Known for its historic architecture and sprawling campus, the city of Gainesville is an urban forest in north-central Florida that often flies under the radar on traveler’s itineraries.
This part of the state is home to a wide variety of picturesque landscapes and fun destinations, and whether you’re a Gainesville native, a student at the university, or just passing through, you’re in a prime position to explore some of the best that the sunshine state has to offer.
Scroll down for a complete guide for the top picks for the best day trips from Gainesville, Florida.
Table of Contents
- 1. Tampa
- 2. Orlando
- 3. Daytona Beach
- 4. Palm Coast
- 5. St. Augustine
- 6. Jacksonville
- 7. Cedar Key
- 8. Fanning Springs State Park
- 9. Dudley Farm Historic State Park
- 10. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
- 11. Amelia Island
- 12. Steinhatchee
- 13. Island Grove Wine Co. Tasting House
- 14. Fort White
- 15. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
- 16. Grove Park Wildlife Management Area
- 16. Newberry
- 17. Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area
- 18. Crystal River Reserve Park
- 19. Lake City
- 20. High Springs
- 21. Starke
- 22. Deltona
- 23. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
- 24. Palatka
- 25. Ocala
Tampa is one of the most popular destinations in Florida, and a wonderful day trip from Gainesville. There are an almost endless amount of options to choose from on your day trip, depending on what your interests are.
The food scene in Tampa is flourishing, and you can practically taste delicious meals from all around the world here. The Heights Public Market is the main location for all food lovers. You’ll find hundreds of stands with delicious foods from Central and South America. The market itself stretches over an area larger than 20,000 feet, so you can easily spend the day here alone.
Tampa offers ideal outdoor or street shopping experiences. The Hyde Park area of Tampa is the most recommended when it comes to relaxed shopping away from busy malls. You can find a few designer shops and a selection of top-level restaurants to dine in.
Orlando is home to some of the world’s most iconic theme parks, making it a great place for a day trip from Gainesville.
You’ll have your choice of over 12 different parks, including:
- Walt Disney World
- Universal Orlando
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you’re looking to beat the crowds that often come with the theme parks, you could spend the day at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, take a tour of Giraffe Ranch, hang out at the Tree Trek Adventure Park, or play a round or two of golf at Universal CityWalk.
The only downside of visiting Orlando for the day is that you can’t possibly see everything that the city has to offer – so we recommend taking a few extra days to visit this enchanting city.
3. Daytona Beach
Those looking for a beach day should make the drive to the vibrant city of Daytona Beach – often considered to be the most famous beach town in America.
Although famous for its international speedway, Daytona Beach is actually a great spot to soak up some sun and play in the water. Those looking for some active fun in the sun can enjoy surfing, parasailing, or kayaking, while beach bums can search for the best spot to lay down their towels and sprawl out on over 23 miles of white sand.
The boardwalk is filled with bars, restaurants, and arcades, and in the summer you’ll be able to catch free concerts at various band shells around the shore.
The city itself is also a great place to spend the day, with tons of museums, miles of scenic driving routes, and nearly 20 different golf courses.
4. Palm Coast
Palm Coast is the ideal place to swim with the dolphins, and the perfect way to spend the day! The Marineland Dolphin Adventure is the perfect place to take your kids swimming with the dolphins.
The small nature of Palm Coast makes this place a bit less crowded than other marines in Florida, which is perfect for families looking for a relaxing day trip.
5. St. Augustine
Perhaps the most popular day trip from Gainesville is the historic city of St. Augustine – the oldest, continuously settled city in the country, featuring original Spanish colonial architecture.
Spend your day in this beautiful city learning about some of its history in one of its many museums, strolling around the Old Quarter, or even drinking from the fountain of youth that has enticed many travelers throughout the years.
The Castillo de San Marcos is a must-see when in St. Augustine. It’s the oldest masonry stone fort in the continental US, and you’ll feel like you actually stepped back in time when you enter – in part, thanks to the actors that demonstrate what life was like back when the fort was manned.
