Gainesville: The Northern Florida City with Its Own Groove

Butterflies, bats, and local brews await in this pocket of northern Florida.

gainesville fl
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Gainesville, Florida, prides itself on being out of the ordinary. Sure, it's got the classic college campus and the picture-perfect trees dripping in Spanish moss, but those who call this city home will sooner tell you about the quirky, artsy undercurrent that runs through the local digs. Gainesville has an undeniable personality. So much so that the local stay, Sweetwater Branch Inn, gives itself the tagline, "Distinctively Gainesville."

What exactly makes Gainesville so unique? This town might be home to the University of Florida, but we also know this city is home to eight state parks with over 100 miles of biking, hiking, and birding trails. With an artsy spirit and laid-back vibe, Gainesville might just be the quiet Florida retreat you've been searching for.

Explore the Campus

Take a walk around the University of Florida's pristine grounds. The 2,000-acre campus has much to discover, from the Harn Museum of Art to the sprawling football stadium, also known as The Swamp. On campus, you'll also find the Florida Museum of Natural History, which ranks among the nation's top five natural history museums. After you've seen your fair share of fossils, head over to the Butterfly Rainforest—this lush landscape is home to hundreds of butterflies and other animals.

Don't miss the nightly emergence of bats at the UF Bat Houses, which have an estimated population of 750,000 bats. You can see the bats in action just after sunset on warm evenings.

Get Outdoors

One if by land, two if by sea. Whichever way you like to get outside, Gainesville has an adventure waiting for you. Bike, hike, or walk the scenic 16 miles of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, a historic railway turned greenway. When the weather's warm, break out the kayak or inner tube and float down the Santa Fe River or the Ichetucknee River.

"North Florida is home to over 1,000 freshwater springs and the largest collection of First Magnitude freshwater springs in the United States," writes Visit Gainesville. Dip in the crystal-clear, temperate springs at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park or Ginnie Springs, where an underwater cave network makes a perfect scuba diver's playground.

Eat Local

Start your morning with coffee at Cymplify Coffee Co or at local-favorite Maude's, an artsy café with some signature sweets. Head to brunch at Afternoon, a casual counter-order spot sourcing its fresh ingredients from local farm partners. Skip the mimosa in favor of a glass of natural wine from sister shop Serpentine Plants & Provisions (which also offers a natural wine club). Get a taste of the craft beer scene at Cypress and Grove Brewing Co., a brewery that doubles as a neighborhood gathering space.

For a laid-back dinner experience, duck into neighborhood tavern Public and General. Get to know the local crowd at Gainesville staple Satchel's Pizza, a quirky joint with house-made stained-glass windows and its own gift shop. Or opt for dinner in downtown Gainesville at The Top, where you can build your own burger or choose from one of their no-substitution mainstays, like the Widow Maker, which features a patty with a chili-espresso rub. Afterwards, be sure to check out the three stories of arcade games at Arcade Bar. Cap it all off with a Cuban pastry at Flaco's, a restaurant and bakery whose late-night hours satisfy any 2 AM craving for empanadas or guava pastries.

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