With its sunny skies and stunning natural landscape, it’s no wonder that Gainesville has become a popular destination for students and outdoor enthusiasts alike. But while there is plenty to do in town, why not take advantage of your time in the beautiful sunshine state? Whether you’re looking for a beachy getaway or an exciting adventure, here are some of the best day trips from the city of Gainesville waiting to be explored!
15 Best Day Trips from Gainesville, Florida
1. St. Augustine — The oldest city in the United States
Located in northeastern Florida, the charming city of St. Augustine is a historical gem that attracts visitors worldwide. It is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States, with a rich history that dates back more than 450 years. As a travel blogger, I was excited to explore this beautiful city and learn more about its fascinating past.
One of the first places I visited was the Castillo de San Marcos, a massive 17th-century stone fortress that overlooks the Matanzas Bay. Built by the Spanish to protect their interests in the New World, the fort is a testament to the strategic importance of St. Augustine during the colonial era. As I walked along the walls and explored the various rooms and chambers, I couldn’t help but feel like I had been transported back in time.
Another must-see attraction in St. Augustine is the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Located on Anastasia Island, this iconic lighthouse has been guiding ships into the harbor since 1874. The museum offers a fascinating look into the history of the lighthouse and its important role in the region’s maritime history. You can climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse for breathtaking coastline views.
One of the things I loved most about St. Augustine was its vibrant arts and culture scene. The city is home to numerous galleries, museums, and theaters, including the Lightner Museum, the St. Augustine Art Association, and the Limelight Theatre. There are also several annual festivals and events that celebrate the city’s diverse cultural heritage, such as the St. Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival and the Greek Festival.
Of course, no visit to St. Augustine would be complete without a stroll down St. George Street. This pedestrian-only thoroughfare is lined with shops, restaurants, and historical buildings, making it the perfect place to soak up the city’s unique atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed browsing the local art galleries and souvenir shops, and sampling some of the delicious local cuisines.
2. Cedar Key
Cedar Key is a charming coastal town located in the Gulf of Mexico, about two hours’ drive from Tampa, Florida. This small island community is renowned for its picturesque natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere, making it the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway.
One of the main attractions of Cedar Key is its stunning natural scenery. The town is surrounded by crystal-clear waters, lush vegetation, and breathtaking sunsets, making it a paradise for nature lovers. You can explore the surrounding islands by boat, kayak, or even on foot, taking in the region’s unspoiled beauty.
For those interested in history and culture, Cedar Key also has plenty to offer. The town was once a thriving port and fishing village, and you can still see remnants of its rich maritime history in the historic buildings and landmarks throughout the town. The Cedar Key Museum State Park is a great place to learn more about the area’s history and culture, with exhibits on everything from Native American artifacts to the town’s role in the Civil War.
One of the best ways to experience Cedar Key is through its local cuisine. The town is known for its fresh seafood, which can be found in the many restaurants and markets. You can enjoy everything from oysters and shrimp to grouper and snapper; all caught right off the coast of Cedar Key.
Another highlight of Cedar Key is its vibrant arts scene. The town is home to several galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists and artisans. You can browse through unique handmade jewelry, pottery, and other crafts or attend one of the many art festivals and events held throughout the year.
3. Ocala National Forest
If you’re looking for a natural retreat offering breathtaking views, peaceful surroundings, and plenty of outdoor activities, then the Ocala National Forest is the perfect destination. This vast forest is the southernmost in the United States, spanning over 383,000 acres. It offers a variety of unique features, including over 600 natural lakes, springs, and rivers, making it a nature lover’s paradise.
The Ocala National Forest is home to some of the state’s most beautiful and diverse ecosystems. The forest is home to the Florida black bear, the American alligator, the gopher tortoise, and many other native species. The forest is also a popular bird-watching destination, with over 200 species of birds found within its borders.
One of the main attractions of the Ocala National Forest is the natural springs. These springs offer crystal clear water, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. The most famous spring is Silver Springs, the world’s largest artesian spring. You can take glass-bottom boat tours to see the underwater world or rent a kayak or canoe to explore the springs at their own pace.
Another popular activity in the forest is hiking. There are over 600 miles of trails in the forest, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. The trails wind through pine forests, swamps, and along rivers, offering stunning views of the natural landscape. Some of the most popular trails include the Florida Trail, the Juniper Springs Trail, and the Salt Springs Observation Trail.
For those who love to fish, the Ocala National Forest offers a variety of fishing opportunities. There are over 20 fishable lakes in the forest, including Lake George, which is the second-largest lake in Florida. The lakes are home to a variety of fish species, including bass, catfish, and crappie.
Overall, the Ocala National Forest is a nature lover’s paradise. With its diverse ecosystems, natural springs, hiking trails, and fishing opportunities, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat or an outdoor adventure, the Ocala National Forest is a destination that should not be missed.
