In the city of Gainesville in North Central Florida, rugged sports and outdoor adventures intersect with sophisticated art showcases and upscale hospitality. Gainesville’s sports culture centers around the city’s beloved University of Florida Gators, as well as the local raceways. Outdoors, diverse topographical features, such as sinkholes, rolling hills and prairies, make for interesting sightseeing. Gainesville also has a cosmopolitan side, boasting cultural celebrations and chic cityscapes.
Gainesville locals are rabidly enthusiastic about their UF Gators, and particularly about Gator Football. The team ranks consistently well in the Southeastern Conference and won the Bowl Championship Series title in 2007. Attendance at UF’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as “The Swamp,” regularly exceeds 90,000 football fans. But watching other Gator sports, including women’s soccer, gymnastics and volleyball, are popular things to do in Gainesville, too. The school became the only one in NCAA history to hold the men’s basketball and football championships simultaneously in 2007.
In addition to the University of Florida, Gainesville is home to Santa Fe College, and the combined influence of both schools supports a thriving arts scene. Each year, Santa Fe College hosts the Spring Arts Festival, where festival goers view and purchase high-quality artwork and enjoy jazz and blues concerts. In October, Gainesville transforms its Downtown into an outdoor arts showcase during the Downtown Festival and Arts Show. The event hosts more than 250 artists annually and adds food, music and a kids’ “Imagination Station” to its well-attended attractions.
Shoppers are drawn at any time of year to the city’s outdoor downtown shopping district and malls. The Union Street Station Pedestrian Mall is an open-air collection of mainstream retailers as well as one-of-a-kind boutiques. A popular destination is the Tioga Town Center, a mixed-use development with franchise eateries, clothing stores and a large amphitheater for concerts and events.
The Gainesville climate is suitable for year-round auto racing, and the city has multiple tracks that host high-level sporting competitions. Among them, the Gainesville Raceway is known by many as one of the fastest tracks on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit. Each March, the track hosts the NHRA Gatornationals, one of the sport’s most revered events.
Additional outdoor activities are among the popular things to do in Gainesville. Hikers enjoy the unusual Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, which features boardwalks over streams that gently flow down into a limestone sinkhole, where the water disappears underground. Another popular Gainesville sightseeing spot is the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, where giant Victoria lilies grow in the wetlands. The lily pads can reach up to three meters in circumference and are sometimes buoyant enough for a small child to sit on. The Gardens also contain 62 acres of landscaped and natural green areas that showcase uncommon bamboo species and the region’s largest herb garden.
Gainesville dining hospitality ranges from upscale steaks and seafood, such as the Embers Wood Grill, to ethnic specialties, such as the Jamaican fare at Reggae Shack Café, both located near the UF campus.