We were in Gainesville from 1/24 to 1/26/2022 as part of our Florida in January trip.
The drive from Bronson to Gainesville is under an hour, but we were slower due to a stop in Williston for new Airstream batteries to tide us over until we can replace the entire battery/converter system in April. Remember how our converter crapped out and our batteries were failing when we were stuck in the Austin Snowpocalypse in 2021? Yeah, we never fixed anything, and on this trip battery-run appliances like LED lights and the tongue jack were barely functioning. Oops.
We put Gainesville on our itinerary for the usual reasons: hiking and beer! It was a fun couple days and we would return.
By the way, Google maps was terrible in many places in Florida. Be sure to sanity check directions before driving in circles or onto imaginary roads!
Kate’s Fish Camp is an odd little campground. It was empty when we were there–only two other RVs, and we never saw the associated humans–so it was very peaceful, but the (power/water only) spots are close together so it may not be so relaxing when it’s full. Prairie Creek runs through the property, and the campground offers canoes and kayaks to campers. It’s a nice place to feel close to nature… except for the million cigarette butts sprinkled all around the campground.
We liked the proximity to Gainesville (about 10 minutes into town) and to Paynes Prairie (about 15 minutes to the south entrance). The main reason we chose Kate’s is for its location adjacent to the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, a 16-mile paved multi-use trail.
Hiking and biking
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a 21,000-acre prairie with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, is an absolute gem. It was uncrowded on both days we visited, and full of wildlife. Not all trails are dog- (or horse- or bike-) friendly so be sure to check the trail descriptions for your planned activity. There’s also a lake to paddle on, and a campground that we couldn’t get a spot in. The tiny town of Micanopy is just outside the park and is worth driving through because it’s so cute. Doc Hollywood was filmed there!
We stopped for one hike in Paynes Prairie on the way to Gainesville from Bronson and had no trouble parking the Airstream at the trailhead mid-day on a January Monday. The next day we returned without the Airstream and without the Bugsy.
Here’s what we did in Paynes Prairie:
Jackson’s Gap Trail to Lake Trail, an easy, dog-friendly, 6-mile lollipop through the woods. We saw some armadillos! Watch out for leprosy! Be sure to climb to the top of the observation tower near the visitor center to get a view out over the prairie and maybe spot some wild horses or bison!
Cone’s Dike heads straight out into the prairie and into the wildlife–so dogs are not allowed. It’s an eight-mile trail, but the actual length depends on the water level and your willingness to wade, as it’s often flooded. We were forced to turn back after only a mile. So we found the eastern trailhead on Google maps (probably frowned upon by the authorities, sorry) and tried it from the other direction. It’s such a cool trail! We felt like we were in a jungle, with birds galore, wild horses, deer, and an enormous alligator sunbathing at what we decided was a good turn-around point.
La Chua Trail is three miles long, but our hike there was also shortened by flooding, just past the boardwalk. We saw another big alligator and so many birds, including our second (the first was in Palm Harbor) Roseate Spoonbill, our second-favorite Florida birds, Anhingas, and Snail Kites feasting on apple snails. No dogs are allowed on La Chua Trail.
Our other big outdoor-adventure plan was to bike the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, but the weather ruined that. The trail is a 16-mile rails-to-trails path stretching from Gainesville to Hawthorne, passing through Paynes Prairie and running right by Kate’s Fish Camp. We walked Bugsy on it for a mile or so; it’s super and would be a fun bike ride!
Eating and drinking
There’s a lot of beer in Gainesville! Our resident beer expert J had lots of thoughts about the Gainesville brewery scene:
There are five breweries in Gainesville; we visited four of them, opting to skip out on Blackadder Brewing Company, both because of its location a bit too far west of town and because we weren’t super enthused about it based on our internet research ahead of our visit.
As for the other four, three had beautiful and spacious outdoor areas and the other was, well, kind of meh. Starting with the positive, Cypress & Grove Brewing Company‘s web site alerted us to the Grove Street Farmer’s Market, which takes place every Monday from 4pm-7pm in an outdoor complex that spills between the brewery and an adjacent park and bike shop. So, we grabbed some beers and enjoyed strolling through the farmers market, which was dominated by really yummy ethnic food stalls. As for the brewery itself, Cypress & Grove was J’s favorite, both for the park-like atmosphere and a yummy hazy IPA. They didn’t have any sours for L, but were nice enough to sell her a glass of wine. Note that despite not having any sours when we were there, they did have a full 20 beers on tap plus two ciders; their web site only lists their 6 staple brews, none of which was particularly exciting to us.
With its large assortment of sours and spacious yard, First Magnitude Brewing Company was L’s favorite. She enjoyed the Spiced Tiki Sour Ale with pineapple, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice at the brewery and took to go a mixed four-pack of other sours to drink in the trailer. J loved the outdoor scene at First Magnitude, but was disappointed by the two hazy IPAs they had tapped.
Swamp Head Brewery, located just southeast of town, is the largest of Gainesville’s breweries. In addition to large production facilities, they have a massive outdoor space featuring a small private lake. It was too cold to sit outside when we were there, but we enjoyed a few of their beers (sour and a session sour for L, a hazy IPA and a hazy double IPA for J) inside their spacious tasting room. Beers were more than serviceable; Swamp Head is worth a visit, particularly on a nice day.
Now to the meh… Big Top Brewing Company has locations in Sarasota, Bradenton, Pensacola and Gainesville. We weren’t too enthusiastic about it based on our web research, but it was right in the middle of town so we stopped by. We wound up staying for about two hours, not because the beer was so good, but because they had the Virginia basketball game on one of their TVs. Anyway, they had over 20 beers on tap when we were there, but L didn’t love their sours (the flavors were tooo weird) and J didn’t love their IPAs. We also didn’t love the atmosphere, which felt more strip mall bar than brewery. On the plus side, nice service, a cool little jazz duet when we were there, and, of course, the basketball.
We spent an evening wandering around downtown Gainesville, in the blocks surrounding Main St and University Ave, and stopped for some refreshment at The Dime, a very cool craft cocktail bar. Cry Baby’s, a block away, also looked like a fun place for a cocktail.
The best food we ate in Gainesville came from the Grove Street Farmers Market, open on Monday evenings. We had roti for dinner and bought curries, pickles, and chickpea sandwiches to take home, and I had a turmeric pineapple skin latte from the pickle guy for dessert. Everything was SO good and I would go every week if I lived in Gainesville!
Pearl Country Store in Micanopy is known for its barbecue, so of course J wanted to try it. He said the brisket was delicious.
The night we explored downtown Gainesville we grabbed dinner to go from Paramount Grill. The menu is seasonal and locally-sourced, and the dishes we split were fab: southwestern salmon over enchiladas, and tofu curry.
If we return to Gainesville, here’s our to-do list:
- Hike the entire Cone’s Dike trail if possible
- Hike the short Bolen Bluff Trail in the northern section of Paynes Prairie
- Bicycle the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
- Have a cocktail at Cry Baby’s in downtown Gainesville
- Check out Tipple’s, the supposed best beer store in Florida (which doesn’t seem to be a high bar)
- Is the UF campus pretty? Maybe we should walk around it
Our next stop was Ormond Beach, featuring less hiking and more complaining.