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Family Fun in Gainesville, Florida: 8 Experiences You Can't Miss

Family walking the boardwalk at Paynes Preserve

If you are looking for a different way to explore Florida that doesn’t involve long lines at amusement parks or navigating crowded beaches, Gainesville is the place for you. Not only is it home to the University of Florida (Go Gators 🐊), the area also features 8 state parks, multiple museums, over 100 miles of hiking trails, and it is just a short drive from many of Florida’s top freshwater springs. If you like the beach, drive 1.5 hours in either direction to reach beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.  It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with this vibrant area!

Our family of six loves to adventure and be outside, and Gainesville kept us busy and entertained our entire visit! What did we do during our stay? Below are eight family friendly activities that you can experience in Gainesville and Alachua County.

1- Mini Golf and Dinner at the Pink Flamingo Diner

Family photo at Pink Flamingo

The Pink Flamingo (@pinkflamingodiner) in High Springs (a short drive from downtown Gainesville) is a place where you can have both great food and lots of fun.  This 50’s themed diner offers a delicious and diverse menu with something for almost any dietary need, including multiple vegetarian and vegan options.  Make sure you enjoy a milkshake!  If you want to get that 50’s diner feel, eat inside at one of their retro booths.  If you want to chill and give your kids room to play, go to their large outdoor seating area that also has a fun play area for kids.  After dinner be sure to check out their professionally designed 18-hole mini golf course that is fun for the entire family! Check out their website here to learn more.

2- Educational Tour at Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation

Tiger at Carson Springs

Sitting on 275 acres of beautiful property, Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation (@carsonspringswildlife) is home to roughly 30 endangered species and over 100 animals.  Almost all of these animals were rescued or relocated.  The day we visited we were fortunate enough to tag along on a guided educational tour from Christine and Barry (the founders of the sanctuary) where we learned about the sanctuary and many of the animals.  We also watched a tiger being fed, saw baby warthogs, watched Hyenas playing in water, and we even met a couple of curious lemurs that were interested in our cameras. If you want to check this place out for yourself, they offer two hour walking and riding tours every Saturday.  If you want to support these great people and this wonderful cause of helping animals, check out their website here for more information. 

3- View the evening bat emergence at the University of Florida Bat Houses  

Bats at University of Florida Bat Houses

Did you know that Gainesville has the world’s largest occupied bat houses? Yep, that’s right.  The University of Florida Bat Houses are located on the University of Florida campus.  An estimated 450-500 thousand bats live in these houses.  Every night shortly after sunset the bats emerge from these houses to go on their nightly hunt for insects.  It is a pretty amazing experience seeing bats flying all around you and into the night sky, and our kids loved it as well.  Don’t worry, the bats won’t get you…we don’t think at least.  This is also a free activity and does not take a lot of time. It’s an experience in Gainesville worth…experiencing.  Check out more information on the bat houses here

4- Explore the Florida Museum of Natural History

Florida Museum of Natural History Butterfly Exhibit

We mixed in learning and fun when we visited the Florida Museum of Natural History.  Located on the east side of the University of Florida campus, this museum has so much to do.  Check out the Florida Fossil exhibit and learn about evolution of life and land while seeing a plethora of prehistoric animals.  Walk through the Mangrove Boardwalk, Natural Habitats Center, and the underwater exhibits.  Learn about Florida’s history of humans through several people and cultural exhibits.  In addition, your kids will love the Beverly and Jon Thompson Discovery Zone, which has multiple interactive exhibits, activity stations, touchable objects, and stunning collections.  Our kids loved playing in the Discovery Zone.  If all of that isn’t enough to fill your day, they also feature a Butterfly Rainforest with hundreds of free flying butterflies from around the world, and traveling exhibits (we learned all about creepers and crawlers at the Spiders Alive exhibit when we visited).   Admission to this museum is free, but there was a small fee to enter the Butterfly Rainforest and Spiders Alive Exhibit.  Ticket information can be found here.

5- Visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park Family Photo
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Did you know there are Bison in Florida?  We didn’t either, until we visited Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Not only do they have wild Bison roaming miles of open prairie, they also have wild horses, gators, and a variety of other wildlife. We also climbed their 50 foot observation tower for sweeping views of the prairie, and completed their Junior Ranger Program. Did you know that 90 of the 175 Florida State Parks offer a Junior Ranger Program? It is a perfect way to educate your children about the park they are visiting. There is a lot of hiking here too, and we did two hikes the day we visited. The Bolen Bluff trail is a 3 mile out and back trail. It leads through the woods and out into the prairie to an observation tower where we saw Bison. We also did the LaChua Boardwalk. This short one mile trail on the north end of the park led to a lake that was full of gators!  Admission is only $6 per vehicle, and that gets you into all areas of the park.  Download a park map here to plan your adventure to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. 

6- Visit a Historic Homestead at Dudley Farm Historic State Park 

Inside house at Dudley Farm

Take a step back in time and experience farm life as it was more than a century ago when you visit this historic farm.  The Dudley Farm is still a working farm with 18 original buildings built between the 1880s and 1930s.  The farm operates as it did over a century ago, and we were lucky enough to get a private tour when we visited.  The staff and volunteers wear farm clothing from that time, perform chores, raise crops, and tend to livestock.  In addition to the large family farmhouse the property also has a blacksmith shop, a general store, post office, cane syrup complex, and a visitors center where we watched a 12-minute film on the history of the farm.  Private tours are only offered at certain times, but they also have a self-guided walking tour you can do on your own.  Admission to the farm is just $5 per vehicle, and is a great family stop to make in Gainesville.  Download a park map here for more information: 

7- Let your imaginations run wild at the Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention

Cade Museum Family

This museum has a goal of inspiring and equipping future inventors, entrepreneurs, and visionaries, and it was one of our favorite stops.  It opened in 2018, and still looks brand new. This 3-level museum was full of interactive activities and hands-on learning opportunities. There are workers throughout the museum that lead short educational programs, answer questions, and assist in helping everyone learn.  The kids especially loved the Sweat Solution exhibit that showcased the invention of Gatorade, and they were excited to purchase their own gatorades on our way out the door.  Find more information on their website here

8- Visit a Florida Spring

Swimming at Gilcrest Springs

If you have never visited a Florida Spring, you are missing out!  Florida is home to over 1,000 freshwater springs, and we fell in love with them.  The water is crystal clear, and most of the springs stay a constant and refreshing 72 degrees year around.  We visited four different springs that were under an hour drive away from downtown Gainesville, (Ginnie Springs, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, and Poe Springs). Each of them are different and beautiful, and they are a must see when you visit Florida. Make sure to rent a kayak, tube, or paddleboard to get the full experience of the springs and rivers around them. Bring or rent snorkeling gear to get an underwater look at each spring. You will be glad you did! 

Sante Fe Palms RV Resort

Where did we park our bus while we explored the area? We stayed at the Santa Fe Palms RV Resort (@santafepalmsrvresort). This resort just opened in 2022, and it is the first and only RV Resort located within the city limits of Gainesville. Our family loved the heated pool, full hookup sites, cement pads, the lounge/coffee area with complimentary coffee and tea, and their friendly staff. 

Did you know there was this much to do in Gainesville? We didn’t, and we can’t wait to come back to visit again. Check out Visit Gainesville  for resources and articles to help you plan your Gainesville adventure.

Check out this video about our time in Gainesville here!

Gainesville Florida Video

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Had no clue about the Bat Houses! Definitely worth the trip! Did you see the Butterfly rainforest?

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