4. Crystal River
If you’re looking for a unique and scenic day trip from Gainesville, Florida, Crystal River is a must-see destination. Located just over an hour’s drive away, Crystal River is known for its beautiful waterways, abundant wildlife, and opportunities for outdoor adventure.
One of the main attractions in Crystal River is the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which spans over 80,000 acres and is home to a variety of endangered species, including the West Indian manatee. You can take a guided tour of the refuge by boat or kayak to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat. For those looking for a more hands-on experience, there are also opportunities to swim with the manatees, under the supervision of trained professionals.
Another popular attraction in Crystal River is Three Sisters Springs, a natural spring that feeds into the Crystal River. You can take a guided kayak tour of the springs, or walk along the boardwalk for a closer look at the crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Depending on the time of year, you may also be able to spot a variety of birds and other wildlife in the surrounding forest.
For those who enjoy outdoor activities, Crystal River is also a popular destination for fishing, boating, and hiking. The nearby Crystal River Preserve State Park offers miles of hiking trails and opportunities for fishing and kayaking in the surrounding waterways.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back experience, downtown Crystal River offers a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as the opportunity to stroll along the waterfront and take in the beautiful views. Be sure to try some of the local seafood caught fresh daily and served in many of the town’s restaurants.
5. Devil’s Den
Devil’s Den is a stunning natural spring located in Williston, Florida. It is one of the most unique and breathtaking attractions in the state, drawing visitors from all over the world. A day trip to Devil’s Den is a must-do for anyone who loves nature, swimming, and adventure.
The drive to Devil’s Den is just over two hours from Orlando, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. Upon arrival, you will be struck by the area’s natural beauty. The spring is located within a large cave, surrounded by lush vegetation and towering trees. The entrance to the cave is a small opening in the ground, which leads to a large underground chamber.
To access the spring, you must first pay an entrance fee and sign a waiver. They will then be provided with snorkeling gear and a brief safety orientation. The water in Devil’s Den is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a refreshing escape from the hot Florida sun.
Once you descend the stairs into the cave, they will be amazed by the crystal-clear water and stunning rock formations. The underwater cave is home to a wide variety of fish and other aquatic life, making it a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers alike.
Outside of the cave, you can relax in the sun on the surrounding grassy areas. Picnic tables and grills are also available for those who want to make a day of it. The park also offers a variety of other activities, including horseback riding, hiking, and camping.
6. Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a 16-mile paved trail that stretches from Gainesville to Hawthorne, Florida. The trail is a popular destination for walkers, runners, and cyclists and is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery.
One of the most striking features of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is the canopy of trees that covers the path. The trail winds through dense forests and open fields, providing a peaceful and scenic escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Along the way, you can spot various wildlife, including deer, rabbits, and birds.
One of the best ways to experience the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is by bike. The paved path is smooth and well-maintained, making it easy to cycle leisurely. There are also several rest areas and picnic spots along the way, so you can take a break and enjoy the surroundings.
For those who prefer walking or running, the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a great way to get some exercise and fresh air. The trail is relatively flat, with only a few gentle inclines, so it’s suitable for people of all fitness levels.
The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is also a popular destination for history buffs. Along the trail are several historical landmarks, including old railroad tracks and the historic Lochloosa Railroad Bridge. These landmarks provide a glimpse into the area’s past and offer a unique perspective on the trail’s history.
7. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a stunning oasis in Gainesville, Florida, perfect for a relaxing day trip or a weekend getaway. With over 24 distinct gardens spread across 62 acres, this hidden gem has plenty to explore and discover.
As you wander through the gardens, you’ll be transported to different parts of the world, from the lush bamboo groves of the Asian Garden to the colorful blooms of the Butterfly Garden. There’s also the Hammock Garden, filled with towering trees and Spanish moss, and the Rock Garden, which showcases an impressive collection of native Florida plants.
One of Kanapaha Botanical Gardens’ highlights is the Kanapaha Lake, which sits at the heart of the property and provides a tranquil backdrop for the gardens. You can take a stroll around the lake or relax on one of the many benches scattered throughout the area.
Another must-see feature is the Kanapaha’s signature giant Victoria water lilies. These massive plants can grow up to 6 feet in diameter and are a sight to behold. Check out the Victoria Pool, where you can see these incredible plants.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, stop by the Moonlight Walk, a special event where the gardens stay open late and are illuminated by hundreds of lanterns. It’s a magical experience that’s not to be missed.
8. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
If you’re looking for a natural oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Florida should be at the top of your list. This 21,000-acre preserve is a remarkable ecosystem filled with diverse flora and fauna, hiking trails, and exciting recreational activities that will leave you in awe.
