Even if the Gators have an abysmal season (looking at you, 2015), there is plenty of off-the-field action for travelers in the city of Gainesville. Nature enthusiasts, animal-lovers, foodies, and craft beer connoisseurs (that’s right, the kind that doesn’t come from a keg in a fraternity house) will quickly discover that visiting Gainesville, Florida on a football weekend isn’t just about the gridiron. Regardless of the scoreboard, these top things to do in Gainesville are sure to keep your spirit soaring.
1. Craft beer is for winners ( … and losers too because … well, look at our 2015 record)
Craft brewers and aficionados (and people who just like beer) are all about Gainesville.
- First Magnitude – It’s a cool stop with an impressive taproom and various food trucks parked outside. Fans can try a variety of First Magnitude’s brews like Wakulla Weizen, Pavo Pilsner and Schnozberry Gose. You can even enroll in funky classes like yoga at the brewery and Ride with the Velo Vixens. On Tuesday, the brewery hosts its own trivia nights.
- Swamp Head, a Florida-themed brewery that refers to its tasting room as the “wetlands.” Taps like Stump Knocker and Tropical Disturbance are popular, as are special holiday brews Swampy Hollow and Gingerbread Man Amber. The brewery gets rave reviews for its cool interior—organic, rustic wood, exposed beams, metallic chairs, and friendly locals.
2. Sometimes you just need to wine a little
What’s the best way to whine about a football loss? (Hint: it’s the same way we like to gloat over a win). With wine, of course! Gainesville’s own winery, Island Grove, produces varieties of fruit wines made from blueberries, strawberries, and apples. Located in Hawthorne just outside Gainesville’s city center, Island Grove is known for brewing extra fruity flavors, especially blueberry wines made from the highest quality of Florida’s blueberries (comes dry or sweet). The winery is 700 acres, half of which is a blueberry farm. Island Grove is both a little out of the way, but still easy to get to, and it offers personal, small-group wine tours with knowledgeable staff guides.
Tasting hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No tours are offered on weekends.
3. I’ll have a little shopping with my football
If you’re in Gainesville, it’s good manners to wear orange and blue…but if you’re planning to show up in garnet and gold, you might as well just not show up at all. You’ll find the appropriate Gator accoutrement in almost every Gainesville shop. Die-hard fans will want to swing by the UF Bookstore on Museum Road, which sells an impressive amount of Gator gear and memorabilia like baseball hats, jerseys, and coasters. Other great stores to stock up on the team’s items are Colorful Gator, Allure Boutique, and Ilene’s Gator Shop.
4. We’ve got gators off the field, too
Where can you find alligators resting under the sun? No, not on the 50 yard line—at La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie. Just south of Gainesville, visitors can hike through the wetlands on raised walkways to see scores of (real) gators. Keep your eyes peeled for roaming bison and wild horses that inhabit the area as well. Fans can take advantage of one of the eight trails at the park for hiking, biking or horseback riding, and for those who want to extend their stay overnight, a designated camping site accommodates up to 20 people and has its own campfire circle.
Local’s Tip: Bring the kids—the site has an Operation Recreation GeoTour where children are given high-tech, hand-held devices to track down treasures throughout the prairie.
5. Florida Museum of Natural History (no, this isn’t our Championship trophies from long ago)
The Florida Museum of Natural History has plenty of fun perks like the Fossil Plant Garden where children can walk among tree leaves and mosses that are up to 450 million years old. The Discovery Room has hands-on experiences for children to inspect manatee bones, eggs and mounted Floridian birds. Visitors can browse through displays of Native American artifacts to learn the tools and clothing worn by early area inhabitants of Gainesville. One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is the Butterfly Rainforest—an indoor tropical garden with hundreds of free-roaming butterflies from more 60 species.
6. Eat local with the locals
It may seem like we eat, drink, and breathe football down here, but we eat real food, too. Here’s your guide to the Gainesville dining scene:
- Satchel’s Pizza is a trendy spot for locals that serves pizzas and craft beer in what can only be described as a vintage mecca. Inside Satchel’s are wall-to-wall displays of Americana antique collectibles like birdhouses, second-hand toys and mounted antlers. The pizzeria sells various odd knick knacks such as like Pez dispensers, plastic windmills and Slinky toys. Drop the kids off at the old-school playground, and grab a seat inside a renovated hippie bus with a picnic table inside for dining. Peace, love, and pizza.
- For tasty sweets, try The Talented Cookie Company for a mom-and-pop establishment that serves chocolate sundae cupcakes and vanilla lattes (go ahead and order both, we don’t judge).
- Sweet Dreams Ice Cream serves up to 24 impressive homemade ice cream flavors! They also host special events like Chocolate Nights and Wacky Flavors Night.
- To get comforting soul food, swing by Southern Charm Kitchen to order “Pentecostal Fried Chicken”. What’s that, you ask? No description could do this deliciousness justice…just trust us.
- New Deal Cafe is a good alternative to get bison burgers made with fresh ingredients or vegan “Sloppy Tempeh-Joe.”
7. Spring into a spring
Situated just outside of Gainesville are Ichetucknee Springs and Ginnie Springs. Both stay a constant 72 degrees year round, so there are quite a few daring souls swimming and diving there even in the winter months! If you’re not so into the freezing your you-know-what off, stay above water (hopefully) with Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, or get your yoga on with DriftSup, a paddleboard yoga company providing all things water Zen!
8. Florida Fun Bike Tours
It’s a bar, it’s a bike, no … it’s the Florida Fun Bike! Operated solely by a group peddle, the fun bike is one of our favorite things to do in Gainesville and is the city’s only 16-person pedal powered party on wheels. Perfect for pub crawls, parties, company outings, and so much more! Take a tour of Gainesville’s historic downtown with a view of six of the city’s internationally-acclaimed public art murals and the famous Hippodrome Theatre. This peddle tour stops at various local pubs and restaurants to ensure a great experience for all ages—non-peddling seats available.