoises, Matschie’s Tree kangaroo, and many others. The zoo is open for weekday tours Monday–Friday from 9am–2pm. Admission is free. If you would like to schedule a tour, call (352) 395-5601.
6. the retirement home for horses
A must-visit for the equestrian lover.
The Retirement Home for Horses gives lifetime care to horses seized by law enforcement; those rescued by the SPCA or Humane Societies; horses retired from government service such as police patrol, state or federal parks; horses used by handicapped riding programs; circus horses; those used in experiments or similar cases. Visiting hours are Saturdays only from 11am-3pm and admission is two carrots! Mill Creek Farm is on County Road 235A, three miles north of Santa Fe High School. (386) 462-1001.
7. shop til’ you drop
Alachua County offers an abundance of shopping opportunities, from antiques to fashion clothing.
Alachua County’s 45 distinctive shopping centers lure shoppers from 13 different counties. A major attraction is the recently renovated 1 million square foot Oaks Mall. But the Gainesville area shopping experience goes even wider in scope; it includes such fine centers as Butler Plaza, Gainesville Shopping Center, Newberry Crossing, Newberry Square, Hunters Crossing, Thornebrook Shopping Center, and Tower Center.
8. rest & relaxation
Escape to one of Gainesville’s beloved bed and breakfasts.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Herlong Mansion dates back to the early 1800s. World famous southern hospitality is the signature of the Herlong Mansion where guests feel welcome to make themselves at home. It’s located in historic Micanopy. Check out herlong.com for more information. (800) 437-5664.
Other Alachua County bed & breakfasts include:
• Camelia Rose Inn, (352) 395-ROSE
• Historic Grady House Bed & Breakfast, (352) 454-2206
• The Laurel Oak Inn, (352) 373-4535
• Magnolia Plantation, (352) 375-6653
• The Rustic Inn, (352) 454-1223
• Sweetwater Branch Inn, (352) 373-6760
9. antiquing in micanopy
Often called “The little town that time forgot,” Micanopy is known for its eclectic array of antique shopping.
Micanopy was voted “Best Antique Shopping” town by readers of Florida magazine in 2006. Shopping in Micanopy is a fun and easy morning or afternoon. All shops are an easy stroll around town and there is plenty to see and buy. One of those places is The Shop which was featured in Southern Living magazine. Owned and operated by Marlene Oberst since 1980, The Shop is located in Dr. Daily’s old drugstore building on Cholokka Boulevard in historic downtown Micanopy and comprises 3,500 square feet of beautifully decorated rooms, chock full of treasures including vintage and contemporary home furnishings, folk art, seasonal decor, specialty fare, and much more. (352) 466-4031.
10. where the buffalo roam
It’s a little known fact that Paynes Prairie State Preserve is a great place to spot wild buffalo!
American Bison were reintroduced to the prairie from Oklahoma in the mid 1970s. The bison at Paynes Prairie have about 6,000 acres to roam, and it’s a rare treat to spot one, but they are most commonly seen from Cone’s Dike Trail. A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve. (352) 466-3397.
11. west florida birding trail
A birdwatcher’s heaven.
The Great Florida Birding Trail is a 2,000-mile, self-guided highway trail which unifies a total of 445 birding sites throughout Florida. Each Birding Trail section consists of a series of clusters, with each cluster containing 1-15 sites highlighting communities and special ecosystems. Local trail sites include Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Chapman’s Pond, Morningside Nature Center, Newmans Lake: Palm Point Park, Lochloosa Wildlife Conservation Area, and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. For more information and maps, visit floridabirdingtrail.com.
12. go batty!
UF’s Bat House provides a one-of-a-kind show every night at dusk.
As sunlight gives way to night, anxious viewers keep a watchful eye upward. In a matter of seconds, the sky is filled with thousands of swarming bats, just waking from their daily hibernation and on a hunt for food. This nightly occurrence draws spectators to the University of Florida’s Bat House again and again. The show starts about 30 minutes after sundown and the outflight lasts for about 20 minutes. UF’s Bat House is located on the University of Florida campus, across from Lake Alice on Museum Road. Arrive just before dark to witness the bats leaving their roost. (352) 374-5260.
13. fresh is best!
