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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

one day vacation :: Gainesville, FL

We had a wonderful day trip to Gainesville, FL this week. We have not been to Gainesville for a dozen years, since before having children, and we have been missing a lot!

This trip was initiated by a homeschool co op trip to the Florida Museum of Natural History at University of Florida (thanks Kim!). The museum was really good. In the last year or so, we have been to the natural history museums in Washington, DC and New York City and while obviously not as big as either of those, it was pretty impressive.  For us, it was destination worthy and we highly recommend it for natural history buffs. We enjoyed the beautiful butterfly garden, even managing to locate the elusive Atlas moth, but even more interesting to our family was watching research students in the entomology lab pinning butterflies. 

I was personally impressed with the fossil collections, especially the huge megashark jaws and the mammoth and mastodon skeletons. We studied the ice age a few years ago, so it was fun to see the fossilized bones of the giant sloth, saber toothed cat and glyptodont (an armadillo as big as a VW bug). 

A special music exhibition captivated everyone for an hour or so. The stone xylophone was a hit!

Lunch was at local institution, Burrito Bros. This is my kind of place! Owned by the same family for 35 years, the burritos are fresh and filling. I loved the red rice and just spicy enough chicken. And what is not to love about a place that lights its neon sign when they have guacamole!

We had to work off that huge lunch, so we headed to Devil's Millhopper State Park for a hike.  At this ancient sinkhole, visitors can walk down a few hundred steps to the bottom and be surrounded by a mini rainforest. Small waterfalls, and lush vegetation, make you feel like you are far removed from the bustling city. 

Our last site to see on this jam packed day was the bat houses at University of Florida. Apparently, at dusk at least 100,000 bats emerge in a very dramatic exit. Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly, so the full explosion of bats did not happen. We did see a few hundred and the camaraderie among the others waiting for the event was fun. 
 This lake across the street from the bat houses was full of alligators and huge soft shelled turtles - all of which have been fed a lot by people, so they were keen to see us. Other than that, this would be a great place to hang out before watching for the bats. Just keep your eyes open :)
On our way out of town, we loaded up on warm, cheesy pizza at another local institution, Leonardo's by the Slice.  The line was snaked all the way through the restaurant, but the pizza was great and well worth the wait. With a big variety of toppings and very friendly staff, we will definitely stop by again when we are in town.

This was such a great day trip from central Florida. And a good reminder, that my wanderlusting soul does not always have to get on a plane to be inspired, amused, educated and sated. 


  1. That's my alma mater!! Boy, you brought back some memories with this post! I've taken the kids to the butterfly and natural history museum a couple times, it's my favorite butterfly encounter ever. I have yet to take them to Devil's Milhopper though, and I should. And Leonardos--I can't tell you how many wee hours I've spent there :).

  2. wowzers, these pics look magical! My kind of vacation. I love that shot of the stairs in the rain forest. I've never been to Florida. I always pictured it as....well, Disney World meet Miami- across the entire state. Glad to see I was way off! Florida looks magical.

  3. MJ - let me know if you think of any other cool places to take kids. we really loved it. my brother went to school there, so i was there a few times a while back - but am excited to spend more time there with my kids.

  4. Laura Emily - i know, right? there are some really magical places in florida, and i aim to find and appreciate them. i get stuck wanting to live somewhere else - but it is really pretty great here.

  5. Sounds like you hit all the major highlights of my little town! The next time you're here, considering skipping Leo's in favor of Satchel's Pizza. It's a little further away from campus (NE 23rd Ave. near Waldo Road), but they have delicious pizza and a creative, family-friendly atmosphere.


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