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5 Awesome Things to Do in Gainesville for Families

My family and I love to visit the Gainesville area in North Central Florida. There’s so much to do that sometimes, it can be difficult to narrow it down. That’s why I’ve created this list of 5 Awesome Things to Do in Gainesville for Families, so you can hit the best sites!

Dudley Farm

This first amazing stop is actually in Newberry, just outside Gainesville. But I have to mention it because it’s worth making the short drive to see it. The Dudley Farm Historic State Park is a working farmstead, originally built in the 1800s.

You can walk the grounds around the eighteen different buildings, which were constructed with pine trees from the land. In addition to visiting the Dudley Farmhouse, the 1880s Kitchen, Dairy Shed, Syrup Complex, and General Store, you also get to see live animals.

Dudley Farm is still a working farm where volunteers and staff dress in period-appropriate attire and care for the land. Our kids loved seeing the chickens, turkeys, and horses. The volunteers maintain a small vegetable and flower garden, as well as fruit trees.

Phillip Benjamin Harvey Dudley, Sr., was a plantation owner from South Carolina who came to Florida in the mid-1800s to establish a cotton farm. Slaves worked the farm until the end of the Civil War, in which Dudley fought as a captain for the Confederacy. After losing the slave labor the family had benefitted from for so long, they cut back on their labor-intensive cotton crop and added additional crops and cattle to their operation.

The Visitor’s Center at Dudley Farm has a lot of information about the Dudley family and their farming practices. Myrtle Dudley, granddaughter of P.B.H. Dudley, donated the farm to the Florida State Park service in 1983 Sr. This is an authentic, restored property, and not a replica.

Cost: $5 per vehicle

Hours: Weds – Sunday, 9am-5pm

Parking: The parking lot is located just beyond the honor box where you pay to get in. I recommend bringing cash to place in the envelope. Florida State Park pass holders get in free.

For more information, visit the Dudley Farm Historic State Park website:

Florida Museum of Natural History

The Florida Museum of Natural History is located at the University of Florida. The museum is relatively easy to access (you don’t have to drive all over campus), and worth spending several hours visiting.

This museum has a Discovery Zone for children, large fossil displays, and some epic walk-through exhibits that bring Florida’s environment and history to life. For a fee, there’s a special exhibit section that changes every few months, and a two-story butterfly enclosure.

We like to start with the Northwest Florida biome exhibit that displays the plant and animal life that make up the area. Visitors get to experience the forest, bog, waterways, beaches, and cave systems of North Florida.

In the next exhibit, the museum delves into South Florida’s unique environment, and its people. Here, visitors can view information about Florida’s first inhabitants and its ecosystems.

And visit the enlarged ocean scene that lets you see what life looks like under the sea.

A great feature of this museum, especially for kids, is that they can see into some of the working labs – in particular, those that have to do with butterflies and insects.

There’s so much to explore at this museum, that you’ll want to set aside several hours to view the exhibits, the fossils, the Butterfly Rainforest, and more. This is also a great rainy-day activity for families in the Gainesville area. We’ve visited this museum almost a dozen times, and I still learn something new every time we go.

Cost: FREE; the museum has a charge for the temporary exhibit and the Butterfly Rainforest

Hours: Mon – Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 1pm-5pm

Parking: Available in front of the museum. There is a $5 charge on weekdays. Parking is FREE on the weekends.

For more information about the Florida Museum of Natural History, check out their website:

Harn Museum of Art

Next door to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art houses some beautiful collections.

My two favorite permanent exhibits are the African Collection and the Asian Collection. The African Collection contains statues, figures, jewelry, illustrations, fabrics, and wood carvings from the 5th century BCE to the 21st century. I’m always in awe of the masks. No online picture can conjure the feeling I get when I see the African masks in person.

The Asian Collection houses art from a wide range of Asian cultures and includes ceramics, statues, illustrations, and Hindu and Buddhist iconography. Behind this vast collection, the museum has two walkable gardens: an Asian Rock Garden and an Asian Water Garden, both designed by Hoichi Kurisu. These gardens are pristine and serene. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to experience them.

Though these are my two favorite exhibits, there is so much more to see at the Harn, including their Modern and Contemporary Collections with mixed media, the Photography Collection, and their temporary/travelling exhibits.

The museum is ADA accessible, offers large print texts about the exhibits (request in advance), with tours available in American Sign Language (request in advance).

<a href=",_Gainesville.jpg">Michael Rivera</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons

Cost: FREE

Hours: Tues – Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 1pm-5pm; closed Mondays

Parking: Available in front of the museum. There is a $5 charge on weekdays. Parking is FREE on the weekends.

Check out the Harn Museum of Art website for information about family activities, programs, current exhibits, and more.

Haile Homestead

The Haile Homestead is a 19th century Sea Island Cotton plantation in Gainesville, built by slaves in the 1850s. The fact that it’s still standing today is a testament to how skilled these laborers were.

At the Haile Homestead, visitors will find a unique feature not present in any other historical home, the “Talking Walls.” Serena Haile, the matriarch of the family, wrote on the plastered walls in the home. Other members of the family repeated this strange behavior.

After Serena’s death, she left the house to her son Evans Haile. Guests from his weekend parties at the home carried on the tradition. There are over 12,000 words written on the walls of this homestead.

The visitor’s center and plantation home have a lot of information about the Haile family and the history of the area. Local historians are working diligently to uncover more information about the slaves who worked there. They’ve displayed the information in an exhibit toward the end of the tour.

The Historic Haile Homestead not-for-profit currently oversees the property. Visitors can view the home by guided tour only, which takes about forty-five minutes to an hour.

Cost: $5/person (children under 12 are free)

Hours: Sat 10 am – 2 pm; tours at 10:15, 11:15, 12:15, & 1:15)

Sun 12 pm – 4 pm; tours at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, & 3:15)

Parking: There’s ample parking available for free in front of the visitor’s center, off the main road.

I have a more in-depth post about this off-the-beaten path gem here: Visiting the Historic Haile Homestead: the House with the "Talking Walls."

For further information, and to plan your visit, check out the Historic Haile Homestead website.

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park

In a place known for its flat, sandy terrain, Devil’s Millhopper is a geographical wonder in the heart of North Central Florida. This ancient sinkhole allows visitors to access millions of years of geological history, and it’s worth every step.

When you first enter Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, it looks like any other Florida pine forest. But after a walk past the pavilion and over the short path, you’ll come to the edge of a giant sinkhole, about 500 feet across and 120 feet deep.

The 132-step staircase into the sinkhole will lead you through an evergreen rainforest with small waterfalls (also unique to Florida) and into a pit that formed millions of years ago.

No trip to Gainesville is complete without a stop here. I recommend bringing cash for the $4 per car fee at the honor box.

Cost: $4/per vehicle

Hours: Mon – Sunday, 8am to sundown

Parking: Located directly after the honor box when you enter the park. The well-shaded parking lot provides several spaces for larger vehicles like pickup trucks.

You can visit the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park website for contact and accessibility information.

Do you enjoy visiting the Gainesville area? Do you plan to go in the future? Are you a local who has a favorite spot that didn’t make this list? Leave a comment below and let us know!


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