One of the most iconic features of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is the vast wetland that covers much of the park’s interior. This marshy terrain is home to a variety of wildlife, including alligators, bison, and wild horses. You can observe these magnificent creatures up close by taking one of the park’s guided tours or by hiking one of the many trails that wind through the wetland.
Another highlight of the park is the observation tower located near the visitor center. This towering structure gives visitors panoramic views of the surrounding wetlands, forests, and prairies. The tower is especially beautiful during sunrise or sunset, where the sky transforms into a canvas of vibrant colors.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park offers a variety of recreational activities to enjoy. You can hike or bike the numerous trails, paddle along the Alachua Sink, or go fishing in one of the park’s several lakes. There are also several camping options available within the park, including primitive camping and RV camping.
For those interested in history, the park also has several historical sites and museums to explore. The visitor center features exhibits on the park’s unique ecosystems, as well as artifacts from the area’s rich history. Nearby, the 19th-century Alachua County Historical Society’s Matheson Museum provides you with a glimpse into the area’s past.
9. Silver Springs State Park
Located just east of Ocala, Silver Springs State Park is a natural wonderland that boasts crystal clear waters, abundant wildlife, and lush vegetation. The park is best known for its famous glass bottom boats, which offer a unique view of the underwater world below.
But there’s much more to explore beyond the boats. You can take a stroll through the park’s historic gardens, which date back to the 1800s, and marvel at the towering cypress trees that line the shores of the Silver River. There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails that wind through the park’s 4,000 acres of wilderness.
If you’re a fan of wildlife, you won’t be disappointed either. The park is home to various animals, including alligators, turtles, and many bird species. You might even spot a manatee or two if you’re lucky.
One of the most unique aspects of Silver Springs State Park is its rich history. The park has been a popular tourist destination since the late 1800s when visitors flocked to see the springs’ natural beauty. In the mid-1900s, the park was even used as a filming location for many Hollywood movies and TV shows, including the original Tarzan films.
Today, the park continues to draw visitors worldwide, and it’s not hard to see why. With its natural beauty, fascinating history, and abundance of activities, Silver Springs State Park is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Florida.
10. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park
Oh, dear wanderlust-driven traveler, let me tell you about a hidden gem tucked away in the heart of Florida: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. If you’re looking for a dose of Old Florida charm, you’ve come to the right place.
Named after Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who lived in the area in the 1930s and wrote the beloved novel “The Yearling,” this state park is a must-visit for literary enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. As soon as you step onto the property, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a simpler era.
The park’s centerpiece is Rawlings’ cracker-style farmhouse, which has been restored to its 1930s glory. You can take a guided tour of the house to see how the author lived and worked, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Florida wilderness. The knowledgeable guides are full of fascinating stories and historical tidbits, and you’ll leave feeling like you’ve made a new friend.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. The park also boasts a lovely nature trail that winds through the surrounding woods and wetlands. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like deer, alligators, and even the occasional Florida panther. If you’re lucky, you might spot some of the same creatures that inspired Rawlings’ writing.
Feeling hungry after all that exploring? Stop by the park’s picnic area to enjoy a bite to eat in the shade of towering oak trees. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at fishing in nearby Orange Lake.
No matter what your interests, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. So pack a picnic basket, grab your camera, and get ready to step back in time to a simpler, more peaceful era. You won’t regret it.
11. Florida Museum of Natural History
The first thing that strikes you about the Florida Museum of Natural History is its impressive size. The museum spans over 70,000 square feet and features exhibits covering everything from Florida’s diverse ecosystems to the state’s rich cultural history. The museum is home to over 40 million specimens and artifacts, making it one of the largest natural history museums in the Southeast.
As you enter the museum, you are greeted by a stunning, life-sized skeleton of a Florida mastodon, a creature that roamed the state over 10,000 years ago. From there, you can explore the museum’s exhibits, each one showcasing a different aspect of Florida’s natural and cultural history.
One of my favorite exhibits is the Butterfly Rainforest, a lush tropical paradise where visitors can walk among hundreds of free-flying butterflies from around the world. It’s an immersive and interactive experience that will delight visitors of all ages.
Another highlight of the museum is the Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife exhibit, which explores the unique ecosystems of the state’s panhandle region. Visitors can see a variety of animals, including alligators, otters, and birds of prey, in their natural habitats.
If you’re interested in Florida’s fascinating cultural history, you won’t want to miss the Exploring Our World exhibit. This exhibit showcases artifacts from ancient civilizations, including the Mayan and Aztec cultures, as well as the history of Florida’s native peoples.
In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Florida Museum of Natural History also hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year, so there’s always something new to discover.
12. San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a true paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Located in northern Florida, this 7,000-acre park offers a unique combination of pristine wilderness, stunning scenery, and recreational opportunities.
As soon as you enter the park, you’ll be surrounded by a dense canopy of oak and hickory trees, which provide a cool and shady refuge from the hot Florida sun. The park’s trails wind through this forest, leading you to hidden springs, quiet creeks, and ancient sinkholes. Along the way, you may spot some of the park’s wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and a variety of birds.
One of the highlights of the park is the Alachua Sink, a massive sinkhole that plunges 120 feet deep. It’s a breathtaking sight and a must-see for visitors. Another popular destination is the Suspension Bridge, which spans a deep ravine and offers stunning views of the surrounding forest.
The park is also a haven for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, with over 30 miles of trails to explore. If you’re looking for a challenge, the 8-mile Gum Root Trail offers steep climbs and rocky terrain.
For those who want to spend the night, the park has several camping options, including primitive sites and cabins. And if you’re looking for a day trip, the nearby town of Gainesville offers plenty of restaurants, shopping, and cultural attractions.
13. High Springs
Welcome to High Springs, a charming town in North Florida’s heart. This idyllic destination is yet another hidden gem offering the perfect blend of natural beauty, history, and small-town charm.
High Springs is known for its crystal-clear natural springs, ideal for swimming, diving, and kayaking. Take a dip in the refreshing waters of the famous Ginnie Springs, or explore the underwater caves nearby Blue Springs Park. If you prefer to stay on land, go hiking or biking along the picturesque trails at O’Leno State Park, where you can enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings and spot some wildlife.
The town itself is a delightful mix of quaint shops, art galleries, and delicious eateries. Stroll along the charming main street, where you’ll find antique stores, local boutiques, and charming cafes serving up homemade treats. Don’t miss the chance to sample some of the mouth-watering Southern-style cuisine, such as fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits.
History buffs will also love High Springs, which is home to the oldest operating railroad depot in Florida. The High Springs Museum is a must-visit destination, where you can learn about the town’s rich history and admire exhibits featuring local artifacts and photographs.
14. Cross Creek
Cross Creek is a picturesque town in north-central Florida that captures the essence of old Florida with its natural beauty and charming hospitality. Nestled among scenic waterways and sprawling oak trees, the town is an ideal getaway for those seeking a laid-back vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
As you stroll along the quaint streets, you’ll be greeted by friendly locals who are always happy to share stories about their beloved town. You’ll find a wide variety of small businesses, including antique shops, art galleries, and cafes, each offering their own unique character and charm.
Nature lovers will delight in the many outdoor activities Cross Creek has to offer. Take a leisurely kayak ride along the winding creeks, explore the vast wetlands, or cast a line and try your luck at catching a bass or catfish. The town is also home to several nature preserves and wildlife refuges, providing plenty of opportunities to observe native Florida wildlife in their natural habitats.
One of the town’s most famous residents was author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose former home and writing studio have been turned into a museum and is open for tours and offers a glimpse into the life of a famous Florida author.
15. Lake City
Lake City is located in the heart of North Florida. This charming city is surrounded by natural beauty and boasts a friendly community that welcomes visitors with open arms. If you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, Lake City is the perfect destination for you.
One of the top attractions in Lake City is the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, which is the site of Florida’s largest Civil War battle. This park is a must-visit for history buffs and nature lovers alike. It features hiking trails, picnic areas, and a museum that showcases artifacts from the battle.
Another popular destination in Lake City is Ichetucknee Springs State Park. This park is home to the crystal-clear Ichetucknee River, which is a popular spot for tubing, kayaking, and swimming. The park also has hiking trails, picnic areas, and campsites for visitors to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a taste of small town charm, you can’t miss out on the Downtown Lake City area. The streets are lined with quaint shops and restaurants that offer a variety of cuisines. The historic Columbia County Courthouse is also located in this area and is a great spot for photo ops.
For a unique experience, make sure to check out the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. This park is dedicated to celebrating the life and music of Stephen Foster, who wrote many famous American songs such as “Oh! Susanna” and “Swanee River.” The park features a museum, a craft village, and a carillon tower that plays Foster’s music throughout the day.
The next door Live Oak is a quaint town just a short drive from Lake City. It’s the county seat of Suwannee County and is known for its beautiful natural scenery and laid-back vibe.
One of the top attractions in Live Oak is the Suwannee River State Park. This park is located along the banks of the Suwannee River and offers visitors a chance to explore the river by canoe or kayak, hike through the park’s trails, or even camp overnight. The park also has a playground and picnic areas, making it a great spot for families.
Another popular destination in Live Oak is the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. This park is known for hosting music festivals throughout the year and features multiple stages, campsites, and even a beach area. Even if you’re not attending a festival, the park is still worth a visit for its natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere.
Besides Walt Disney World, Florida is home to many lesser-known destinations that are ideal for a weekend getaway or longer vacation. From the outdoor activities of Cross Creek to the cultural attractions in Lake City and the quaint charm of Live Oak, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this sunshine state. So don’t forget to check out these amazing places when planning your next vacation. You won’t be disappointed!