College Towns of the South: Gainesville, Florida

Home of the Florida Gators
Magnolia Plantatin
Magnolia Plantatin

Anna L. Mikell

Nestled in the wetlands of North Central Florida, Gainesville  mixes vibrant academia with Old Florida charm. The town is united by football, and on game days, Gator chants echo from 88,000-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to downtown’s shops and restaurants.

You can hear the rumbling of Gator Nation five minutes away at Magnolia Plantation, an adorable bed and breakfast. Standing three stories, the 1885 Victorian structure has gas fireplaces in each guest room, plus period furnishings and claw-foot tubs. For more modern accommodations, the UF Hilton Conference Center on campus is a prime spot for visiting parents.

For a uniquely Gainesville dinner, try Satchel’s Pizza. Sip homemade soda while you explore the adjoining Lightnin’ Salvage, an old-fashioned trinket shop. The Top, a vegetarian and vegan-friendly fusion bistro, is popular with the indie crowd, and the corn nuggets are a cult favorite. The photo booth in the back works (sometimes), and the vintage pinball machines and foosball table add to the lively atmosphere. If you’re craving Italian and a more traditional vibe, step into

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Florida DNR

the historic Vidal House, where you’ll find the Fat Tuscan. The hardwood floors, intimate patio, and fresh-cut flowers add to the homey atmosphere. Top off your night at Tall Paul’s Brew House. The spacious downtown pub was originally a stable for the Gainesville Fire Department, but now is home to Alligator Brewing Co., which uses local and seasonal ingredients.

Gainesville is a blend of nature and culture, which is most apparent at the Florida Museum of Natural History, complete with a screened-in butterfly garden. Outdoorsy visitors should check out nearby Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The park’s La Chua Trail offers spectacular views of local flora and fauna, including the occasional wild horse or bison. If the heat is too much, catch a show at downtown Gainesville’s slice of Broadway, the historic Hippodrome State Theatre.


“The La Chua Trail and observation deck offer the best gator viewing. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see some of the prairie’s wild horses.”—Chris Cupoli, senior director of membership at the UF Alumni Association, class of 1995 and 2013

“Satchel’s locally sourced ingredients take this artsy establishment’s pizza and salads to the next level. Arrive early for the best seats in the house: an ancient VW van with a table inside.”—John Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize–winning photography, design, and international
professor of journalism

“Our favorite dining spot is Mark’s Prime Steakhouse. Be sure to order the Lyonnaise potatoes and roasted poblano cream corn with pepper jack cheese to complement your steak or seafood entree.”—Christie Dyer, class of 2002


Art Festival at Thornebrook 

October 4–5

This juried art show showcases work from more than 100 artists, from ceramics and oil paintings to wood work and jewelry.


October 4

From native butterfly releases, workshops, and plant sales, this festival celebrates and educates the all-important pollinators in our world.

Homecoming & Gator Growl
October 17

This ninety-year University of Florida tradition features a parade, the UF athletes, and celebrity entertainers. This year’s event will include rapper Ludacris, indie rockers Foster the People, and comedian Brooks Wheelan.

Downtown Festival and Art Show
November 8-9

Celebrating its thirty-third year, this nationally recognized art show transforms downtown Gainesville into a venue for award-winning artists and draws a crowd of more than 100,000. Visitors stroll through downtown and marvel at works from more than 250 artists. See original paintings, captivating sculptures, decorative ceramics, and vivid photography.

Cane Boil and Fiddle Fest
November 29

Experience life in 1870s North Central Florida at Morningside Nature Center Living History Farm. Visitors can sample fresh cane syrup and homemade biscuits, experience live folk music, farm animals, and more.