There’s More Than Football In Gainsville

If you visit Gainesville on a Saturday afternoon in autumn, you will undoubtedly see thousands of tailgaters dressed in orange and blue performing the Gator Chomp.  These frenzied Gator fans have made their way back to this historic Florida town for a football game that is about to begin in the “swamp.” Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (affectionately known as “The Swamp”) is the football stadium for the University of Florida and the home field of the university’s Florida Gators football team. The stadium got it moniker from its design. Originally built in a shallow sinkhole, the playing surface is several feet below ground level.  With steep spectator stands on all sides, the enclosed playing surface also enhances the effects of Gainesville’s warm and humid fall climate. Game-day temperatures at field level have been known to exceed 100 degrees creating a swamp-like atmosphere. These soaring temperatures were the motivation for University of Florida researchers to develop the popular sports drink, Gatorade, as a way to prevent dehydration in the players.

If college football isn’t your cup of tea, the numerous parks, museums, lakes and rivers in and around Gainesville offer entertainment for even the most fickle of travelers. Set amid rolling hills, pine forests, wetlands and farms, driving through the area’s winding roads and enjoying the breathtaking, panoramic views is highly suggested.  It will undoubtedly leave you breathless.

A thirty minute drive northwest of Gainesville on highway 441 will take you to the quaint river town of High Springs.  Here the streets are lined with welcoming cafes and dive shops.  High Springs is a world-renowned cave diving destination.  Word of warning, don’t attempt to dive the caves unless you are a PADI certified cave diver.  For the non-divers, I suggest a relaxing paddle down the Santa Fe River.  The Santa Fe Canoe Outpost in High Springs offers several paddling trip options, in either a canoe or kayak (www.santaferiver.com). Choose your own adventure with a day trip, overnight excursion, or the Moonlight Paddle that takes place each month at the full moon. The scenery on the Santa Fe is pristine where much of the river bank is protected conservation lands and numerous springs gush into the river along the way.  The clear water is a refreshing 72 degrees year round, creating a great opportunity for snorkeling as well. For more information, visit www.santaferiver.com, or call (386) 454-2050. Back in Gainesville, after an adventurous day of canoeing, sip a glass of wine in a rocker on the veranda at the Camellia Rose Inn.  This beautiful Queen Anne home, originally built for Thomas J. Swearingen in 1903, features six spacious, comfortable rooms – each with a private bath. There is also a separate cottage for families or those wanting more privacy. Each room is beautifully adorned with modern conveniences like complimentary wireless Internet access, bathrobes, televisions with cable and electric fireplaces. Guests will enjoy a delicious full breakfast, complimentary snacks and beverages throughout the day, and an evening happy hour with complimentary wine and cheese and crackers. But the best part is the location.  Camellia Rose Inn is just a short stroll from the historic downtown area of Gainesville where you will find restaurants, shopping, theater and nightlife.  For more information, visit www.camelliaroseinn.com or call (352) 395-7673.

Marjorie Rawlings Estate at Cross Creek

Marjorie Rawlings Estate at Cross Creek

In addition to its natural outdoor treasures, Gainesville is the cultural hub of north central Florida.  One must see is a short drive over to Cross Creek for a tour of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site. The tour takes visitors on a fascinating journey of the author’s life and 1930’s Florida culture and provides a wonderful slice of literary history. The tour documents farm life during Florida’s early days and includes the homestead with original furnishings and fixtures, the grounds and nature trails. While in Cross Creek, visitors can dine on authentic Floridian “Cracker” fare at The Yearling Restaurant, which pays tribute to Rawlings’ Pulitzer prize winning novel. (www.floridastateparks.org/marjoriekinnanrawlings)

Other great cultural attractions include the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida which features approximately 6,500 feet of contemporary art and a café; the Florida Museum of Natural History featuring fossil displays, traveling exhibits and lots of interpretive Florida history for the kids. Admission is free, but you’ll have to pay a fee if you want to hang with the butterflies in their garden; and the Hippodrome State Theatre which offers award winning plays, a visual arts gallery, a cinema with art and foreign films, as well as a full service bar. For more information on Gainesville, visit www.visitgainesville.com

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