Gay Florida Road Trip Guide to Gainesville

History of Gainesville

Gainesville is the largest city in North Central Florida and part of Alachua County, Florida. Incorporated in 1869, the city of Gainesville was a key Florida Railroad connector pre-Civil War and prospered as an important cotton shipping facility post-Civil War. And following the Great Depression, Gainesville became the center of tung oil production in the United States. By the 1930’s, the University of Florida was opened, as was the city’s first airport.

My Gainesville Road Trip

I spent only one evening in Gainesville, Florida, although I wish I had spent more. I loved the city! From world-class performing arts events to more than 100 miles of trails, Gainesville is a city where “Nature & Culture Meet”.

Most people visiting Florida dream of beaches or Mickey Mouse. But I personally dream of food, culture, and nature. If you desire the same on a road trip, then you’re in luck, because Gainesville has it all – and then some!

While so much has been affected by COVID, there are still plenty of things to do while in town. So here you go – your “socially distant” Gay Gainesville Road Trip Guide!

How Gay is Gainesville?

Gainesville should be renamed “GAYnesville”, but alas – the Gainesville name remains. Although the city isn’t nearly as gay as Fort Lauderdale or St Pete, it’s still a VERY liberal and gay-friendly town! Gainesville is also one of the few Florida towns with multiple rainbow crosswalks. A Gainesville road trip is a must-add to any gay Florida travel planning.

Me (Rachel Covello) walking the rainbow crosswalks throughout Gainesville.

Rainbow Crosswalks

Pedestrians in Gainesville can proudly explore the town’s three rainbow crosswalks. Since October 2019, these vibrantly painted crosswalks celebrating National Coming Out Day have been a part of the downtown landscape. Organized by The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida these colorful designs are part of Gainesville’s Art in the Crosswalks program. Head over to First Street by City Hall, Bo Diddley Plaza, or by the Hippodrome Theatre to take your stroll over the rainbow.

Pride Community Center of North Central Florida

3131 NE 13th Street, Suite 62, Gainesville, FL

Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, Photo by Rachel Covello

Pride reaches far and wide in North Central Florida thanks to the PCCNCF. The organization serves as the hub for the LGBTQ communities of 13 surrounding counties. The center is home to daily programming and resources for community members. Community members can enjoy social and entertainment options, fitness, and wellness sessions, or explore the over 2,000 books in Audre Lorde Library.The nonprofit organization provides a range of services including food distribution, direct assistance, and support group meetings.

The Pride Community Center is also host to Gainesville Pride. At this point, the Gainesville Pride and Festival is still scheduled for October 4, 2020.

To plan your visit to PCCNCF or to learn more click here.

Pride Student Union at University of Florida

312 Peabody Hall, University of Florida

Gainesville is well-known as a college town with the University of Florida (UF) at the heart of it. The UF Pride Student Union (PSU) is a social, educational, and support organization that cross-over from campus life into the larger community. Through public programming, advocacy, a speaker’s bureau, social activities, and meetings PSU provides support and education to LGVTQQIAAP UF students and members of the community. The Pride Student Union is also home to the Rainbow Room Resource Lounge for LGBTQ students.

Learn more about the services about PSU here:

LGBTQ Nightlife

Since COVID-19 has closed most of the bars in Florida, I was not able to enjoy a nightlife experience while visiting the region. But there are still plenty of things to do in Gainesville at night. For an overview on Central Florida’s LGBTQ nightlife throughout the year, click here.

Where to Stay?

From the elegant bed and breakfast to the modern hotel, Gainesville offers a variety of accommodations for every traveler.

While I had a few options when deciding where to stay, I selected the Sweetwater Branch Inn. And I’m delighted that I did. The staff, property and amenities were perfect for my needs. The property also goes out of their way to welcome LGBTQ guests to their property.

I’ve provided an overview on the Sweetwater Branch Inn along with a few other options for your Gainesville road trip.

Sweetwater Branch Inn

625 East University Avenue

Photo provided by Sweetwater Branch Inn

Unwind from the bustle of your busy road trip at the relaxing Sweetwater Branch Inn. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group this beautiful historic inn offers charm and delightful amenities. This unique 13-acre property is in the heart of Gainesville’s historic district.

