Alachua is a city of about 9,000 residents in north-central Florida’s Alachua County, just northwest of Gainesville.
Alachua is most well-known for its proximity to the University of Florida in Gainesville, but it’s also a relatively undeveloped area that’s got quite a selection of nearby state and national parks, offering a variety of outdoor recreation options for activity-minded travelers.
Convenient access to Interstate 75 to the west and Interstate 10 to the north gives day-trippers easy access to the surrounding area; both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are just a few hours away as well.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Alachua, Florida.
1. San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
The entrance to San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is located just off Progress Boulevard in Alachua, and the cost of admission is based on an inexpensive per-vehicle charge that makes it an excellent choice for families traveling on a budget.
The park is a particularly popular destination for mountain bikers, who flock to use its extensive network of multi-use trails that wind their way through numerous, varied natural environments.
The trails stretch for nearly 20 miles, so especially for first-timers, it’s wise to stop and pick up a free trail map at the visitor center before heading out into the wild.
2. Doxa Coffee
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean that your coffee addiction is too. For those who find themselves in Alachua with a hankering that only caffeinated java can fix, Doxa Coffee would be the perfect stop-off.
Doxa Coffee is located on US Highway 441 and is one of Gainesville and Alachua’s most popular coffee houses.
It’s not part of a national chain, which means most of your dollars will stay local. Previous guests have noted that its décor is contemporary, trendy, and inviting.
They serve non-coffee drinks too, and can even make things not on the menu, so don’t be shy if you have a hankering for something different.
3. Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek
Unlike most humans who’ve spent their lives working, horses don’t have pensions to fall back on when times get tough. For old equines without homes and futures, the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek is a real blessing.
The facility is home to more than 100 horses and includes dozens of acres of pristine land for them to live out their remaining days in peace.
Visitors are only permitted on Saturdays from 11 until 3, but the price of admission is only a few carrots, making it one of the area’s most inexpensive attractions.
Short, staff-led tours are available on visiting days and are a big hit with kids.
4. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Most guests to Florida are surprised to learn that there were once vast prairies in the Sunshine State. Now, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is the only place to see wild bison and horses roaming free.
A unique attraction located just a few minutes south of Gainesville in Micanopy, it is an easy and worthwhile drive from Alachua.
The park consists of more than 20,000 acres and was originally discovered by a nationally-renowned naturalist more than two centuries ago, who branded it ‘The Great Alachua Savannah.’
A variety of well-marked paths lead to distinct park areas, and there’s a 50-foot observation tower offering fantastic panoramic views of the relatively flat landscape.
5. Mi Apa Latin Café
For culinary adventurists who’ve never tried authentic Cuban and Latin American food, there’s no better time to do it than on a trip to the Sunshine State.
Florida is brimming with international culinary influences, and according to many of Cuban and Latin American descent, Mi Apa Latin Café is hands-down the most authentic food they’ve ever tasted outside their native countries.
Their goal is to introduce newbies to the wonders of their cuisine without breaking the bank. Their homemade dishes are made with local ingredients and only minimally packaged ingredients, so visitors can expect vibrant flavors and affordable prices.
6. Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
In the past, most attractions were all about entertaining kids, but there’s been a recent trend to engage and educate them as well.
The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is just such a place; though it’s only been open for slightly more than a year, it has already garnered a solid reputation as a go-to destination for those traveling with young minds in need of stimulation.
The museum’s interactive exhibits touch on business and entrepreneurial skills like teamwork, critical thinking, effective problem solving, and even money. The staff offer a variety of programs and field trips designed to expose children to pillars of the business community.
7. Lake City Columbia County Historical Society
For many beach-loving visitors, spending valuable vacation time in a dusty old historical society museum isn’t too appealing. But for those looking to save a few bucks and learn about the area’s interesting history, there’s no better place to do both than at the Lake City Columbia County Historical Society.
The museum’s centerpiece is the historic home that once belonged to a family of settlers from the 1800s; it includes art, furniture, and housewares that were common to the era.
The home’s architecture is equally unique and features a wide porch, high windows, and detailed woodwork that’s not so common these days. The museum is open from 10 until 1 from Thursday to Saturday.