People travel from nearby counties to pick up the tastiest produce from Gainesville’s Fresh Market
The Alachua County Farmers’ Market is open on Saturdays from 8:30am to 1pm 52 weeks a year and is located at 5920 NW 13th Street. ACFM also operates two seasonal markets: The 441 location is open on Thursday mornings from 8:30am–12pm for the spring harvest season, and the Butler Plaza Farmers’ Market on Archer Road in front of Goody’s and Petsmart will be open from 2pm to dusk. (352) 371-8236.
14. gainesville raceway
Where to go when you feel the need for speed.
Gainesville Raceway opened in 1969 and held its first Gatornationals event in 1970. Long considered one of the fastest tracks on the NHRA circuit, it was from this legendary launch point that drivers clocked the first 260-, 270- and 300-mph Top Fuel runs. It also was from this starting line, during the 2000 Mac Tools NHRA Gatornationals, that eight of 10 national records were set in the professional classes. Visit gainesvilleraceway.com for more information. The raceway is located at 11211 N. County Road 225. (352) 377-0046.
15. if walls could talk
At the Historic Haile Homestead, they do. See for yourself.
The Historic Haile Homestead is also known for its “Talking Walls.” For a reason lost to time, the Haile family wrote on the walls of their home — over 12,500 words in almost every room and closet! Writings included personal observations, names of visitors, growth charts of children and grandchildren, recipes for household solutions, inventories of linens, silverware, china, business records, and prose. Open Sat. from 10am-2pm and Sun. from 12-4pm. Located at 8500 Archer Road in Gainesville. (352) 336-9096.
16. paramount grill
True to its name, Paramount Grill is clearly supreme.
Tucked into a storefront setting just off Main Street, Paramount Grill has been enticing customers to this popular downtown Gainesville location since opening its doors in August 2001. You won’t find a large and confusing menu at Paramount Grill. What you will find are creative entrees that make the most of beef, seafood, pork, chicken, and even vegetarian courses. The restaurant is located at 12 SW 1st Avenue in downtown Gainesville. (352) 378-3398.
17. the best book nook
The Baldwin Library of Historic Children’s Literature features unique volumes of classic books.
The Baldwin Library of Historic Children’s Literature, housed in the Department of Special Collections at the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries, features more than 103,000 volumes of rare and classic children’s lit. The library’s displays include 300 editions of Robinson Crusoe, 100 editions of Pilgrim’s Progress, fables, juvenile biography, 19th century science and natural history, 19th century alphabet books, moral tales, fairy tales, 19th century juvenile periodicals, 19th century boys’ adventure stories, 20th century boys’ and girls’ series, Little Golden Books, and more. (352) 392-9075.
18. a trip back in time
Dudley Farm Historic State Park showcases what life was like on a turn of the century Florida farm.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this park demonstrates the evolution of Florida farming from the 1850s to the mid-1940s — through three generations of the Dudley family. An authentic working farm, the homestead consists of 18 buildings including the family farmhouse with original furnishings, an 1880s kitchen outbuilding, and more. Park staff, dressed in period clothing, performs daily chores, raises crops, and tends to livestock. Self-guided tours are available Wednesday–Sunday from 9am-4pm. Located seven miles west of I-75 on State Road 26 between Newberry and Gainesville. (352) 472-1142.
19. an author’s oasis
See for yourself how world-famous writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived.
This historic site was once the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of many literary works, including “The Yearling,” which received the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The National Historic Landmark designation is the highest such recognition accorded by our nation to historic properties determined to be of exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme, event, or person in the history of the nation. Call for details. (352) 466-3672.
20. a devilish descent
It’s not everyday you can descend into the caverns of a natural sinkhole.
In the midst of north Florida’s sandy terrain and pine forests, a bowl-shaped cavity 120 feet deep leads down to a miniature rainforest. Small streams trickle down the steep slopes of the limestone sinkhole, disappearing through crevices in the ground, and lush vegetation thrives in the shade of the walls even in dry summers. A significant geological formation, Devil’s Millhopper is a National Natural Landmark that has been visited by the curious since the early 1880s. The park is open from 9am-5pm Wednesday–Sunday. Located two miles northwest of Gainesville off of State Road 232. (352) 955-2008.
county by county
A Three-Part Series
This trio of summer articles highlighted special events and unique tourism opportunities in our neighboring counties. With its abundance of natural beauty and distinctive destinations, Alachua County seemed like the perfect spot to visit in July, when the kids — and you — are fighting the summer vacation blues. Did you miss Marion and Levy counties? If you did, go to the all-new ocalastyle.com to find out more.
To learn more about these 20 items in Alachua County or additional recreational opportunities, log on to gainesville.net