College Weekend in Gainesville

By | October 01, 2015
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Fall means back to school, so I decided a college town visit was the perfect weekend assignment.

I headed to Gainesville, where more than 56,000 students at the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College have turned a sleepy Southern town into a hip hippie city with an athletic/vegetarian/musician vibe.


Plan to arrive on the last Friday of the month for ArtWalk Gainesville (, where galleries, restaurants and breweries open their doors to art exhibits, like skateboard art, either done by skateboarders or on skateboards. First Magnitude Brewery ( joins the art walk and has a great beer garden. They’re located on the Gainesville–Hawthorne State Trail (, a great bike, walking or horseback trail to take the next day.

The 1885 Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast
Artist at Work
Photo 1: A mural by Michael Rosato depicts the First Thanksgiving held in St. Augustine in 1565. Photo: Florida Museum of Natural History
Photo 2: TOWERING BAMBOO: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Photo: Ryan Caffrey Photography
Photo 3: The 1885 Magnolia Plantation Bed and Breakfast
Photo 4: Artist at work at Gainesville’s monthly ArtWalk

Of course, it would be easy to turn the day into a local brewery tour, with a stop at Swamp Head Brewery ( for one of their weekend tours, and Tall Paul’s Brew House, located in an 1880s firehouse stable, and home of the “itty bitty” Alligator Brewing Co. ( These are true breweries, so if you’re hungry, hit up the food trucks. Downtown Gainesville has a variety of restaurants, including vegetarian options everywhere. At Civilization (, eclectic world cuisine encompasses South Indian dosas to West African gumbo to southern Country Captain, and they source as much as they can from local growers and producers. Reggae Shack is a Gainesville classic, serving excellent jerk chicken and oxtail. Nearby, Hyppo’s Gourmet Ice Pops ( is semi-local – they started in St. Augustine – selling fresh fruit popsicles in seasonal flavors, and chocolate dipped available for all.


This may be Gator country, but there are other celebrated creatures on the UF campus, which sprawls west of the downtown area. The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Rainforest is part of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, the world’s largest center devoted to Lepidoptera collections-based research and education. On a more kitschy note, the annual Collectors Day (Jan. 9, 2016) brings out all sorts of private collectors, with everything from salt and pepper shakers to antique cars to Pez candy dispensers. The UF Bat Barn and Bat House is the world’s largest occupied bat house, with 300,000 bats. Check out the UF website for the best times to watch them emerge:’s even an annual Bat Festival, held Oct. 24 this year ( After dodging guano, you might be ready for another school town staple, Satchel’s Pizza (satchelspizza.comnortheast of downtown. Sit at tables in a treehouse or a VW bus, check out their superb collection of Florida roadside souvenirs, and enjoy a tasty pizza.

The next day is a perfect day to explore some of the surrounding towns and nature areas that are an essential part of this college town. The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a 16-mile bike trail through Paynes Prairie State Park, but if you’re not up to that, it’s easy to hike the La Chua Trail, which leads to the Alachua Sink and the center of this prairie marsh and wetlands. Definitely no dogs allowed – there are alligators all over the place, buffalo, wild horses and lots of birdlife. This is an excellent place to watch Sandhill migration. Another nearby gem in the Florida park system is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and Cross Creek, her beloved citrus grove and home where she wrote The Yearling and Cross Creek Cookery. The tours often end with a special baked treat using items from the garden or grove (

Alligator Brewing Berliner Weisse
Mooswood Farm Store
Satchel's Pizza
Photo 1: Alligator Brewing Berliner Weisse with hibiscus flowers at Tall Paul’s
Photo 2: The Mosswood Farm Store in a 1910 Cracker-style house in Micanopy
Photo 3: Can’t-miss Satchel’s Pizza, a collector’s paradise


Next stop is the charming town of Micanopy, with huge Spanish moss-laden oaks and antique shops. It’s a quiet place unless you’re visiting during the big Micanopy Festival (, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, where 30,000 visitors converge on this town of 600. At the Mosswood Farm Store, look for fresh baked goods, organic coffee and tea, or head out to 441 to Pearl Country Store, located in the gas station, for some excellent BBQ. For your stay, consider Gainesville’s historic district at the Victorian Sweetwater Branch Inn (sweetwaterinn.comor the Magnolia Plantation Inn (, both pet-friendly. If the timing is right, make a reservation to dine at Swallowtail Farms Farm-to- Table Dinners (swallowtailcsa.comin Alachua, northwest of Gainesville.

Another must-visit for garden lovers in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens (, west of Gainesville on Archer Drive. This garden has a terrific collection of bamboo, the largest herb garden in the Southeast and a ginger garden. Further west is the Haile Homestead, an 1850s home known for its Talking Walls – writing on the walls by family and friends. Just north of the homestead, there’s an excellent farmers market in Haile Village ( Their Fall Festival is Nov. 21.

It’s time to head back to Miami, but not before stopping in Newberry, just northwest of Haile Plantation, for some Newberrys Backyard BBQ on Main St. (newberrysbackyardbbq.comFried green beans, fried pickle chips, fried okra and a BBQ combo plate was the perfect ending for this college town weekend.

{ A Florida Thanksgiving }

Was the first Thanksgiving held in Florida? Long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, St. Augustine was America’s original melting pot, where Spaniards, free and enslaved Africans and Native Americans lived in 1575. “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins,” opens Oct. 17 and ends Apr. 17, 2016, at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Article from Edible South Florida at
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