Where's good for a quick solo vacation near Gainesville?
August 30, 2019 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Looks like I may be going to Gainesville on business in October and I might be able to tack on a couple extra days of personal vacay. I like water in all forms and quiet. I can rent a car but don't really want to drive more than 90 min. Where should I go?
posted by soren_lorensen to Travel & Transportation around Florida (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Gainesville itself is a great place for quiet, contemplative exploration: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, the Devil's Millhopper, and Paynes Prairie all leap to mind as places I've found worth revisiting--this is the region that inspired Coleridge's account of Xanadu, via the descriptions of naturalist William Bartram. You probably want to rent a car to reach them all though. Then, to the west, there's Manatee Springs, and to the east, St. Augustine, Crescent Beach, the Alligator Farm, etc.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:07 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cedar Key
posted by sallybrown at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2019

Gold Head State Park? Has CCC-era cabins and a lake. Taking a vacation there myself next spring.
posted by Ollie at 5:33 PM on August 30, 2019

Excellent suggestions so far. You could also tube Ichetucknee or go swimming at some of the Ocala Springs (Salt, Silver Glen, Alexander, Juniper).
posted by saladin at 5:34 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's been awhile since I went to Crystal River, and October might be too early to see lots of manatees, but a tour operator might be able to hook you up. Beautiful water, anyhow. Definitely get into some spring-fed water somewhere on your trip.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:07 PM on August 30, 2019

Nthing the spring-fed rivers and swimming holes. When I was there we floated the Ichetucknee in little rafts, then swam in the Blue Hole. Crystal clear water flowing through a cypress forest. Utterly magical.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:32 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, Gainesville itself is lovely! The museums on campus (the Harn and the Natural History museum) are both really nice if you want a quiet day trip. I'd also suggest taking a bit of a ride to Blue Highway Pizza in Ocala, which I still remember very fondly from the time I lived in Gainesville over a decade ago.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:55 PM on August 30, 2019

Do you scuba dive, or are you interested in doing so? That's a well-known area for spring and cave diving and there are intro courses.
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:05 AM on August 31, 2019

It's only a day trip from Gainesville and the water might seem just cold rather than nice and chilly in October, but:

posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:55 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ginnie Springs is the center of cave diving in Florida and is great for relaxation, swimming, and camping.

+1 for Ichetucknee and etc.
posted by pdoege at 7:47 PM on August 31, 2019

Very near town:
Micanopy is right up the road and fun for a day, or you can stay at BnB and make a weekend of it.

O'Leno state park. That's where the Santa Fe river goes underground and pops up again three miles later and supposedly so freaked out Coleridge that he wrote,
"Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean" yadda yadda. (At least, that is the claim.) (O'Leno is nice. You can hike, kayak, and swim.)

Pretty near town:
Concur with every other person: Ichetucknee is absolutely worth your time.

East coast:
It may not be there (Hurricane Dorian), but if it survives, Flagler Beach is lovely. The Topaz is Henry Flagler's old estate turned into an okay hotel, but there are also bunches of little fleabags that seem fun. Flagler has no airs whatsoever, no huge condos, no multistory hotels, and is just a nice, friendly, podunky beach town, but, again, may be scrubbed off the coast within the next few days. St. Augustine has much more to do but is also more crowded and swanky.

way more than 90 minutes but so great:
Wakulla Springs has a very cool 20s-era old hotel with a soda fountain and restaurant and boatrides.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:36 PM on September 1, 2019

Response by poster: Just to report back for future tag-searchers:

I rented a car and drove to Ichetucknee to kayak and it was indeed magical. No manatees this time of year but more (and bigger) turtles than I'd ever seen in my life and so many birds. My pro tips for nature-lovers there: go on a weekday and/or as early in the morning as you can manage. The river and springs are not only places of rare natural beauty, they are also perfect swimming holes and folks do use them as such, loudly. Which is everyone's right, these are wonderful public resources, but it made me wish maybe there were quiet hours/locations for those who just want to be alone with the sound of the birds.

On the way back to Gainesville I stopped by Lubee Bat Conservancy which was having their annual Bat Festival. While there, I overhead a conversation about the University of Florida bat houses and how if you go there at sunset you can witness half a million bats flying over your head, so I did that once I got back to Gainesville and returned the rental. It was pretty amazing, also highly recommend.

It was so humid down there, I saw rainbows despite the fact that it hadn't rained. Like, humidbows. I'm glad to be back where it's fall.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

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