St. Augustine is also famous for its beautiful, white-sand beaches – so if you’re looking for a day in the sun, this city is a safe bet.
The bustling city of Jacksonville is just over an hour away from Gainesville, and has everything you’ll need for a successful day trip – including fun for all ages!
From science museums and shopping to adventure parks and fishing, this vibrant city will not disappoint. You could spend your day ambling through historic neighborhoods, popping in and out of art galleries, or kayaking along the St. James River. There are also plenty of restaurants and craft beer joints, and the nightlife may have you considering turning your day trip into a weekend getaway.
One of the most important stops is at the Friendship Fountain, which used to be the largest fountain in the world. Even today, it’s still impressive, moving over 17,000 tons of water up to 100 feet in the air. The evening light display of the fountain make it look even more spectacular.
Those looking for a fun beach day can also bypass the city entirely and head straight for the ocean. With over 22 miles of white-sand beaches, you can lay your towel out and bask in the famous Florida sunshine, try your hand at surfing, or explore the Castaway Island Preserve.
The Jacksonville Zoo is a great place to stop for families with kids. It’s the largest zoo in Florida and home to thousands of animal species, so you can easily spend a full day visiting. Getting closer to animals like giraffes and goats is a unique experience that makes Jacksonville one of the most underrated zoo destinations in the US. This large zoo even has restaurants to stop and refuel, as you’ll need plenty of energy to walk its vast park. You can also opt to take the famous zoo train for a unique experience.
7. Cedar Key
Located on the west coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Cedar Key makes for a great day trip from Gainesville.
Named for the trees that populate this barrier island, Cedar Key is a great place to reconnect with nature. Wildlife watching is a popular pastime here, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot white pelicans, bald eagles, and even pods of dolphins.
You can roam the island via golf cart, or take an airboat ride and explore the marshlands. You can also rent a kayak and paddle along the calm, shallow waters, or hire a charter boat to go further out into the gulf and reel in some dinner.
If you do happen to catch something worth keeping, you can bring it to one of the restaurants in town and have them cook it up to your liking. If you don’t get so lucky out on the water, the local joints are known for their tantalizing seafood dishes – don’t miss out on the clam chowder!
8. Fanning Springs State Park
Those looking for a relaxing day trip from Gainesville will love Fanning Springs State Park. It’s located less than an hour away along the Suwannee River and is a quiet retreat that is popular with locals and tourists alike.
The warm clear water is a great place to cool off during the hot summer months, and when the weather gets cooler, you might spot a lazing manatee or two in the river. Other full-time residents include deer, hawks, woodpeckers, and owls.
The park also boasts verdant picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a hiking trail. In addition, the boardwalk offers great views of a cypress swamp and various benches where you can sit back and relax in the silence of nature.
9. Dudley Farm Historic State Park
If you’re looking for a close day trip from Gainesville, then Dudley Farm Historic State Park is a must. This is a great spot for history buffs or anyone looking to learn a little bit about farm life in Florida during the 19th and 20th centuries.
This old farm was established before the Civil War and still has 18 of the original buildings, including a general store, a post office, and a restored family farmhouse.
Wander around the estate and look on as volunteers perform daily chores like raising crops and tending to the livestock while dressed in period clothing.
After your day at the farm, you can enjoy a picnic on the grounds, or explore some of the nearby hiking trails. You can even purchase some heritage plants from the Dudley garden before making your way back to Gainesville.
10. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
The closest day trip from Gainesville on our list is located just ten miles away at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The park was Florida’s first preserve, and offers visitors a chance to see some of the state’s most beautiful flora and fauna.
Start your day in the visitor center learning about the area and taking in views from the 50-foot watchtower. From there, you can explore the park by foot, bike, or even horseback as you take in views of native biological communities. Keep your eyes peeled for some of the park’s full-time residents, including wild horses, bison, otters, alligators, sandhill cranes, and bald eagles.
Take some time to enjoy Lake Wauburg, located inside of the park, and spend the day fishing or canoeing in its calm waters.
