Fun Things to Do in Gainesville, FL with Kids
Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, is a town thriving with cultural and sporting events. Families visiting Gainesville for the weekend may seek some kid-friendly activities to help round out a weekend trip. Here are our favorite fun things to do in Gainesville with kids:
It may be located in Northern Florida, but Gainesville offers good swimming weather for many months of the year. Hilton University of Florida Conference Center Gainesville has a large pool with plenty of deck chairs and tables for lunch or a snack, and is located within walking distance to several of the kid-friendly attractions listed below. I may be biased, but I think most fellow Gator Alumni would agree that the Gainesville Hilton is the nicest hotel in the city. If you seek other swimming options, there are also several city pools, but research ahead of time to confirm hours, especially during the winter months.
Florida Museum of Natural History
I have great childhood memories of this museum. It is bigger and better than ever, with impressive fossil collections, plenty of information on indigenous Florida societies, and a beautiful, new butterfly rainforest (see below). Visitors can learn about some of Florida’s unique ecosystems, and the plants and animals that inhabit them, including a limestone cave and a hammock forest. Kids will love the wall of shark jaws! There’s also a Discovery Room with hands-on exhibits for children.
Part of the Florida Museum, the Butterfly Rainforest requires a separate admission fee from the museum. Our girls were impressed with the number and variety of butterflies they could see. The water features, plants, and even exotic birds were lovely to watch. The kids especially loved the “rearing lab” where you could see the chrysalis in various stages of hatching. The museum conducts weekly butterfly releases, which we were sad to have missed.
Tip: The Florida Museum offers a Good Student Discount. Students who have earned an A or E in science can bring their report card and receive free admission into the Butterfly Rainforest!
Bat House and Bat Barn
The bat house and bat barn, located near Lake Alice, were built back in the 1990s and remained uninhabited for several years, much to the frustration of the university departments who constructed them. They are definitely inhabited now! Spectators gather around dusk in the spring and summer months to watch thousands upon thousands of bats leaving their houses to start their day. These bats play an important role in pest management by eating 2.5 BILLION insects per night. There is a parking lot nearby, and walking trails around Lake Alice which is located just across the street.
(Real) Gators and Walking Trails at Lake Alice
Located on the university campus, Lake Alice has extensive nature trails for walking and biking. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen, including several species of birds, turtles, fish and of course, gators. This is a pretty area to enjoy the outdoors and see wildlife, but NOT for swimming. While visiting the lake, we saw two small gators fairly close-up. Truly a Florida experience!
- Read about other family vacations to Florida.
- Explore more nature ideas with our articles on zoos and farms.
Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.