Covering the western edge of Alachua County, Newberry is a beautiful and busy place that draws visitors not only for its shopping and dining experiences but also for its value in agriculture. Long ago, Newberry was a mining town famous for its phosphate, but it turned to agriculture during World War I. Years later, almost 5,000 people call Newberry home, but it continues to be a fast-growing area.
In Newberry is the Town of Tioga, a modern town that is lined with gorgeous houses, premier shopping and restaurants that will leave you wanting more. The Tioga Town Center offers both dining and shopping, but it also often hosts events for people of all ages such as concert series, movies nights, and the annual Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting in December.
Despite Newberry’s modern atmosphere, visitors can also be transported to the pioneer days in the 1850s at Dudley Farm Historic State Park. Here, experience what life was like for the Dudley family by seeing the staff do daily chores such as tend to livestock and raise crops or see what sugar cane farming looks like at the Fall Farm and Cane Festival in December. Among all the festivals celebrated in Newberry, the annual Watermelon Festival in mid-May is a favorite. The festival attracts visitors from across Central Florida and includes free locally grown watermelons, a beauty pageant, seed-spitting contest, hog calling, and pie and cake baking. Make sure to see the mammoth melons that compete in the Big Melon contest.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 51 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 17.1
In what can only be described as an Old Florida town, Hawthorne is a timeworn railroad town, home to stunning outdoor trails and nostalgic treasures. Just 15 miles east of Gainesville, Hawthorne exudes charm. Just over 1,500 people live in the quaint town, which was once home to Bo Diddley, one of the early pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll and who Bo Diddley Community Plaza in Gainesville is named after.
Surrounded by lakes and woodlands, Hawthorne holds plenty of opportunities for an outdoor adventure. Several trails found in Hawthorne wind along expansive prairies, blue lakes and deep woodlands. The most popular, breathtaking trail is the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, which starts in Boulware Springs Nature Park in Gainesville and ends two blocks before the Hawthorne Historical Museum and Cultural Center on Main Street. The Lochloosa Trail also begins near Hawthorne and can be toured throughout the town.
Because Hawthorne started as a railroad town, pieces from its train station past are proudly displayed in the town. The Hawthorne Historical Museum and Cultural Center stands near what used to be the main train depot. The museum houses sentimental pieces of Hawthorne history such as paintings of the town from local artist Francis Moore.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 52 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 22.37
Voted as one of “the cutest towns in America” by The Huffington Post, Micanopy is a charming town chock-full of quaint antique stores, small cafes and gorgeous nature attractions. Just a little south of Gainesville, the 187-year-old town is home to around 600 people. Antiquers come from all over to search for treasures in the antique stores that line the downtown streets such as Delectable Collectibles Antiques or the used bookstore, O Brisky Books.
To celebrate the arrival of autumn, Micanopy hosts an annual fall festival that attracts visitors from across Central Florida. Vendors from fashion to crafts set up shop to sell their wares to those who venture out to downtown Micanopy that day.
If antiquing is not your cup of tea, Micanopy has many outdoor activities to offer visitors. Lake Wauburg, which is owned by the University of Florida, is a great place to spend a beautiful day in Florida. With paddle boarding, rock climbing and disc golf, there is never an opportunity to be bored. North of Micanopy lies the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Nature trails or lookouts at Paynes Prairie are some of the best places to watch a sunrise or sunset in Alachua County.
A little-known fact about Micanopy is that “Doc Hollywood” and “Cross Creek” were both filmed there. One can still visit the sets used in the movies.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 26 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 18.12
Once a bustling train hub, Archer has become a small, quiet town. The historic railroad town of Archer lies southwest of Gainesville. Just over 1,000 people call 6.9 square miles of space their home. Archer started as a small village until the railroad was built through in 1859, transforming it into a busy shipping center.
Visitors can peruse through Archer’s history at the Archer Railroad Museum or visit the variety of stores that line Main Street.
