» Gainesville's downtown is a combination of stately historic buildings such as the Hippodrome State Theatre and mixed-use residences atop restaurants, small retail shops, busy bars and coffee places. The farmer's market draws a crowd on Wednesday afternoons, as does the free music at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza. A few blocks east of the action are the restored mansions in the city's growing bed and breakfast district.
» More than 90,000 pilgrims show up for the sports mecca that is Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka The Swamp, on fall Saturdays. But UF athletics bring many more events to the city — from basketball, swimming and gymnastics at the O'Connell Center to Gator baseball and softball. The city also has a big drag-racing event each spring — Gainesville Raceway's NHRA Gatornationals.
"The Swamp," Ben Hill Griffin Stadium [Photo: UF Photography]
» Some of the best snorkeling, tubing, canoeing and kayaking in the Southeast are a short drive to the Suwannee River, its clear tributary the Ichetucknee and the Santa Fe — all dotted with springs that stay 72 degrees year-round. Another natural gem is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, 22,000 acres of wetland and prairie that Wiliam Bartram described as the "Great Alachua Savannah." The prairie is known for its alligator, herds of bison and wild horses, and more than 270 species of birds. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens has the largest public display of bamboos in the state and the largest herb garden in the Southeast.
Paynes Prairie is known for its herds of bison. [Photo: Michael Warren/SILVER IMAGE]
• Florida's Eden
» The artists who portray the area's natural beauty in photographs, poems or plein-air paintings banded together a decade ago to form the non-profit Florida's Eden to try to focus local leaders on building just the sort of "creative economy" the business community finally has embraced. The group is led by longtime Gainesville artist Annie Pais. Its latest project is the Blue Path, a campaign to make springs protection an urgent environmental and economic issue for Gainesville and surrounding communities.
• Pizza and Fitness
» Gainesville residents are fond of both consuming calories and working them off. The city's Domino's Pizza franchise — eight stores owned by local businessman Freddie Wehbe that are collectively known as Gator Domino's — sells more pizza than any other in the nation. Meanwhile, the city has been named one of the fittest in the nation and the private Gainesville Health & Fitness Center one of the top fitness clubs.
Gainesville Health & Fitness Center
» Gainesville's citizens tend to be generous. The city's United Way of North Central Florida is ranked second nationally in total impact per capita compared with cities with a similar population size.
• Urban Legends
If you stick around Gainesville long enough, you'll hear that 1) UF entomologists inadvertently created love bugs in an experiment gone horribly awry and 2) the Confederate Gold is buried somewhere in eastern Alachua County. The first is definitively debunked, and the second stems from the fact that Florida's first U.S. senator, David Levy Yulee, who was also the nation's first Jewish senator, had a large plantation in the Archer area that hosted the Confederate "Gold Train" in 1865.