By Teal Garth
With spring break coming up, it seems like everyone is planning an elaborate vacation. Sometimes this break just seems too short to go through all the effort of embarking on a tropical getaway, but staying home doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with the family. Daycations near Gainesville can provide all the excitement and spontaneity of a real vacation, but at much less cost and travel time. Here are some ideas to help you get started on your daycation planning.
Cedar Key is a small town on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico only about an hour from Gainesville. The town is full of rich history, quaint shops and restaurants, and beautiful scenery to explore. Stop by the Historical Society Museum or the Museum State Park for a small cost to explore the town’s history or stroll down a peaceful nature trail. You can also visit the Out-Islands by boat tour ($90-$210 per tour) or boat rental ($15-$20 per person).
A different kind of coastal attraction about two hours away, Daytona offers miles of flat beaches perfect for a little drive across the hard packed sand or just a relaxing beach day. If the beach gets boring, go on one of the three tours offered at the Daytona International Speedway, ranging from $12–$52 per person.
An hour and a half from Gainesville, this historical town has many attractions for the whole family. Visit the Alligator Farm Zoo Park ($13 for kids and $24 for adults) and see the every living species of crocodilian, plus exotic birds, pythons and Madagascar lemurs. Watch a show or even zip line over the park for an extra fee.
Only a 45-minute drive, the springs have a beautiful, quiet campsite where you can come for a day ($3 for kids and $13 for adults) to enjoy kayaking, canoeing, stand up paddleboarding, or even swimming and snorkeling if it’s warm enough! If you want to extend your stay, tough it out in a tent ($6 for kids and $21 for adults) or rent a cabin ($175 per night).
This big city has lots to do and is about two hours from Gainesville. Famous for its many theme parks, the quieter — and cheaper — side of Orlando includes the Leu Botanical Gardens ($3 for kids and $10 for adults) and the Orlando Museum of Art ($5 for kids and $15 for adults), where you can see unique plant life and artwork
Another big city, Jacksonville is only an hour and a half drive. Experience the city from the best perspective at the River Walks on either side of the St. Johns River downtown or visit the Jacksonville Zoo ($12 for kids and $18 for adults), which offers a variety of animal activities, including up close encounters, behind the scenes tours, keeper talks, a butterfly room, a 4D theater and more!
Two hours from Gainesville, Tampa is another city with a lot to offer. Get a one-day one-park ticket to Busch Gardens for just under $100 per person or see over 20,000 aquatic animals and plants at the Florida Aquarium ($20 for kids and $25 for adults). For kids 12 and under, the Glazer Children’s museum offers hands-on educational exhibits for $9.50 for kids and $15 for adults.
This historical city, located near the Suwannee River and two quaint neighboring towns, Lake City and White Springs, is a little over an hour from Gainesville. Enjoy a taste of old Florida while exploring any of the three small towns or take a trip to the Suwannee River State Park where opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, boating and camping await you. General admission is $5 per vehicle.
Just over an hour from Gainesville, Crystal River is the perfect small town adventure with a big (literally) marine life population. See Florida’s favorite gentle giants, the manatees, before the water warms up too much. Book a swimming tour for $25 for kids and $50 for adults to get up close and personal or choose a sightseeing or guided kayak tour if wetsuits aren’t your style, all through Manateetouranddive.com.
All it takes to make dreams come to life is a two-hour drive from Gainesville to Dinosaur World in Plant City. Walk through hundreds of life-sized dinosaur statues, see interactive shows, and visit the prehistoric museum or the dino-themed playground for $12 for kids and $17 for adults. While you’re in Plant City, stop by the Farm and Flea Market, the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum or the Gus Trent Horse Ranch for a trail ride through Alafia State Park (available for children 5 and older).
For a day sure to be packed with fun, make the hour and a half drive to Valdosta to visit Wild Adventures theme park. The park has all your typical thrill-seeker rides, but it also has a zoo with interactive exhibits and activities, mini golf, go-kart racing, an arcade and new water park, Ohana Bay, along with reopened water park, Splash Island. For a $50 admission price, this park has something for everyone.