The uniquely decorated rooms offer something for every visitor. The two main Victorian houses have 12 rooms and suites. Each features a private bath and queen or king bed. For more privacy select a unique detached cozy cottage. Each offers a full kitchen, living room, and separate bedroom. Some cottages are even pet-friendly so the whole family can enjoy this lovely road trip sanctuary.

Guests enjoy complimentary breakfasts and wine and cheese in the evenings. Relax with a stroll around the beautiful grounds or take a dip in the pool. Rent a bike and explore historic downtown.

The charming Sweetwater property makes for beautiful and memorable weddings. Couples can choose from a variety of ceremony settings and reception areas. The venue is also ideal for special events like anniversaries, or family reunions.

Start planning your road trip retreat at the Sweetwater Inn here.

Other Accommodations

Booking.com

Where to Eat in Gainesville

I hope you like to eat, because the food is never-ending in Gainesville. Most restaurants are open right now, although adjustments have been made to menus and venue layouts to accommodate social distancing. In the list below, I’ve focused on LGBTQ-welcoming spaces, many with outside dining options, that have delicious food!

Alpin Bistro

15 SW 2nd Street

Step into this quaint French cafe and enjoy the best of European fare, paired with fresh local baked goods and produce. The menu changes to reflect the best local and seasonal ingredients. Everything at this charming bistro is made fresh. Acccording to the proprieters everything is also made with love. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a meat lover you’ll find something delicious here.

Downtown Wine and Cheese

113 North Main Street

Sip and sample wines of the world at this delightful wine bar. Enjoy small bites, charcuterie boards, and cheese plates at the bar or out on the charming patio. Weekly specials, including themed “weekly wine journeys”, are popular with locals and visitors alike. Stock up on your favorite selections and gift items at their retail shop. This venue is also a popular spot to reserve for special occasions.

Meat & Cheese Plate at Downtown Wine and Cheese, Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: Visit on “Wine Down Wednesdays” for 25% off bottles and specials on cheese and meat plates.

Start planning your wine journey here.

4th Ave Food Park

409 SW 4th Avenue

4th Ave Food Park. Photo by Rachel Covello

Find something to satisfy all your cravings at this eclectic outdoor food court. Imagine a permanently installed local food truck rally with all your favorites! Curate your own unique meal with selections of pizza, tacos, burgers, coffees, and teas. Choose your favorites and then enjoy your eats and people watching in the open-air dining space.

Scallop Taco from Sublime Tacos. Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: Order the scallop tacos from Sublime tacos. Then head to the Opus Airstream coffee shop for an iced coffee or tea.

Find out more here.

Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company

201 SE 2nd Avenue, #104

Indulge in super-fresh ingredients at this downtown gem. Dragonfly flies in fresh fish from Japan exclusively for their expert sushi chefs! Their creative dishes also feature farm-fresh local produce. Solo travelers will enjoy the option of dining at the sushi bar or in the lounge area. Explore the freshness here.

The Top

30 North Main Street

There’s something for everyone at The Top! This local staple has been feeding vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores for over 20 years. Stick around after dinner to sample some of their 33 rotating draft beers, or a craft cocktail night cap. The bar area offers a full dining menu, great for a casual bite, or making new friends. Learn more about what makes The Top tops.

What to Do in Gainesville

The short answer – EVERYTHING! Enjoy world-class performing arts, museums, festivals and live music on dozens of stages. Explore 8 state parks with more than 100 miles of trails for biking, birding and hiking or cool off in crystal-blue freshwater springs. When you’re done with your day, kick back at a craft brewery and savor innovative cuisine and specialty cocktails at inspired local restaurants.

Heartwood Soundstage

619 South Main Street

This venue connects musical artists with their audiences in a unique way. While performers record their music, the audience can be a part of the experience through the Heartwood listening room or via live stream. Visitors to the soundstage can listen quietly to live performances in the dedicated Listening Room. If conversation is more your vibe head out to one of the indoor or outdoor video lounge areas. These spaces feature wine and beer service and big screen TVs to experience the show while still socializing. Learn more about the Heartwood experience here.

Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention

811 South Main Street

Gainesville is home to the University of Florida where academics and sports go hand-in-hand. In 1965 UF Professor Dr. James Cade and a team of researchers invented the sports drink Gatorade to help the UF Gators football team combat dehydration during games. In 2018 The Cade Museum was established to serve the community with the goal of inspiring new ideas and ways of thinking.

Interior photo of the Cade Museum for Creativity and Innovation
Interior photo of the Cade Museum for Creativity and Innovation

A visit to the Cade is like entering a portal of creativity where art and science converge. Exhibits provide insight into the minds and works of inventors and entrepreneurs. Interactive labs let visitors of all ages explore their own inspiration and formulate great ideas! Start your exploration here.

Depot Park

874 SE 4th Street

In the heart of Gainesville is Depot Park, a 32-acre oasis. This multi-use park was once a bustling rail yard. Now this vibrant public greenspace is a signature downtown location centered around a Historic Depot Building. The park has something for visitors of all ages including a children’s play area, movie nights, fitness classes, and a waterfront promenade for events and festivals. The park is also the trailhead of the 16 mile Gainesville-Hawthorn State Rail Trail known for its diverse scenery.

Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: While at Depot Park, visit the Boxcar Beer & Wine Garden.

Start planning your outdoor adventures here.

First Magnitude Brewing Company

1220 SE Veitch Street

Taking its name from first magnitude stars (the brightest!) and first magnitude springs (the most powerful!) this brewery is all about positive energy. Once an abandoned warehouse, First Magnitude Brewing has become a hub in the revitalization of Gainesville’s south Main Street corridor.

Photo by Rachel Covello

In addition to award award-winning beer, they craft a sense of community. The brewery’s beer garden and event spaces feature monthly art walks and exhibits, weekly yoga sessions, and other community-connecting events, including LGBTQ pride celebrations.

During this time, the event space is closed and the brewery has modified their space to accommodate a brewery drive-through!

Check out their offerings here.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park

325 SW Williston Road

Escape the day with a visit to this 125 acre wetlands parks. With over 3.5 miles of trails and boardwalks Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a great place to connect with nature. This manmade habitat was created to improve the nearby Paynes Prairie preserve. However, it’s become a popular destination in its own right withvisitors including birds, alligators, butterflies, and of course, humans. Plan your escape to this hidden gem here.

Florida Museum of Natural History Butterfly Rainforest

3215 Hull Road SW

A different world awaits right on the University of Florida’s campus. Feel transported as you stroll the Butterfly Rainforest. Relax to the sound of flowing waterfalls. Settle onto one of the garden benches and wait patiently for butterflies to come check you out! Many species of winged friends, including birds, call this lovely habitat home. Learn more about these magical creatures from trained docents and researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History. Find everything you need to create your rainforest respite here.

Other Adventures:

Florida Museum of Natural History houses fossils and ethnographic exhibits.

Harn Museum of Art has a large collection of Asian and African works.

The Matheson History Museum has a vintage postcard collection.

For more to do and experience in and around Gainesville check out our list.

Gainesville COVID Initiatives

Currently in Alachua County/Gainesville facial coverings are required in businesses where social distancing is not possible.

For up-to-date details of county COVID ordinances and guidelines visit the Alachua County COVID19 Community Portal.

Visitors can also learn about the latest openings and closures of area attractions and events by texting “WhatsGood” to #22828 or by checking out Visit Gainesville.

Staying Safe – Lodging Options:

Gainesville/Alachua County has worked with the County Hospitality Council to establish a “Safe Stay Pledge” to create safe hotel environments for guests and staff alike. Click here for the details and participating properties.

Plan Your Gainesville Road Trip

Gainesville is a great road trip destination for visitors seeking diversity. As north central Florida’s college town the area is home to a wide variety of culture, entertainment, and dining choices.

Find your comfort zone with lodging options ranging from classic Bed & Breakfasts to sleek contemporary hotels.

Outdoor and activity enthusiasts will appreciate Gainesville’s proximity to the region’s famous springs, nature preserves, and trails.

With something for everyone, Gainesville is a friendly and interesting destination for groups, families, or solo travelers.

Start planning your north central Florida journey here.

Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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