During the first week of June, Archer hosts the annual Yulee Railroad Days, a lively festival featuring local history reenactments, a model train show, a special museum exhibit, sporting events and family friendly activities. The festival is held in honor of Archer’s founder, David Levy Yulee, who named the town and first brought trains to it.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 29 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 15.5
Just down the beaten path lies the small town of High Springs, an eco-tourism destination that attracts swimmers, cave divers, snorkelers, and scuba divers from far and wide. Located about 20 miles outside of Gainesville, High Springs is home to over 5,000 people. Visitors are attracted to the 22-square-mile town by the unique antique shops like the Main Street Antique Mall and the promise of an outdoor adventure in the springs, rivers and state parks. On a weekend night, locals and visitors can be seen downtown, strolling down the sidewalks or enjoying a meal from any one of the delicious restaurants like the famous Great Outdoors Restaurant.
Filled with what could possibly be the clearest and bluest water in all of Florida, the five springs that flow through High Springs offer a great water adventure or a lazy day floating easily down the river. All five of the springs stay a cool 72 degrees year-round. Some of the more famous nature attractions in High Springs include: Ginnie Springs, Blue Springs, Ichetucknee River, Poe Springs, Santa Fe River and O’Leno State Park
A weekend getaway in High Springs is sure to make you feel refreshed and revitalized. Stay the weekend in one of the two comfy bed and breakfasts. Locals are waiting to welcome you to what was actually voted “the friendliest small town” in Florida.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 52 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 21.2
Fitting into the charming ideal of “Small Town USA,” the city of Alachua is a place where businesses are family owned, neighbors are all known and farmers come into town every Saturday. The 35-square-mile space is home to just a little over 9,000 people but attracts adventure-lovers from far and wide with its close proximity to the lovely Ginnie Springs. All this doesn’t sound too bad after being named after the Indian word for “sinkhole.”
Main Street in Alachua is lined with pretty red-brick buildings housing the locally owned businesses and restaurants such as Conestogas or Main Street Sweets. Locals can be spotted anywhere on Main Street on any given night enjoying each other’s company. Favorite chain businesses such as Moe’s and Sonny’s are also no strangers to Alachua — chain businesses can be found throughout the streets. In fall 2015, a Publix was opened on U.S. Highway 441.
Alachua also happens to be in very close proximity to Ginnie Springs, the world’s largest freshwater natural springs, making it a must-do on the checklist for avid cave divers. But, Alachua is also close to several other springs such as Poe Springs because of its short distance to High Springs. If you’re searching for a hiking adventure, visit the Mill Creek Preserve, which is opened 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 26 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 9.3
Just a little over 15 miles north of Gainesville, one stumbles upon the rural town of La Crosse. Filled with acres of farmland, the 4.4-square-mile area is mostly dedicated to agriculture such as veggies, cattle and most importantly, potatoes. La Crosse is also known as the “Potato District.” Not only home to agriculture, around 360 people also reside in La Crosse. The small town became a part of Alachua County in 1957. La Crosse is a part of the weekly bookmobile stop from the Alachua County Library District.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 24 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 15
In a place where trains hustled in and out of the station and a sense of rush was always in the air, the town of Waldo now remains a calm, quiet town just north of Gainesville. The 2.2-square-mile town is home to just over 1,000 people. Founded in 1820, Waldo is one of the oldest towns in Alachua County. In its prime, Waldo was home to swanky hotels, the El Toney cigar factory, an opera house and two theaters. Nowadays, mementos from the past still sit in some parts of town.
Since the closing of the train depot, antiquing and bargain hunting at stores such as the Waldo Farmers and Flea Market are now what brings most newcomers to Waldo. Many come from all over Central Florida to spend a day hunting for the perfect antique just waiting to be found somewhere in Alachua County.
Today, the old red caboose in Waldo’s city park is the biggest symbol of its past. The caboose is said to serve as a reminder to the community that Waldo is still a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Its proximity to other places in Alachua County attract newcomers who like to be close to the bustle of a big town but still live quietly and peacefully on the outskirts.
• Mean Time to Travel to Work: 32 minutes
• Miles to Downtown Gainesville: 14.25