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Gainesville is full of fun and free things to do for people of all ages. From museums to nature trails to art walks and more, there are plenty of activities for families with children, couples, students, and singles. Here are the top 25 free things to do in Gainesville, FL.
Gainesville, FL is located in North Central Florida, with about 130,000 people and home to the University of Florida and Santa Fe College. Gainesville has a strong economy with agriculture, health care, sports, and academics. However, Gainesville is not just a college town, it’s also the home of many activities that are great for families.
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Exploring the University of Florida Campus is the Best Free Thing To Do in Gainesville FL
1) The first free thing to do in Gainesville, FL, must be to explore the grounds of the University of Florida, locally known as “UF.” The University of Florida has a stunning campus that includes walking paths and scenic areas. It is free to explore, and there are plenty of opportunities for families to enjoy quality time together outdoors. UF covers over 2,000 acres of land with plenty of green space, lakes, and monuments. On-campus, you can find all sorts of places to eat, drink coffee or have a picnic lunch.
2) Stroll the path around Lake Alice on the UF campus in the serenity of nature, sit up against a tree, and read a book. You may even spot an alligator.
3) Take in the splendor of the Baughman Center, a place of quiet contemplation and likely the most peaceful place on campus.
4) Catch a view of bats from the UF Bat House heading out minutes after sunset on warm nights (greater than 65 degrees Fahrenheit) for foraging, hydration, and exercise.
5) If you are into exercising or need to burn off lunch, try running the stadium steps at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where the Florida Gators football team plays their games.
6) Then cross University Avenue and find a quintessential college bar smelling of stale beer and bad decisions and sit down for a cheap beer. Although, maybe not, if you have the kids with you.
Go For A Walk, Jog, or Ride On the Trails in Gainesville
7) Hike or bike the San Felasco Trail.
8) Stroll a suburban walking path such as the Haile loop, a 3.1-mile loop around the neighborhood. You will need some cash to stop at Patticakes for coffee and a cupcake after (or during) your walk.
9) Or the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, sixteen miles you can hike or bike. This trail is part of the rails to trails project that paved an old railroad track for jogging, walking, and biking. There is also an adjacent equestrian trail.
10) Hike alongside Hogtown Creek at Alfred Ring Park, a well-known spot in Gainesville, to find shark’s teeth. This trail is simple and short (only 1.4 miles round trip); it’s perfect for small children or a quick stroll for fresh air.
Find a Park to Spend the Day With Your Family
11) Hang out in Depot Park, where there is a playground and splash pad for the kids, an open space for your picnic, and a trail for exercising.
12) Enjoy watching the sunrise over Paynes Prairie to start a brand new day. The Paynes Prairie Preserve is a great place to visit when you want to get away from the city, take in some nature, and experience a breathtaking and most memorable sunrise.
13) Take a long walk around Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park and discover kids playing on the playground, shooting hoops, enjoying a competitive baseball or soccer game, and some people just relaxing on the lawn under a shaded tree. And the park now has five painted pickleball courts.
14) Yoga in the park ~ You don’t need to be a yogi or a fitness guru to enjoy this free activity. Yoga in the park is an opportunity for people of all yoga experiences and fitness levels to enjoy some time outdoors. The benefits of yoga are numerous — it can help you relieve stress, improve your mood, increase your flexibility, and even make you more focused at work. So if you are looking for a new way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise, this is the activity for you, and it’s free.
15) Take the kids to the park. Gainesville has multiple parks for families with kids to enjoy the day outdoors. Here is a list of the best parks for families with kids with lots of stuff to do:
- Westside Park has a fantastic playground, five softball fields, racquetball, tennis, and basketball courts, plus 1.5 miles of jogging trails. They also have a skate park and an Olympic-sized pool, splash pad, and waterslide.
- Depot Park has a playground and a splash pad.
- Cynthia Moore Chestnut Park and Clark Butler Nature Preserve in South East Gainesville have baseball, soccer, football fields, basketball courts, a hiking trail, and a playground.
