Old Florida Heritage Highway: Great Gainesville Getaway
By Dalia Colon
Where: Just south of Gainesville along U.S. 441, spoking out from Micanopy
Length: 48 miles.
How to get around: Car or high-end bicycle.
Best time to visit: Fall or winter, for mild temperatures and a slew of events including the Micanopy Fall Festival and Evinston Plein Air Paintout in October, First Day Hike on every Jan. 1 or Stargazing at Paynes Prairie each February.
Fun fact: Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and worked in the small town of Cross Creek, where she penned several novels including the 1939 Pulitzer Prize winner The Yearling. Today, visitors can tour her home at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park.
Every year, thousands of football fans pour into Gainesville to cheer on the University of Florida Gators. But just a few miles south of the college town is a gem of “older, untouched Florida.”
That’s how Sean Plemons describes the town of Micanopy, about a 15-minute drive from Gator Country.
“It is close, but it is so different,” said Plemons, content manager for Visit Gainesville.
Away from the roar of the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium awaits a chorus of oak trees swaying in the breeze and more than 270 bird species. Off the beaten path in Paynes Prairie, keep your eyes peeled for bison and wild horses.
“When you slow down, Paines Prairie puts on quite a show,” said Kathleen Pagan, Alachua County’s liaison to the highway and recording secretary for the Friends of Old Florida Heritage Highway.
When you’re ready for a bite to eat, head back to civilization in quaint downtown Micanopy. The Yearling Restaurant serves cracker-style seafood, while Pearl Country Store is the go-to barbecue joint. Save room for pastries at Mosswood Farm Store and Bakehouse, and wash it all down with a made-to-order lemonade at Coffee ‘n Cream.
To walk off the calories, take a jaunt around downtown Micanopy, a historic town where most of the antique shops still close at 5 p.m. And save time for a photo op outside Wood and Swink Old Store and Post Office. Built in 1882, the humble pine structure is the oldest operating post office in Florida.
Photos by Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA