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Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash.

Swimming until your fingertips form mountain ridges, reading library books as the regularly scheduled rain pings at your window and napping with the smell of sunscreen lotion lingering on your cool sheets are just a few of the childhood summer mementos we hold close to our sunburnt hearts. Just because you have summer classes doesn’t mean you can’t tap into a youthful experience with exploration and adventure in a town most students only get to know in their adult life. Here are our favorite (somewhat) hidden gems and summer pastimes.

A sunset on one of the Paynes Prairie trails has hues of pink and orange burned into our minds. The humidity might hurt but seeing the colors reflected on the flooded plains of the prairie makes it all worthwhile. Not only is it a great place to watch the sky turn into a watercolor painting, but a variety of wildlife teeming within the prairie makes it the closest thing to a real-life Animal Crossing. Wild horses, strange birds and insects will have you whipping out your phone to try and capture the wildlife existing just a short ride south on 441. Pull your car up to the side of the road if you don’t want to do any walking, and take in the free light show happening everyday of the week with a different outcome each time. 

Devil’s Millhopper on a cloudy day stands out in terms of a creepy, yet calming, summer activity. The wooden steps down to the sinkhole give off “Goonies” treasure-hunting vibes with a touch of “Bridge to Terabithia.” If it starts to drizzle, the trees surrounding the trail act as a large-scale umbrella. The sound of water drops hitting the leaves and bouncing on the wood walkway sends relaxing chills down spines. Unlike Paynes Prairie, Devil’s Millhopper doesn’t house many animal-watching opportunities. Yet, the stillness and quiet make up for it. Not all summer activities have to be sun oriented. A darker activity can do some good for the soul, especially when milking a sunburn. 

Whoever said, “No one looks back at their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep,” may have been onto something. A night spent dancing fixes any need to 'shake it out.' House, jazz, salsa, whatever you want to shuffle to, there is a place in town to satisfy your ears' needs. If dancing doesn’t release the same endorphins as belting out a tune, karaoke bars exist for said reason. 

After late-night shenanigans, some artsy-fartsy activities may replenish whatever brain cells you lost head-banging to your favorite song. An indie film or mainstage performance at the Hippodrome is a good way to get caught up on eclectic pop culture to impress your hipster friends when they return from traveling to whichever country they keep posting about on social media.

If you really want to impress pompous friends, an open mic poetry night may be the time to rack up some bragging rights. For those not posed enough for poetry, comedy clubs throughout Gainesville can be the place to break the ice with new friends. Nothing says, “Let’s be friends forever,” like bonding over a successful or (even more so) bad comedy performance.  

Whether it's a night out dancing or a day spent exploring Gainesville’s nature, find your own hidden places to make memories with new friends. Go to a part of town you’ve never been to before. Drive down the Bed and Breakfast district. Rollerblade in Depot Park. Go to the Matheson Museum. A summer in Gainesville is the time to try out the weird activities sitting way down your to-do list (if they’re even lucky enough to be on your list). Less people and more daylight hours make now the best time to uncover a new memorable place.

The Alligator Editorial Board includes the Opinions Editor Jackie De Frietas, Editor-in-Chief Mark Stine and managing editors Hannah Beatty and Lindsey Breneman.