By HANNAH CALDERAZZO
So, you’re a new Gator? Congratulations! Welcome to Gainesville (or as it is more affectionately known, Rainesville). Currently, you are probably wondering what there is to do in the city. Fortunately, there are plenty of options, from recreational activities to museums to state parks. Whatever you enjoy, there is something for you in Gainesville. Here are just a few suggestions to give you a brief idea of life in the Swamp:
Funworks: Skate Station
If you love to roller skate, or are just looking for something to do on a weekend night, Funworks: Skate Station is just a 15-minute drive from campus. It is a great venue with a DJ playing music for the rink, as well as a snack bar with the classic fare of pizza, icees, french fries and mozzarella sticks. Funworks offers a student discount, which takes a dollar off of the regular skating price. Classic skates are free, but there is a small additional rental fee if you prefer skating with inline skates. Weekend nights are an especially great time to head out to the rink with a group of friends and skate under the disco lights, as the rink is open until midnight.
Tip #1: If you go on a weekend night, it is better to go after 9 p.m., when the crowds of families begin to die down.
Tip #2: Be sure to wear thick socks to avoid blisters!
Get Air Gainesville
Imagine this: A warehouse filled with trampolines. Everywhere you turn, a trampoline covers the floor, or leans at an angle against the wall. Several pits with giant foam cubes sit eagerly, just waiting for someone to leap in. In the back is the perfect obstacle course for anyone who is a fan of American Ninja Warrior. Sound amazing? It is available right here in Gainesville! Get Air Gainesville is a trampoline park that is a perfect place to show off your back and front-flip skills, or just jump around and have a good time.
Pricing is based on one or two-hour jumping times, but you are also required to buy “jump socks” in order to use the trampolines. However, they are only a one-time purchase of $3. They also offer special discount nights, such as “Twice the Time Tuesday,” where you get two hours of jump time for the price of one from 4-8 p.m., and a student discount on Wednesday night, where students get 20% off with a valid student ID from 4-8 p.m.
Natural History Museum and the Harn Museum of Art
As a freshman in Gainesville, you will more than likely have to take a tour of the Natural History Museum and the Harn Museum of Art for the “What is the Good Life?” class. As I took the class last year, I remember dreading taking the time to go out and see the museums. However, they actually turned out to be wonderful places, and I enjoyed the experience. They are both free for UF students with a Gator1 ID and are easily accessible via the 118 RTS bus.
The beautiful art in the Harn Museum ranges from paintings to photographs to sculptures. It also has fascinating displays from different cultures, such as an outdoor Asian rock garden and an Asian water garden, complete with a bubbling waterfall and blossoming flowers.
Once a month, the Harn hosts Museum Nights, which presents interactive experiences with art and culture, often as collaborations between campus and local groups. A complete list of the themes with descriptions can be found on the museum’s website. The Harn also features a restaurant that can be paid with using a Gator 1 ID. The charming Camellia Court Café offers a selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches, which are great after a day of observing and admiring artwork. So, whether you want to appreciate art or take aesthetic profile pictures for social media, the Harn Art Museum is a wonderful place to explore.
The Natural History Museum, located in the same plaza, also has a number of interactive displays. You can explore the palm-thatched inside of a Calusa leader’s house, admire life-size dioramas of Florida wildlife and biomes and feel small inside an exhibit of giant Florida estuary creatures.
The butterfly rainforest is another beautiful exhibit in this museum. There are multiple butterflies of every size and color, all within a space filled with greenery, orchids and a koi pond. It is amazing to walk through, and at certain times there are butterfly releases, which allow you to see the butterflies soar from a cage and into the enclosure. And, if you are lucky enough, a butterfly will grant you a special blessing by landing on your shoulder.
There are a number of local shops and restaurants in the downtown area. Local coffee shops such as Maude’s abound, but if you are in the mood for a Starbucks latte, then fortunately for you there is one in the vicinity as well. A few downtown restaurants include Dragonfly, a delicious, but also expensive, sushi venue. The Top is an eclectic Gainesville favorite with an extensive menu, where you can choose from a variety of burgers to building your own grilled cheese. The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops is a shop that creates all-natural popsicles that feature an assortment of flavors, from classics like Orange Crème, to combinations such as Apple Honey Goat, Dark Chocolate Avocado, Orange Basil and Strawberry Chia.
Besides dining, there are stores such as Hear Again Records. This record shop includes an assortment of vinyl that are perfect to complete or begin any record collection. The nearby Hippodrome Theater boasts both local theater productions and showings of indie films that you will not find playing at regular movie theaters. Overall, downtown is a great place to go shopping, enjoy a delicious treat or just walk around with friends.
The Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Last year, I took an honors course about musical theater, which focused on comparing shows to the material that inspired them. One part of the class was going to see the national tour of the Broadway production, Kinky Boots, at the Phillips Performing Arts Center. The incredible performance allowed me to have a taste of Broadway without the expense of going to New York City. If you are someone who enjoys musical theater, then the Phillips Center has a number of shows lined up for this year’s season. The King and I, Finding Neverland and The Sound of Music are just a few of the performances that will be appearing onstage. Tickets are mildly expensive, but there is a student discount that drastically reduces it to a reasonable price. The King and I, for example, has student tickets for only $20, compared to the $40 and up regular ticket prices. This is an amazing deal when the farthest seats for a New York Broadway show are usually $60 or more.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
For nature lovers, Gainesville happens to be conveniently located between two beautiful state parks—Paynes Prairie and Devil’s Millhopper. The spacious savannah of Paynes Prairie is unique in how it is the only place in Florida you can witness wild-roaming bison and horses, while Devil’s Millhopper features an enormous sinkhole that visitors can explore. Both parks offer numerous activities, from multiple trails to camping and fishing. They are wonderful places to explore Florida’s natural beauty and to complete a few cards in the H-Box.
Lake Wauburg is an outdoor recreation area owned by the University of Florida, so it is free for all UF students and faculty. Recently, I went with a group of friends to Lake Wauburg for the first time, and it was one of the best experiences I have had at UF. With the presentation of a Gator 1 ID, we initially tried paddle boating at the North Shore, but, after slowly trundling across the lake for five minutes, we decided to rent kayaks. We quickly learned that this was the faster alternative, and it was well worth having to pull the kayaks down from the gnat-infested shore. (Tip: Do not have your mouth open—my friend learned that the hard way). After kayaking we went to the rock-climbing wall, which has a number of climbing paths of varying difficulties. I personally found the Cakewalk (the easiest climb) to be a lot of fun—as long as you avoid looking down.
To finish off our day, my friends and I went for a swim in the lake at the South Shore. Lake Wauburg also rents out canoes, bikes for their bike path and basically has any other recreational outdoor activity you can imagine. It is a great way to enjoy the outdoors at no personal expense, and makes for an enjoyable weekend excursion.