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Monday, April 22, 2024

Gainesville's appeal not just confined to campus

<p>Jessica Stjernvall, a dancer with Sabor Latino, throws her head back during a salsa performance at the Downtown Latino Festival on Saturday.&nbsp;</p>

Jessica Stjernvall, a dancer with Sabor Latino, throws her head back during a salsa performance at the Downtown Latino Festival on Saturday. 

With nearly 50,000 students traversing the university's campus every day, UF can sometimes feel like a city in itself.

But just because you live in a college town doesn't mean midtown's stretch of bars is the only way to entertain yourself. The Gainesville area has a plethora of cultural and natural attractions that are worth checking out, and some of them are just a short trek from campus.

Once home to the historic Federal Building, the Hippodrome State Theatre (a.k.a. "The Hipp") is the only professional theater in north central Florida. Plays are shown year-round in the 266-seat theater, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, according to the Hippodrome's website. Nestled in the heart of downtown Gainesville, the Hipp also features an 80-seat cinema space and an art gallery.

Students receive discounts on tickets to all shows with a valid Gator 1 Card.

Mary Hausch is the producing director and one of the founders of the Hippodrome.

She is directing the play "God of Carnage," which ran previously on Broadway and will open at the Hipp in September.

"I think the wonderful thing about the Hippodrome is that we're so intimate," she said. "It's a good place to spend your weekend, to get out of the heat and see some great entertainment."

Another historic landmark is the Thomas Center, which was finished in 1910, according to its website. The sprawling villa in Gainesville's Duckpond Neighborhood was once a private home but was added to and remodeled several times to become a hotel, a temporary part of Santa Fe College's campus and finally a cultural center.

Today, the Thomas Center features two art galleries, three period rooms, historical exhibits and a lush surrounding landscape.

Gainesville's premier setting for art, however, is the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, inside UF's Cultural Plaza on Hull Road.

The Harn is one of the largest university-affiliated art museums in the country and is home to a variety of exhibitions, including traveling collections, film festivals and performance art. Admission is free.

Next to the Harn is the Florida Museum of Natural History, which features both permanent exhibits about Florida's natural history and temporary art, scientific and historical exhibits. The museum also has an outdoor Butterfly Rainforest, where patrons can stroll through a verdant understory of subtropical plants and see hundreds of live butterflies inside a 6,400-square-foot screened enclosure.

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If you want to be a little closer to nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just south of Gainesville, provides opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, cycling, horseback riding and picnicking. Paynes Prairie is also a good spot to watch meteor showers.

One of the most popular warm-weather activities among college students is visiting one of the many natural springs surrounding Gainesville. Perennial favorites are Ginnie Springs, Ichetucknee Springs and Rainbow River.

Rachel Shireman, a 19-year-old Gainesville resident, said she grew up going to Ginnie Springs.

"It's really beautiful," she said. "There's a ton of people out there, you can camp and the water stays 72 degrees year-round - it's really refreshing."


Jessica Stjernvall, a dancer with Sabor Latino, throws her head back during a salsa performance at the Downtown Latino Festival on Saturday. 

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