11. Amelia Island
One of the top ten islands in the country, a day trip to Amelia Island is certainly warranted when you’re looking for some time away from Gainesville.
Its beautiful beaches are the main draw, so no one would fault you for simply soaking up some sun on the beach all day! After all, there’s no better way to relax.
Indulge your taste buds at one of the many restaurants located on the island. There are nearly a hundred options to choose from – from tapas and poke bowls to fresh seafood and burger shacks – so you’ll have no problem finding something to please even the pickiest of eaters.
Spend the day watching Civil War re-enactments at the Fort Clinch State Park, peruse the many shops and storefronts, or enjoy a cocktail at the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida.
Anglers will find a fun day trip from Gainesville in the small town of Steinhatchee, located about 70 miles to the west.
This charming river town boasts great fishing opportunities, Victorian waterfront homes, a host of great restaurants, and miles of country roads that are perfect for biking.
13. Island Grove Wine Co. Tasting House
Wine lovers will find a fantastic day trip just 30 minutes away at the Island Grove Wine Co Tasting House.
Specializing in blueberry wine, this small winery uses its own blueberry crop to craft its delicious drink. Even if you don’t like blueberries, this massive facility has a large collection of locally made wine and craft beer, so you’ll be sure to find something that pleases your taste buds.
Take a tour of the facilities, visit the eclectic gift shop, and stick around for an escape room night of fun!
14. Fort White
Fort White is a small community you can visit on a day trip from Gainesville. It can be the ideal place for long walks along pristine-condition streets, away from the busy shopping areas of large cities, and is also the perfect place to get to know the locals.
Visit the Haas Family Farm while stopping in Fort White. It can take a few hours, but is well worth it – and you can visit and even walk through the rest of the city within a day.
15. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
This park is located just outside Gainesville, which makes it ideal for quick access and no time wasted on traveling. It doesn’t have any commercial influence, so you’ll truly be out in nature when visiting. As with any good state park, you can hike along multiple trails with varying levels of difficulty and lengths.
One way to explore the park is by cycling from Gainesville directly. The Gainesville to Hawthorne State Trail is perfect for cycling, and you can choose from a rod bike for this type of adventure or a mountain bike if you plan to venture off the beaten path.
16. Grove Park Wildlife Management Area
A bit further out from Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, you can start hunting for bucks and practice your shooting skills at the Grove Park Wildlife Management Area. The place is ideal if you like hiking as well. Camping here isn’t free, but you shouldn’t worry about pricing if you’re only visiting for the day.
Unlike most other state parks in Florida, the Grove Park Wildlife Management Area doesn’t have the best roads for driving, so you should have an off-road vehicle when planning a visit.
Newberry is an ideal location for a picnic a bit further away from Gainesville. This small town has a population of just 6,000 people, and is located in the proximity of the Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area.
This reserve is known for its excellent designated picnic locations, which can be the place to stop for a sandwich when traveling with the family. The reserve also features multiple hiking trails of very low difficulty levels, as the ground is mostly flat.
17. Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area
If you don’t fancy hiking, plan a day trip to visit natural areas that are completely disconnected from technology or large numbers of tourists.
The Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area is one of the aforementioned areas, where you can drive through the woods and see all types of trees, shrubs, and birds, such as eagles. It also has plenty of parking areas so you can stop to rest as often as you need.
18. Crystal River Reserve Park
Those looking for a fun experience in a beautiful setting would be hard-pressed to find a better day trip from Gainesville. Spread over 27 acres, the Crystal River Preserve State Park boasts verdant forests, beautiful backwaters, and an array of exciting activities that will keep you busy for the whole day.
The most popular activity is swimming with the manatees that reside here full-time. This is the only place in the country you can get up close with these gentle giants, so don’t miss your chance!
Other park pass-times include kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, biking, and fishing. You can even scuba dive and snorkel in the crystal clear waters or collect bay scallops during the summer months.
No matter how you choose to spend your day at Crystal River Preserve State Park, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful, unspoiled nature. The town itself is also worth a visit – thanks to its numerous restaurants and charming downtown area.