- Kanapaha Park has basketball courts, a huge open field for soccer, lacrosse or football, a shaded playground, five pickleball courts, and a baseball field. And, of course, a jogging path surrounding the property.
- Hampstead Park in Haile has a small, covered playground for kids, a large field for picnics and impromptu football games, and a gazebo for gatherings.
Free Things To Do In Gainesville FL to Beat the Heat and Humidity
16) Walk around Target on Archer Road, an interesting place to visit — step out of the heat and humidity, browse, and people-watch (you know I love people-watching). And speaking of people-watching, the Walmart Supercenter is epic. Unfortunately, none of the Walmarts in Gainesville are open 24 hours, but they are open late, until 11 PM. (This suggestion is from my teenage daughter who loves a walkabout in Target or Walmart).
17) Beat the heat “hiking” the mall if it’s too hot and humid. I know, not super interesting unless you really look hard, then you will discover lots of unique boutiques, restaurants, and kiosks. And if it’s super muggy outside, you will appreciate the break. Oh, and there is a Starbucks.
Or Try a Free Museum Tour
18) The Florida Museum of Natural History is free for touring. There is a charge for the Butterfly Museum, but most of the exhibits in the Museum are free.
19) Explore the Harn Museum of Art, with over 10,000 pieces to observe, critique, and admire.
Artsy and Free Things To Do In Gainesville FL
20) Visit the murals on the Santa Fe College Campus. These colorful murals are a part of the Gainesville Urban Art Project, and they are perfect for your family Christmas Card backdrop.
21) Stroll the vibrant downtown area ~ Gainesville has a thriving downtown area that features unique retail shops. The downtown area offers an eclectic mix of locally-owned boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Plus the haunted Hippodrome State Theatre.
22) Spend an afternoon hanging out at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, a community gathering place hosting local musical, culinary, and recreational events. It’s a great place to gather with friends or relax on one of their many benches while listening to live music.
23) Check out the art at the 34th street wall, a little over 1000 feet of graffiti, and a quintessential Gainesville sight.
24) The murals located throughout the city are super cool. In the past few years, street art has popped up all over town in colorful and eclectic murals. In an “expansive public art initiative, 352walls mission is to position Gainesville as a vibrant cultural destination, stimulate urban renewal, foster cultural tourism and economic development, beautify the urban landscape, boost community pride, and serve as a platform for urban art studies.” Check out the website, which features artists from all over the world and addresses where you can find their murals in Gainesville. You can even try the “Walls Walk Cell Phone Tour.”
Give Back To the Community
25) Feed the horses at Millcreek Farm, full of retired horses living their best life. The admission to the farm isn’t exactly free; it costs two carrots.
26) Volunteer your time at Bread of the Mighty Food Bank and help “collect, sort, store and distribute donated food and basic essentials to 170+ non-profit agency partners such as food pantries, churches, homeless shelters and other organizations who then distribute food in their communities to directly feed the hungry.” I am in awe of how significant this distribution center is (25,000 square feet), but more than that, how many people are food insecure and need help. So while you’re in town visiting, spend a couple of hours giving back to the community.
Stroll a Local Farmer’s Market
27) Check out the local farmer’s market. Many like to stroll through the farmer’s markets for the colorful fruits, veggies, fresh eggs, homemade goodies, and flowers. You may need to drop some cash if you can’t resist that homemade chocolate chip muffin. Many people enjoy the experience of going to a farmer’s market. You will find a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and other items such as honey and cheese. The farmer’s market is a great place to go if you want to get in touch with your environment and see what is in season. And it’s also a great way to save money on groceries because you can often buy produce at prices that are lower than what you would find at the grocery store.
There’s a lot of free things to do in Gainesville, FL. With opportunities for exploring the University of Florida, exercising, walking the trails, exploring the arts, and giving back — what more could you ask for?
Gainesville might not be the big metropolis other cities are, but it’s full of culture and opportunities. So whatever you’re looking for — Gainesville’s got it.