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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Whether new students seek a natural escape or cultural immersion in Gainesville, the answer is somewhere nearby.

Downtown is an ideal starting point for students who are eager to discover the city.

A cornerstone of the area is the Hippodrome State Theatre, which is entering its 40th season. The Hipp, as locals know it, is housed in an old federal building with Corinthian columns at 25 SE Second Place.

In addition to professional stage productions, the theater has a cinema that screens foreign and independent films. Students can buy discounted tickets.

A few blocks away in the historic district is the Thomas Center, an early 1900s Mediterranean revival house at 302 NE Sixth Ave.

The grounds are home to winding pathways, fountains and a two-story courtyard.

“Just walking into the place makes you feel like you’ve gone back decades,” said Clarie Santiago, a 19-year-old music sophomore.

The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art is located on Hull Road across from Southwest Recreation Center.

For a physical challenge, explore Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, 4732 Millhopper Road. The park is a 120-foot limestone sinkhole, with steps leading down to the bottom and forest pathways above.

Michael Garcia, a 21-year-old architecture senior, jogged up and down the stairs with a friend, he said. Humidity is high at the bottom of the sinkhole, where streams trickle through vegetation and into the rocky ground.

“It’s an intense workout,” Garcia said.

Trying to get out of town completely? Drive south on U.S. 441 to find Paynes Prairie, a 22,000-acre state park home to bison and wild horses. Visitors can walk through forests or hike the prairie.

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Twenty-year-old architecture senior Roxana Hazrati explored Paynes Prairie with friends on a quiet weekend during her freshman year.

“My favorite part of the whole experience was seeing all the wildlife and eating a picnic lunch in the middle of it all,” she said.

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