19. Lake City
Lake City might have too many attractions to cover in a single day, so prioritize them according to what you like.
Those into history and culture can head over to the Columbia County Historical Museum, which is the perfect place to learn more about the history of the 19th century.
Those who love nature can head over to the Osceola National Forest. This forest spreads over 20,000 acres, making it one of the largest in the state and ideal for short and long hiking trips.
20. High Springs
One of the closest day trips from Gainesville is located just 30 minutes away in High Springs. This small town packs a big punch thanks to its historic downtown area and a plethora of outdoor activities. High Springs is a small community town, making it the perfect day trip. Arrive in early morning so that you can see most of its attractions.
The town is steeped in 1940s architecture, and much of it hasn’t changed significantly over the years. Stop at the High Springs Museum to learn about the history of the place, which is split between the pre-colonial era and in the industrial era when the first train line connected it to the rest of the state.
Spend your day wandering through antique shops and art galleries, and make sure to stop at one of the various restaurants for a bite to eat or grab a beer at the High Springs Brewing Company.
Tubing and swimming in the crystal clear springs are one of the most popular ways to relax and beat the heat, and the more adventurous visitors can spend the day cave diving, snorkeling, or canoeing. Continue your visit at Bike Florida, which is the spot known for promoting health and fitness and plenty of bike trails. You’ll also benefit from the help of various guides who can take you and your friends on an in-depth tour of the area.
The area is also great for hiking and wildlife watching, and if you can’t pull yourself away from all the natural beauty, you can pitch a tent and stay for a night or two.
Starke is one of the closest golf locations to Gainesville. The Starke Golf Club is one of the most interesting destinations for a day spent on a course.
Its 36-par golf course is beginner friendly, so you don’t need to be a golfing expert to have a good time at the simple flat golf course.
Deltona is one of the small Florida cities with a fast-rising number of tourists. Just like the rest of the state, it has a reputation for high heat and strong summertime sun.
Cooling off is always a priority in Florida, and the Persimmon Hollow Brewing Company in Deltona can offer just the right type of beer to beat the heat. You can visit the brewery any day of the week to sample the local interpretation of the popular drink.
23. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Located in Sanford, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is an excellent non-profit location with plenty of animals. You need to drive here, but it can be the perfect day trip for families. Spread over 116 acres, this zoo is extremely impressive.
Kids will be most tempted to see the zoo’s large animals, which tend to be spectacular. Giraffes in particular are some of the zoo’s most impressive.
Palatka is a small Florida municipality on the shores of the St. Johns River. It’s South Historic District is ideal for long walks along the river banks. The location is ideal as a one-day romantic gateway in Florida. If you feel like taking a long walk, you can cross over the North Historic District to see what it has to offer.
A favorite spot for tourists here is the classic Bronson Mulholland House, which can serve as a spot to learn more about classic Southern architecture.
Adventurous souls shouldn’t miss their chance to visit the nearby city of Ocala while in Gainesville. This town is the gateway into the Ocala National Forest, and offers adrenaline junkies a chance to partake in some heart-pounding activities. Nature lovers will also be thoroughly pleased with this area and will be treated to plenty of wildlife watching opportunities.
The Canyons Zip Line Adventure Park will give you a bird’s eye view of the area while you glide from tree to tree, and once you’ve had enough of the treetops, head down to the water for some kayaking, snorkeling, or swimming in Silver Springs State Park.
If you’d like to cool off for a day in a place that almost looks like the Maldives, head over to the nearby Alexander Springs. While there is a small admissions fee, you’ll enjoy one of the best scuba diving locations year-round. The temperature here is always close to 72 degrees, making it an ideal place to take your kids for their first scuba diving experience.
You could also opt to stay dry and take a tour in one of the famous glass-bottomed boats and see manatees, turtles, alligators, and schools of colorful fish passing by underneath your feet. Also known as “Horse Country”, Ocala is a great place to go horseback riding amongst the rolling hills that surround the city.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, choose a day trip, and have some fun with the whole family at one of the amazing day trips from our guide!