8. Olustee Battlefield State Park
The areas around Alachua and Gainesville were home to a number of significant Civil War Battles, the largest of which took place in February of 1864 in Olustee.
The battle lasted for five hours, and by some accounts included more than 10,000 Union and Confederate troops from all over the country.
The Confederates got the better of the Union troops that day, and there were nearly 3,000 dead when it was all said and done.
Olustee Battlefield State Park is one of those must-visit attractions for military history buffs, and it’s home to an annual battle reenactment in February that’s nothing short of poignant and breathtaking.
9. Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Home to a collection of native and exotic animals that have been injured, orphaned, or abandoned, Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is a unique sanctuary that’s primarily dedicated to rescue and rehabilitation.
Though some animals are released into the wild, for many it’s not an option; for those, they’ll spend their years in relative comfort inside the foundation’s confines.
The staff offer a variety of engaging and educational programs, as well as private and small-group semi-private tours. Most of the proceeds go directly toward helping the animals. They’re located on East County Road 225 in Gainesville, and they accept donations as well.
10. Florida Museum of Natural History
The University of Florida campus in Gainesville is a great community resource that’s often overlooked by travelers visiting Alachua.
In addition to having several nationally-ranked men’s and women’s sports teams and world-class facilities, the campus is home to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The museum’s permanent exhibits touch on science, the natural world, history, culture, technology, and animals. Most guests agree that it was one of the most memorable experiences of their Florida trip.
Admission is free, although they do graciously accept donations and occasionally host special exhibits and events that require a small admission charge.
11. Haile Homestead
For much of 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, cotton was king in the American south, and much of it was grown on large plantations.
The Haile Homestead is located on the grounds of the historic Kanapaha Cotton Plantation; visiting is like taking a giant step back in time to when the area was rough and undeveloped, and much of the labor came from slaves.
The homestead was built in the mid-1850s and is one of the most well-preserved of its kind in the area. It’s unique in that its walls are adorned with historic writing that details the lives and struggles of the settlers and resident slaves as well.
12. Osceola National Park
Comprised of more than 200,000 acres of pristine woodlands and swamps, Osceola National Park is located in the national forest of the same name. It is the perfect place for new visitors to kick-off their exploration of this amazing natural resource.
Camping, fishing, mountain biking, and kayaking are popular park activities, and due to its vastness, many guests choose to do a bit of online research before heading out.
Many of the park’s amenities and activity options are free and open year-round, but others – like fishing and hunting – are only available seasonally and require licenses and permits; ensure you’re familiar with the specifics before making a special trip.
13. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Florida’s tropical and sub-tropical climates feature abundant rain and sunlight, as well as balmy year-round temperatures that are the perfect conditions for growing both native and exotic plants, trees, and flowers.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are located on SW 58th Drive in Gainesville and include a variety of distinctly themed cultivated areas that are connected by nearly two miles of well-marked paths.
Though they’re beautiful the whole year, many visitors with flexible schedules time their trips to coincide with the March bloom, and the garden often hosts spring festivals, fairs, and guided tours – some of which are in the low-light evening hours when the gardens are nothing short of magical.
14. Olustee Festival
The Olustee Festival is one of the area’s premier annual events and is a big hit with lovers of history, culture, and Florida heritage. It takes place in late February every year.
Featuring an amazing parade and one of the largest Civil War reenactments in the state, the festival also focuses on the area’s founding and development, as well as the Native American people who called the area home long before it was officially settled.
The festival takes place in nearby Lake City and includes arts and crafts, family activities, lots of food and drink options, and even live entertainment.
Dates vary slightly from one year to the next, so check online before making travel arrangements.
15. Swamp Head Brewery
The University of Florida’s massive football stadium is referred to as ‘The Swamp,’ and during football season, it’s packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans.
Located on SW 42nd Avenue in Gainesville, Swamp Head Brewery is the perfect place for a pre or post-game cold one, especially for those who prefer their beer made locally instead of in some mega-factory in the Midwest.
Swamp Head Brewery has only been in operation since 2008, but since then it has attracted quite a loyal following. Weekly tours are available on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and include samples of the brewery’s varied beer offerings.